In the last installment of “The Off Grid Journey to Self Sufficiency” we discussed battery banks and how they work. In this installment we will discuss power generation. Particularly we will focus on ways to charge the battery bank we created in the last installment.
There are 4 main ways to generate the power needed to keep your battery bank charge and we will discuss the pros and cons of each one to help you determine which is best for you.
When most people think of power generation this type of generator is the first thing that pops into their head. This is one of the easiest ways to get off the grid and start producing your own power as it is relatively cheap to buy a small gasoline powered generator, but is it the best way? While I will be the first to admit this was my primary source of power when starting out and still get used a fair amount there are many drawbacks to these types of generators.
The first major drawback of these types of generators is the cost of fuel. If you have to run them for any extended period of time the fuel cost can add up quickly. Often the fuel costs can outweigh the costs of being on the grid.
The second major drawback of using an AC generator is the cost of maintenance. Unless you acquire an expensive unit most AC generators are designed to run at 3600 rpms which puts a lot of wear and tear on the unit. Even if you have a small engine mechanic in house as I do the cost of parts alone can be astronomical. Most of these generators are not designed to run for more than a couple hundred hours without a major break down.
The third drawback is that without some way to change the AC power to DC power there is no way to store the energy being produced in your battery bank. The easiest and cheapest way to do this is with a simple automotive battery charger but this has drawbacks as well because most chargers do not provide enough amperage to charge the batteries quick enough and over time your batteries will start to sulfate and die.
Even with these drawbacks it is handy to have one or two of these units around for back up power and to run loads your main system can not handle.
A very effective way to recharge your battery bank is with a DC generator, whether you hobble together a make shift unit such as my first system or you build a more complicated system such as we discussed in the Frank Schwieger interview Even though this is the most effective way to generate the power needed to recharge your battery bank using an engine there are still drawbacks.
Fuel usage can potentially be a huge drawback with this type of generator as with the AC generator, however by using alternative fuels and running it at a slower speed this cost can be mitigated.
Another major drawback to this type of generator is that it needs to be user made. There are very few out of the box solutions available for DC generators and those that are available are cost prohibitive or are not designed for heavy usage.
As most DC generators are based around using an automotive alternator a drawback occurs in that the alternator unless modified does not charge the battery bank efficiently. For example lets say the alternator you are using is rated at 100 amps this doesn’t mean that you are charging at 100 amps through the whole charging cycle. As the battery charges the amps drop and by the time it is near full charge it is down to a trickle charge. Deep cycle batteries do not like being charged this way, however there are plenty of tutorials on the web that will show you how to modify the alternator to create an effective charger.
Solar power generation is fast becoming the preferred method of generating power efficiently for charging off grid systems. A well designed system can answer most of your off grid power requirements, but even then there are drawbacks to solar.
Although cost has come down dramatically in the last few years it is still quite expensive to get set up with a solar system. Once you are set up though the maintenance cost are relatively low and the system will pay for itself over time.
Low daylight during the winter and inclement weather leads to the Solar arrays not operating at peak efficiency which means a back up source of power may be needed.
When setting up a solar system it is always a good idea to consult with an expert even if you plan on doing the install yourself.
Man has used wind through out the ages to create power. From the mighty sailing ship to the grain grinding windmills of Holland. Before electrical lines were ran throughout North America many farms and homesteads had a wind charger that supplied them with their basic electrical needs. Once power lines were run to the rural countryside, wind turbines fell out of fashion and into relative obscurity. Beginning in the 1970’s there was a resurgence in wind power and many innovations were made in design and efficiency in small wind turbines. Today small wind turbines are used by many off grid users as an efficient way to charge their system but there are still some drawbacks.
With a wind turbine if there is no wind there is no power. What this means is that if you do not get significant wind in your area the amount of power generated by a turbine may not make it a significant asset in generating power.
Buying a commercially available wind turbine can be expensive and many users make their own, however this often leads to a loss in efficiency.
Picking the best way to charge your system can be confusing but a hybrid system that combines two or more systems will give you a system that will meet your needs.
In the next installment we’ll discuss power distribution and how to use your power effectively.
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