Friday, November 28, 2008

Off-Grid Solar Power Budget

When you live off grid budgeting takes on several meanings. There is of course the usual money budget which under normal grid attached circumstances is the all important American control mechanism. As long as you can pay for your power and water there is nothing limiting your consumption. You will always stay warm and be able to flush that toilet. But in the off grid world your power, water and heat budgets become the governing factor in day to day life. These finite resources must be carefully measured. Miscalculation and waste can leave you freezing in the dark unable to even find the toilet.

I measure my stored power in amp hours which is the way deep cycle batteries are rated. Let's say I have 6 deep cycle batteries each with a capacity of 270 amp hours. That would give me a pool of around 1600 amp hours to draw from when the battery array is fully charged. Remember true battery capacity can only be figured by a trained voodoo priest with a good thermometer.

Deep cycle batteries can be drained to down to 30%, this is not recommended but can be done in an emergency situation. It is nice to only draw down to 70% giving me around 480 amps to play with. Now here is the important part, whatever you pull out you must replace. If you drain 480 amps off the array each day 480 amps need to be put back either through wind, generators or solar.

I have 6 130 watt solar panels each delivering 7.38 amps back into the battery array for each hour of sunshine. (I know the numbers don't work out but that's the way it is with solar) So with my solar array I can realistically put 40 amps back into the battery array per hour of good sunshine. I base my budget on 6 hours of good sunshine per day. A sunny day will replace 240 amps back into the battery array.

The governing number for me is 240 amps. (I am battery heavy) I still don't want to draw down the full 240 amps. Being paranoid like I am I only use 120 amps per day.

In theory I have 1120 amps to use if I drain the batteries to 30%. This gives me a little over 9 days of reserve if for some reason I can not recharge the batteries. Additionally if I only use 120 amps and am replacing 240 the batteries will recharge in just a few days.

Now what does all this mean, how much power do I have. Can I run my blender and make my Pina colada smoothies? Will my 50 inch plasma TV still be able to baby sit the kids 8 hours a day? Can the SubZero keep my champagne and caviar chilled?

So now that we know how much power we have available the next step is to determine how many DC amps each AC device draws. Remember that when I am talking batteries I am referring to 12 volt DC, just like your truck.

Here is the formula:

AC Watts / 12 x 1.1 = DC Amps (Amps are measured in hours) (1.1 is inverter inefficiency)

60 Watt light bulb / 12 x 1.1 = 5.5 DC Amps per hour of use

Now multiply the DC Amps by how many hours you plan on using the device

5.5 DC Amps x 8 hours = 44 Amps daily

As you can see my one 60 Watt incandescent light bulb has already used up 1/3 of my daily available power. This is why you do not use incandescent lighting in an off-grid project. I use low wattage florescent bulbs. The bulbs I use are 11 watts but mimic a 40 watt bulb, I have several through the cabin. I figure 3 lights running 8 hours each. (this is high number of hours by the way)

33 AC Watts / 12 x 1.1 x 8 hours = 24.2 Amps daily

You could reduce the daily amps for lighting even more if you used LED bulbs. I would suggest a warm temperature LED bulb. The first bulbs that came out were a cold temperatures bright white light and I really hated them. Our eyes are used to the warmer incandescent quality lights and I prefer them.

Here is the tricky part. You can not just go by the rated input wattage listed on the device. My laptop for instance has a 95 watt power adapter. That is a power hog and I would not invite it into my house. The reality is that those numbers are the highest wattage produced not necessarily what will be used.

I use a Kill-A-Watt meter to determine the actual power consumption of any device. This little box plugs into the wall and you plug the thing being measured into the Kill-A-Watt. Here is the actual power consumption of my laptop.

Charging 60 Watt
General Use 22 Watt
Watching DVD 31 Watt
Asleep Lid Open 11 Watt
Lid Closed 1 Watt

So for me the most efficient way to work is to plug the laptop in keeping it fully charged and when I am not actively using the thing close the lid. Worst would be to sit on the deck running the laptop batteries down then plugging it every few hours.

Here are some of the other devices and roughly how long each day I will be using them.

Microwave 650 Watt/10 minutes
Coffee Maker 600-650 Watt/10 minutes
Ryobi Battery Charger 30-40 Watt/2 hours
Phone Charger 1 Watt/2 hours
XM Radio 5 Watt/8 hours
12 volt Water Pump 5 DC Amps/30 minutes

In the off-grid world a careful budgeting and understanding of your power, water and heat usage is critical if you are looking for a relative comfortable life. It is critical to know your needs and more importantly what you are willing to give up before moving down the off-grid road. You just can't use extra and pay a little more at the end of the month your reserve is fixed.

If you found this useful let me know and I will do the same thing for heat and water.

Pick up a Kill-A-Watt meter and find out just how much power you really need. Even if you are not planning a move off-grid it is important to understand your power usage.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Yearly Budget Thing

I was going to use this post to talk about my $100 a month budget but apparently I have won the Swiss Lottery and with 1.8 million euros coming my way don't need to worry about it. But since I have to wait until the spring arrives and the ground thaws to get to my financial institution and it's complex routing information we might as well discuss the now unnecessary budget.

Like most survival minded people I have amassed a fairly substantial amount of food and critical supplies over the past 8 years. There are the staples of various beans, canned meats and flour plus vitamin and other medical supplies. I keep adequate cash on-hand and have the required silver and gold buried in my secure bank. The land and house are paid for and being off-grid utilities are already in place with the exception of a few nonessential niceties such as internet and cell phone access.

I have two vehicles, a large gas sucking beast of a truck used only when absolutely necessary and a tiny orange ford fiesta that gets about 33 miles to the gallon. The tank on the fiesta holds ten gallons so I should get roughly 330 miles out of every tank. The nearest town with facilities is about 10 miles away so I should get 16 trips per full tank. Let's say I run to town once every week, the one tank of gas should last 4 months. I can get around for 4 months on $20.

Most of my food is already in place with the exception of fresh fruits, veggies and meat. Food stores should hold me until greenhouse/garden start producing and I can get some chickens. I make my own beer 5 gallons at a time and have enough brewing supplies to get through the first year. If I could start making my own whiskey I'd be set for life.

Rough Monthly Budget (will adjust as necessary)

$35 Food (this includes coffee)
$20 Gas (a little high but includes ATV, chainsaw, tiller plus some for truck)
$25 Dogs (cheap treats and a bag of food each month)
$20 Booze (monthly bottle of Ancient Age whiskey)
$30 Entertainment (trip to the hot springs or exploring the mountains)

$130 Total Monthly Expenses

Fixed Yearly Costs (already paid for 2009)

$300 Internet (split with neighbor)
$300 Phone (local provider)
$360 Car Insurance (one year both vehicles)
$100 Land Tax (actually 86)
$100 Car Tags (can vary)
$300 Propane (can vary)
$120 Ring MD (on call medical help plus they can write prescriptions)
$240 Beer Brewing (not great tasting but will do)

$1820 Total $152/month

Everything on the fixed yearly cost list and the entertainment fund can be eliminated if necessary but would rather not.

Adding the two areas together I need to make $282 monthly (round up to $300) to live this year and put back enough for next. At this point I am bring in about half that amount from some web projects each month but hopefully can kick it up to around $300. I of course have extra funds to draw from in the event of an emergency. This budget is of course rough and will change as I move forward.

Hate to wait in doctors office - I do too. Join RingMD service for 24x7 access to personal physician for treatment and prescriptions. *** I love this service and have used it several time over the past few months. I am old enough to know what is wrong with me, just call the doctor, tell them what the problem is and they phone the prescription into Walmart or whatever pharmacy you choose. Easy cheap and no half day doctor visits.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Auto Industry Collapse

I normally do not post videos on this site but here is a great one on the collapse of the auto industry. One point, I don't believe that a bailout is the answer unless the Big 3 guarantee that all money would be used for retooling the manufacturing facilities for next generation transportation and that all jobs created and supplies purchased are American. Otherwise our taxes will be used to update Mexican plants and pad the GM executive bonuses. Unless jobs are created here in this country the money is wasted, the Big 3 can only survive if Americans start buying again and we will only buy again if secure jobs are created.

Another point to make is that if the part makers go under spare parts will become difficult to acquire. That $5 fuel filter is minor until it clogs and you cannot replace it. Due to rising scrap metal prices there are very few junkyards left. We rely on the inexpensive replacement parts to keep our junk cars on the road. Without those parts every parked car becomes a gold mine for thieves looking to cash in on black market parts.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bear Ridge Project Update

The Bear Ridge Project is my journey to move from a consumer driven life style to a self sustaining off grid existence.

I will be moving to Bear Ridge permanently on January 1st 2009. The original plan was to be at the cabin full time by June 1st. Obviously this did not happen. Money and time were not on my side but things are now happening as planned and the cabin and I are nearly ready. To be honest I could have moved in June but life would have been terrible rough.

I didn't have the proper heat or power in place or any protected growing facilities for indoor crops. The power system was weak and the foundation unstable. I now have a big wood stove for primary heating of the house and water and have standardized on propane for backup. I decided on an Eccotemp L10 on demand water heater and a Mr Heater Big Buddy unit for backup heat. Both work great at my altitude and have no problem staying lit. The stove and backup generator also run on propane.

The power system has grown from the small portable two battery unit with a 230 Amp/hour capacity to a much larger array sized at 1600 Amp/hours. They are charged by six 130 watt solar panels which replaced the small 45 watt 3 panel array. A small 3500 watt propane generator is used for backup. I may still add a couple more 130 watt panels before the first.

The big sun room will be finished this weekend and the greenhouse portion of the project hopefully done next. A shed with large south side greenhouse will be built in December weather permitting doubling the growing space. I plan on starting my winter tomatoes around the first of December so they can be moved to their final home after the first. The goal is to be able to survive and thrive on around $100 per month. So the produce is very important.

January is not the ideal month to move but hey you have to get through it anyway might as well start off with the worst. I am very excited and will keep you informed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Go Vote

I will not tell you how to vote but here are a few thoughts on the subject

I don't give the dog a treat when he pees on the carpet

I don't keep employees that completely ignore directions I give them

I don't take my truck back to a mechanic that didn't fix the problem

Neither candidate will take your guns. That is campaign fear mongering. The Supreme Court ruled just this year that every citizen has the right to keep firearms. Neither the President nor Congress can change that only a Constitutional Amendment...and that won't happen. So don't base your vote on that issue.

Now go vote

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mossberg 500 Tactical

I didn't need it, I just wanted it...and is that so wrong?

With the recent weirdness down at the land I decided to get a home defense weapon with a little more lead in it's ass than my .22 pistol and rifle. Last Thursday I picked up a 12 gauge Mossberg 500 Tactical shotgun. The great thing about this gun is the ease of use and maneuverability. Oh, plus it kills real good.

In my opinion a 12 gauge shotgun is the best defensive weapon around. At 2 a.m. I do not have the mental agility to effectively bring a rifle or handgun to bare on a target. Just can't do it. So I needed an early morning weapon that is forgiving on accuracy and intimidating as hell. You just point the shotgun in the general direction of what needs killed and pull the trigger. Plus with the six round capacity if you miss with the first shot you try again.

The short barrel and retractable stock on the Mossberg 500 Tactical shotgun allows me to maneuver around in the dark house without getting hung up on my crap. A long shotgun is cheaper and kills just as well but I consider it dangerous in small living quarters. I don't know which would be scarier. An intruder breaking in and rushing me or me trying to bring a long barreled shotgun to bare on him with out sufficient coffee.

At any rate I figure that most intruders would be confronted before they entered the house. If the security lights and barking dogs don't persuade them to leave then nothing says move along better than the sound of a shell being chambered.