I have had a number of interesting conversations with RV owners who would like to add solar power to their roving homes. In many ways a solar powered RV is like an off-grid cabin or home. The owner would like to be able to recharge batteries when the sun is shining and probably has a secondary or alternative power source for multiple cloudy days in a row or when they want to use a more significant source of power.
For an RV owner, the alternative can be a small mobile generator, or they can find a camp ground with power hook-up. If they want to cook or microwave the dinner while watching the game on TV or power wash the van, they will find an additional source of power to supplement their batteries. Most of the time they can live with the power that the sun can provide in a day.
Green Living Journal published the story I wrote entitled “One Woman’s Journey to a Zero Energy Building”. I like how they advertised it on the cover (My Zero Net Energy Home) and put it out in Left Field
Click here if you would like to read it. I added some pictures in the blog post version. They didn’t have room for many pictures in the journal.
Over the last few weeks I have spoken to quite a few people who are currently living off-grid or are building their house now and want to live without a connection to the electrical utility grid. So I thought I would write about a few options for lighting an off-grid home.
I think the first most important thing to consider is LED technology (Light Emitting Diodes). In general you can get equivalent light from LED bulbs that use about 10% of the energy used by traditional incandescent bulbs. They are about 50% more energy efficient than the newer, CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. So, from an energy use perspective, they are great — but still more expensive than the alternatives. As more and more people change over to LED, they will become more affordable for everyone.
Sometimes I get very frustrated with battery technology. Batteries are too heavy, take up too much room, don’t last long enough, and are too expensive. There just hasn’t been much progress in this technology in the last several decades. Why does this matter today?
When we want to replace fossil fuels with solar, wind, or water we are faced with the problem that these energy sources are not always available, we can’t rely on them. We have to have good storage capabilities to hold onto power generated at one time to use at another time. Batteries provide one solution.
Imagine an alternate reality where coal and oil were never “discovered” as fuel sources and most of our research and technology was developed around extracting energy from renewable sources. What might the world look like today?
Ice Storm, March 2011
We had a pretty amazing ice storm here in NH last week! It provided for some great photo opportunities and the view as far as the eye can see was crystallized trees. Very pretty to look at… but lots of tree limbs cracked in the wind and knocked out power to many homes.
Our power outages in this area are generally limited to a small region, short-lived and mostly non life threatening. It has been heartbreaking to see the devastation from the earthquake that just hit Japan. The largest in their recorded history: Magnitude 8.9! The sunami that followed was unbelievable from the pictures we are getting. Some homes and towns will be without power for many weeks or even months.
Solar Electric Array
I’ve been working with a customer for a few weeks on an idea that he had for his guest house. His guest house is used only about 1 week every month. But, even when the house isn’t being used it is still consuming electricity — a few outdoor lights, enough heat to keep the pipes from freezing, etc.
One solution to help reduce his electric bill would be to buy a standard ‘grid-tie’ solar electric system on the guest house. Here in NH (as in many states) we have net-metering, which means the electric company has to give you credit for any extra electricity you make with a solar pv system for up to one year. If the guest house uses a lot of electricity when someone is in it and a lot less when no one is in it, then, over the course of the year the utility company would charge him for the net result of the electricity used and the electricity produced.
Deep cycle battery
Many people who walk into my store want to talk about batteries, especially deep discharge re-chargable batteries. They want to know the latest technology updates and they are discovering uses for batteries that they may not have thought of before. Here are three categories of large rechargable battery use:
Backup Power: Many people have purchased oil or diesel generators as a back up device for the critical components of their home. When the power went out, they could fire up the generator or it might fire itself automatically. Today, when evaluating a backup system, many people are thinking about combining a battery bank with either a generator or a renewable source like solar PV panels.
There is a nice water fountain in the middle of a large cemetery in Enfield. There is no good way to run electricity to the fountain to circulate water with a pump, but town water was available near by through a hose. For many years during special events someone would turn on the town water and let it run through the fountain and drain away.
This year a group of residents decided to investigate circulating the water with a pump, and using solar photovoltaics to provide the power — and stop wasting water.
Since I opened my store one of the products I have been thinking about is an electric bicycle. I have been an avid cyclist for about 6 or 7 years now. My husband and I try to get in a one long bike trip each summer. (We just completed New London, NH to Boston, MA this weekend — it was great!)
The problem was that I couldn’t find an electric bike that people really liked. I do sell an electric scooter that gets a lot of attention and has a good reputation. But it is cost prohibitive for some (at about $3000) and opens up questions about whether it is a motocycle and requires special registration and special driver’s license, etc. Each town has its own rules they apply to moped or scooter class of motorized vehicles.
Where is the solar panel?
On Monday I participated in a golf day to raise money for Camp Horizons
, which is a group providing opportunities for children and adults with developmental disabilities. We had great weather and for someone who knows very little about the game of golf, I had a lot of fun.
But… it struck me that there is all this sun and all these electric golf carts and no solar panels to provide at least some of the energy needed to charge them. So I decided to figure out what it would take to charge those carts with solar panels.