GENERATING YOUR OWN
THINK REDUNDANT SYSTEMS
Remember NASA. Power is important, don't put all your eggs in one basket.
The most reliable alternative power system is one which generates power from several different
sources. If you had a battery bank, it could be re-charged by a power generator, solar panels, a
water turbine generator or a wind generator. The best system would employ at least two or more
sources of re-charge power. Wind generators provide power during windy nights and solar
provides during bright sunlight when perhaps there is no wind. Employing more than one source
of re-charge means more consistent and reliable recharging.
FOSSIL AND ALTERNATIVE FUEL GENERATORS
The most talked about option these days is buying a gasoline, diesel, or propane fuel generator.
These are the current "Hot Sellers." The generator should be generously sized to your
pre-planned power requirements. No motor should be continuously used at its full output, so
you want some extra margin. Running several applications at once demands a bigger generator;
using a generator to simply charge batteries would allow you to get by with a small generator or
even a home-made rig consisting of a car alternator powered by a lawnmower engine.
Make sure your generator will handle the expected "surge loads" and start-up loads within its
rating for continuous capacity. Disregard manufacturer's claims about "surge capability" from
their generators, especially if you will be using any sensitive electronics (such as a computer)
when a motor might kick in like a well pump or freezer.
For a propane or natural gas generator, the claimed output should usually be decreased by about
10% as compared to the same engine on gasoline or diesel because propane and natural gas are
less efficient as a fuel than gasoline or diesel.
If you have a dual-fuel generator, keep the loss of power ratings on propane or natural gas in
mind when you make load and energy calculations.
Besides gasoline, diesel, and propane, generators can also run on alcohol (corresponds to
gasoline) and vegetable oil such as soybean (corresponds to diesel). You probably won't find
such generators advertised for sale, but a competent mechanic could make the necessary changes.
A generator provides a lot of power, it also consumes fuel and makes noise and fumes. During
the 1998 ice storms in Quebec, there were many incidents of carbon monoxide poisoning caused
by operating generators inside houses and apartments. Generators require space, a fresh air
intake, and an exhaust for the carbon monoxide combustion byproducts (that carries it away from
any occupied rooms), or they must be used outside. Even muffled, there will be noise.
Diesel generators usually outlast gasoline generators and are usually more fuel efficient. Most
portable generators are gasoline and will use between .5 and 1.5 gallons of gasoline per hour.
Direct drive generators, the ones without belt drives, are either 1800 rpm or 3600 rpm. An 1800
rpm generator is better than a 3600 rpm because it runs quieter and they usually last longer.
These are usually found in large motor homes and yachts but are fairly rare as portable generators
as they weigh considerably more than their 3600 rpm counterparts.
Lubrication is a concern with generators. Some smaller generators are two-cycle and require
mixing oil with the gasoline for lubrication. The most popular and inexpensive portable
generators use "splash" lubrication and lack an oil filter. This is like the lubrication that most
lawnmowers use. This is a cheap way to lubricate but does not provide the protection that could
be found with pressure lubrication. The better generators use a full pressure lubrication system
like found on cars. The better ones of these even have a spin-on filter like a car engine. All
engines require oil changes but with the better engines with the spin-on oil filters, more
protection is provided and longer engine life is a result.
Practice using your generator when it is installed. Don't wait for an emergency to open the
instruction book. If it is being installed by contractors, ensure that proper instruction for use is
included in the terms. As with any motor, it will benefit from being used regularly. Motors left
to sit unused will deteriorate (unless specially prepared for long storage), so fire it up for a few
minutes each month and run a load on the system to keep it in tip-top working order.
Remember that when using your generator to power an appliance, you can probably also use it to
WIND, WATER, SOLAR GENERATION OF POWER
Solar, wind, and water powered technologies have been the subject of intensive experimentation
and use for several decades. Windmills, hydro-electric, and solar installations provide power
across the globe. Suppliers are plentiful, and there is plenty in print for review and research.
Home Power Magazine is a good place to begin (available in many bookstores).
System components include:
1. Power source (wind, solar, or water),
2. Charge regulator,
3. safety equipment (fuses),
5. Instrumentation (tells you what is happening),
6. Invertors (for powering AC equipment),
7. Battery chargers.
Battery charging DC generators can be used together. You can combine a solar panel array with
a wind generator and use both at the same time to charge a battery bank. A DC output water
turbine generator could be tied into the same system with additional positive results. As we
spoke earlier, with multiple sources of charging, we better guarantee our results. The wind may
blow when the sun is not out and the water turbine is not operating. A water turbine may work in
a period of rain when the solar panels are in the dark and there is no wind. Our requirements for
electricity are perpetual, we need to make our sources of electrical recharging as perpetual as
Wind power requires wind, and a tower or tall roof to get the generator up into an undisturbed
air flow. They can be home-crafted from car alternators, or more sophisticated models are
readily available on the market. (Mother Earth News publishes a nice set of plans for making a
wind generator out of an automobile alternator.) Options include using one large unit, or several
Solar energy comes in active and passive forms. Active refers to using photovoltaic (PV)
cells that create electrical current directly from sunlight to charge batteries or run motors, radios,
etc. Passive systems use direct sunlight for heating space or water (e.g. thermal walls, south
facing windows, heat collectors, etc.)
The PV cells are connected together in panels to produce the voltages required. Using batteries
and an inverter, solar panels could provide enough power to a battery bank to run an invertor to
keep a small refrigerator (RV size) going. As we mentioned previously, invertors of the
modified sine-wave output type are not as efficient at starting inductive loads like refrigerators.
Because of this, the inverter must be about three times the operating load of the refrigerator for
satisfactory results. It is not unusual for an 800 watt modified sine-wave invertor to fail at
starting a 300 watt dormitory sized refrigerator.
Sizing a solar system is a matter of investing in PV panels, invertor/chargers, and batteries. The
amount of sun received at a given site is an important indicator of the size of the solar array that
is necessary. There are many homes on 100% solar but such systems are expensive. Real
Goods and Sunelco are two distributors that have a lot of experience with providing solar
products and they have the expertise to help calculate your energy needs.
Water power is available to those lucky (or foresighted) enough to have water flowing over their
property. Water power is a matter of the speed the water flows, and the height of its drop. A
little water falling a great distance can provide the same power as a lot of water falling a small
distance. Of course, the methods of harnessing the power will vary somewhat between the two
extremes as some turbine types are more efficient with more pressure than volume and others are
just the opposite. Fortunately, this research has been going on long enough that there are several
good products on the market that are tried and proven.
A final bell and whistle is a system monitor, which reports voltage, current, amp hours and
display the amount of charge remaining in each battery bank. These are available from Marine
and RV supply sources.
d. Making your own generator
The ultimate low-tech generator is made from a lawnmower motor and the alternator
from a car. Because automobile alternators are not "self exciting" some type of 12 volt
rechargeable battery must be used with this home made generator. Such a rig is best used to
charge a bank of batteries. It has the advantage of being able to be put together from parts that
are fairly common; the disadvantage is, "some assembly required". To down load the plans from
the Internet, go to http://forums.cosmoaccess.net/forum/survival/prep/tow02077.htm
Minimizing your electrical requirements helps lower the cost and complexity of the entire
system, especially the batteries. Replacing 3 one-hundred watt light bulbs with 3, 22 watt
compact flourescent would provide the same amount of light for a lot less electricity (300 watts
vs. 66 watts).. Less electrical demand means longer battery charge duration and usable charge
life for your batteries. It also means less re-charge requirements, whether that comes from
generator, solar, wind, or what ever source of charge used.