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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

Wondering about a great new energy-saving device
you found on the Internet? Then CLICK HERE!

Sorry. Jeff no longer answers questions online.
This will remain as a searchable
resource for all BHM website visitors.



Archive for April, 2009

 

The Future of Energy Storage

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

A pleasure reading your articles in my beginning stages of research into solar/wind power.

What I find so very disturbing is the fact that with all the brilliant minds out there that there has not been any significant or reliable long-term storage battery alternatives.

My mother remembers riding in the first electric cars in 1920.  Read the articles of the car batteries that were “shelved” and not produced, the car company used the battery that was less effective and recalled all of the cars. The developers can’t use their original due to copyright issues.  MIT’s liquid variations are 5 yrs away from market.

Why??  Are there any individuals out there making the breakthrough in their garage??

A cost-effective, long-term storage is what the new energy systems need to get going quickly.  Please let me know if there are any out there.

My best,

Diane DeBaun
New Jersey

Diane,

US Patents are good for 17 years (I know as I hold 6 for my own design work) so I doubt there is battery technology from the 1920’s that is being kept off the market due to fear of competition from other suppliers.

There is actually major research going on in the field of batteries, but most of it is to pack more amp-hours of run time in a smaller and lighter space, to meet the demands of the laptop computer, cell phone, and electric car industry.  To meet these design challenges the researchers are having to use more exotic, more expensive, and more hazardous materials that cannot be recycled.

The lowly solar battery does not need to be lightweight or small, so the lower cost lead-acid battery still meets most of our needs and its 100% recycled.  Of course there will be improvements in this battery over time.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago

 

Questions about small solar installation

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Hello Jeff,

Thanks for all the great information you provide BHM readers. I’m planning to install a small PV system using the instructions in your article in issue #116. This will be a very small system and used primarily for back-up during a black out. I have a Uni-Solar US-32 panel and Sunsaver 10 amp controller. I’m installing the panel on a carport roof, (I live in Massachusetts), running the wires to connect to one or two 12-volt deep-cycle marine batteries in my attached garage. I’ll be using the 2-pole fused disconnect and correct wire size for the panel and ground wires you recommend.

I have three questions.

1. What can I use as a bracket to mount the panel to the roof? I’ve seen small RV racks for sale and wondered if there is an alternative mounting bracket that can be purchased at a hardware store.

2. The wiring diagram in your article shows the load wires going to two 12 volt lights, hooked-up in parallel. I plan on wiring one light for the garage and continuing the wires about 30 feet to be run to the inside of the house. Those wires will be hooked up to a wall plate with a 12-volt cigarette plug receptacle mounted on the wall. I want to use the plug for a 12-volt TV or any other 12-volt appliance/charger that works using the auto style plug. What do you think of this arrangement and do you have any suggestions or recommendations.

3. Do I need to vent the batteries outside if they are in an un-insulated garage? I plan on putting the batteries in an insulated box for the winter and wondered if I can drill a hole into the top of the box and let the batteries vent into the garage.

Thanks for the help.

Ernie Smith

Ernie,

I can give you some general answers, but since we would not know everything about a specific installation, we cannot be too specific.

Although most solar dealers offer an “approved” angle “foot” to attach any solar module to a roof, I have taken 1-1/2 X 1-1/2 aluminum angle and installed the leg standing up to the side of the solar module and the flat leg bolted into the roof framing. Keep in mind that if you do not use the pre-drilled mounting holes on the back of the module you will void the warranty, so you might try a combination of two short lengths of angle back to back to make a “Z” shape. This will give you a way to utilize the bolt holes on the back of the module.

As long as your loads are 12 volt DC and wired in parallel, they do not all need to be at the same location. However, I would increase the wire size to the more distant load as there is 10 times the voltage drop at 12 volts DC that there is at 120 volts AC.

Finally, a few RV or golf cart batteries out in a garage will not give off enough gas to cause a problem due to the large space, but don’t locate them next to a gas fired hot water heater. Hydrogen gas is only explosive when highly concentrated like in a small sealed up closet or battery box. If you do place the batteries in an insulated box, you will need a vent at the top. For larger battery systems we use a 1-1/2″ PVC pipe vented outside, with screening to prevent insects from entering. The pipe needs to slope uphill since gas rises, but you will need something to keep out the rain.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Wiring batteries

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

I wanted to thank you ahead of time for you assistance.

We are going to have an off grid solar panel system. Is it possible to wire two 6- volt batteries together both parallel and series to get double the voltage and double the amperage? If not, what are your recommendations?

Thank you so much,

Jenelle Sherstad

Jenelle,

You can wire two 6-volt batteries in series to make 12-volts. You can also wire two 6-volt batteries in parallel to double the amp-hours. But if you wire the same two 6-volt batteries both ways, you will get a lovely cloud of smoke from burning plastic insulation, lots of fire, and chunks of burning copper wire flying through the air. This is because you will be making a dead short from the positive to negative terminals on both batteries.

Either use four batteries, with each pair wired in series, and then the 2 pairs wired in parallel, or buy a really good fire extinguisher.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Generator and fluorescent lighting

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Hello, Jeff,

I live in a condominium building consisting of six floors with about 8 units per floor. Since the construction of this building about 40 years ago, we have operated incandescent bulb lighting with about 800 watts per floor, as well as the outdoor lighting and an elevator.

We are now discussing the possibility of converting the incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs which would reduce our energy consumption by about 2/3, thus reducing our energy bill accordingly. It is the opinion of some that our emergency generator (same age as the building) could not or would not operate properly with the conversion to fluorescent lighting. Can you advise if this assumption is correct?

I thank you for any assistance you can provide.

I think this concern goes back to the old style 4-foot 2-tube T-12 style fluorescent lamps that had magnetic ballasts, which were those long black objects inside the fixtures that would get very hot. This type fluorescent ballast “flickered” the lamp on and off 60 times per second, which produced a strobe effect and was hard on your eyes. Also, the ballasts were a form of transformer which altered the “power factor” which is a angle relationship between the voltage and current peaks. If the power factor drops due to lots of transformers on the circuit, this causes the circuit to use more current and can really screw up a lower cost generator.

Compact fluorescent lamps do not have a transformer type ballast so they produce a much smaller power factor drop. Also, the electronic ballasts in these newer fluorescent lamps are “flickering” on and off at many thousands of times per second so there is no “60 cycle” strobe effect that hurts your eyes. Combined, these two features are much easier for a generator to handle and I have installed generators as backup power for on and off grid homes that only used compact fluorescent lamps with no generator problems.

I will suggest that if you re-lamp all at the same time, be sure to document the date as we are finding that many of the most recent compact fluorescent lamps now being made in China are not lasting anywhere near the advertised life, so I would buy them all at the same time from a lighting distributor and let them know you will be monitoring performance.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Wind Power Question

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Jeff,

I saw a catalog at NorthernTool.com, and there was a ad for a wind generator 120 volts , not DC and the ad stated “Run your meter backward”. The item number in this catalog is Model #44470. It states it also comes with an inverter built in.

Why would you need a inverter for 120 volts?

Second will this piece of equipment really work as it is in this ad?

If it does work as it is in the ad what if anything else will you need to set it up and does it come under the Federal law that the power company is required to let you use it in the system as long as they are advised of the equipment being on line?

Thanks

Bill Wilson

Bill,

I saw an ad for a car that can go 120 miles per hour, but that does not mean I can drive it down the Interstate at that speed if I buy it. In other words, the ad you reference may say you can turn your meter backwards, but you cannot do it legally unless you install all of the required safety dis-connects as required by your local utility, you complete their application form, and then they replace your existing electric meter with a model that records each in and out electric flow separately. Some states have other requirements like providing the utility with a copy of your homeowners liability insurance policy and having a lockable handle exterior disconnect switch for their use.

Although this company is known for their quality wind products, I don’t like having the inverter mounted 75 feet up a pole and subject to all the weather extremes. The inverter is the weak link in most of these systems and I want a system where this is at ground level and have as few electronic components as possible up on a tall tower and in the weather.

Most small wind systems generate DC power for battery charging. What they have done is mounted a DC to AC inverter inside the wind turbine to convert the DC electricity from the turbine into 120/240 VAC which can feed back into the utility grid. However, you cannot legally just plug this into the wall outlet and “turn your meter backwards”.

On another note, for those readers wanting to do something like this, please understand that the power output from any wind turbine is “wild”, in that it jumps constantly all over the place as the wind changes direction and flow rate. You cannot use a standard DC to AC inverter with a wind turbine since the voltage and current goes to such extremes every few seconds. Most inverter manufacturers make a “modified” version of their solar inverters to work with wind turbines, and most are designed for ground mounting in a protected area.

Also note that there are very few areas of the US with enough wind to make these worth the cost and the easiest way to tell is if there are already other wind turbines nearby. Those areas of the US with lots of wind year-round are usually already covered with wind turbines. Although you might be the first in your area, you may want to check a wind resource map for your state first before paying out $6000 plus.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Amp-hours for Solar LED lamp

Friday, April 17th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

Thanks a lot for your help.

I forgot to mention that I am planning to re-charge my batteries with a solar cell. I was wondering how can I choose a solar cell that charges a 3.6V battery.

I am trying to figure the Amp Hours (Ah) that I will need in order to have a constant light output of 14 lumens for at least 4 hours.

How long will it take for the solar cell to re-charge the batteries and do I need a regulator for the current when I charging the battery

Thanks a lot

Marion

Marion,

Yes, you should have a solar charge controller between any solar module and a battery. A small unit for the size system you are considering would be very low cost and protect the battery while maximizing the solar charging process. Although it’s important for the voltage of any solar module to be properly selected for the battery voltage, voltage has little to do with sizing the battery to match the load.

You first need to determine how much “power” your lighting system will draw. This will need to be in “amps”. Next, how many hours per day will this light operate?, Now multiply those numbers together and get amp-hours. For example, let’s say you want to power a light for 10 hours per day that draws 2 amps. This is a 20 amp-hour load per every 24 hours of battery and solar system operation. Now let’s say your area averages 5 hours of direct sunlight per day (typical for most middle and southern states). This means your solar array will need to provide 4 amps of charge just to keep even. (20 A-H / 5 H = 4 A).

This means each day the example light takes out in 10 hours what the solar puts back in 5. However, this does not include any charging efficiency losses, the chance for bad weather, or occasional need for longer operating hours, so the solar array in our example should be up-sized at least 50%, or 6 amps (1.5 x 4 A). So for our example, we would select a solar module that has a 6 amp normal operating charging amp rating, with a voltage that is correct for the solar charge controller and battery we are using. Now we can select the battery.

Since we do not want to discharge a battery more than 50% on a daily basis, we will need a battery that has a 40 amp-hour rating just to handle the daily charge-discharge cycling. (20 A-H/ 50% = 40 A-H). Now lets say we want the battery to power the light for 3 days of bad weather and no sun. This would require a 80 A-H battery (40 + 20 + 20) .

Now follow this example using the ratings for your LED light, solar module, and battery.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Solar submersible pump

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Jeff,

I want to start buying the pump and pipes to supply my  cabin, however I do not know what to buy at this time. Let me explain my situation.

The river which I plan to pull my water from is about 75 yds away from my cabin. The problem is that for the first 55 yards its flat then the water has to travel up hill about 30 ft.

What pump should I buy?

Should I have a double tank system where one is located at the bottom of cliff then pull it up from there and get a second pump to raise it up to pressure tank?

Should I buy the pump from Harbor Freight which has a 2 inch outlet and cost 349.00 which the website says it can lift water 197 ft.?

Should I put a booster pump at the bottom of cliff, or is a solar submersible pump which cost 740.00 powerful enough to do this, or is a 1hp 230 volt submersible pump the only alternative?

Please help.

Thank you,

Arnulfo

Arnulfo,

Read the article I wrote several years ago on this exact same issue.  I suggest you consider a smaller version of this design.

Here is the link: Water: a safe supply when you’re off the grid

Good luck,

Jeff Yago

 

Want to buy a steam boiler

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Dear Sir,

Where can I get a steam boiler that is ready made?

I’m looking for a steam boiler to run a steam engine. This boiler should produce steam up tp 150 psi and it should be rated for 10 horsepower.

Thanks

K.M.

K,

I don’t want to appear rude, but the fact that you are asking for a 150 psi boiler tells me you do not know what you are talking about and will most likely kill yourself and anyone around your little boiler project.

Yes, you can buy a packaged steam boiler for home use and they will be considered “low to medium pressure” which is under 30 psi. About 25 years ago I purchased a WW2 surplus 25 HP steam engine still in the original packing crate and it could easily operate on about 15 psi, but you are wanting a 150 psi steam boiler which is a time bomb if not properly maintained. Every state has a boiler safety department and they inspect all higher pressure steam boilers in their state every year.

In addition, you will be required to become licensed to operate a high pressure steam boiler which requires testing and certification. Your boiler will need to be tested each year by a state inspector, you will have to do daily blowdown of the mud drum, you will need to have certified and regularly tested pressure relief valves and float switch, and have water chemical testing equipment to test the feedwater every day and add water treatment chemicals as needed. Most high pressure boilers are also required to have a boiler operator on site 24/7 as long as the boiler is operating, so you will not be able to leave it un-attended. Still interested?

When I am called in to inspect large university and hospital buildings as to why they are using so much energy, I have to inspect their boiler rooms as part of these site visits, and the steam boilers to heat these large buildings are usually only 125 psi steam pressure, while you are wanting to install a 150 psi boiler.

Do you know why I and most old timers carry an old straw broom around when walking around these high pressure boilers and wave the broom up and down in front as we walk. Because high pressure steam is a colorless dry gas, and is not like the white fog you see in the movies when there is a steam leak. You can hear it, but you cannot see high pressure steam shooting out from a piping leak, and if there is a leak, it will instantly  cut the broom handle in half. There have been many boiler workers that had an arm cut off as clean as a scalpel from an un-seen steam leak.

Take my advice and find a safer hobby that will not blow up your house.

Jeff Yago

 
 


 
 

 
 
 
 
 
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