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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 the ‘Energy’ Category


Power Save 1200 or similar products

Thursday, May 21st, 2009


I came across an add for the Power Save 1200. Electricity flow “cleaner” with a 1K solar panel to connect without batteries. We are on the grid and looking to waste less and minimize our “footprint”. They have an assortment of interesting products.

Would like your opinion.

Thank you!



Even if we installed wind and solar equipment for free, no labor charges at all, just the hardware costs for either system would easily exceed many thousands of dollars, so anyone that claims they can do this for $299, tells me there may be more to the story. For example, the web site you referred me to is very interesting as it discusses in detail their solar grid-tie system, but no costs or sizes are given, and a grid-tie wind system, but no costs or sizes are given, then the ad goes into describing this power saving product with a $299 price, as if it included all the solar and wind features that were also listed as if this was all the same product.

Based on the very limited information provided as to how this “black box” can save up to 25% of your home’s utility usage, a figure I highly doubt, it appears to me this is just another capacitor bank with an added whole house surge suppressor. Yes, there are times when large motor or transformer loads on an electrical system can cause the voltage and current to be out of phase more than 90 degrees as required for maximum power conversion. However, I do not know any utility companies that measure this power factor penalty except for large commercial clients since this requires installing a separate power factor meter. It is highly doubtful that even if you had an extreme case of all kinds of motor and transformer loads in your home, odds are this is not being metered or is not enough to cause the type of added savings being claimed by this device. The only time we install equipment like this is for a large retail store with thousands of fluorescent lights, or a large industrial facility with all kinds of large motor loads.

As far as the mentioned benefit for having a surge suppressor, yes this can save your appliances from damage if there is a major voltage surge on the utility line like lightning nearby, but you can buy a whole house surge suppressor at Lowes for about $40.00.

I suggest that you first contact your local utility to see if they even measure power factor on their residential meters, and if they do, ask them what this added utility cost is. If it is not metered by the utility, the only benefit I can see to adding a capacitor bank would be if your power factor was so bad that it was increasing the actual VA metered usage, and for that you would need a whole house-full of motor and ballast loads to realize these kinds of savings.

I say read the small print on anything like this since the basic information being offered before the sale is too limited to actually know what you are buying, how it works, and how they are measuring their very high utility savings. Odds are this sample case is nothing like your home.

Buyer beware,

Jeff Yago


Emergency Radio

Monday, May 18th, 2009


Any update since the issue #98 article on picking the right emergency radio?

I’m leaning toward a crank job, but when I read reviews on Amazon, etc., they’re all over the field. Add to that that every schlock outfit that can cobble together a radio sells them with all kinds of useless do-dads. One criticism of the Sangean was that it runs for progressively shorter durations after cranking each time it runs down.


Rob Wagner


All of the hand crank radios I have tested have not been very good with many broken cranks and other failures.   I have, however, tested many small radios that require very little battery power and it’s just as easy to keep a pack of spare batteries nearby.

I am not a big fan of rechargeable batteries as then tend to play out when you really need them and the older they are the shorter they hold a charge.

The Sony radio I have shown in several articles has AM, FM, Weather, and TV-sound bands and will fit inside your fist.  Since it can use an earphone, it requires very little battery power to operate for very long periods.  A spare pack of batteries should give you weeks of operation during an extended power outage.

When I buy LED flashlights and other battery powered equipment, I try to standardize on only 2 battery sizes, then its easy to keep refreshing my spares as the older ones get used for everyday use.

I’ll take a Sony earphone radio and a pack of 16  AAA copper-top batteries any day instead of one of these hand-crank specials with no batteries.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


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


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


Hydro generator system

Friday, March 6th, 2009

Hi Jeff:

I purchased DC-512 four alternators over the Internet for a hydro project. I’m taking advantage of an existing irrigation system on a farm, which pumps a steady stream of water with great pressure at a very long distance. It’s like a fire hose in action.

This system is running continuously for 12 hours daily. I’ve designed a special, very light aluminum=blades arrangement and I have adapted it to the DC-512 via belt drive to disrupt the powerful irrigation water stream, moving this blade as when cleaning a painting roll with a pressure hose. This creates a speed in the DC-512 of 1150 RPM as measured with a tachometer. The voltage produced with no load, e.g., disconnected from the batteries, is approximately 25 volts, measured with a Flux digital meter.

The DC-512 were all connected in parallel to a single 12 volts Flex-Charger of 100 amps to charge a battery bank, 4 batteries connected in parallel. Three alternators DC-512 were disconnected from the charger to perform troubleshooting leaving just one connected in parallel. This is what happens; when I connect the positive cable to close the circuit, seems like a short circuit is created in the alternator, which slows down the speed to about 500 RPM stopping the blades and disrupting its function to load the battery bank. The charger light turns on indicating that is charging but, producing only 13 volts, which is not really enough voltage to charge the batteries. I have connected everything precisely as per alternator and charger instructions. Finally, I am tired of getting wet like crazy during test and troubleshooting process. I wonder if you can explain what is happening and how can I make this system work. Your help will be really appreciated.

Thank you in advance.

Carlos Echevarria


As it states on the web site, we can not answer specific design questions as we do not know all of the specifics of your installations, and this is a free site and we have limited time to spend on each email question. However, we can provide general answers that may be of some help.

First, I assume this pressure flow is due to gravity head and not from a pressure pump somewhere. Second, if I had this much “free” water flow I would purchase a quality hydro-generator that is designed to maximize the conversion of energy. Most likely a properly sized and designed unit could replace all four of your home-made units and without all the problems you are having.

If things work fine with all four alternators in the circuit and then when you cut out all but one and it does what you describe, it sounds like it is being over-loaded. This would drop the voltage while appearing to be under load. Also, your wiring switching to one alternator could be causing the remaining alternator to be sending power into the alternators not being used which would be a large current drain on the working unit.

Again, you have a great opportunity to power your home with this much hydro power if you bite the bullet and purchase the correct equipment.

Good luck!

Jeff Yago


Getting started with energy efficiency

Thursday, March 5th, 2009


I am looking for sources, info, anything that will help concerning building an energy efficient retirement home, off the grid if possible, east of Dallas, Texas. Prefab companies, plans, books, anything to help me get started.

Thank you,

Johnny Bernstein


We have had numerous articles about solar system design, solar system types, how solar works, etc. Many can be read online. And the Backwoods Home Bookstore has two good books on solar systems including one I reviewed in the last issue.   Order the back issues on CD if you no longer have these issues.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Have river, want hydro

Monday, February 23rd, 2009


I have a large river I would like to tap for power. I find very little information on how to set up a turbine or propeller type. River is 5 plus feet deep 40 ft wide. Average speed 5+. Plus if permits are needed on such a river, were would I get that information?

Mike Eagles


Usually its not how deep or how wide a river is that determines how good it is for making power, its how much it drops in elevation in a short distance.  In other words, If I wanted to install a hydro generator, I would rather have a creek 5 feet wide and 2 feet deep that drops 30 feet in elevation while crossing my property, than a 100 foot wide river 20 feet deep that may only drop 1 or 2 feet in elevation.  Yes, there are a few drag type hydro generators that you can have at the end of a cable in the middle of a river, but the real power comes from the drop in elevation.  That is why they build dams!

Hope this helps and beware, most states have very strong regulations against damming up a creek or river.   Unless you can find an old abandoned dam left over from when water wheels powered our industry to refurbish, odds are it will be more trouble than its worth.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Adding water injection to auto engines

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009


Any truth to the claims of adding water injection systems to increase my mileage for my gas-guzzling SUV?


Joe Rocchio
West Palm Beach, Fl


I am no expert on automobile engines, but I do know two things:

1.  You can find 1000 different gadgets claiming increased mileage including wrapping magnets around the fuel line, injecting water, all kinds of fuel additives, coils to make a hotter spark, hotter spark plugs, and slicker lubricating oils.

2.  If I manufactured low mileage cars in today’s high fuel cost environment causing many buyers to switch away from the “gas guzzlers”, I think I would be adding any gadget I could to make my design more efficient unless I had already tested and found all these gimmicks to either have little or no improvement, or their improvement caused long term engine damage.

You should read the opening paragraphs of an article I wrote last year.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Grid-tie vs. Off-Grid

Sunday, January 18th, 2009


Interested in knowing the economics comparison between a grid-tie v. off-grid system.

For simplicity, let’s imagine a 2Kw grid-tie system can be installed complete for $12,000, with no battery back-up.  Also an off-grid system can be installed complete for the same price of $12,000 inclusive of battery bank.

In the course of 10 years, in comparison, which system will normally provide higher dividends?

If more details are needed for the overall scenario, please ask.




You are comparing apples and oranges so this choice makes no sense. If your goal for installing a solar system is to provide the most utility cost savings for the lowest initial cost, then any grid-tie system without batteries will have the lowest cost and will provide the shortest payback. For comparison purposes, inverters designed for grid-tie sell-back without batteries are usually a little more efficient than inverters designed to charge a battery bank, but this is not the real reason you would choose one over the other.

Any solar system with batteries cost more for the inverter and switchgear, costs more for the batteries, requires battery maintenance, takes up valuable heated interior space that could be used for other purposes, the costly batteries must be replaced every few years, and as stated above, the inverters are less efficient in sell-back mode. Yet, there are lots of battery based solar systems sold each year and the reason is very simple. People buy a more expensive battery-based solar system because it provides peace of mind. If you are in an area without grid power, it provides peace of mind of having reliable power without running a generator 24 hours per day. If you on the utility grid but in an area where there are lots of power outages, it provides the peace of mind that your freezer, lights, and other appliances will continue to operate during brief power interruptions. If you live in an area that has gone weeks at a time without power due to yearly storm damage, you have the peace of mind that any future storm will have only a minor impact on your lifestyle or perhaps your home-based business.

People place a high value for this peace of mind and do not calculate this in terms of payback or return on investment, just like you would not purchase a fire extinguisher or security system based on a cash flow analysis.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago



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