Makin’ juice…and irony all at the same time

Electricity. Power. Watts and amps. One may not NEED power living OTG (we still have some folks with gas and oil lamps and no refrigeration) but it is a helluva lot easier and, in the long run, likely cheaper to have power rather than not if you are building or doing anything significant. And so we modern OTG’ers are more than inclined to go get us some power.

When I started out back in the day (2004), making power meant a genset or two, some solar panels, batteries and an inverter that took the 12/24/48 DC volt battery bank to 120/240v AC. And that, at the time, was a bit on the sophisticated side because my system could be charged both by generator and/or solar. Plus you could use ‘cheaper’ appliances and lights (mass produced fluorescent or incandescent) rather than automotive or marine 12 volts appliances and lights.

I added a wind turbine rather quickly but it was largely useless. In those days, the ‘little’ $700.00 wind turbines put out 400 watts between 24 and 28 mph of wind but virtually nothing under 18 mph and, if the wind increased beyond 30 mph, the turbine stopped (braked) so as not to burn out. The only practical improvement one could really make to the overall system was adding more panels and more batteries.

Of course, those batteries were of the lead-acid kind and, as a rule, they lasted only about five years due to crude construction, improper maintenance and heavy use. They were an obstacle to any kind of long term reliability. Mostly it was maintenance and use. “Batteries don’t die, son, they are murdered.” Which turns out to mean that, if you took out the plates and acid and cleaned everything up and fixed a bit here and there, there is likely enough material to go another five years.

Today, things have improved.

Firstly, panels are a lot cheaper nowadays and are also a smidge more efficient. Back at the turn of the century, I paid $5.00 a watt. A 125 watt panel with 15% efficiency was $625. Three of them cost over $1800 and were rated at 375 watts – which they never seemed to achieve. Today, a panel is usually around 17 -20% efficient and costs $1.00 a watt. I can buy a 350 watt panel that outperforms the earlier 3 panels for $350.00. There is NO question solar works. And more modern solar works even better. I currently have 3000 watts of potential power (the sun has to shine) and it is adequate for our needs in the summer. More than adequate, actually. It is adequate for our needs in the Spring and Fall, too. My solar is of diminishing impact by late October but picks up again by early April.

Batteries have improved…kinda…. Back in the day, the Surette battery was the best but they were so expensive most people used old ‘large’ heavy-equipment batteries. I used 8D sized batteries designed for buses and heavy equipment. Some used L16s. Many used a sad collection of old car and truck batteries. Today, I use Discover batteries which are still lead acid but better designed (like the Surettes) but Discover’s Lithium Ion are showing themselves to be up to the task and they are smaller and better performing. But they, too, are expensive as hell. It is hard to make that kind of investment ($20K) when you just know that the next generation of battery will be even better. When that happens. If it happens. Someday. Maybe.

But, as you know, I eventually get to the point of the blog and the point is this: The Chinese are now putting out a way more efficient wind turbine that operates at lower wind speed. Or so they claim. Unverified. Cheaper, too. I can get a 10000 watt wind turbine for $1000 that will work at 8 mph. I have not yet studied what it produces at such a low wind speed but I always have 8 mph and so 24 hours at even a low generation is still a lot of juice. I am very close to making this addition happen (more research is needed). If it works it will work best when I need it the most – Winter.

Hydro power is by far the best overall. But not everyone has a fast running creek or stream to tap into. Mine is half a kilometer away. So, generally speaking, 3000 watts of solar power with a low speed wind turbine and twice as much good battery storage (I have 400 amp hours. I could really use 800 – 1200) and I would be doing as good as I need to. The goal: limited genset use in a typical year’s winter (which we may never see again).

“Dave, if others use kerosene lamps, what are you using that requires so much juice?”

This is point #2: we have a washing machine (no dryer) a modern electric fridge. That fridge is incredible. Very low draw. And two freezers. We watch NetFlix and run computers plus all my tools now and then. There is the water pump, all the kitchen appliances, battery chargers and all the lights (now LED). Plus, once a month or so I use the ‘funicular’ which carries heavy stuff up the hill. In the summer, I have and use sparingly a small portable air conditioner. We are old softies, really.

The irony to living OTG is that you try to create the ease of modern living. And you work like a dog and spend like a celebrity to do it.

Epilogue: A few hours research has confirmed original doubts and fears. Reviewers in NZ, Aus and the USA have described the new Chinese Wind turbines as using ‘new Chinese watts’ with which to rate their output. They are not true. And, worse, 80% of the turbines are still poorly made. It seems there are a few good ones but they are also performing like the old ones with only incremental improvements. The best foreign wind turbine is from Turkey. It is something called iSTA BREEZE. Comes in 1000, 1500 and 2000 watts. Real watts. MY Air-X is considered as good but mine is just 400 watts. The new Chinese turbine is largely a hoax! Fake news! I also learned that ‘jamming in’ turbine juice meets with resistance and the bigger the bank, the more resistance. A small charge of say, 3 or four amps, won’t even register. So that accounts for me getting ‘nothing’ until 18 mph and then getting 8 amps all of a sudden. I did not know that.

15 thoughts on “Makin’ juice…and irony all at the same time

  1. Interesting indeed. I can identify. My Surrette batteries are getting on to 15 years old. They are reputed to last 20, if you baby them.

    I still have the invoice for mine, described as 6CS-25PS 6V 1156Ah. I have 8 of ’em and they weigh 320 lb. apiece. They should keep me going for awhile yet. If I replace, I’d look at lithium ion. At my age, not much point in thinking I’ll wait until even something more advanced comes along. I don’t have the time to wait.

    Very interesting about the wind turbine. I put up a 2.5 kw turbine 15 years ago. A lot more than a $1,000 price tag back then. That would not even pay for the 90-foot tower holding it up. But, a good machine. Cut-in wind speed about 8 mph and it would produce about 500 watts in a light wind. In a southeaster, it would produce 4,000 before furling or braking. The turbine weighs about the same as one of my batteries, so it needs a stout tower to support it. The blades are almost 12 feet across. Back then, I learned that power production depends heavily on “swept area” and turbine height. The further you can get it from the ground and any buildings or trees, the better. The idea of a 10 kw turbine for $1,000 is certainly intriguing. When I was shopping for those things, I seem to recall 10 kw turbines costing $20,000 or so. And proportionately heavy. The word was that in storm winds, heavy gear survives. The light stuff does not. So I hope you’ll have more research to share.

    My turbine is sitting on a bench, out of service right now. After about 12 years of service, I left it alone for a few months one winter. I left it with the brake on. Problems was, when I eventually got around to releasing the brake, the doggone thing did not want to start. A bit of corrosion had formed. Not enough to do any real harm, but enough to stop it from starting up without having some modest force applied, so it had to be lowered to the ground for that, which is not altogether easy to do on one’s own. So, I have not put it back up, since I have been away for another winter since and I don’t want to invite the same problem. For the time I am here, 3,000 watts of solar keeps me going pretty well. I don’t burn much diesel in the generator.

    An interesting thing about wind turbines, at least the ones produced in “my day” is that, unlike solar, they don’t simply taper down the current sent to the batteries as the batts r each full charge. Whatever they produce has to go somewhere. So they require(d) one to install a “dump load”. Mine is in my basement. It consists of 6 electric coils, each capable of taking 1,000 watts. In a strong wind, they will glow red and produce a lot of heat, burning off what the turbine produces when the batteries are full.


    • So you have free heating as well when the batteries are full? Lithium ion batteries are good, much lighter compared to the lead acid batteries. We have installed them in a few applications, but I have found they are not as “sturdy” as the lead acid batteries (they don’t like low temperatures like most batteries)
      I still wonder how you install and/or dismantle a wind turbine on a 90 foot tower by yourself.
      I can only say…my deepest respect!


      • Well, some free heat. If the batts are full and there is wind, common scenario in winter, then the dump load is putting heat into the house. Not enough to heat more than part of the basement. But that’s okay. The main heat source is a wood-fired gasifying boiler. It heats water that circulates through pipes buried in the concrete slab the basement and the whole house rest on. Once the basement floor is nice and toasty, it helps to raise the temperature of the upper floors. Hot water could also be sent to those floors, but that has not proven to be necessary.

        As for raising and lowering that heavy turbine and heavy tower, it takes a gin pole and a turfer winch. For 2 people, not difficult. It could be managed by one person, but not sure I would tackle it alone. The whole thing rests on a base of poured concrete. I know what the 2-ton anchors that help to hold my dock in place look like, so I would estimate the wind turbine base at 4 tons or better. Then there are 4 concrete pillars to which the guy wires attach. They are different heights out of the ground to correspond with the landscape, so the top surface of each is at the same elevation. One projects from the ground by only a couple of feet. The largest by about 10 feet. They have a diameter of about 30 inches and so there is some added tonnage there.
        All that is needed, considering the force that can be exerted on 300+ pound turbine, with a 12-foot wingspan, in a gale force wind. Not that that occurs often, but once is enough if not designed to withstand the strongest winds. The turbine itself has a “survival” wind speed of 100 mph. Beyond that, no assurances.

        Interesting your comment about lithium ion batts and low temps. I have not read about them. Lead acid like cold, for long life, although they deliver the most current at about 25 degrees centigrade. The colder they are, the longer they will live, but then you need more of them to store the same amount. At first, I kept mine in a battery room in the basement, vented to the outside and with a regulation gas-proof steel door separating that room from the rest of the house. In winter, they would be sitting on a warm floor, in a warm room. I did not place them directly on the floor, which can warm up to about 100F if I let it. I kept them on a wood frame about 6 inches off the floor. After a couple of years, I decided they might be happier in a battery box outside. So, from what you relate, if I go for lithium ion, maybe I want to use my battery room as a battery room again.


  2. I wonder who will climb the tower to install this new wind turbine? I seem to recall that Sal climbed up the last time. How will you be able to persuade Sal to climb up again and install an even heavier turbine? But I can understand not to rely on 1 power source.
    But with my fear of heights, I would definitely not go for the wind turbine but chose the solar panels


      • Sal looks at me darkly whenever I refer to her reascending the tower. And the looks just get darker and darker the more I do it (which is kind of fun). If I decide to supplement my power source, I may try, instead, to do it with tidal power. I have a two knot current that churns right by the house. Water is 800 times more dense than air. That means my wind turbine might be able to be ‘tuned in’ to turn by way of tidal current flow. I am not sure quite how to do that but it would start by using galvanized strong legs from the shore to a float and have a propeller under the water turn the alternator that sits above the water in a water-tight housing. Probably a gear box, too, to increase the rpms. Then I only have a couple of hundred feet of wire to run up to the batteries.


        • Hmmm, that seems a bit to complicated and probably will not work. I have found no proof an any installation of that kind. You will need a special turbine for water (like the hydro power plants), and I am pretty sure these need a stronger current. I would go for extra solar panels and bigger batteries, might be less complicated and higher rate of success. And no need to bother Sal with these plans
          Damn…there might be a future for me on Read Island


          • The main reason for me thinking that way is that I have all the ‘stuff’ with which to do it but I’d rather use a 220/240 AC current than a 48v DC (which I have). The power travels better. But, you may be right. More batteries for sure. But it makes no difference how many solar panels you have if it is dark.


          • No. The batteries are aligned to make 48v DC but that power is then ‘inverted’ through an Outback Inverter into 120v AC, By doing that, all appliances, lights, etc are conventional and much less expensive. I also take 120v AC and sometimes ‘transform’ it up to 220v single phase for the funicular but the funicular needs 3 phase to work so I use a Siemens motor controller that simulates 3 phase enough for the motor to work. The amazing thing to me is that we start with sunshine and convert that to almost random DC voltage and, after a few black boxes, have the equivalent of 3-phase 220v AC. Magic.


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