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9/15/14

The Off Grid Passive Solar Prefab House Gains A Generator.

In our off grid prefab house household, our lifestyle fluctuates with the seasons.

We now know that in fall we can have three weeks of cloud cover.
On minimal systems.


It would have been fine. 


At work I check in once a day, am available to clients by phone, I respond to emails, then am done, and save all the other work for when the sun shines later that week.

During those times, the kids homeschool with workbooks and LOTS of reading. We are always ahead in curriculum so don't feel pressured... However, yes, I guess I *am* pressured when one cloudy week turns into three because I hate lack of progress and documentation in a curriculum I can *prove.*

What changed our minds was the CTY Johns Hopkins program, AP Java classes, the Coursera science classes: They all adhered to "The semester starts on X date and homework is due on Y date..." and really, that's *reality*- not many people can live like we, seasonally, so it was decided that it was time to get a backup generator to power the off grid battery bank for the few weeks like that so our children's grades would not be impacted.

Because, y'know, EVERY ELEVEN YEAR OLD'S University of Tokyo Black Hole class (or whatev it is called) should not be affected by their parent's affinity for minimal living.
And let's face it: Our systems are dangerously, during weeks of cloud cover, LOW.

So when these two weeks of cloud cover brought our battery bank down to the mid-50% (and at 50% and less you *permanently* damage your solar battery bank), we jumped and got a Honda EU6500is generator. For those that wonder, it cost $4,218.95.
The piece of mind it brings and the lifted weight of my worry is priceless.

At the off grid prefab house, I watched the installation progress, barely hiding a touch of panic.


Our battery bank read 59%, it was a super cloudy day hence not charging, and our average overnight drop is 4%, bringing us too dangerously close to The Damage Threshold.

But the installation was successful, with a firing up right as dusk waned to night!
*Immediately* we began charging at... ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-TWO AMPS!

Less than three hours later we had thrust the charge needle from "Danger, Will Robinson!" to "Go ahead, watch a movie, make popcorn, and stay up late!"
So we did.
7:29: This is when I started timing the generator,
which was at 59%.

Here, Handsome Husband explains installation:
"There is an amazing amount of information in forums and on youtube about generators in off-grid systems. In fact, we were the exception when we opted not to have a generator
There are at least 3 reasons for having a generator when you are off-grid: First the obvious one: your solar panels are sized to your battery bank and your battery bank is sized to store enough power for a period of overcast conditions (in our case 5 days), during which you will be living off your battery bank to provide the basic power needs you determined when you sized your systems. So, day 6 of overcast conditions rolls around, the battery charge percentage nears 50%, a level you do not want to undercut in the interest of the health of your batteries and you break out the candles and unplug everything (really everything). The generator can now pick up the slack - not in the way you use it during power outages in a standard home, but in a short burst to recharge the batteries, after which you go for another 5 days in our case living off of the batteries. Overcast conditions stretching this long are fortunately rare in our area but they do occur 3-4 times per year. 
The second reason to own a generator is to maintain the health of your battery bank. Battery banks need to be equalized (slightly overcharged so that you ensure that the entire bank can reach the same charge level under normal conditions). In order to equalize you need to have reached 100% of charge and then need enough power input to conduct the equalization. Owning a generator makes this monthly exercise possible in a predictable fashion, in our case reaching 100% of charge and having enough insolation to conduct the equalization was a rare occurrence. 
And at 10:30ish...
The third reason to own a generator while living off-grid is to be able to support levels of load that are out of the ordinary and therefore had no input into your sizing calculations. This really depends on your situation but it is nice to be able to handle those cases.
The Xantrex XW inverter installed in the Casa Ti does a very intelligent job utilizing additional AC input from a generator. There is an optional automatic generator start ("AGS") module that we have but haven't activated yet so I will leave that feature to a future post and describe how we hooked up the generator to the inverter. 
Our generator has a 240VAC output in the form of a four prong receptacle (NEMA L14-30 is the style). There are of course the neutral and ground wires and then two loads (L1 and L2) each carrying 120 V.  We bought a 10 gauge wire with those four leads, connected it to a NEMA L14-30 plug, ran it to the AC input in the inverter and connected it to the neutral, L1 and L@ terminals for the generator input and the ground terminal. Then we fired up the generator, let it warm up and plugged the cable into the generator receptacle. 
...at 10:30ish, we are at 100%!!!
Without any further settings the inverter recognized the available AC power and directed it to the batteries, essentially running in reverse - converting AC power back to DC and charging the batteries."
Will we change our off grid minimal lifestyle now that we have this backup power source?
No. Energy is energy, water is water, resources are resources, why ever waste, just because you can.

But this backup generator now enables us to not damage our investment in off grid systems, allows us to not panic and stress each time a cloudy week approaches and threatens to stretch not just over days but weeks.

Reading Club:
  • Net Neutrality: The Internet Slows Down
    If we did not have net neutrality, I would not be able to move my businesses to this rural area and work.  My husband would not be able to telecommute from The Big City where he works, so we would not have been able to spend the large investments we have made for our family to live and work here.

    I would not be able to homeschool my two children, both whom have *excelled* academically because of online education- one whom was accepted into John's Hopkins Center For Talented Youth, *because*, via the internet, he could have the education he needed.

    Please educate yourself and your representatives on how net neutrality levels the playing field and continues to allow educational and business opportunities where otherwise there might not be afforded. This would impact rural communities, and their futures and ability to draw in business, allow their children to learn at far-away universities via MOOCs, greatly.

    In order to preserve rural communities, you need more tech people in your midst that can afford to work anywhere if they have a laptop, with the enthusiasm to preserve and invest in those communities. Those work laptops rely on NON-BigBoyTelecoms in rural communities. All the players you have in rural communities are NOT the Big Boys, but entrepreneurial smaller companies. *Everything depends upon net neutrality.* Realtors you will send yourself back to the dark ages if your clients can't telecommute. Economic Development Boards? Take heed. EVERYONE will be impacted, but rural areas will lose opportunities the most.
Recipes:
Eggs. We have lots of eggs right now. EVERYONE is laying...
So we make pasta.

And tonight, ravioli.
Take any basic pasta recipe and make the dough (we like Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian's).
For filling, saute well some minced onion, then sausage. Break up so the sausage is fine.
Cool.
In a bowl, add ricotta, LOADS of fresh parsley (because the parsley is going nuts, too!), fresh pepper, shredded provolone, mix in the sausage/onion mix, then parmesan until it's just delicious looking.

With that, make the ravioli. 
Then I like to "fry" it with a little butter in a pan, adding a small base of water to also "simmer" it so it doesn't stick to the pan! If you make a lot that you aren't going to cook immediately, take those uncooked ravioli, which I place on a plate or tray so they don't stick together before cooking, and turn them until they dry a little on each side, making them more sturdy, then store with wax paper between each layer.

Remember all that lovely pasta sauce loaded with fresh basil I canned? Open a jar, heat some, and serve the cooked ravioli with a dollop o' summer's goodness as you serve.

On our end, this week at the off grid prefab brought...
A new fave stick.

And similarly, a box.
Yep, still playing with this spring's
box that came with the toilet...

Learning dances for cotillion.
Here's what I learned about cotillion: 
All the girls talk about the boys,
and all the boys talk about
what toppings they put on their ice cream sundae.
How boys do "cute cotillion pictures."
In the end, it was also special for Pip 2 as, while I was busy with Cotillion Chaos, she got to have a Dad Date to some of her favorite places: Maymont, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
In the end, a stressful cloudy stretch of days turned into further security for our off grid family, in the modern prefab house.
A good investment for our future.

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1 Comments:

At 6/8/15, 7:03 AM , Blogger Krish Banzet said...

Honda generators are really quiet and also have fewer interruptions. honda generator 2000 can be extremely crucial in remote areas with no other available power source.

 

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