Paul's Gas & Electric
Stanley may have been a great math teacher, but it didn't seem that he was much of an engineer. The
utilities consisted of:
500 Gallon LP gas tank (for the water heater and furnace).
24 volt, 16 Amp solar array, 100 feet from the batteries.
1,050 Amp-Hour battery bank.
2,500 Watt inverter/charger.
5KW gasoline backup generator.
House wired (improperly) for AC.
Gasoline water pump at the pump house.
New septic system.
Basically the problems were:
Water: The walk down to the pump house with a gallon of gas is okay,
but when it's raining, it is really slippery. And wet. Really
wet. It rains hard when it rains. We average about two times as much
rain as the Peninsula. Fill the pump with gas, start
it up, and walk away. We had no idea how much water is in the water tower,
but no matter, we never ran it dry. Bacteria tests on the water were
perfect, but the system is open, so we should test it every year. We also have to
light the water heater Friday night so we'll have hot water Saturday.
Electricity: The electrical system worked like this: We get there
Friday night, the house is cold. We hop in bed and go to sleep.
Saturday morning we fill the genny with a tank of gas, and run it dry to half-charge the
batteries. We turn on the house, build a fire, and start warming things
up. Refill the genny, and the batteries are finally charged.
That evening we run the genny for one more tank, and we're done. Sunday we
use batteries, genny again before we leave. That's not so good.
array was almost useless. Stanley put those Amps on the far side of 100
feet of 14-2 romex. The losses were terrible, at about 40%, with less than
actually charging, which is less than a trickle for those batteries. There
was a current booster in the line, but he couldn't defeat the law of
electromagnetism (and the black box warmed up a little too, wasting even more of
the precious power he started with). Lame.
We did this from Summer of '97 and until Summer '98.
So what did we do?
Fix the wiring. Black is hot, white is not. Got that sorted
out. It was random, not even uniformly backward.
We need better power to avoid killing the batteries. Replaced the
Honda with a Generac 15KW LP Gas genny, plumbed to the LP tank. (We bought the
smallest 1800rpm LP gas genny we could find, for low maintenance)
Replaced the 2500W inverter/charger with something that will run the toaster AND
the coffee-maker at the same time. 4000 Watts of sweeeeeet
sine-wave power. (Note: "X-10" controllers do not work even
with Xantrex "sine wave" inverters)
Charged the hell out of the batteries for the first time in their
lives. They test out fine.
Replaced the gasoline well pump with an electric well pump. Added a float
switch to the water tower. The system fills by itself.
Added a whole-house carbon filter and a UV/ozone sterilizer. We've never had a better glass of water.
This lasted from late 1998 until 1999. The system was
now automated, and ran the house AC "24/7".
If the batteries ran low, the inverter would start the generator and charge the bank,
which took about 4 hours; Every day when we were there, and every fourth day
when we were gone. A propane delivery truck came up every couple months
and delivered propane.
We still had an issue--the generator was running a lot
(as mentioned above) which wears it out, makes noise, and
burns gas. So, we installed an extra 65 amp solar array, running
down 4 stands of 4/0. We had to remove 26 trees shading the arrays, which
delayed the whole project. Problem is: If we just cut them down,
that would be fine. But 26 redwood, fir, and pine trees would be a lot to
waste (we only burn about a cord each winter, so we would have 80 years worth),
so we wanted to sell them. For that, we need a permit. For that, we need a harvest plan. For that,
we need a logger. For that, we need a dry season. The new millennium rolls in...
In the summer of 2000 we added the array and a second 4KW inverter/charger so we
would have 240V, and can charge the
batteries at their maximum rate, further lessening the generator demand (a
full charge takes about 3 hours now, instead of 4). We
also replaced the water heater with a tankless model. It's always on, so we
have endless hot water, and it uses only the pilot when there's no hot water demand.
Plus, no tank to rust out (and leak when we're not there) either. But now we're just
[Note, if you have any energy project needing any kind of support (design help,
construction materials, up to full design & installation) call Advance Power! A great company, communicative, knowledgeable, good prices]
The Generator does not run for
power from April through October, running a few minutes each week to keep it oiled
and ready to go. In the 4 months of Winter it runs 3 hours about
every third day, more when we are here a lot. Over the entire year it averages about 41 minutes per
Gas usage is so low the propane guy only needs to visit twice
a year (we have a 500 gallon tank). Our energy bill has dropped by 80%, we only burn gas in the
winter, and then only when we are there. The sale of the lumber offset the cost of the utility system, and since we only dropped the trees because
of the arrays, it seems fair to cancel them out. Note: The California Tax Credit for solar installations does NOT apply to homes that are off the
grid. Just so's 'ya know...
In 2004, the bank of twelve L-16s gave up
the ghost. Actually, one of the cells cracked at the top, from a fill hole
to the side of the cell. No leaks, but potentially a big problem. So
it was time to call up Pete at Advance Power
again, and upgrade our bank by about double, still 24V, but now 1,700AH.
Pete also installed a great watering system, so we can water the bank every week
(or every day if we felt like it)
As of 2007, Generac reliability (QuietSource) has proven
to be very poor. We caution anyone considering buying a Generac or QuietSource generator. In December of 2005 the Generac failed with a warped
head, with only about 3,000 hours, even though it was maintained regularly by
the factory-approved company. Besides this complete failure, it previously suffered a
bad frequency control winding, a bad starter, and its fan somehow caught a blade
on the wrong side of the shroud, snapping a fan belt and requiring a new fan.
Each failure took the unit offline for about a month. We replaced it with
a "QuietSource" air-cooled 11KW LP generator. That replacement failed
after 26 hours run time (about a month) in a "Low Oil" error condition. Once filled again, it ran a
further 40 hours without issue while we waited for the factory replacement to
arrive. This is a very mysterious failure, since when it lost its oil,
there was no leakage visible, nor soot at the exhaust. Fort
Bragg Electric fought the battle over the replacement unit, and was easy to deal
with, in spite of the frustration. Note please, the QuietSource air-cooled
unit is extremely quiet. From 2007 until 2012 the replacement
Quietsource continues to run okay. It does consume a lot of oil in
normal use, and it needs to be topped off every 25-30 running hours,
consistently from the time it was new until its current 1,600 hours.
The first unit was probably just running "normally" and burned the oil.
In the Fall of 2007 we increased our panels by 40 Amps (2,900Watts total now). This takes
us about 8 months of the year on solar, but will probably go no further.
When it's raining, it doesn't really matter how many panels we have.
In 2011 we overhauled the water supply system, sealing the source spring from
surface run off and any animals. We also lined the water tower with a
3,000 gallon poly tank, which is sealed as well. A 30,000 gallon
cistern sits in between the spring and the water tower, also sealed to keep
the water pure.
We might add a ~700 watt hydro generator, which will give us power when it's
raining. A good compliment to a solar system, but siting it is a
In the fall of 2014 we decommissioned the 2007 Quietsource that has started
burning oil at a significant rate. The replacement is a 6KW Ecogen,
designed specifically for off-grid power generation. It is an
air-cooled genset, but designed for extended runtime and better oil control.
24-hour system data: