Friday, July 21, 2006

Renewable Energy to the Rescue (Again)

On April 4th a tornado ripped through my neighborhood resulting in widespread damage, and a prolonged power outage. This event provided me with my first opportunity to put my small-scale photovoltaic (PV) system to practical use. On July 19th, my area was hit with another severe storm, and another extended power outage.

Prior to the latest storm, I prepared an emergency kit. This kit includes three light fixtures with compact fluorescent (cf) bulbs installed, extension cords, power strips, and a radio. When the power goes out, I run the cords to three areas of the house, and connect the light fixtures. Because cf bulbs use so little power, I don’t worry about the drain on the system if the lights are left on.

This most recent power outage occurred during a heat wave. Since our central air conditioning was unavailable, I connected a couple of fans to the PV system. To keep track of the storms progress, I also connected a radio.

Because our telephone service is provided by the cable company, a power outage results in a loss of service. Fortunately, our cell phones continued to work, and the solar PV system provided power to keep their batteries charged.

I tried to use a microwave oven with the system, but the inverter couldn’t handle the power that it requires. It tripped the breaker. I’ll make a note to myself to get a more powerful inverter as funds become available.
Had the power outage lasted longer, I would have connected our chest freezer to the solar PV system. The energy-efficient chest freezer would have prevented frozen food from spoiling, and I could have made ice to use in a cooler in order to protect perishables from our refrigerator. To keep things humming along in the event of an extended power failure, I'll need one or two more solar panels. I've calculated that my battery bank will keep things running for at least 24 hours, but the additional solar panels are needed to keep the batteries fully charged.

My system doesn’t do everything that I want it to do at the present time, but still it is extremely useful. While most of my neighbors have only candlelight or flashlights, we have plenty of light. We have a source of power for a radio, and I’ve even connected a small TV. We can keep somewhat cool with fans, and can keep our cell-phone batteries charged. Our power source is quiet, and inexpensive to operate. One of my neighbors has a noisy, gas-guzzling generator. I wonder how much it cost him to run that now that gas prices are so high.

Eventually, I’ll have enough power to handle the electrical requirements of our corn-burning stove. This will serve as our emergency heating system in the event of a winter weather power outage. Meanwhile, it’s good to observe that when a power outage occurs, life remains fairly normal in our home.

Shown here are my batteries and control electronics.

Extension cords and sockets bring light to other parts of my home.

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