21 April 2009 · Topic: Energy · Tags: , ,

Recently my interests have turned again to alternative energy sources. Whenever I do this, I always find myself looking at the big picture of every energy sub-topic including sources, transmission and use.

For example…

Hybrid automobiles seem to be an interesting idea initially. However, if you take a step back and look at the entire energy equation you begin to see they don’t provide a benefit worth the extra costs frequently paid for the hybrid option. This benefit changes, of course, with the price of fuel, but generally, the market seems to price up the very benefit they claim to provide. We will examine more of this topic in another post. For now the point is the term “Hybrid Car” seems to be just a term the owner can brag about – even if the real benefit is not really there.

The same deal goes for electric cars. Time after time I hear folks who think they have zero emissions with their electric cars despite the fact they consume electricity to charge their vehicle which is provided largely by the burning of coal. If you take just one step back in the energy path, the zero emission car is a myth… so far.

Then there are the folks who take the bold action to obtain an all electric vehicle, an impressive photovoltaic array, storage batteries and the necessary gear to completely charge their vehicle from the Sun’s free energy. The return on investment of such a system is very long to be sure, but let’s assume the owner is creating this system for philanthropic reasons. This leaves the purchaser bragging rights of a truly zero emission system. Here again, we have to take a step back and view the energy equation. It took a lot of energy to manufacture the solar panels and the batteries. There are batteries in the car, too, which take energy to build. From what I have found on the Internet, it takes from one to four years for solar panels to generate the energy it took to build them with the good news this is getting better every year. The point is can this person claim to be saving the environment with this system? Maybe after many years.

So if we move the topic towards powering the needs of a typical home what can be said of the possible alternative energy sources? Solar, wind and hydro seem to be the big three. Not many folks can benefit from hydro so let’s constrain the discussion to Solar and Wind Alternative Energy Sources.

SOLAR

Photovoltaic solar panels cost about $4-$6 per watt installed (much less if you use Ebay cells in your DIY panels). Then there are additional pieces of equipment depending if you have a storage or grid-tie system.

When you add up the costs, calculate the expected energy and compute the net benefit based on the cost of electricity (my current cost is 12.1 cents per kWhr) the return on investment (ROI) is something like 23 years. This will, of course, improve if electricity prices rise beyond inflationary rates, but it will be very difficult to bring the ROI down to the practical limit of 3-5 years.

Let me repeat that.

If saving money is your aim your ROI should be within five years or it is not worth doing. Remember… if your solar installer presents figures showing ROI based on anything longer than 5 years all the potential financial benefits flow to his bank account using your funding as the source and yields you little to nothing. This is basic business common sense and, yes, you, the average homeowner, are an individual business.

So photovoltaic solar is difficult to justify in the financial sense. Let’s assume you want to be environmental friendly and any cost. Hey that’s great. The world needs more people like you. Really. So what does it take to recoup the “energy” needed to manufacturer the products.

The answer appears to be a around one to four years for current technologies and perhaps longer for the older style PV arrays.

So the point is this. If you are trying to go good things for the environment and plan on installing a PV array, consider the energy payback period needed. A lot depends on the type of PV you specify and the good news is things are getting better with the latest technologies.

So Energy Payback is getting better with PV Solar. Utilizing second hand PV cells available from many sources on Ebay may negate the Energy Payback issue entirely if you make use of otherwise unsellable “cosmetically blemished” cells that roll off the assembly lines. ROI remains an immense problem though.

WIND

So we move towards wind power as an alternative source of power.

Here again we have many available off-the-shelf systems which run, from what I can see, about $3 to $7 per watt installed.

Wind has its merits, but once again the return on investment is staggering.

The DIY wind power crowd offsets this ROI issue pretty well. If you have your own labor to contribute, the material costs are not too hard to swallow.

Remember this is electricity and care is needed to ensure you don’t hurt yourself or others. You can also wipe out your entire electrical system if you don’t know what you are doing. A licensed electrician should be consulted before messing with anything electrical in your system.

CONCLUSION

Now more than ever alternative energy sources deserve a good hard look for use in any energy offsetting system.

If you have a lot of spare cash and want to make an investment in “green” then a professionally installed Wind or Solar solution is a great thing to do. Understand you are supporting an industry that cannot survive without philanthropists like you as the financial justification is simply not there.

If you are a DIY person, you may well be able to lower the ROI to five years or less. Alternative energy then becomes the financially, as well as environmentally, responsible thing to do. Your hours of labor you donate to your system becomes YOUR investment in YOUR future gains (savings).

The analysis of Energy and Financial payback need consideration in any Alternative Energy system you desire for your situation. Alternative Energy systems are a good thing to add, but be sure you understand who really benefits and where the ROI line is drawn. I very much want to offset my energy consumption, but will not needlessly support ridiculous financial transactions with my money to do so. Neither should you unless you are a rich philanthropist.

Control Your Liability

Remember to always use licensed professionals when connecting anything to your plumbing, electrical and/or structural systems. The liability exposure is too great otherwise.

Recently I turned my attention to alternative energy including solar, wind and hydro.

I gave no hydro possibility, but still researched some of the offerings since many of the techniques apply to wind also.

This leaves solar and wind as possible sources of energy.

Solar can be further split into two categories: thermal and photovoltaic.

In this post I will summarize the findings applicable to my own situation.

SOLAR THERMAL
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If you have an old fashioned open fireplace and have always wondered “there has got to be a better way to ‘do’ fire” here is your answer.
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31 August 2008 · Topic: Appliances · Tags: , ,

While doing research for a new front loader clothes washing machine, my wife and I looked closely at the offerings manufactured by LG. We saw models at Sears and Home Depot. The models and their features are very nice.

While at Home Depot we asked about differences between all the various models including LG. The saleslady spoke about this and that, but was particularly careful to understand where we would be placing the new clothes washer and dryer in our home.

We said we desired to move our laundry upstairs to the closet of our bedroom. The sales lady warned us that the LG clothes washer has a particular need to be on a very sturdy surface such as concrete. She went on the inquire where our current laundry is located. We said on the middle floor between the garage and the kitchen which is a very typical location in the U.S. She was concerned the LG would not work there either since this was not a concrete floor.

We visited consumer reports and find their ratings for the LG to be some of the highest, but they never mention anything about location restrictions. If this issue is true, LG products won’t work well in the majority of homes.

During the past several months, Home Depot is selling many more models of LG clothes washers which, I suppose, still have this “sturdy floor” need.

If you are looking at the LG front loader products, you are well advised to ask about floor sturdiness requirements.

I would consider this an urban legend if it weren’t a sales lady from Home Depot telling me about this.

Your mileage may vary.

31 August 2008 · Topic: Appliances · Tags: ,

My family and I stopped by Sears and Home Depot after Church this morning to take another look at front loader clothes washing machines. Our current top loader won’t rinse well and both my wife and I consider the front loader method superior to the top load for a variety of reasons which some may find debatable. That’s not the point of this post, however.

All the front loader clothes washer offerings from Whirlpool (Duet), LG, Kenmore, etc. have a companion dryer to match the style. Of course my wife is all over that and desires both a new washer and dryer so they will “match.” I just want to replace the broken appliance and get the washer.

My wife and I disagree about this, but we don’t disagree on the startling discovery about the matching dryers. When you compare feature for feature between the matching dryers and the stand alone dryers you will see they are pretty much the same thing.

  • They both front load
  • The both have high, medium and low heat settings
  • They both have the “touch clothes” moisture sensor as opposed to the older air outlet humidity sensor

The huge difference is the price. Stand alone dryers cost about $300 to $700. The dryers that match the front load washers cost about $800 – $1600.

In other words, the premium you pay to have a matched set of a washer and dryer is about 120% on the cost of the dryer… over twice as much.

That is a lot of money to pay for “looks” of appliances that, quite likely, are hidden away in a back room. The only operational difference I could find between the two kinds of dryers is the “matched” units have the see through front door to compliment the see through front load washer.

So buyer beware. For the typical mid-level dryer you are going to pay $600 or more for no extra benefits if you just have to have the matching set of washer and dryer. That is $600 for home decor.

If you want to spend this on looks that’s great, but now you know the full story.

I ordered a PowerCost Meter from Blueline Innovations in an effort to better demonstrate to my family the overall power consumption of everyday things in a home.

The hope is by seeing the cost per hour as things are turn on and off, increased awareness will suggest to turn things off. That’s the hope of the Power Cost meter it seems.

Please understand this meter does not save you any money on your power bill. It does not do any quack technique of saving energy. It simply reports your energy usage so you will be understand where your waste might be. It is up to you to do the actual saving.

There are several different meters available, but the Blue Line model seems to be a good mix of capabilities.

Several aspects of this meter appealed to me including:

  • Measures the power use by sensing the wheel or window of the power companies meter – The meter’s power is the same as what the electric company measures
  • Portable display unit – to place where your family can see it
  • Ability to show energy consumed per unit time or dollars per unit time
  • Can handle tiered rates
  • RF link between sensor and display unit

I eagerly took the parts home and immediately set about going through the very good instructions in the manuals. I put two batteries into the display unit, two in the remote unit and then headed outside to continue installation onto the power meter. Things were going great…

…and then…

The hidden wheel in my power meter.

The hidden wheel in my power meter.

…disaster. Of all the various meters this Power Cost sensor supports, and it is many, I had to have the one kind of meter that won’t work with this sensor. Look close and you will see the problem. My meter does have the spinning wheel, but there is a metal shroud covering the front portion of it thereby blocking any view from the front for the sensor.

Damn.

I sent an email to the support at Blue Line Innovations and they promptly confirmed my finding that my meter just won’t work.

I am not giving up yet, though. This meter system and the way it displays data is just too cool to pass up.

My next task will be to create a substitute power meter that will tick off either one tick per 7.2 watt-hours or one tick per watt-hour both of which appear compatible with the Power Cost meter. Stay tuned.

The pictures below show the unveiling of the Blue Line Innovations Power Cost Meter as received from Northern Tool Company.

BatteryThe 12 volt lead-acid battery for my backup sump pump does not seem to last for more than about one year. There is a “maintenance” battery charger that is, supposedly, designed to keep a battery topped off and ready to go should the backup power be needed.

I have heard the rumor putting batteries on the concrete floor will shorten their life. Research on the net suggests a few theories why this is or was true. Thoughts include:

  • Batteries on cold concrete floors develop a thermal gradient with the plate near the floor slightly colder than the top. This creates a slightly different potential which can mess with the balance of that cell. The idea that backs up this claim is the notion that submarine batteries bubble air through their battery’s electrolyte liquid thereby maintaining flow of the liquid which stabilizes the liquid’s temperature via mixing.
  • Battery housings use to be made of materials that conduct heat more thus making them more susceptible to the previous issue.

Perhaps I should use a flooded battery so I can top it off. Perhaps putting it on the shelf will make a difference. Then again, this battery and the one before it are from Wal-Mart.

Guess it is time to search out Solar Energy suppliers for their design guidance for systems that require batteries.

I have long wanted to provide a way for the family to “see” how much energy is being used at any given moment so they can get a feel for what uses the most. I had plans to incorporate toroid pick ups in the two hot lines in the breaker panel.

Thankfully, the late overall awareness of energy cosumption has intiated the creation of many products which will “read your ac power meter” and provide a display in the confort of your home.

I have ordered a Blue Line Power Meter from Northern Tool to solve this monitoring question.

Blue Line Energy Monitor

The most interesting part of this is the unit that harmlessly clamps onto the glass of your power meter and, it appears, to monitor the spinning wheel. This is a great idea since you are monitoring the very same energy measurement device used by the power company.

Note to potential buyers… Despite the claim on Blue Line’s web site their product works on all meters, it appears it will not work on meters that do not have a spinning wheel. More and more AC power meters do not have the wheel visible. Make sure you power meter has a visible wheel before considering this device.

Come back to this site for updates and progress on how this meter works. I will make regular reports after installation and during use throughout the coming year.

Update:

Well not really attracts lightning, but certainly allows for more pickup of lightning energy.

Last night on our Sunday Night Tech Net (Fauquier County, VA Repeater) a fellow named Bob brought up the topic of proper grounding for his upcoming coax fed 40 meter antenna. During the discussion about common ground points and other relating lightning protection possibilities, he recalled a story.

Seems , once upon a time, Bob installed some 120 Vac yard lighting around his property. The lighting worked quite well, but Bob immediately correlated a rise in damage to devices plugged into the ac power in his house with the installation of this yard lighting.

It would seem Bob inadvertently created a large antenna system which more efficiently coupled energy from lightning storms to his house wiring. Bob mentioned devices as simple as hair dryers were made useless by the surge energy.

The solution for Bob was to install good shunt protectors on his electrical distribution panel to quench the over voltage induced by lightning storms on his yard light wiring. Bob used MOV style protection.

The Polyphaser IS-PM240-xx is one option…

Polyphaser Surge Shunt Device for the house electical panel

For less protection and less money the Polyphaser PSP-240 may help…

Small Polyphaser Surge Protector

This year Virginia has been hit with many thunderstorms so lightning protection is a popular topic for ham radio folks as well as folks who are simply trying to beautify their yard with lighting. If you are considering extending the wiring in your home you are well advised to add protection like Bob did to protect your loved ones from the much larger antenna you have made. You might also consider low voltage lights and/or an isolation transformer between your house and outside lights. There may even be a NEC requirement for this, but I am not sure.

When in doubt, seek out the advice from a competent licensed electrician.

There is also a rumor warranties on big ticket items like washing machines, dryers, heat pumps, etc. do not cover damage caused by surges since you are “expected” to provide this protection for your house. When you look at things this way, the few hundred dollars spent on a good panel mounted surge protector is a real steal.

The web site…

 http://water4gas.com/2books.htm

  …speaks of 1,833 gallons of hydrogen and oxygen production from one gallon of water in their electrolysis device.  They go on to suggest this will last for months of driving.

The typical sub-compact automobile consumes over 300 gallons of air per minute at typical power generating RPMs (data converted from http://ptaff.ca/air/?lang=en_CA#table3).

If the Water 4 Gas device is turning energy into hydrogen and oxygen at such a slow rate compared to the large volumes of gas flow through the engine, how are we to believe it makes any difference at all.

I await an independent test to verify if the Water 4 Gas device provides measurable efficiency gain.  Hearsay just won’t cut it as too many people remain confused over the physics.

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