Who's using alternative energy, really?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

A question: How many of us are actually using alternative energy, rather than just talking about it? How about giving us a brief synopsis of types of systems you are using, with maybe how well they have worked for you, what they cost, things like that. I think a lot of us could benefit from sharing this.

I'll start. I've built a hydraulic ram for $40, works great, although I can't use it at my present location, due to lack of creek. Solar water heater: I built on for under $100 which outperforms the Copper Cricket which I paid $2600 for (with $2300 worth of subsidies) I've also built several less efficient solar water heaters over the years for almost free.

Wood powered water heater. Worked incredibly well for family of four. Produced way too much hot water for my wife and myself after kids grew up.I made it, for less than fifty dollars. It is basically a wood heater with one side being a one inch thick space filled with water which, when heated, circulates through pipes into an old electric water heater which had no heating elements. So it works off of "waste" heat from the wood heater's heating the house. Excellent for heating water, but I think it reduces the efficiency of the wood heater for heating the house. But it functions well if you prefer burning wood to paying for electricity or gas.

Ground source heat pump. Electric, "Water Furnace" brand. Cost $6700, with me installing the flex ducts, contractor installing everything else and supplying all parts. Heats 3000 square foot house (partially earth sheltered) for approximately $25 per month during coldest month last winter, average temp 35-40 degrees fahrenheit (I know, I know, that's not all that cold, you northerners, but it did get down to below ten degrees a few mornings, right before Christmas.

Solar greenhouse. Performed outstandingly, minimum temp reached all last winter was 42 degrees, with no heat source except waste heat from house, to which it is attached.Only heat added was on two or three mornings, on above mentioned cold days, when door from kithchen to greenhous was opened for maybe ten minutes to let warm air out of house into greenhouse. Cost? Hard to say, as it was built along with thee house two years ago. Estimate that it added couple of thousand to cost of house. Size, seven feet by twenty-five feet, more or less.

Gasoline powered water pump. Years ago, when I had no access to electical power grid. Cost (1975 dollars) about five hundred dollars. Utilized "ranch pump" with a pump jack attached, which allows the use of a gasoline motor. Raised water from a depth of 160 feet, more or less, at a rate of 3 gallons per minute. One gallon of gasoline supplied about six hundred gallons of water.

Anyone else want to share their experiences?

-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 16, 1999



Installing a woodburning stove, using some solar powered batteries (large), and kerosene heater but what you have done sounds interesting. Could I get more information from you? Sounds like you could help us save alot of money. Help would truly be appreciated.


-- Tess (preparingfortheworst@prayingforthebest.com), June 16, 1999.

Malcolm, I'm interested in how you built your solar water heater and the woodburning water heater and how you get it pumped into the house without electricity.

We use a woodburning heater/cookstove. We have a very small solar power set up mostly for recharging small batteries and running a few lights. Crank flashlight and radio. Lanterns. Small handpump and well bucket for when the power goes out. We're looking into making a gravity-flow cistern.

-- Helen (sstaten@fullnet.net), June 16, 1999.

One wood-burning stove in the main part of the house. One wood- burning cook-stove with attached (approx. 7 gal) water heater. Solar to run refrigerator/freezer, tv/vcr, stereo, shortwave radio, occasional electric tool, microwave, and flourescent lighting. We have a wind generator to supplement the solar and I "adore" our solar guy! He's done missionary work in Russia and Mexico for years and he "sees the light". He knows he's welcome at our homestead and I miss our conversations......Hey, Richard! If you're out there...YOU DA MAN!!!

-- Will continue (farming@home.com), June 16, 1999.

Sorry Malcolm, forgot to mention the cistern fed by our gutter system, the hand pump for well, oil lamps, candles, several non- electric tools. This didn't come about overnight. People don't generally have large sums of money lying around, liquid. This has taken us alot of careful thought and frugile planning. Some disagree that "newcomers" are out of time to prepare thoroughly. They are wrong. Unlike so many of our high paid proffesional-types found here....most of America lives from pay check to pay check in two income households. There appears to me, to be a certain amount of reality disconnect found on this forum. Newbies need to think fast and take action NOW. This has been an extremely time consuming, laborous task. Time is money in a two income household. There is only so much time available when you're having to split it with your children's needs and the daily life that must continue as usual. The level of preparation does not need to be to the extent we have created. BUT....stop thinking "3 day snow storm" BS. START thinking "full year growing season" and then go from there. This is *JUNE 1999*

-- Will continue (farming@home.com), June 16, 1999.

wood stoves for heat. Solar panels and wind gen for power supply. 12 volt water pump- spring gravity feed water supply.. 2 rams for irrigation system- gravity feed. solar battery chargers. solar/crank radio.

-- farmer (hillsidefarm@drbs.net), June 16, 1999.

Hey, Farmer. Bet we BOTH forgot to mention our solar electric fences...eh? We may use ours for something other than livestock, hahahaaaha....just kidding, kind of!

-- Will continue (farming@home.com), June 16, 1999.

First, thanks to everyone who responded to this posting; I hope everyone who reads the ideas here will benefit.

Tess, please read my remarks below; if you still have questions, please be specific. I could spend weeks trying to explain all the different projects, what with the materials, techniques, and design principles.

Helen, my solar water heater is built in two "boxes". They are 34 x 76", to accomodate sliding door glass panels (seconds, which can be obtained very cheaply at many glass shops) The sides of the boxes are made of 2"x2" x 1/8" thick steel angle (not really angle iron, but similar) The back of the boxes are 1/2"plywood overlain with black painted (free) pieces of aluminum printing plates from the local newspaper. These are no longer available at my paper, due to their having changed to some computerized printing process. Thin sheet metal can be substituted. Oh, between the plates and the plywood is the thin rigid insulation of your choice. "Black Core" is the best at 5/8"thick and R five-ish. But polystyrene or styrofoam would work fine, too, and are probably easier to find. The heat is collected in a copper pipe (the rigid kind) There are two manifolds top and bottom. A 3/4 " copper pipe to carry the necessary volume of water connected with 1/2" crosses to a 1/2" one, which is really only a series of 1/2" Tees connected right up to each other. Then there are 1/2" copper pipe risers every inch and a half or so (however close they can be when you solder the Tees together. None of these pipes need to be soldered to the plates, as they are arrayed so closely that they don't need to pick up any heat from the plates. The black painted plates are merely gravy. The pipes (oh, yes, clean the pipes with paint thinner after washing off the solder flux, just before painting with FLAT black spray paint. I used Rustoleum and they havent' had to be repainted after more than fifteen years.

The first solar water heate I made used a wooden frame for the "box". It works, still, but the glass wants to slide out of place, because the thing gets so hot that the wood twists and warps. Metal works way better.

This system, which is at the house I just moved out of, utilizes two more or less independent systems. There are two tanks, and two collectors. The cold water tees, with a ball valve controlling the flow to each system. I would keep one system turned on, and the other one turned off, during the day. That way, when we needed hot water in the morning, we could turn on the other system, and have piping hot water. With only one tank, the hot water used is replaced by cold water all day, causing the whole tank to be less than piping hot the next morning, due to the mixing of the hot and cold water in the tank, depending on how much hot water you used during the day.

I used two fifty some odd gallon tanks. One was an old gas water heater tank, and one was an old pressure tank. They were both free. I was only able to get away with using old tanks because I had a very low pressure system. For the reason that my water pressure was furnished by gravity springs, and the springs were not very high above my house.

When you plumb the "loop" from the bottom of the tank to the bottom of the collector, up through the collector, and back to the tank, DON'T connect to the top of the tank! Connect into a fitting a few inches below the top. Otherwise, you will likely get air trapped in the top of the loop which will make the system either not work, or work very inefficiently.

Also, insulate the tank with at least R 19 fiberglass insulation. And insulate the pipes running from the tank to the collector down to EXACTLY THE SAME LEVEL. If you try to make it work better by insulating the cold water return pipe way down along the side of the collector, you will actually cause yourself problems, because the unequal cooling will cause backsiphoning at night, cooling off the water in your tank.

Other than the convection loop, the water tank is plumbed exactly like a regular water heater. Turn on your faucet in the kitchen, or your shower, and out comes hot water. In fact, it can get way hotter than a regular water heater on a hot sunny day, so be sure to add enough cold water to not burn yourself!

Maybe I should print up a little guide book on this. It's hard to try to describe all the ins and outs using words alone. I wonder if there would be anyone interested enough to pay me a few bucks to cover my costs. Hmmm

OK, the wood powered water heater. A lot of the convection principles and plumbing are the same as for the solar. But I made the wood heater myself. All welded together using 1/4" plate steel. One entire side of the heater is hollow, i.e. there are TWO plates of steel one inch apart. I welded a one inch galvanized steel nipple to the outer plate right near the top, on the side. Another one near the bottom of the same plate, also on the side. These were connected to the tank just like for the solar heater, except I used all steel pipe here. CAUTION: this stove can boil the water in a 52 gallon water tank. PLEASE, PLEASE talk to someone who knows what they are doing before building a system like this. It can cause a steam explosion which can destroy your entire house and ruin your day, if you don't do it VERY PROPERLY.

ANOTHER CAVEAT: I was able to get away with doubling the side of my stove to create this "water Jacket" only because of my low pressure system. "Regular" water pressure could require a much heavier design. Probably it's best to use the old tried and true "coils in the stove" method, unless you are very up to speed in physics, hydology, or engineering.

I assume you understand how a convection loop works for water heating. People used to do this a hundred plus years ago with their wood burning cookstoves.

Your cistern: if you have a little bit of a rise on your property, you might consider putting your cistern as high as you can and still get water into it from the roof (I assume you are going to use rainfall to fill it?) If you run a large enough pipe from the cistern to the house, you can get enough water pressure to make some of your fixtures perform reasonably well. My low water system had only about three pounds pressure at the shower head, but because I used a shower mixer with a fairly large orifice, and 1" pipe from the spring to the house, and 3/4 " pipe inside the house to the shower, we had more than adequate pressure. Also you can remove the strainer from your kitchen faucet and improve the flow considerably.

If you have a two story house, you can expect to get about three pounds pressure at your downstairs shower head, assuming you have eight foot ceilings. You can calculate your pressure (in pounds per square inch) by dividing the amount of drop(in feet) by 2.31.

Will Continue,

Sounds like you have it pretty well together! Have you had this equipment long enough to know how well it works? Like how much wind power, solar power, etc. you are actually getting month by month? You must have a whole load of panels and batteries to run all that stuff. Would it be rude to ask how much all the solar cost? The best deals I've seen for the panels is around six bucks a watt. Which is way more than I wanta pay. But I'm really curious to find out how much people have had to pay for a whole system, and how well it performs.

I agree with most of what you say regarding preparations, although I have had some real advantages. First, I am a building contractor, and have designed houses, including passive solar, for quite a few years. Second, I lived at two places which weren't on the grid for about three years. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and I was way poor back then. I invented and experimented constantly to make things that would accomplish what I needed to do without using much money or electricity. Frankly, I woud just as soon not live off the grid again, as it takes a great portion of your energy to accomplish things thay are way easy when using electricity. Take the hand pump thing. Before I hooked up a gasoline engine to mine, I had to give fiftyish good hard pumps to bring water to the surface, and then fifty more for each five gallon bucket I had to fill. It was a great muscle building technique, but like you say, TIME was needed. I didn't take long to find out about the pump jack idea, I assure you! My other advantage is that I was raised by two people who were raised during the depression. Nothing went to waste. I learned to live with a minimum of luxuries, which has enabled me to get by, prosper actually, without ever earning a great deal of money or working a great many of days per week, because I don't spend money on things I don't need. I think most people could stock up on a lot of things easier than they think if they started examining their consumption patterns At a recent y2k meeting a woman stood up and said something to the effect that "it's fine to say stock up, stock up. But I am a single mother and every dime is taken up on necessities. The moderator told her, just buy one or two extra cans of food every time you're at the grocer's. Skip a cup of espresso every day or two, or don't buy those potato chips. Stay home and read to your kids instead of taking them to a movie. I all adds up.

Farmer, TWO RAMS! Great--I love it! Aren't they a wonderful invention? I'm lusting after a water system such as yours for my present house. I have a flowing artesian well, but it is located lower than my house. I'd love to have a solar water pump (I already have a 2500 gallon tank which supplies water to the house through gravity power when the electric pump isn't running. But it sure would be nice to have a solar pump to raise water to the tank. What brand of pump do you have? Have you had it long? Does it work well?

I have thus far decided to haul water from the well if power stays off longer than 2500 gallons lasts. Solar pumps are so darn expensive. I actually may design a hydraulic ram powered by the artesian flow to pump water to the storage tank. Or maybe a pelton wheel turning a piston pump, which might be more efficient. But a LOT more money. I believe I can make another ram pump very inexpensively, considering the small amount of water available for the drive pipe.

OK, everybody else, get with it--what are you doing for alternative energy? I know there are more than five or six of us on this forum who are actually "doing" something about all this.

-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 16, 1999.

will continue- you bad girl you. The fence is too for livestock!! Actually- I had a solar charger on it but it didn't pack enough oomph for our 4-6 strand fencing. So- we went with a battery powered one- we can just recharge the battery as needed off our battery system.

The pump (12V) is a shurflo- not solar. Is powered by the battery system- which is powered by solar and wind. A direct solar pump is $$$.

Re: Rams. my partner built them himself out of common plumbing parts from the hardware store. He is now getting his trout farm going- 3 tanks- using the ram runoff(oxygenated water) from the spring overflow . This runs by gravity to his fish tanks.

Re: how everything works. Quite well. Been up and running nearly 3 years now. Love it. wouldn't go back. RE: cost. I got in pre: y2k so stuff was cheaper then- specials and all. But the whole system was under 3 grand- including panels, wind gen, batteries, charge controller and inverter. Some of this has been discussed on previous posts on this subject a number of months ago- but this system works well up here in the far North. In the dead of winter- power can be short so we adjust. Now- the battery banks get full- have to get on the computer to drain them a bit!!

Really would love it if more people would go for it.BTW- In the 3 years it's been up, probably have covered what the electric bills would have been with the cost of the system. That doesn't count the ten grand or so to have connected to the grid in the first place...!

-- farmer (hillsidefarm@drbs.net), June 16, 1999.

I've got a solar powered water well, plus a modest solar module to run household appliances. It won't run air conditioning which is a BITCH here in Texas, but it will run the microwave, some fans, and flourescent lights. It will also run the existing well pump (yes, I drilled a second well, just for redundancy). Total cost: probably close to $13,000.

Peace of mind: priceless

-- Dog Gone (layinglow@rollover.now), June 16, 1999.

Wood Stove. oil lamps, second well 80 ft deep with hand pump.(Should get my flabby arms in shape.)Puff, puff, may have to quit smoking, too. Big problem: have wind generator with 16 batteries, out side tiny barn for batteries, and have plans for propane generator to kick in when it is not windy enough.1000 gal. propane.Can"t find anyone here in Ohio to install the generator. Have tractor with wench.spent about 10,ooo maybe twelve for windenergy plus barn and batteries.Any one in Ohio who can help me install?Barn266@aol.com

-- Betty Alice (Barn266@aol.com), June 16, 1999.

Malcolm - I admit that I am more than slow on engineering type stuff, but can frame reasonably well, plumb (a bit rusty) and do simple electrical wiring. I am really interested in your solar water heater and ram. I wish you had pictures. It seems to be easier for me to follow diagrams.

I live on the edge of a wilderness and have a small creek running though my land. Unfortunately, it is about 75 feet down the hill in a canyon from my gardens. I have a 500 gal water tank and a side-by-side hand pump on my well for emergencies. I think that trying to irrigate with the hand pump would kill me - lol. (The well is 134 feet deep and the pump fills about 2 gal per minute.) Lifting creek water would be a godsend. BTW, what is a pump jack?

I have just built a detached greenhouse next to my residence. It is only a few feet to the chimney and stovepipe of my two woodstoves. Any creative ideas on harnessing that heat for the greenhouse?

Forget getting professional to come way out here to hook things up. No one wants to waste the time driving. It takes months and months to get anyone to come out and then, only if they are "doing" someone else. I am on my own to muddle through the "bestest" I can.

-- marsh (armstrng@sisqtel.net), June 17, 1999.

A couple of generators, a solar dehydrator home web page no charge http://www.users.uswest.net/~fabio/index.htm Solar cooker using mirror mylar sheeting, Heating system with a personally designed external fire box and heat exchange unit(fill in fuel type ie wood,coal,used motor oil), not at the web site yet[oh my] Florescent 12v lighting, incadesent 12v lighting, homemade candles,

Projects on the drawing board, water turbine for use in storm drain, heat exchanger from soil to heat pump (it really works), solar 12v charger, homemade lead acid battery bank, insulated storage unit, 12v inverter system, wood alcohol extraction from the source, capacitor driven intruder attention getter (ouch).

Projects off the drawing board; pedal powered 12v power generation, electric 1 person train track cart,

-- Michael (mikeymac@uswest.net), June 17, 1999.

Hummm, does that extra 275 gal tank for #2 fuel oil, or those "few" 55 gal drums of kero and gas (WAY OUT in the shed!) count as "alternative energy?" <:)=

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), June 17, 1999.

>Subject: Response to Who's using alternative energy, really? >Sent: 6/15/19 9:17 PM Hi, Farmer,

I appreciate the information on your system. Sounds like you've got it together way bette than most of us.

As I've mentioned on the forum, I've built a hydraulic ram, years ago, which worked extremely well at my former location, where there was a creek with plenty of water to run the ram, which has a three inch drive pipe. But I didn't have to worry much about efficiency at that site, since any wasted water merely continued on down the creek with all the other drive water. Now I'm planning to build another ram, which needs to be much smaller and much more efficient, as it will use the overflow from my artesian well for drive water, and will deliver a fraction of same to my storage tank 125 feet higher up the hill. The reasons for efficiency are twofold. First, I don't want to use any more of my well water to drive the ram than absolutely necessary, and second, the well overflow is only about three gallons per minute in the summer, so it's only going to be capable of delivering less than a gallon per minute at 100% efficiencey, which is not happening.

Would you please tell me what size drive pipes your smallest ram has? Also, if you've ever measured them, the head which powers it, and the head that it lifts the water? Also, the gallons per minute of drive water, and the gallons per minute delivered?

I expect I'll be using a one inch pipe for the drive pipe, and haven't really put any time yet into what I'll use for the clacker valve, but I'll be using standard plumbing parts to the extent possible

By the way, for anyone desingning a hydraulic ram, I used some scrap conveyor belt from a lumber mill for the clacker valve gasket. It is virtually indestructable. It ran for many years with no noticable sign of wear. It's rubber with some nylon (?) reinforcement. It looks to be made more or less like the rubber in an automobile tire, only it's flat.

I now happen to have an old mudflap off a dumptruck which appears to be of similar suitability, which I will most likely use, in lieu of searching for another scrap of converyor belt.


-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 17, 1999.


You sound like a guy I know, starts with a Z ; )



Should, outa be able to build one from that.


-- CT (ct@no.yr), June 17, 1999.

Dang cat!

-- CT (ct@no.yr), June 17, 1999.

>Malcom, > >You sound like a guy I know, starts with a Z ; ) > >http://www.lifewater.ca/ndexram.htm >Hey, ct, pardon me if I'm out of the loop, but what guy would that be? Zapata? Zoroaster, maybe? How about Zorro?

More likely Zero.

Thanks for the urls. I have been looking at Lifewater for the last few minutes; so far I find it to be a real good site, but no info of the specific type I'm looking for. Like how to efficiently size the clacker valve in relation to the size of the drive pipe.

I'll keep looking...

Dog Gone, I understand your problem, living in Texas. You must be in East Texas, or you would probably be able to cool off your house at night. I'm originally from Dallas, myself, but have lived on the west coast for the last thirty-odd years. It gets hot here in the summer, but it's dry heat, and it gets down to 45 or 50 degrees frequently at night. So it's pretty simple to cool the house down, and keep it cool during the day. You say you have a solar well pump. I never knew, or cared, what the groundwater temp was when I used to live in Texas, but you might check it. My well here in Oregon has 52 degree water, year round. I had a "bright" idea, just in time to be too late to try it, when I built this new house two years ago. The idea was to run a couple of manifolds connected with half inch copper pipe every couple of feet inside the concrete slab floor. Then, whenever I ran irrigation water, the water could pass through the slab floor, cooling it and warming the irrigation water. The warmer irrigation water would be better for the plants than 52 degree water, and the floor would be cool all the time. You might be able to run pipes in the ceiling to keep the attic cool. On the other hand, in a humid area, which it sounds like you are in, you better make sure you don't condense enough water on these pipes to start dripping onto your ceiling!

Another thought on cooling the house. Has anybody ever seen or used a refrigerator powered by sunshine which has no moving parts except for a couple of circulation fans? They work by utilizing thermocouples. No compressor. I saw them for sale at a county fair many years ago. You could possibly use this to freeze ice outside, then bring the ice inside to cool house. Don't know what the capacity is, though.

I like your comment "peace of mind-priceless" Good point. Puts a new perspective on some of the very expensive solar ideas.

Marsh, I wish I had pictures, or knew how to send a drawing through email that wouldn't turn out to be a bunch of greek figures. Do you understand the basic principles of convection circulation that applies to solar water heating and wood water heating? If not, I know there are books, and presumably internet sites that could explain them. My solar water heater follows the same basic principles, only my collector is pretty easy to build and is very efficient. Also, the way I connect to the storage tank, as I explained above, in this same thread, works better than any other methods I've seen, and is simplicity itself. If can find enough info to understand the basics, I think you'll understand what I'm talking about better, althogh I agree my description leaves a lot to be desired . But really, I would have to write a very long, involved booklet to be able to explain the whole thing without drawings.

Michael, great sounding stuff you're doing! I'll visit your web site after finishing this letter. What's an electric 1 person train track cart? And when you refer to "wood alcohol extraction from the source" are you talking about methanol? And what do you mean "the source"? Your heating system with external heating source intrigues me; I have thought about doing something like that for a long time, with a very large firebox. Around here, people generally burn all their trash, and lots of brushy debris. This heat totally goes to waste, but if you had a firebox large enough, with a heat exchanger like you refer to, you could utilize all this energy, which is very substantial. If you generate your power with pedal power, though, you probably don't need any heat in your house except what you personally give off :)

Sysman; I wouldn't call that alternative energy, but I would call it good sense.

-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 17, 1999.

I just installed my Trace Brand 4048 solar system with an Onan 6KW generator back up which cost me around $11,900.00 total. Installed 2 inserts and set back 50 cord of wood. 225 gallons of K-1, 500 gallons of gas and 500 gallons of fuel oil. Propane will be delivered soon. My property is totally self contained and can go for 20 years off the grid if needed. Bring it on!!

-- no spam (justme@me.com), June 17, 1999.


Stuff it up your assought you sounded like a bud of mine that goes by the name of Zog. I don't give an fuck if you want to be the expert on water pumping, I have grav feed and don't need a ram system, UP YOURS,

-- CT (ct@no.yr), June 17, 1999.


I should proof-read

Stuff it up your ass, I thought you sounded like a bud of mine that goes by the name of Zog. I don't give an fuck if you want to be the expert on water pumping, I have grav feed and don't need a ram system, UP YOURS,

-- CT (ct@no.yr), June 17, 1999.

Ct, was it something I said?

-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 17, 1999.

Damn straight,

>Malcom, > >You sound like a guy I know, starts with a Z ; ) > >http://www.lifewater.ca/ndexram.htm >

Hey, ct, pardon me if I'm out of the loop, but what guy would that be? Zapata? Zoroaster, maybe? How about Zorro?

More likely Zero.

-- CT (ct@no.yr), June 17, 1999.

Now I really feel dumb, CT. Why did that set you off?

-- malcolm drake (jumpoff@echoweb.net), June 17, 1999.

malcolm- will ask my partner for the RAM specifics and get back to you on it.

-- farmer (hillsidefarm@drbs.net), June 17, 1999.

Just installed 2800 Watts of solar panels (24 Solarex MSX-120), Trace dual SW 4048 stacked invertors, 32 L-16 batteries (4000 lbs), 10 KW Kohler propane generator, 1000 gal. propane. Working on 500 gal. of gasoline. Thinking about a wind generat

-- Bob (janebob99@aol.com), June 17, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ