Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

Hi Everyone,

I've been interested in alternative construction and green technologies since before people called them 'green' technologies. I guess I began a sincere interest in study about the time my wife, an archaeologist, showed me how efficiently Native Americans used passive solar and thermal mass in communally-walled structures so successfully in a most inhospitable environment that only a 100 year drought could evict them. And yet many of their homes still stand centuries later.

My family has also just emerged from a long period of trial and it's time to begin building again. We have 31 acres along a river front, with an 8 acre pond, a 36 foot travel trailer, a 6.5/5 kw diesel genset, a 5/4kw genset, some canopies, a 40' cargo container, and lots of tools and building materials, the residue of a former career remodeling. I also know that, even though there is a power line running 1/2 mile along my property line and only 250' from my preferred home site, if possible, I'd prefer to not to pull energy from it ( although selling excess current would be fine by me). :) We intend to build as we rebuild our savings, beginning with building an extended screened deck for the camper and spill-over living space and a second bath with composting toilet in the container. And it'll be my hands on our bootstraps, for the great majority of the work.

So, the trailer is designed to draw 30 amps 110v from the grid to power a small fridge, water heater, AC, air furnace, microwave, LCD TV and a pair of laptops. The oven/stove, water heater, air furnace, and fridge may also run on propane.
The local utility company wants about $2250 to run me a 150' drop to an existing
power pole adjacent to my paved drive and trailer pad, and about $1500 more to
run another drop to my construction site. They also want a perpetual 20' easement, conveniently forgetting they have failed to maintain one they already obtained from the previous land-owner covering the very spot I wanted power.
It will cost me about $2,000 to hire a dozer operator to clear off THEIR existing easement, which they refuse to do themselves. So, net cost to have grid power would be about $5750 plus a pair of new 200 amp circuit boxes for trailer and construction site. And, oh yes, they want me to sign an annual contract to pay $0.16/ kw-hr for their power. I would prefer to bill them the same for my excess.

I'd love to hear y'all's recommendations for how I might build in increments an off-grid capacity for photovoltaic to supply my trailer's needs. Presently, from now till April, we'll need no air-conditioning, but Beginning in April, AC will be in use most of the time till October, this being a southern Gulf Coast climate. Until then, I can use Propane for everything but the internal water pump, our 2 laptops, a wifi router and repeater, celphone and AA/AAA battery chargers, and the 12v trailer lighting and slide-out system. The laptops' peak draw are 150 watts total. The TV is about 120 watts. The battery chargers are about 1 amp each (120v). But come Spring, the AC unit will be driving my current draw up to that 30 amp line regularly when the compressor kicks in.

So, if you were me, how would you spend up to $6k from your retirement account, knowing Uncle Sugar will give $2k back in a few months if you spend it on green power? The idea would be to keep me off the grid or gensets as much as possible, and planning to upgrade capacity as money becomes available and as we allow ourselves to 'need' more energy. Presently, we live there about 3 days a week. But this Summer, we'd like to be in a position to stay longer. So I thought a smaller PV array to begin with coupled to a moderately-sized battery array might be a good place to begin. But I'd love to hear y'all's thoughts. We're rebooting this family so there's no better time for us to re-evaluate ALL our notions. Also, being a gulf coastal climate, we also have some opportunity for wind power, but the quality and quantity of sunlight for PV, water heating, and passive heating is the real low-hanging fruit. I'm all ears!

Thanks,

Comments

  • mike95490mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 8,500 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    Install the power line and go with pure Grid InterTie system (batteryless) and mothball your gensets for local grid failures.
    If your utility company allows backfeeding the grid (spinning the meter backwards) you can end up using the grid as your battery, and no acid mess!

    However, my local utility will only install power to a permitted building. Maybe you can get 240VAC to your trailer hookup?
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

    solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
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  • icarusicarus Solar Expert Posts: 5,394 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    In what seems to be completely counterintuitive, the grid is your best "greeen" resource. It allows you to use nearly 100% of any PV solar energy you produce, rather than ~53% for a battery based system. It also allows any excess capacity to be used rather than wasted (if batteries are nearly fully charged) It also allows you to use peak loading from the grid (which is way more efficient than small gennies on a kwh basis).

    Depending on the locations of the the two sites, consider if you can do one drop. A mobil home meter base and disconnect can send power to a house main in the future assuming the distance is not too far. Consult with a local electrician.

    I built several houses, using a mobil home panel as a temp, feeding a RV trailer the customer lived in, then using that same service.

    Tony
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    as it is i agree with all of the others to go with the grid. as expensive as it is it will be cheaper and more reliable than an off grid system with more power available to use. you can still conserve your power to save some $ and put in a gt system later if you'd like.
  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    Very cogent points, those, that being true to being green in this case may well mean parting with some greenbacks to the utility company (which has not been playing well with others to this point). A little research today turned up it's a violation of state law for them not to maintain and re-use their existing easement and right of way. It's also a violation to have made me wait so many months to respond, and it's another violation not to have discussed several alternative power options with me to begin our discussion (along the lines of your recommendations). And it's yet another violation to not commit to have power to the property within 90 days from my first phone call...which was this time last year. Ya know, I think I may just have found some price negotiation wiggle room on that loop to a power pole. And it seems that if I choose to hire my own contractor to bury the loop 8" deep in 2" conduit on my own, they are not entitled to either a new easement OR to bill me for the tie-in or the loop, just for a transformer. Guess I'll be renting a ditch-witch after New Year's to run about 250' total. No avoiding pulling a permit, though.
    icarus wrote: »
    In what seems to be completely counterintuitive, the grid is your best "greeen" resource. It allows you to use nearly 100% of any PV solar energy you produce, rather than ~53% for a battery based system. It also allows any excess capacity to be used rather than wasted (if batteries are nearly >fully charged) It also allows you to use peak loading from the grid (which is way >more efficient than small gennies on a kwh basis).
    Tony



    >Depending on the locations of the the two sites, consider if you can do one drop. >A mobil home meter base and disconnect can send power to a house main in the >future assuming the distance is not too far. Consult with a local electrician.

    You know, there's really no reason I couldn't run conduits from the pole to the
    temp pole for the trailer and from there also on to the home site. But I think this is a good excuse to frame up a well/ generator/ utility house to hang the circuit panels on and to cover the conduit ends. Might as well make it so one half the roof faces south to properly hold some PV panels while I'm at it. But I can't make them bring out the transformers like they're supposed to have already, so the gensets may see some use till Spring at this rate.


    So, any thoughts on what type and size of panels, chrage controllers, and grid-tie on my budget?
  • nielniel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    i don't know what to tell you on the utility's being irresponsible. good that you know what they are supposed to do, but you should know what you are responsible to do too. if you intend to tie any solar arrangement to the grid, it will need inspected and approved before it is connected to the grid and made operational. if you elect to have an off grid arrangement they can't say much to that although your local municipality still may insist that it be inspected. it can be made to be off grid and gt tie-able later and would involve batteries in such a case which are less efficient than a straight gt system. check in with any local inspector to get his perspective.
  • vcallawayvcallaway Solar Expert Posts: 157 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    You might also want to consider building a berm or earthship design home. That can greatly reduce your need for A/C and your need for outside power.
  • GreenPowerManiacGreenPowerManiac Solar Expert Posts: 453 ✭✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    " So, any thoughts on what type and size of panels, chrage controllers, and grid-tie on my budget?"



    Call the power company and inquire. It'll get you a maximum budget plan figure.
    Not a very good idea to mess with 7200-12,800v lines. I do believe GT systems are covered on State & Fed rebate/tax credit programs. Other benefits of GT systems are PTCs Production Tax Credits per kwhs produced and maybe a property tax credit for being an "Energy Efficient" homestead.
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  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,823 admin
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    At this point--Do not install any solar PV at all for now... Spend the money on energy efficient construction/insulation/siting/natural sun/shade as needed.

    Since you need A/C, look at ground or pond/water sourced heat pump. And a heat recovery ventilator since you are going to have a "sealed" home and still want fresh air circulation.

    If you want, look at solar thermal heating (domestic hot water, possibly space heating).

    What is your electric rate at this point? $0.10 per kWhr? You are probably going to, at best (after tax credits), equal that rate with GT solar. And, until you have tried to see if your utility will even allow GT solar, including a listing of recent approved installs in your service area--$6,000 is not going to buy you much electricity... For example, assume a rock bottom price of $6 per watt installed for GT solar, That is 1,000 watts of panels. Assume Grid Tied (more efficient than Off-Grid) solar. Using the PV Watts website for Houston:
    "Station Identification"
    "City:","Houston"
    "State:","Texas"
    "Lat (deg N):", 29.98
    "Long (deg W):", 95.37
    "Elev (m): ", 33
    "PV System Specifications"
    "DC Rating:"," 1.0 kW"
    "DC to AC Derate Factor:"," 0.770"
    "AC Rating:"," 0.8 kW"
    "Array Type: Fixed Tilt"
    "Array Tilt:"," 30.0"
    "Array Azimuth:","180.0"

    "Energy Specifications"
    "Cost of Electricity:"," 9.7 cents/kWh"

    "Results"
    "Month", "Solar Radiation (kWh/m^2/day)", "AC Energy (kWh)", "Energy Value ($)"
    1, 3.68, 84, 8.15
    2, 4.12, 84, 8.15
    3, 4.82, 107, 10.38
    4, 4.98, 105, 10.19
    5, 5.24, 112, 10.86
    6, 5.53, 112, 10.86
    7, 5.43, 113, 10.96
    8, 5.44, 114, 11.06
    9, 5.40, 111, 10.77
    10, 5.19, 111, 10.77
    11, 4.33, 92, 8.92
    12, 3.34, 75, 7.28
    "Year", 4.79, 1220, 118.34

    $118 per year worth of electricity, and 100 kWhrs per month... During summer, depending on how you build out your home, you probably will be burning 1,000 to 2,000 kWhrs per month in the summer.

    $6,000 / (20 years * 1,220 kWhrs per year) = $0.25 per kWhr

    Knock off 30% for federal tax credits: $0.17 per kWhr spread over 20 years of sevice

    Until you know your power needs--don't really even bother with solar GT/Off-Grid. It is expensive.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • russruss Solar Expert Posts: 593 ✭✭
    Re: Hello to one and all, and diving in where angels fear to tread

    GSHP (ground source heat pumps) are now approved for Energy Star.

    They still are a more expensive system so compare to state of the art ASHP (air source heat pump) systems available.

    Soil conditions and temperatures also have a great affect on the GSHP systems. The old wives tale about everything underground being 50 degrees F is just that. Underground temperatures vary by region and significantly.

    Whether soil conditions or available area allow a horizontal system has to be carefully looked at.
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