Meet Chris Devaney. Living Off grid, he has rigged up his own power supply for six years, becoming an expert at wind turbine generating power, working out the difficulties, making appropriate repairs and by now knowing exactly how everything works.
If you want to cut your electric bill, or if you would like to get off grid, here is how to do it: follow someone who’s already doing it.
You will obviously need to adjust the specific setup for yourself, but it’s a bad idea to get started without first seeing what other people have done. Read the details below!
I like to tinker. I like things mechanical. A little music is good too, especially if it is creative. And I love things that are free: like the wind. The sound of it, the feel of it on my face, and the intrinsic energy inherent in it.
Over six years ago, I put up a rooftop-mounted wind generator, and then another the following year, and then a third a year or so after that. It wasn’t hard to do and didn’t require any special-function tools, just the regular ones everyone has. Even so, I figured that I better leave the tools handy.
Those mechanical whirlygigs, I supposed, will need attention, and more than likely, lots of it and real soon. I get a typical wind of 10-15 mph almost every day, stronger in the winter, and much stronger in a storm. Notice the weatherbeaten and wind eroded appearance of the stain on my homestead, certainly in need of a fresh coat. I even had a hurricane back a year or so ago. No one liked that. Not the house, not me, not even the wind generators. But nothing broke, so those tools still lay dormant!
The doggonnest thing is… the dang wind generators don’t break! So much for tinkering. So much for chaos. Who needs tools if the dang things don’t break? Well, I suppose, there’s still the tractors… they are always broken, or rusted, or… well, never mind!
Alas, that’s not entirely true. There have been some repairs made to the wind generators. I have three roof mounted wind generators: two Southwest Windpower400 watt Air-X units and an 800 watt Mallard 800E along with some solar panels that supply my electrical power needs. I do have, and I highly recommend if you live off grid, a backup gasoline powered generator. In fact, I have two backup gas generators; one is a small 1,000 watt unit that I use most when the sun and wind abandon me for more than 4 days at a time.
It is a cute little fuel miser that will run my computers, both at once when I need to, plus fire up lights, a boom-box, low-power tools and assorted other things including the radio dish for my internet connection, wireless router and some other electronic doo-dads.
I also use a second and larger gas generator, a 3000 watt unit, to juice my power tools or water pump… the big boys, the watt suckers, like the two-burner electric stove I use for burning dinners on occasion. It is less miserly on gas so I use it only when required. But with the backup generator, I can cook beans and steak at the same time. I cannot with my alternative energy setup and do not mean to imply that it is a totally sufficient system for the typical household. At least not at the scale I live on.
The Air-X units, those fish-tail looking units near the crest of the roof, have been flying for over 6 and 5 years respectively. The big green, 6-bladed Mallard on the lower south roof has been in service for 3 years. So, being almost 7 years off the grid, I have some experience in dealing with the unexpected, the malfunctions, I’ve had direct contact with Mr. Miserable, Malfunction-Murphy himself. Here is a list of the repairs so far:
- Air-X, west side of roof: Burned out control circuit board 1st year of service, repaired under warranty by the factory.
- Air-X, east side: Same thing, first year of service, circuit board replaced under warranty. A replacement circuit board was sent to me free of charge from the factory with instructions on how to install it. Oh boy! I get to use tools. Where might they be?
- Mallard 800E: In the 2nd year of service it suffered a bent hub, that’s the thing that secures the blades to the rotating shaft. The hub was replaced with a new design, one that is stronger and lighter. Cost: around 25 bucks, 28 bucks if you include new cheap Chinese replacement tools for the ones you can’t find, thirty bucks to include a can of shiny paint to match the rest of the unit. Oh boy, once again, more roof-time.
- Replaced ALL rubber vibration isolating mounts on the mast, way more than once. Eventually I changed them all to solid mounts with rubber spacers. I only had to do that once, problem licked.
- Air-X east side: Tossed its plastic nose cone in year 3. Nose cone retrieved from the meadow and I epoxied the cracked cone then reinstalled it. Two weeks later I had to fetch it again, same meadow, about the same distance away. No more epoxy, it is now and forevermore running without a nose cone.
- Air-X west: Blown fuse. This is a very noticeable condition with the Air-X’s although it took me about 20 minutes of head scratching to figure out what was going on the first (and only) time it happened. When a fuse in the Air-X blows, the unit will free-wheel and winds up to full speed, the internal speed control senses this and slams on the brake. The brakes are nothing more than a feedback of generated current into the armature windings that creates an electro-magnetic drag on the rotor. This slows the rotor and the brake releases. Then, the unit spins itself crazyagain until the brake once again slams it to a stop electro-magnetically. This will go on and on unmercifully until you realize the fuse has blown and replace it. To correct this, I put the stop switch between the Air-X and the fuse. Now if the fuse blows, the stop switch can still be thrown to the closed position which shorts the windings and puts a drag on the rotor at all wind speeds.
The Mallard does not have the electronic brains like its sisters, the Air-X’s. There is no automatic electronic braking feature. I use a stop switch positioned between the fuse and the wind generator that will short the windings to create the drag. Otherwise, without a stop switch positioned “upstream” of the fuse, the Mallard could spin itself to a violent death if the wind is strong enough.
That’s it! No other repairs, not even tune ups. Well, no, that’s not true. I did clamor up on the roof one more time to adjust the voltage control unit on the Air-X’s to the OFF position. That was necessary after I installed a diversion load controller on the battery bank inside the house to take over the control functions. Note that the Mallard does not have any circuit boards or control electronics in it’s housing. A definite plus in my experience.
Does is make sense to generate your own electricity? Will it pay off in your lifetime? It did for me. Although my circumstances are a little unique, with the wind generators, the pay-back period was almost immediate and well in my favor.
I’m often asked how long it took to break even on purchasing and setting up an off-grid facility. The cost of a small (read that as very small) system like mine is relatively budget friendly: less than $600 each for the Air-X’s, $385 for the Mallard. There’s additional costs of around $250 each unit for pipe, mounting hardware, wire, switches, gauges and other support equipment (like replacing lost tools), not counting the free labor… mine, or kids’, if you can find them. There’s also an inverter and batteries to consider and that could get expensive depending on your choices. Miserly me took the cheap road during the learning phase, Wal-mart batteries (deep-cycle kind, about $60 each), 5 of them, and two 750 watt inverters for about $79 each. I’ve added more items along the way but for the most part, the above represents a functional basic system that has worked well for me.
I don’t use much electricity, hence I don’t generate much electricity, or is it the other way around? In either case, does it make more sense to generate it or just buy it from the locals?
Aside from personal philosophy and the thrill of doing it myself, in my case it certainly made sense to generate it myself. With a minimum $30/month electric bill, ordinarily it could take a while to justify the cost of the off-grid system. But it would have cost close to $14,000 to bring power in to my facility since I do live a fair stretch from civilization. Hence, the payback justification was quite immediate.
The real payback for me however, came from the psychological and philosophical change to my very core that’s worth way more than the dollars I have or ever will have saved. It is actually no longer a matter of dollars saved. I have comfortably found that I just don’t need much of the stuff, the very same stuff that I didn’t even need before but didn’t realize it. Ahh, the Zen of it all! My eyes have been opened. And I get lullabied to sleep almost every night in the process of generating the electricity for tomorrow’s use or for the next few days.