You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

I have been replacing all of my incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs for a few years now. I started replacing them in the fixtures I used  often but I did not wait for them to burn out first. That would cost me more money in the end. So now I have a few boxes full of perfectly good old light bulbs. I do have a need for some of them. Lights that are on dimmers don’t work well with CFLs. I just spent $60 on six dimmable CFLs. They only dim about half way. Not good enough if you are going to watch movies. My garage door opener does not work with CFLs either. They just don’t light up. Finally, the one bathroom still has incandescent bulbs.

I don’t want to give them away because then I am giving someone an inefficient bulb.

Here is a picture of my problem!

CFL Fallout

CFL Fallout

You can buy cheap car inverters for less than $50. I purchased a 400W inverter for about $20 at a discount store. This unit will not run a microwave but I believe it can run my refrigerator. It has an 800W surge rating. With my kill-a-watt meter I have scene only as high as 700W. (actually I was checking Volt-amps, this has to do with power factor, for another time…)

All I would need to do is pop the hood and connect directly to the battery. If I could use 50amp hours from my battery and still start the car then..

50 amp hours x 12V = 600W of usable power.

This means I could run 400W of “stuff” for only 1.5 hours. Or I could run 100W of stuff for 6 hours. That would mean we could run a few CFLs and a laptop for the better part of one night.

Here is the bast part, when I feel the battery is running low just start the car. Let it run for 30 minutes and you will have a fresh battery. I will be the first to admit, this is a huge waste of fuel for the car. But, how often does the power go out? What if you need to run a CPAP machine? If it has battery backup maybe it can not go all night. If your power is out for an extended period of time you may be able to plug in the refrigerator and let it run for an hour to keep the food from spoiling.

As I type this there is a foot of snow on the ground. I could have lost power. But I did not. If I did I would have it under control thanks to my cheap car inverter.

Okay, so I don’t have TED installed yet. Actually, it just shipped today. For a smidgen over $200 I will have second by second information on the electricity usage of my house. As a green electro geek, I can’t wait.

How to install it. From the website, installation looks very easy. I figure it will take me about 30 minutes to install. You clamp the current probes around the two incoming hot leads and connect to a circuit breaker. I still have to figure out if the circuit breaker can be shared or dedicated. Then you plug the display into an outlet. Since I purchased the PC software, I will then connect the display to the computer that serves as my DVR via USB cable.

The PC software looks very nice. I already know that I am going to sit and watch the graphs in real time for hours. The unit lets you program in your utilities rate structure. Then you can see how much money you are spending instantly. You can even program in alarms.

One of the first things I am going to try to do is profile my dishwasher, furnace and oven. Not that the oven is going to be replaced anytime soon. But if I find out that dishwasher is an energy hog, out it goes. The only reason I have not replaced it is because it still works. But it cleans dishes okay and is too noisy. Next I will investigate the furnace. Now this will only show me the blower fan. But I think it too, is an energy hog. This spring my be time for an upgraded system. I am thinking about a super high efficiency heat pump.

I can’t wait to blog about my findings. I will have to post some screen shoots too. This is going to be fun. 🙂

Is man made global warming real? Regardless if humans are the cause of the latest warming trend, it makes sense to keep the planet clean! Non-renewable resources are finite, hence the “non” in non renewable. I continually hear on the TV and Radio that the amount of sunlight (energy) that hits the earth in one day exceeds are usage for an entire year. I recently watched a documentary called “The Great Global Warming Swindle ”. One major point it stressed was that a rise in global temperature occurs first, then the level of CO2 rises. Not the other way around or at least that is what they are saying. Here is a Wikipedia link about the documentary.

I always like talking to older people about global warming. Why? So few believe that global waring is really happening. You see, back in the mid to late ’70s everyone kept talking about global cooling. “We are heading for the next ice age.” Well, these people have not forgotten about all that media hype. Now they are just hearing the total opposite. They just don’t believe any of it.

Right now, in most states, the price of fuel drives to cost of electricity. We don’t have a carbon cap and credit system to drive prices higher for certain types of fuel. So, in coal burning states like Indiana, solar does not make financial sense. But, in states like Arizona, California and New Mexico, where electricity prices are high and the sun shines all the time. Solar can be a great solution to higher energy costs. Solarhome.org has many different sizes of solar home systems. I have been wanting a solar system for many years. But the economics are not there, until recently. Now with the 30% tax credit I have started to look at solar seriously again. I am still a long way away. I have to reduce my usage almost in half just to have enough space on my roof for a solar system. In the mean time, I am upgrading my major appliances with most efficient models I can find. It is cheaper to decrease energy usage then to add more panels.

Do I believe in Global Warming? Not 100%. Do I believe we are not help the current situation, absolutely. Conservation never hurt anyone. We need to keep our planet clean. Because Earth is an island!

The first major question one would need to answer is: How long do I plan to be without power? Less than 12 hours? More then 12 hours?

If you answered less than 12 hours – Solar backup generator.

If you answered more than 12 hours – Regular backup generator.

I am not going to talk about regular generators. We want to know more about a solar backup generators. What do I need to make one? How much will it cost? What can I power with it and for how long?

Let’s start with the last question first. To begin with, this system will only run a few lights, a TV and a laptop. This will not run your entire house. Just like  most store bought generators will not either. I, personally, would like it to be able to power my refrigerator for 4 continuous hours. In addition to two lights and a small laptop for 4 hours. The refrigerator uses 160 Watts while running. Two lights are 25 Watts and my netbook charger use about 15 Watts. That is equal to 200 watts. For a total of 800 Watt hours. I would use a 12 Volt system for this small application. 800/12×2=133 Amp Hours of batteries. I would round this up to at least 150 amp hours and purchase a battery close to that number.

Now for the solar panel. Since this system will only be use intermittently, I can get away with using a simple solar rule. 1 Watt panel power for every amp hour of battery. No charge controller is required. I would need a 15 Watt Solar Panel.

What does this cost.

Cheap Wal-mart batteries x2 = $100

20 Watt solar panel (No 15W Availible) = $200

Cheap AC/DC inverter 600W =$60

All total for less then $400. No gas, no fumes, NO CARBON MONOXIDE.

Xantrex XPower Portable Powerpack 1500

Xantrex XPower Portable Powerpack 1500

Or you can buy this. All ready to go. For almost the same price. Only problem, no solar panel and smaller battery. On the positive side. Very nice inverter! Nice cart!

Sure, this will cost more then a regular generator. But, your fuel is free. In a pinch, you could always hook the inverter up to your car battery. Then start you car when the battery starts to get low. Not the best solution but good in an emergency.

How much is too much! That all depends on you. I personally feel that $150 dollars is too much. But I live in a cheap state for electricity. (Indiana) If I lived in California, $150 may sound like nothing.

What are the major users of electricity in my home? I have gas heat, gas fireplace, gas dryer, and a gas water heater. Gas runs most big appliances. (Now my gas bill is another story, that was $200 last month.) If you have electric heat, not a heat pump, than that is your answer. Electric heat is the worst way to heat your home. You should investigate alternatives ASAP if you wish to reduce your electric bill. Air conditioning is also a major user. Try running the air at the highest setting you are comfortable with. Electric water heaters use a good amount of electricity. You can reduce the temperature setting on the tank. You can also wrap your tank with a water heater blanket. Both of these will reduce the energy your water heater uses.
If gas is available in your area, it may save you money if you switch appliances over to gas. (Electricity is soooo cheap for me, it actually costs more to use gas then electric.)

Now lets talk Base Load. For me, Base load is how much electricity one uses during the non-heating and cooling season. In my household, that is number is about 750kWhrs. This is for a 2200 square foot home with a full finished basement. Knowing this can help you determine how much energy you are using for space conditioning. My usage basically doubles in summer and winter.

The last issue I think people over look is, Phantom Loads. Phantom loads are “stuff” that runs on electricity and you did not even really think about it. Good examples are;
Any wall adapter that you leave in all the time. Think cell phone charger, cordless phone, laptop charger. Clocks, TV, DVD and VCRs, automatic coffee pot. Do you leave your computer on all the time? One of these nights I am going to go out and watch my electric meter and calculate my phantom loads. By my best guess, I would think it could be as high as 150kWhrs a month.

Tools to help figure out what is going on.

Kill-A-Watt

This has been blogged about before. This will allow you to connect items with a normal wall plug. Leave it plugged in for a few days and find ou your average daily usage.

The Energy Detective

This is my favorite. One will be arriving at my house soon. I will be purchasing the PC monitoring software also. Yes, I am a green geek. The TED will allow real time energy feedback. I can already see  myself analyzing the data everyday.

My household goal is to reduce my base load to below 500kWhrs. Since I have done the easiest thing. (All lights are CFLs) This may not be that easy anymore. With the help of TED, I can target items like the dishwasher. I have a feeling that thing uses more then a typical dishwasher. Since it is getting older I want to replace it before it breaks. This may just push me over the edge.

Absorption chillers have been around for over 150 years. This is not a new technology. They are still used today. If you have an RV then you may have an LPG driven absorption refrigerator. You can even purchase an absorption refrigerator/freezer combo unit for your home today. I am sure many are in use in off-grid homes today. The question I have is, Can one use the hot water from a solar hot water heater to drive an absorption chiller?

First, what is an absorption chiller? Absorption chiller uses the process of evaporation and condensation to cool. I am not going to try to fully describe it, but I will point you to a good link or two. Basically, you use heat to generate cold. The heat we want to use is from a solar hot water heater.

Herein lies the problem, efficient absorption chillers require water of at least 190 °F (88 °C). How can I get that kind of heat from a typical solar thermal collector? So I started Goggling. And what should I happen to find. A company that makes solar absorption air conditioners. When I first looked at them I thought it was the same old PV driven air conditioners. No sir, it was indeed what I was looking for.  They do use an evacuated tube thermal collector. This will give you high water temperatures. So it can be done. But you need a cooling tower. Nobody wants a cooling tower next to their house. Too much maintenance. I would want a “Normal” A/C radiator unit outside my house to reject heat. That, and the smallest unit is 10 tons. That would cool your house off in a hurry.

I am sure it can be done. I have seen on the internet smaller chiller units. One could setup a more normal external cooling tower. Since most new chillers are double effect, at least the BTUs you put in is what you get out. Since summer time gives you the most BTUs, I think some day it will be worth another look.

I leave you with this link. Low Firing Temperature Absorption Chiller System A student, ,KEVIN A. GOODHEART, submitted this paper toward completion of his MS ME. A nice piece of work that I will have to read fully at a later time.

http://minds.wisconsin.edu/handle/1793/7644

Swamp coolers are not new. They have been around for years. You may know them by another name, Evaporative Cooler. One major draw back of evaporative cooling is the added humidity. The desert southwest is the perfect place for this type of cooling. Here is a great link for background on this type of cooling.

Evaporative Cooling

An added benefit of evaporative cooling is that it works best in the hottest time of the day. As the temperature outside increases as the sun climbs, the humidity normally drops. In the early morning, for example, the temperature may be 70 degrees, with a relative humidity of 60 percent. By mid-afternoon, when the temperature has climbed to 90 degrees, the humidity may well have dropped to 30 percent – conditions that make evaporative cooling work more effectively.

CoolMax

MasterCool

Coolerado Corporation

Breezair

Polar Cool

Cheaper evaportive cooler at Amazon

I am sure there are more. One interesting item to note is that Coolerado unit does not add humidity to the cooled air. This makes it suitable for any environment. So they say. I don’t think it would work great in Florida, but that is just me.

Back in the day before air conditioning, people would plant trees around the house. These trees would shade the house from the sun and provide natural cooling. In the winter time the leaves would fall off and the sun would warm the house. This would be the first solar air conditioner. But, were not looking for that kind of  “Solar Air Conditioner” are we. No, we want the kind that will blow cold air in your face. Do they make them?

Armed with Google, I search the trusted internet. 🙂  I have looked for solar air conditioners in the past, so some of the sites were familiar. Here is what I found.

SolCool

GreenCore

DC Breeze

Sun Power Tech

All units would need at least 500 Watts of solar panels, depending on the amount of sun you receive. They also would need batteries and a charge controller. If you were off grid, you would have this equipment already. Then all you would need to pony up was the money for the unit. The only price I could find was about $5000 for the Greencore unit. At that price, you could justify buying more panels and running a window unit. What about units made for RVs? A quick search reveals that most are 120VAC models. (DC Breeze and Sun Power units have been used instead of traditional RV units because owners can shut down there generators at night for sleeping)

In my opinion, you would be better off installing a small grid tie system to offset your traditional HVAC system.

But you have some other alternatives.

SOLAR SWAMP COOLERS

SOLAR ABSORPTION CHILLER

Let me just start out by saying that, the current setup saves me money. My POCO (POwer COmpany) is Duke energy.  I don’t have time of use billing. I have a regressive usage setup. The more i use the less I pay for my electricty! This sounds backwards in today’s world. They should be trying to get me to conserve, penalize me for my over consumption.

My Rate Schedule

Connection Charge            $9.40
First 300 kWh                      $0.092945 per kWh
Next 700 kWh                     $0.054178 per kWh
Over 1000 kWh                   $0.044464 per kWh

As you can see, the more I use, the less I pay per kWh. Now let’s look at a PG&E Time of Use billing.

PG&E TOU Billing (I linked to the main page because every year they go up)

Here is a link to the explanation of PG&E’s TOU billing.

After looking at this information, I have no idea how anyone figures out their bill. Seriously, five tiers, baseline percentages, then riders. Forget that. Way to complicated!

Here is Duke Energy again for North Carolina.

I don’t like this one either. Why? They are charging customers for demand! That means your new fancy on-demand electric water heater will cost you big time!

I have searched high and low on the internet for a likable plan. And…

Puget Sound Energy

Very nice! You could change the program on your thermostat. Heat your water at night. Set the dishwasher to come on at 2am. Since I have a deep freeze, I could put a timer on it to only run at night. Heck, With only (2) four hour windows. You could even put a timer on your regular refrigerator. I could even delay the clothes washer!  Then I searched a little more.

Canceled the program!

Customers besieged PSE, calling to complain that the utility’s “time-of-use” program not only wasn’t saving them money but also was costing them slightly more than standard billing programs. So PSE last week asked the state Utilities and Transportation Commission for permission to end the program a year ahead of schedule.

I still like the idea. I think the night rate needs to be very cheap. Say 3 cents a kWhr. If you could save 20% on your electric bill with minimal effort, would you? I think I would.