Happy Independence Day!
I hope everybody has a great holiday, eats lots of good food, and sees a parade or two and some awesome fireworks. But let’s not forget what those fireworks stand for…
Be safe and have fun.
On to business…
Here’s the second installment by Odd Questioner on Electricity in a Post-Tech World.
by Odd Questioner
In the last article, we covered some of the basics as to why you would want power post-TEOTWAWKI, what you can do with it, and we covered (lightly) the biggest threat that you could possibly face to having electricity and electronics after the world craps all over itself.
So… where is all this power going to come from? Well, in this round, let’s cover the two biggest and most obvious sources – solar, and wind.
I’ll skip the heavy details and how-tos for now, and go straight to how practical/useful each type really is. In later articles we’ll cover even more, since there are a huge number of ways from which you can get some juice flowing.
So without further ado, let’s run through some options, shall we?
(honest disclaimer: Your humble author has previously worked for a solar panel manufacturer).
Free power, courtesy of that big, fat glowing ball in the sky! A top-quality photovoltaic mono-crystal silicon panel will carry a 25-year warranty, and have been known to still produce power after 30 years. Panels are routinely made now so that a 4’x6′ panel can pump out up to 255 watts. Five of them can keep an ordinary 3-bedroom house with all the modern conveniences powered quite nicely on a clear sunny day. Given a lighter-usage lifestyle and ditching all the real power-eaters, you can comfortably power a modern home with all the trimmings off of five panels. A typical-sized panel is going to be an investment, but well worth it in the long term. Even on cloudy days, the panels can generate power. Installation is fairly straightforward, and requires only proper siting and an inverter.
All that said, the big, obvious drawback involves what happens when the sun goes down. If the situation overall involves, say, thick clouds of dust or ash, then the drawbacks are even more obvious. If you don’t site your panels properly, a harsh shade falling on one corner of the panel can drop the whole panel’s output by half, or worse. However, for most conceivable TEOTWAWKI situations, a solar panel will do just fine. To get around that inevitable nighttime problem, you’ll want one of two things: a second power source, or a lot of deep-cycle batteries. If your electrical devices are mostly rechargeable, this is a lot easier than it sounds – charge during the day, use at night. But, a second power source is still highly recommended, and not just for solar panel usage.
Maintenance is a snap – just keep the panels clear of snow and wash the dust off occasionally. If you have them on a roof, don’t forget a ladder, or some other easy means of reaching them.
The best places to use solar will be in desert regions, and the lower your site’s latitude, the better it gets. The worst places would be in the upper latitudes (e.g. Alaska), and you will see lower efficiencies in areas where there is a lot of rainfall (Parts of Oregon, Washington, etc.) You can compensate somewhat against this – panels in rainy areas will still generate power, so a couple more panels can make up for the loss. However, for those living in Alaska, you may want to consider using solar only as a secondary power source, since you can only really use it for six months out of the year.
Improvisation will be a toughie to do. Photovoltaic Silicon is made by a rather exacting process, and replicating that post-SHTF is going to be nearly impossible. However, I bring this up because you *can* improvise other uses for solar power… water-heating, a solar oven (seriously –
http://solarcooking.wikia.com/wiki/%22Minimum%22_Solar_Box_Cooker ), and even passive solar design to keep your new home warm.
One thing to note is that recently, there is a new type of solar cell – the “thin film” or Gallium-Arsenide/CIGS solar cells. They are photovoltaic, but are flexible and a whole lot cheaper. The downside is that they don’t last as long (usually 5-7 years before losses begin to set in, and they’re practically worthless by year 20). They also don’t have the same efficiency (usually 5-7%, and maybe 10% a couple of years from now). This may change as the manufacturing process improves, and in around 10-15 years from now (assuming civilization is still around), we should have some cheap, useful thin-film solar rigging as well.
More free power, but this time courtesy of the wind. A top-quality wind turbine that is well-maintained can last almost as long as a top-end solar panel, and will work just fine, day or night. You can power a three-bedroom house with one turbine if you size it right and the wind is constant. A good wind-power calculator can be had courtesy of your favorite search engine, or you can just go here:
http://www.reuk.co.uk/Calculate-kWh-Generated-by-Wind-Turbine.htm Wind turbines, like solar panels, require an inverter to convert the DC power into something more useful for most common electrical items. Like solar, proper siting is a must, so you can catch all the wind. As far as sizes, the sky is almost literally the limit – it all depends on how big a turbine you want to get.
The drawbacks involve, well, the wind. If you live on a coast or in a canyon, this should not be too much of a problem. A careful and long-term survey will be required before you build one anywhere, though. Also, if you’re the type who wants to keep his or her remote shelter/bunker/etc a private or concealed affair, a wind turbine will make you stick out like a very sore thumb (this is because in order to get at the more constant wind, the blades have to be quite a bit high off of the ground). All this said, because wind can often be a fickle affair, you will seriously need a second power source, or a lot of good batteries to store the power generated when the wind is blowing.
Wind turbines have moving parts. This means maintenance, and the ability to perform it. A wind turbine that is too big will require a lot of people to gently pull the tower down (or you can climb up it) to insure bearings are good, that any damage is fixed, etc. Keep plenty of spare parts on hand, and a replacement turbine (or two if you have multiple wind towers) would be a very good investment.
The best places to use wind power will depend a *lot* on where you are, but there is no set rule as to what locations work better than others. Coastal areas, the tops of rounded hills, gaps in mountains, and open plains all offer the best opportunities. However, since not all of these places are going to be best places for riding the end of civilization out, look at your own situation very carefully before making any sort of investments.
Improvisation is actually easier to do, and well within grasp. Even if it’s just a home-made sheet-metal fan, a pulley, and a car alternator, you can produce a trickle of useful electricity (note that car alternators are not normally recommended, but in a pinch they can be used: http://homepower.com/article/?file=HP113_pg10_ATE_5 ).
But stay tuned, because in the next article, we’re going to cover hydro and biofuel.