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Looking for Ways to Reduce Electricity Usage (Possibly Solar Cells)

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Posted by Mark & Mary Ann Weiss on February 3, 2004, 7:15 am
I'm looking at $00/mo electric bills on average, even though I have stopped
using many heavy-draw appliances.

I am down to just my four PC computer servers that must be on 24/7.

We emptied shut down our chest freezer last November.

All heating is oil-fired, including hot water.

We're saving to replace our 1962-vintage HotPoint refrigerator (which is
still working fine) with a new Energy Star rated fridge.

I've converted a lot of the incandescent lighting to fluorescent.

I've stopped using space heaters.

I've stopped using the big sound system for background and monitoring
applications in my studio, replacing it with a small mag-field amplifier
that has a low quiescent power draw.

The way I see it, the biggest continuous draw are my computers and musical
instruments (synthesizers). In the past, I have looked into solar cell
panels and found the costs to be prohibitive, requiring a mortgage to pay
for. I would like to do something on a smaller scale.

If I could power even one computer by storage batteries and a solid state
sine wave inverter, charged by solar cells during the day, with enough
reserve to run the whole night throught til sun up, I would consider that a
great start. Because of budget limits ($00-500) this will be a DIY project.

What are the most efficient solar cells made today and can enough of them be
purchased within the constraints of my budget to power an AC sine wave
inverter to operate on PC server?

I'm looking for a variety of alternative energy source ideas, even wind
power to charge batteries.
Perhaps it makes more sense to have one big 3kVA inverter and three times
the battery capacity and more cells charging by day and wind-driven
generators charging by night? What I'd like to do is create a hybrid system
that is scaleable as my needs/budget grow.

Is anyone on this discussion group doing serious alternative electric energy
generation? Would love to discuss some ideas and expand my awareness of
what's available in terms of hardware.

Take care,

Mark & Mary Ann Weiss

Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm
Business sites at:

Posted by DJ on February 3, 2004, 1:27 pm

 Have you cracked them open, and enclosed them in a single box to
reduce cooling load and increase efficiency? Dunno much about PC
server technology, but do you REALLY NEED four? Would two faster ones
work as well?

 Interesting ;-). Here, that's where I *load up* my chest freezer...
and unplug it! But, then, it gets a bit colder here ;-).

 Oh, and is your chest freezer in a cool area?

 The biggest load of a furnace is the blower; AC or DC? And have you
considered alternative, more energy efficient heating, like hydraunic
or radiant? Like I said, that AC blower in your furnace (if you have
one) is an electricity hog.

Ditch it now. There is a HUGE efficiency difference in that fourty
years of technology ;-). There must be a "Don't pay till 2005!"
furnature store nearby! ;-).

 In well ventillated areas, you can get nice kerosene space heaters,
as well as propane ones! But if you do, and really, you should have
already, a Carbon Monoxide detector.

 Yep, it's always cheaper to SAVE electricity than to MAKE

 I wonder why you say " *even* wind power". In my experience, you get
alot more "bang for the buck" from wind than you get from solar... if
you have the wind in the first place.

 Basically, initially, your energy production is divided into, in a
balanced system, three equally expensive parts: the generation system,
either pvs or wind or micro hydro, the storage medium, batteries, and
the electronics that run it all, the charge controllers, inverter,
 After the initial investment, however, you can then double or triple
your production or storage or throughput with a reasonably small
increase in the overall value of the system. Oh, and windmills work
during the day, too!
 The big advantage of a dual system, wind and pv, where I am, anyway
(46 N x 76 W) is that the wind is a major player in the winter when
the sun isn't, and the sun is a major player in the summer, when the
wind often isn't.

 And your desire to have a scalable system, yep, that's the best idea.
The big thing is to make sure your inverters are "stackable", so that
you can just "add another unit" rather than ditch the one you have,
and buy a bigger one. The big inverter guys (Outback et al) make
stackable inverters for just that reason.

 Dude, there are people in this discussion group that are doing
serious alternative electrical generation that would see what you are
proposing as a "hobby system" ;-). But that doesn't mean we won't
happily help you out!

 Bring on the questions.


Posted by Scott Willing on February 3, 2004, 5:16 pm
 Replying to DJ with comments for Mark/Mary Ann...

On 3 Feb 2004 05:27:37 -0800, dj_macintyre@hotmail.com (DJ) wrote:

No offence DJ -- most of your post is right on the money IMHO -- but
are you serious? You must have more time on your hands than I do...
mounting for mainboards + plug-in cards + drives etc... that's a major
custom construction task for highly questionable ROI.

I hear that. -45 this morning.

*May* be an energy hog. I credit this forum with teaching me that AC
motors are not inherently inefficient, it's just that most of the
consumer shovelware hasn't been designed for efficient performance.

Agree that this is a priority. I kept an old fridge in my basement,
rarely opened and just barely idling along, only used for overflow or
party beer. Then I did an energy audit and realized that it was using
twice as much energy (averaged over a month) than my electric clothes

Mark - although your budget is pretty tight, consider investing in a
energy monitor like a "Watts Up" or a "Kill a Watt" and find out
exactly what those 24/7 draws represent. You might be shocked, no pun
intended. Loosely, energy = power x time.

I'm curious about the studio gear - is this left on all the time on
the basis of the argument for long-term stability, i.e. "warm up the
gear and leave it warmed up for best performance?" (My job has taken
me into major studios around the planet, so I'm familiar with the 24/7
power-up argument.)

A lot to be said for solar - no moving parts, no towers to raise or
lower, and generally easier to install for the beginner and less
chance of freaking out the neighbors (if you live in close quarters).
But yeah, IF you have serious wind, it can certainly pay out. A lot of
folks get dissappointed.

...When the time comes. Don't forget Mark (or is it Mary Ann?) was
talking about an opening budget that wouldn't even buy a chunk of an
Outback inverter.

'Sactly. I've had the pleasure of living 3 years in a full-time
off-grid home/office. What we get by on for energy, some guys would
use to make lunch!

Ditto. Welcome, Mark, and nice post DJ.


Posted by DJ on February 4, 2004, 3:13 am

Agreed ;-). Just bouncing ideas. Alot of computer efficiency is lost
due to overheating, so I figured he could get more computer for the
buck if he opened them up, and then could maybe dump one or two of
them. Just quickly checking out his post below, though, and dem some
honkin' machines.

Well, that makes me feel better ;-). Worst we saw so far was -36C, and
it's been positively "balmy" lately at about -15C ;-).

 Actually, true, but where I was coming from was it is an energy hog
in comparison to heat thrown; I almost put one in, a forced air Lennox
propane furnace, but then dumped it for a hydraunic system that draws,
like, twenty WATTS instead of over 500 that the blower took! When you
have to make every one of them, as I do, you try to save them
everywhere you can!

 Yeah, true. 500$ is in the modified square with a golf cart battery
bank range and a second hand coleman generator ;-).

Just passed the "one month" mark, myself, or, should I say, ourselves!
And yes, that means we moved into an off grid home over the Christmas
holidays ;-). It's an adventure for sure!
 And yes, one does get aquainted with what odd bits draw, some of
them, quite surprising!

Thank ye sir.


Posted by Bobbi on February 4, 2004, 11:01 am
 On 3 Feb 2004 19:13:30 -0800, dj_macintyre@hotmail.com (DJ) wrote:


June this year will be year 5 for us being totally off-grid here in
the Meadow. It's amazing how low our actually consumption is. It's an
adjustment but our pockets aren't full of the green stuff so we do
what we can afford.

We have an Air 403 wind genny (which as was commented picks up the
load in winter when it's gray ceiling around here) and 4 Photowatt
solar panels; 10 golf cart batts, a modified square wave inverter of
3k watt surges to 6k. Everything is more than adequate for what we run
here - lights (cf), computer, microwave, tv, dvd, backup propane
furnace blower (dc), pressure tank with dc pump, etc.

I wouldn't go back on grid for all the tea in China! <g>

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