Shift-Alt-Electricity! (or Technology Part I: Electricity (b))

plug

Ok, ok I know I said that I’d go into our specific energy uses in this post, but I feel there’s more to say about other ways to electrify a tiny house.  So bear with me (roar) as I shuffle through some more potentially helpful alternatives besides solar.

Grid-tied  

When all the factors of embodied energy, supply, waste, ease, and cost are considered, being tied into the grid can be the steadiest, cleanest, and cheapest.  This is especially true for places like New York City, New Jersey or Oregon where you can choose what source the energy is coming from via: www.greenmountainenergy.com/for-customers/contact-my-utility.

Using grid-tied energy, the approximate cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) =  $0.10-$0.15

Biodiesel + battery bank hybrid

This involves using any regular diesel generator with waste vegetable oil biodiesel and a battery bank.  The major downside to using a biodiesel generator is that “generator sizing in a traditional site is based on peak load so that it can handle the peak load requirement when/if it is required. However, a site seldom reaches its peak load for more than a few minutes at a time.  When the generator starts on a hybrid site, it runs at a high load during the boost recharge period to charge the battery bank and power the existing site load. The generator is therefore running at a much greater efficiency (80-90%)…” (excerpted from: www.clean-power-systems.com/resources/hybrid-power-resources).

 In common English this means that when the generator is on, it produces at five kW (or more), no matter what.  If you only need three kW, two kW are wasted.  With a battery bank and a controller, however, you can collect this excess energy and run all your electric-heavy things at once.  When the batteries are charged, the generator turns off, and the units run on battery power.  It’s not 100% efficient but the price is comparable to a grid-tied system, and it’s reliable, upgradeable, and initially cheaper than solar.

 Here is the math on biodiesel:

~34.5×106 J/liter = 9.58 kWh/Liter (www.roperld.com/science/biofuelsfromalgae.htm)

1 gallon=3.785 liters.  9.58kWh x 3.785L. = 36.2603 kWh/Gallon.

 If one gallon of biodiesel costs  $3.00 (current cost in Oregon) then that works out to $0.08/ KWH  (1/36th of $3.00), assuming all power generated is stored or used.  If half of its max is used, it’s about $0.16/kWh.  With the battery bank and hybrid charge controller it would run on 80-90% efficiency, or about $0.10/kWh. 

 Here are some sources that discuss what biodiesel is, and the pros and cons therein:

auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/alternative-fuels/biodiesel4.htm

www.biodiesel.org/

A government-operated site that includes information on all available renewable energy sources including biodiesel fuel: www.eere.energy.gov/afdc/fuels/biodiesel.html

 Windwindpoweredsheep

Wind turbines are just too big and need to be placed up too high to be of practical use to our tiny house.  While it’s a great technology that offers little to no hassle and an unlimited capacity to turn in the wind, it is limited by the wind (or lack thereof) that is present and the location/zoning where we park our tiny house.

Biogas  

This is super cool.   An explanation from All Power Labs: “Gasification is the use of heat to transform solid biomass or other carbonaceous solids into a synthetic “natural gas-like” flammable fuel.  Through gasification, we can convert nearly any dry organic matter into a clean burning fuel that can replace fossil fuel in most use situations. Whether starting with wood chips or walnut shells, construction debris or agricultural waste, gasification will transform common “waste” into a flexible gaseous fuel you can use to run your internal combustion engine, cooking stove, furnace or flamethrower.”

While this is an incredible technology, the fuel for it is difficult to find and the maintenance would be a lot to keep up with.  It’s also not as efficient, dependent upon an unreliable source of fuel and the technology is still emerging.

 Here is a link to the “Power Pallet” bio-gas generator and the fuels that it can use:

http://www.allpowerlabs.com/info/gasification-basics/gasifier-types

www.gekgasifier.com/products/appropriate-fuels

 

Wave Power

This is just another nod to a great technology that would be extremely difficult to implement.

www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/why-wave-power-so-far-behind-wind-and-solar.html

 

So that’s the skinny on various electricity sources.  I’m almost done running wire through the tiny house and will have a blog about that in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Technology Part I: Electricity (a)

  Tiny House Technology

 In the next series of posts, we will explore some nuts and bolts of tiny house technology and share resources that have pointed us in the right direction.  We will also share information on electrical loads and a nuanced discussion of the embodied energy inherent in many ‘green’ technologies.  The research we’ve done has included an understanding of the embodied energy required to manufacture the product, as well as the latest research about their sustainability.  Embodied energy is “…the energy consumed by all of the processes associated with the production of a building, from the mining and processing of natural resources to manufacturing, transport and product delivery.” (www.yourhome.gov.au).

We would also like to acknowledge the ever-changing nature in the building field, as new research constantly comes to light.  It’s not possible to be “100% green,” a phrase too often left unsubstantiated in the building industry, and which has been co-opted to mean the same as “sustainable” without taking into account long-term social, environmental and economic impact.

We’re trying to do our best to be aware of our choices, avoid “soap-boxes,” vote with our dollars, and know that “purity” in building can’t really exist.  No one is perfect, most builds are not without those sheets of plywood trucked in from afar, and the rabbit hole of “100% green” is very deep.

  1.  Electricityelectric sheep

The first step we took was to gather information on electrical loads of common appliances and calculate a tiny space’s electrical needs.  From this we discovered just how much power we’ll need to generate, collect or plug into.  Here’s a resource on solar load calculation/determination with an empty chart to work from.

Here’s an interactive resource to calculate how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) one might need to generate for construction, which for us is significantly more than for day-to-day usage: Here’s one for day-to-day post-construction usage.

We are trying to use Energy Star-rated appliances when possible (www.energystar.gov) and LED light-bulbs that require a significantly lower wattage than incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, with the same amount of lumens. Here are some recommended LED light-bulbs.

Solar 

Sarah and I have decided to go solar for the whole house.  Now that we’re living in a cabin with Solar we really get to experiment with our electricity usage and are finding that we don’t use much.  LED’s cut down on our usage in a major way and aren’t as harsh/blue as we thought they would be.  The biggest appliance we have is a juicer, which tends to be used only in summer with plenty of sun in the sky (winter feels cold to be juicing and veggies are in shorter supply).

 In terms of good solar options for tiny houses, the “Classic” unit from Sol-Man costs $4995 and can power one tiny house without an electric heater.  The Sol-Man has all the components one needs with 2.4 kWh, inverter, charge controller and batteries.  It is an easy plug-and-play system that can roll around to adjust to the sun’s location.  Sol-Mans units seem almost too big for our usage unless we decide to heat our home or hot water with electricity.

SolManIcon

Though the initial investment is large a solar electricity system requires less maintenance and pays for itself in saved electric bills over the years AND in some states you can sell the excess electricity back to the grid.  Solar technology is also improving rapidly and as the market widens costs come down significantly.

Here’s a good online solar calculator.

Some portable solar solutions: We are leaning towards the Goal Zero Yeti 400

 An all-around great resource for anything solar: www.solarliving.org

 More good resources:

www.treehugger.com/slideshows/energy-efficiency/all-solar-efficiency-breakthroughs-single-chart

otherpower.com

 

Next up: Some specifics about our electric usage and other fun ways to meet your electricity needs.

 

March Update…Finally

March has glided into the Oregon bringing plum blossoms, morels  and humming pollinators.

wpid-img-20150308-wa0024.jpeg wpid-20150322_101815.jpg wpid-20150322_115027.jpg wpid-20150322_105857.jpg

Sarah is working happily away  with Sum Of Us, and I’ve been working on the land here gardening, building ‘A’ frames for a green house, and re-roofing the cabin we’re living in while we finish the Tiny House.  It literally blew off in a huge storm that rolled through.  This required peeling it off, scooping out the rotten old fiber-glass insulation (worst part…most def.), replacing and sistering in rafters, re-sheathing and putting on standing seam metal roofing and flashing a chimney.  While it took longer than I thought it would, it didn’t take long at all…and the next metal roof that I do will be even better.

wpid-20150327_080242.jpg

wpid-20150322_155437.jpg wpid-20150322_155442.jpg wpid-20150322_155446.jpg

The good news is the tiny house is bone dry.  That storm didn’t even come close!  WOOT! While we were gone, there were some woodpeckers that made a home in the house, but then a ring-tailed cat moved in and took care of that problem!  I evicted them plus a few wasps with a little sage smoke and we’re off to the races.

I feel like I’m continually finding ways that the house ‘could be better’ if only x-y-z, but at the same time I’m charmed by the little mistakes.  I have even started laughing (lovingly) at ‘Past-Joseph’ when ‘Present-Joseph’, who has excellent hind-sight, comes upon something that his predecessor did that made the next step SO much more difficult.

The ridge cap is a perfect example of this.  I know what the roofing directions told me to do, but the stock ridge cap that came with the roofing material was too small for our massive ridge beam and I just HAD to do it my way *eye-roll*.  So I made a bigger ridge cap out of the metal sheeting, bent the edges a few times to mimic the original cap thinking the “z” channeling that we put on for ventilation would snug into it nicely.

wpid-20150128_153748.jpg
The crimped edge of metal.

wpid-20150128_153750.jpg

wpid-20140712_194853.jpg
‘Z’ channeling plus the big ridge beam.

This was dramatically foiled as I precariously tried putting a 25′ long 65 lbs piece of steel on in one long ‘home run’ and, after dropping it twice, hollered for Sarah to come up and help.  She did, we got it on, but the piece was bent all over the place, and it was foolish to think that I could make a machine-straight bend in a piece of metal with only hand tools, then put it on while precariously straddling the roof.

wpid-20150327_083518.jpg wpid-20150327_083340.jpg

Well, we’ve come this far!

wpid-20150312_151632.jpgwpid-20131017_180154.jpg

I move forward knowing that this self here IS the past self, and will have to contend with/fix/accept the choices I make again and again as the learning curve winds on.  It’s always a funny feeling to be SO SURE of what I’m doing, knowing full well that there will be something that humbles me coming down the pipe.  There WILL be some part of the task that is unexpected, it’s never what I think it will be.  After all, ‘these are the stones on which we choose to whet the keen edge of our spirit.’*

Next week I’ll start running electrical, and now that we’re a little more settled in this life,  be more diligent about updating the blog.  Thanks for reading!

Parting shots!

wpid-20150312_155318.jpg
Siding trim coming together.

wpid-20150312_155704.jpg

 

 

wpid-20150326_091058.jpg
These gloves have worked hard for me.

 

Cuper grillin me, as Annie looks on approvingly.
Throwback!  Coopy practices for his performance as Rodolfo, in La Boheme

 

 

*Paraphrased from Richard Bach.