How Off the Grid Homesteader Has Gone 6 Years Without An Electric Bill

Off the Grid Homesteader Has Gone 6 Years Without An Electric Bill

Here is the Final Page of Living Six Years Living Off the Grid Without an Electric Bill: The Choices and the Plan!


The Choices and the Plan

diy-alternative-wind-energy-2I have been so impressed with these units and blessed with a good winter wind that I went out and bought another unit to reduce my dependency on the gas generator especially during the winter and to provide a longer storage time for the produced power. In the next few installments of this article I will detail the installation and testing of a new wind generator as it springs to life here on my rooftop. We’ll talk about the parts, the mounting, the wiring, and the monitoring of the power.

We’ll talk about controlling the power as to avoid burning up your batteries prematurely… a lesson hard-learned here. In any case, I can hardly wait for the new song, the new lullaby in quadraphonic stereo format. Furthermore, I can hardly wait to tell you about it.

The choice was not straightforward, but not overwhelming like walking into Wal-Mart with no plan. Do I enhance my system with additional solar power or another wind generator. With 410 watts of solar panels facing the sun, solar power is clearly the major producer for me in the summer months. The sun is high, it hangs around a good long time and shines more often than it rains. It carries the load through the summer months. In the winter, things are markedly different. Low solar irradiance and short days combine to lower my reliance on solar power. Meanwhile, more wind, much more wind, wind almost every day and night, take over the major power producer role here and I end up with almost the same energy production that I claim in the summer… Almost. Like nearly everyone else, I use more energy in the winter.

With this in mind, I opted to enhance my winter output and get another wind generator. OK, that decided, which kind of wind generator?

diy-alternative-wind-energySince my experience with the two models I have discussed is so positive, only a fool, or a wealthy nut-case would chuck the experience and go with an unknown. I have talked with some nice folks locally that have gone a different route. These folks have installed those grand pooh-bahs, the behemoths, the mother of all maidens, the 2 to 10 kW (kilowatt) units that are bigger than most of my house's roof. They mount them on radio type towers and require automatic stair-steps-to-heaven to erect and maintain. Sad to say, all of the folks I talked with (there were three) have had disasters. One of the units crashed to the ground shedding parts for a good long distance, the second one I saw lying on the ground one day in the man’s front yard last spring. It stayed reclined on the ground for a week or more either waiting for parts or for one of the stair-steps-to-heaven contraptions to reinstall it. The third, I could only see if from the highway and one day… it was gone! Except for the now-bare tower.

Nah, I like the known, I like clamoring up on a roof, not shimmying up a 60-foot tower with wrenches between my teeth. Either an Air-X or another Mallard, that was the decision to make. In either case, there was a spot for it on the roof already waiting for it.

In the end, I opted for, and purchased, another Mallard 800E wind generator because it is so robust, quiet, no internal printed circuit boards, and it will visually balance the house in a harmonious way. I like visual harmony. It is good on the eye. I also like the way the Mallard has performed over the years. While it is true that the Mallard that is currently flying on my roof, on a typical day, routinely puts out measurably less power than the Air-X’s, it is not a fair comparison; a fact pointed out to me by the manufacturer in a nice email stemming from the original article.
The Mallard (foreground) is mounted on the addition. It is positioned much lower than the Air-X?s and is shielded by the gambrel roof on the house.
The Air-X’s are mounted much higher in the wind and have an unobstructed access to the strong prevailing northwest winds as shown in the accompanying picture. The overall height above a surface and unobstructed access to the moving air makes a big difference. The existing Mallard has less access to the wind, it is shielded by the gambrel roof of the main structure and sits lower to the roof. With its six-bladed 5-foot rotor, it absorbs a lot of energy and I am afraid to push the Mallard much higher into the wind. It also handles wind instability unquestionably well.

Another reason for my choice is that the Air-X’s suffer, in my estimation, from too short of a tail. They sing and dance comically in the wind and are very, very active. Perhaps more than they need be. I love to watch them, the music is wonderful, I enjoy the performance immensely. I enjoy their output too. Hardly a night goes by that I don’t fall to sleep lullabied by their song.


The Air-X’s do sing louder than the Mallard. But very often, in the midst of a perfect tune, the Air-X’s spin themselves right out of the wind stream, they stall, and then fire up once again as they rotate back into the wind. Fun to watch, pleasant to listen to, but the fact remains, there’s a lot of wind that gets past the rotors without generating electricity. It also has got to be hard on the bearings, yet none have complained nor required maintenance. Like an argumentative friend, these units fight the wind much more than they probably need to, most often they win, but occasionally they lose out and spin down. On occasion, in the higher winds, the foils will enter a flutter stage, here, blade tips are literally ripping and tearing through the wind, vibrating mercilessly, and scaring the bejesus out of the animals or anything else that is in or around the house, just as if Santa Claus fell out of his sleigh and landed on a hot metal roof in the middle of the night … with ice skates on. Whoa! It makes food fall out of my mouth when it happens at dinner.

The Mallard, it seems, is much more tolerant of wind instability. It stays focused in the wind, it has a job to do and it does it well, does it with less noise, less stress, and more confidence. It gives me the feeling that it will outlast the wall it is mounted on. It will probably be there when I am gone, just like the old Jacobs or Windchargers in the dust-bowled ’30s.

The Air-X’s are indeed robust as well, and I wholeheartedly recommend them, but on a rooftop, they seem to work harder than they need to in order to get the job done, i.e. to get those little electrons inside the battery bank. I suspect that a clear mounting of the Air-X’s on a tower would eliminate the turbulence, but an old buzzard like me is not about to climb a tower or lay one down when the time comes. Because sooner or later, there will be a time for real maintenance. It just hasn’t happened yet and a tower is just not in the plan for me. I will consider another Air-X for the 5th wind generator perhaps next year but that will be measured against the performance I see from the upcoming Mallard unit.

Each genny has its own comfort zone. Like a race car with a hot camshaft, each unit seems to have a sweet spot at which it prefers to run. At the sweet spot, the rotors seem to turn effortlessly, the music is steady, unstressed, comfortable. The Air-X’s enjoy the wind at 20-30 mph, the Mallard likes a stronger dose. Much stronger. Scarily stronger!

The Mallard is content in a wind speed around 30-40 mph, even higher, although it works well at lower wind speeds, too. It is smooth, deep-voiced, even-keeled. There’s little wasted motion, no unsureness or burden, just a willingness to move and capture the wind. It faces the wind continuously, almost effortlessly, even though it does not possess a slip bearing that would allow it to continually rotate to follow the wind 360 degrees around like the Air-X’s do. Oh yes, it rotates to face the wind in any direction, but a special clamp is used that allows the wires to twist inside the mast as it does. I thought this concept, initially revolting to me, would be problematic. But not so, not so at all.

Wind just doesn’t behave in such a manner to corkscrew the unit round and round its axis on the pole continuously like a merry-go-round. It blows from one direction, moves to another, and then again to another. On a rooftop, even more turbulent is its behavior, the wind will buffet the tail vane left and right, but it rarely gets it to completely spin in circles more than once or twice before it can unwind itself. In between gusts, the Mallard leisurely unwinds itself when the wires become taut.

diy-breaker-boxI use a highly flexible and tough rubber coated wire like welding cable at least for the wires that run down the mast. Nevertheless, to ease my concern, in addition to using the more flexible wire, I fabricated a connector on the wires at the bottom of the mast and installed it in a bird house (see the accompanying pictures), so that I could easily break the connection, like unplugging anextension cord, to allow the twisted wire inside mast to unwind periodically. I’ve allowed it to unwind on a couple of occasions and was almost disappointed that there wasn’t any serious twist in the wire to unwind. I’ll do the same for the next unit I install.

diy-breaker-boxThe Mallard is not afraid of the wind. It keeps putting out more and more power as the wind increases in intensity. The Air-X’s, while steady and reliable, will shut down and preserve themselves for another fight later on when the wind is more respectful. They do a great job at the moderate wind speeds, even better than the Mallard, but when the air gets tense and you can feel the trouble in the air, the Mallard 800 seems to fill itself with an intolerable brightness; I see war in the eyes of my big green friend. It doesn’t stop putting out power. It would rather start a fire than to quit producing. Scary, in and of itself, it’s willingness to output power that is endearing to me! And now that I have confidence in it, I let it fly and do what it is born to do.

Last winter, when the winds blew strong out of the northwest night after night, I let it do its thing, all winter long. Rarely did I have to shut it down due to overproducing winds. I have installed a dump load controller to handle this kind of contingency and it has worked well. On the other hand, there were a handful of occasions during the winter months where I ran low on power and had to fire up the gas generator.

The winter sun, low in the sky as it usually is here in the northland, could not carry the burden like it does in the summer and the wind generators have to work for me. Between the steady output of the Air-X’s and the less frequent, but mighty outbursts from the Mallard responding to the winter wind howls, my meager power needs were substantially satisfied… without stress, without repairs, without a monthly bill. I’m up for the next wind generator.

Now, where the heck are my tools?

Via: Homestead


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