*Gridless Power (do-it-yourself)*
By: Ubi
18 November 2004

I have been living off the grid for 35 years. I won’t bother you with all the trials and errors I went through, I will just describe my present system and how it works.

For the record, I have tried kerosene lamps and white gas lanterns, propane lights, 12 volt lights, and candles. I have had a kerosene fridge, several propane fridges, and one 12 volt one. I quickly learned that the least expensive way to provide home comforts is to go the way the vast majority of North Americans do: using AC voltage of 110/220 V. That means that one has to have a generator or other power source that will provide electricity for whatever is deemed necessary for lighting, refrigeration, TV, and so on. For various reasons, in my location water power was not available, wind power was too uncertain, and solar power was far too expensive and even less certain than wind power.

If you cannot (or won’t) hook up to a commercial power grid you will have to provide your own. There are articles on this subject here on Alpharubicon that help you determine what you need and how much each appliance uses.

Boats, of necessity have to be self-contained, and a lot of very fine gear has been developed to provide home comforts for boat owners. So it makes sense to take advantage of what is available in the marine catalogs. For the Pacific Northwest, I can recommend West Marine’s catalog.

Storage batteries can provide power for the times when your generator is not running. I have 12, 6 volt “golfcart” batteries, 220 Ampere hours each. These power a Freedom 20 inverter which provides 2000 watts of A/C electricity as well as recharges the batteries at 100 A/H automatically when the generator is running. The charger is a three stage charger which is the most efficient way to fully recharge batteries.

The 2000 watts may not seem like much to power a house, but it has worked well enough for me. It powers all lights for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath home, 2 TV’s, music system, computer, satellite system, 18 cubic foot refrigerator/freezer, 10 cubic foot freezer, microwave oven, vacuum cleaner, and various power tools. Naturally, I can’t use them all at once. But the only time I have to be careful not to overload the system is with the vacuum cleaner and the microwave. Everything else is hooked up all the time. I have my washing machine wired to be powered by the generator only, as well as the dryer, and most tools in the shop.

I find I normally draw about 350 to 450 amps (at 12 volts) each night when the generator is off. My battery system is 1320 amps (at 12 volts) so I am usually using a third of total capacity and I am safely staying within the 50% draw-down limit. Batteries last much longer when they are not overly discharged. I then run the generator for 5 to 6 hours a day to recharge the batteries, during which time I do laundry and any other activities that use a lot of electricity.

My generator is a 10 KW Yanmar diesel. I bought it used a couple of years ago for $4K, and it has performed flawlessly. It is a bit larger than I really need, but it handles all loads with no problems including a clothes dryer. Before this I had a Lister generator, a 7 KW. I bought the 7 KW new and used it for about 15 years. The Lister IMHO is not nearly as well engineered as the Yanmar. They both use about the same amount of fuel per KW hour generated, but the Lister was a PITA when it got an air lock in the fuel line, and changing oil filters for someone wearing bifocals was an adventure in frustration.

I am happy with my present setup. I expect 5 years from my battery bank. (They are under warranty for three years.) The batteries are cycled every day of the year and the generator run every day also. I am careful about maintenance, checking, filling and cleaning the batteries each month. I change engine oil each 200 hours of running time and the oil filter each 400 hours. My generator should be good for another 5 or 6 years before needing rebuild.

I hope the above information is helpful.

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