Living off the grid brings a dangerous reality.
Whether I finally end up converting a school bus into a camper / RV, or building a shipping container home in the deep countryside, the chances are that I will need to generate my own electricity. Luckily, these days this isn’t as difficult as you might think. However, modern living uses a hell of a lot of electricity, especially in America. We may be looking at an electricity usage of 30 kWh, (kilowatt-hours), every day. However, with a little bit of arithmetic, (math), you can calculate your own likely electricity consumption, and your generating systems should be installed with that usage in mind.
There are three main ways to generate your very own off-the-grid power:
- A generator powered by an internal combustion engine. Generators come in a huge variety of sizes, capacities, and prices, but a 6 kW (kilowatt), generator might set you back £1,500, ($1,800). Other than capacity, the choice boils down to petrol, (gasoline), or diesel power. Generally speaking diesel is better, (but may be noisier). With a little work you can also run generators on gas, (propane, methane, natural gas), wood alcohol, (methanol), and paraffin, (kerosene). With some work, diesel generators will run on cooking oil.
- Solar Power. Stick some solar panels on the roof, or in the yard, and you have electricity while the sun is shining. Typically, solar power systems for a camper / RV, (and perhaps a shipping container home), produce 12 volt electricity, which is then used to charge a big battery, from which power is taken when anything electrical is switched on. To step up 12 volt direct current to 110, or 230 volt alternating current you need an inverter. These come in a huge variety of capacities and prices. You can buy them at Home Depot. Larger scale solar power systems, such as may be required by a decent sized shipping container home, usually need specialist installation. You will probably need to find an appropriate contractor.
- Wind Power. Wind power for a school bus camper / RV /motorhome would be very small scale and probably part of a 12 volt system. A wind turbine for a container home would be bigger, but in the scheme of things, still very small scale. A free standing wind turbine on a mast may need various regulatory permissions before you erect the thing. Most likely you will also be digging holes and trenches, so I hope you can use a mini-digger, (tiny backhoe).
Typically, the ‘belt and braces’ type of guy, (that’s me), would install both wind and solar power systems for his Camper / RV / Motorhome, or shipping container tiny home, perhaps with a diesel generator as back-up for both.
If you haven’t realised from the above, then off-the-grid electricity comes in two flavours;
- 12 volt DC, (direct current). This is the same as you get from an ordinary car battery. 12 volt DC systems can be installed by anyone competent in DIY.
- 120 volt (USA), 230 volt (Europe), and 240 volt (UK), alternating current. This is what you get from the sockets in your home, and is often known as mains electricity. Working with AC systems is normally not a DIY job, and at some point you will most likely need to employ a fully qualified electrical contractor.
So, you are generating your own electricity. That’s only half the story. Your camper / RV / motor home, and / or your container home will have to be wired to make use of all that lovely power. Basic wiring is well within the scope of a person very competent in DIY, and 12 volt DC lighting is dead easy. Mains electricity 110 volt and 230 volt AC is more complicated and you would do well to have your circuitry checked over by a properly qualified contractor before you use it.
Of course, these days you can actually buy a fully kitted out container home, complete with connections for all services, so all the wiring would be done for you. That sort of misses the point, doesn’t it? Amazon will sell you everything else you need to generate your own electricity.
click to buy the turbine
Sponsored by: http://www.amazon.com/shops/salinevalleyenterprises
You don’t need more space, you need less stuff.
Back when I owned a trailer park, shipping containers often made instant buildings which could serve a myriad of purposes for me, from simple storage units, through a workshop, to a pretty nice office.
(not my office, a home made from shipping containers)
What I have never yet attempted is to use a shipping container to make a tiny home, or more likely, use several shipping containers linked together to make a decent-sized home. The place to start is to learn something about shipping containers, and then buy the right units.
Shipping containers are usually strong steel boxes with doors at one end, but they actually come in lots of versions. The standard width is 8′ (eight feet), the standard height is 8’6″ (eight foot six inches), and the two standard lengths are 20′ (twenty foot), and 40′ (forty foot). There are a whole raft of non-standard lengths starting at 5′, but a 10′ container is the more common of the non-standard lengths. The internal floor areas work out at 150 sq ft for a 20′ container and 305 sq ft for a 40′ container.
Given that most people regard 1000 sq ft as a decent size for a home, (plus a garage), then we are talking of at least a couple of containers to make anything that approximates a ‘normal-sized’ house. Container architecture is a discipline all of its own.
You obviously need a plot, the appropriate permissions from whatever building authority is responsible for all the regulatory stuff, and you may / or may not need to lay a concrete slab on which to stand the container(s) you’re going to turn into a home. (Whether or not you need to lay a concrete pad depends on the ground, and how long you expect the container home to stand there.)
It’s no good just buying a plot, plonking a used shipping container there and expecting to live in it. Shipping containers are steel boxes, and that means they are damn hot inside in summer, and bloody freezing inside in winter. To make a home you will have to line out the inside, and perhaps even clad the outside. Even if you just buy one 40′ container and are going to be happy living in 305 sq ft, you will still need to do a hell of a lot of work to make your steel box habitable.
One of the first things you need to learn is how to cut steel plate. Your box needs more than a big door at one end, you need windows, (at least), and maybe another door, and perhaps holes so you can link one container to another to make a bigger home. Luckily, shipping containers are mostly made of steel that’s only between 1.5mm and 2mm thick, so it’s easy to cut. Realistically there are 3 ways to cut steel on site, (using an ordinary hacksaw will take you aeons and you’ll hurt your wrist and hands).
- Oxy-acetylene cutting torch. These things are dangerous, and unless you’ve done this kind of cutting before, you would be best getting instruction before attempting to use an oxygen / acetylene torch. However, a cutting torch is fast and it’s easy to cut complex shapes. If you want circular cut-outs for round windows / portholes in your tiny container home, then oxy-acetylene could be for you.
- Electric jigsaw. The sides of steel shipping containers are pretty easy to cut, so an ordinary electric jigsaw will chop out your doors and windows. And, you can cut curves in steel with an electric jigsaw. This is possibly the best choice for the averagely skilled person.
- Stihl cut-off saw. STIHL is a trademark, but what we are talking about here is a big power saw of some description. Cutting lots of big holes in your containers, on site, you may well want something like a petrol powered Stihl saw, (and make certain you have the right disk for steel).
The benefits of using steel shipping containers to make a tiny home, (or something bigger), is that it’s pretty fast and inexpensive to get a weatherproof structure on site, they’re strong and durable, and you can put them down just about anywhere. A shipping container is probably the start of the ultimate off-the-grid home.
I can and have lived off-the-grid in a log cabin I built myself, (from a kit), but I would strongly caution anyone thinking of doing this concerning water. You will need a constant supply of potable water, either from the mains or from your own well / borehole. The average American uses between 80 to 100 gallons of water every day of the year. It’s possible to finesse around all the other services; sewage, electricity, gas, heating, telephone and internet, but shipping water in a small bowser on a regular basis is an absolute non-starter.
Once you have a weatherproof structure with the doors and windows installed, and you’ve made a start on connecting your services, then you can start on the really fun stuff, which is fitting out the interior to suit your tastes. The only limit to your imagination is the dimensions of whatever containers you have bought.
click on the book for more
Sponsored by: http://www.amazon.com/shops/salinevalleyenterprises
10% discount on everything on this site if you quote code C7SYDV6B
Environmentalists are killing the planet, destroying the economy, and stealing your children’s future.
A bunch of rabid environmentalists have forced the British Government to announce that all petrol and diesel cars will be banned from the year 2040. Nobody ever accused rabid environmentalists of being intelligent, or having any common sense. Banning diesel and petrol cars, (or will it be all cars that have exhaust emissions?), has staggering implications that the officials, politicians, and environmentalists haven’t properly thought through.
In Sweden, Volvo has announced that from 2019 all of its new models will be either completely battery powered or hybrid vehicles. There’s a couple of interesting points here. Firstly this move will put a whopping premium on the price of all new Volvo’s. And secondly, hybrid cars still have to have a petrol or diesel engine that will produce nasty polluting exhaust fumes.
Diesel exhausts are killing us all, allegedly.
Across Europe several major cities, (Paris, Madrid, Athens), say that diesel cars will be banned from entering their environs from 2025. The Hell-Hole that is Mexico City has followed suit ~ ha! The mayor of London, Mad Sadiq Khan, wants to ban Petrol and Diesel cars from London by 2050.
These headline grabbing moves will achieve absolutely nothing except to cost consumers and taxpayers trillions of Pounds / Euros / Dollars. Banning diesel and petrol cars in the UK will impose vast costs on drivers for little environmental benefit.
There is no conceivable way that the British electricity generating and distribution systems will ever be able to provide enough power for all those battery powered cars, (and vans and busses, and trucks?). Just where will all the extra power come from? The back of an envelope estimate is that all these electric vehicles will add an extra 30 gigawatts to UK peak demand, and that means we would need 50% more generating capacity. That’s equivalent to another half-dozen huge nuclear power plants like Hinkley Point, or another 20,000 wind turbines, (which only work some of the time). I have no idea how many acres of solar collectors it would take to generate that amount of power, but they don’t work at night, which is when most people will be charging their electric vehicles.
The British Government says it will install a fast charging point every 20 miles on major roads ~ imagine how many holes in the road and road works delays that will mean.
The British Government are also considering slashing the maximum speed on our motorways to 60 mph, and what is that supposed to achieve except more fines from speeding tickets?
This all seems a bit rich considering that the whole man-made global warming agenda has been exposed as nothing more than a massive fraud. The best estimate is that if all the trillions of dollars Obama proposed to spend on his Clean Power Plan to tackle non-existent man-made global warming was actually spent, then global temperatures would perhaps be reduced by 0.057 degrees Fahrenheit ~ one five-hundredth of a degree.
Climate change is a normal, natural, and perpetual process which occurs, and has always occurred, with sublime indifference to man’s puny input. ~ James Delingpole.
There are a few inconvenient truths that politicians and environmentalists would rather the public didn’t wake up to;
- Man-made global warming / catastrophic anthropogenic climate change doesn’t actually exist in any meaningful form ~it’s nothing but a fraud, a massive scam designed to give politicians back control over an increasingly independent populace.
- There is no such thing as completely clean power. Green Energy produces nastier and longer term environmental pollution than does burning fossil fuels. Nuclear Energy is a case in point, look at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Wind turbines have a massively negative impact on the environment, are bad for wildlife, and a blot on the landscape. All batteries are inherently polluting, expensive, and dangerous.
- Switching to electric-powered private transport will require at least a 50% increase in electricity generating capacity in any country that tries it.
- A vast investment in an infrastructure of new charging points to support all these new electric vehicles will be needed.
- Electric vehicles cost a hell of a lot more than an exactly equivalent bike / car / van / truck / bus powered by an internal combustion engine.
- Electric vehicles are less capable, and have a shorter life-span, (about 5 years), before major maintenance is required, (new batteries), than do ‘conventional’ cars, trucks, and busses.
- There aren’t enough qualified mechanics to maintain the huge increase in the number of electric vehicles the politicians propose.
- Disposing of all of the ‘dead’ batteries will require a huge investment in a recycling technology that, as yet, doesn’t actually exist.
- The value of used vehicles powered by petrol and diesel engines will plummet, destroying the economies of the developed world. There is a vast investment in lending to finance vehicle purchases.
- Internal combustion engines don’t have to run on either petrol or diesel fuel. Is a ban on ethanol / methanol / vegetable oil / propane / butane fuelled vehicles also proposed?
- Are politicians also proposing to ban aircraft / railway engines / ships / electricity generators powered by fossil fuels ~ otherwise what’s the point?
- If Politicians think the backlash against Hillary Clinton was an isolated aberration, they’ve got a big surprise in store after all this banning cars crap.
In my life I’ve seen some insane ideas put forward by politicians at the behest of special interest groups, but a total ban on the internal combustion engine running on fossil fuels has got to be maddest thing I’ve ever heard. But then, politicians, special interest groups, and bureaucrats have never been known for putting much thought into anything.
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. ~ Henry Ford
At least I have the personal benefit of being able to totally and completely ignore all this banning petrol and diesel fuelled cars crap. Not only that, because I live in a democracy I can cast my vote in ways designed to discomfort the current crop of lightweight, insane, political pygmies. (And that’s an insult to pygmies and the mentally ill.)
Meanwhile, the Lotus 7 is 60 years old this year. Now that’s a great car.
read about the Seven
Burning coal is the most efficient and cost-effective way to produce large amounts of electricity. Unless you happen to live in an underpopulated country that is also blessed with many large lakes, mountains, and rivers, or Iceland.
However, apart from in the industrial powerhouse countries like China, Germany, and India, the idea of burning coal is an anathema to politicians, left-leaning media, and the metropolitan elite. They all
believe profess to believe that burning coal causes global warming, and unless every country in the world stops burning coal we are all going to die / drown / choke / starve.
We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business. ~ Hillary Clinton
In that one sentence Hillary Clinton conclusively demonstrated that she is unfit to hold the office of President of the United States. Either she in scientifically uneducated, or a liar, or both. She shows that she cares far more for the few fashionable metropolitan elite than for the vast majority of real Americans. She demonstrates that she has no grasp of day-to-day economics, hard science, or industrial strategy.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t like coal or coal miners. Next to coal, the most cost effective way for Britain and America to generate large amounts of electricity is to burn natural gas obtained by fracking.
By the time we get through all of my conditions I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place. ~ Hillary Clinton
The really sad thing is that the other candidate for president is probably even worse than the harsh voiced harridan, albeit in different ways.
Where do the proponents of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change think the carbon in that coal came from in the first place? Outer space? (Well actually, it did, but that’s another matter.) It came from the carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Plants turn carbon dioxide into more plants, then over millennia that turns into coal.
It’s an inconvenient truth that predictions of doom by the man-made global warming alarmists, like Hillary Clinton, just have not come true.
If anyone bothered to learn some real hard science they would know that the only way mankind can possibly change the Earth’s climate is through all-out and total nuclear war. There is no empirical or hard scientific evidence that burning coal, oil, or gas can ever change the Earth’s climate. There is plenty of empirical and hard scientific evidence that burning fossil fuels in cities causes stinking smog ~ just look at London before the Clean Air Act, and Los Angeles, and any number of cities in China today.
Climate change is a normal, natural, and perpetual process which occurs, and has always occured, with sublime indifference to man’s puny input. ~ James Delingpole
Smog is not climate change. And, the ultimate cause of smog today is cars, buses and trucks. If some of the bone-idle, lazy, and indolent people would get out of their cars once in a while and actually walk places for a change, then there wouldn’t be anything like as much smog either.
Do yourself a favour and stop looking stupid by banging on about non-existent anthropogenic climate change. Learn some hard science, or just take a walk instead.
(By the way, the stuff coming from those ‘chimneys’ in the pictures is steam, not smoke.)
these opinions are mine and mine alone
Electric automobiles have been around since the 19th century, Englishman Thomas Parker built the first production electric car in 1884. The land speed record was held by en electric car until 1900. Not much has changed since The Electric Construction Corporation’s car to today’s Tesla. (Nikola Tesla was a Serbian physicist.)
ALL electric cars have 5 main systems;
- The Vehicle. Since the early days this has standardised around 4 wheels, a chassis, and something to keep the rain off. The modern Tesla is maybe better looking and a hell of a lot more sophisticated than a 19th century dog-cart.
- The Electric Motors. These convert electrical energy into mechanical energy, (and nowadays they also convert mechanical energy back into electrical energy via braking regeneration). Again these are far, far better and more sophisticated than they were in Victorian England, but the basic principle hasn’t changed at all. Electric motors as used in cars have one huge advantage over the internal combustion engine ~ massive torque at low rpm, so no separate gearbox is needed.
- The Control System. Modern methods of controlling the amount of electricity that gets to and from the electric motor / dynamo are light years ahead of how it used to be done, which was basically a variable resistor. The Tesla has computerised Intelligent Motor controllers.
- The Batteries. This is the Achilles Heel of electric cars. Batteries are bulky, heavy, expensive, can burst into flame, and have a limited life. Early electric cars had a lot of damn heavy lead-acid batteries, of exactly the same type as a normal car has at the heart of it’s electrical systems. The Tesla uses a hell of a lot of lithium-ion batteries, of exactly the same type that powers your mobile phone and laptop / tablet…
- The Power Source. Electricity doesn’t appear for free out of thin air, it has to be generated from a primary energy source. For pure electric cars, like the Tesla Model S, this means plugging them into mains electricity to charge the onboard batteries. Hybrid cars also have an onboard internal combustion electricity generator. (Which makes one wonder why all the batteries and other complicated stuff? Why not just connect the petrol engine directly to the wheels? Oh, we’ve done that, it’s called a normal car.)
The Weak Point of any electric car is battery life. This comes in 2 flavours;
- Range. How far can one drive on one battery charge? The Tesla Model S is supposed to do either 230 miles, or 320 miles, on one charge. (Depending on how big a battery you’ve bought.) That’s assuming a constant 55mph, (and that you’re not killing the A/C). Also, charging a battery at a normal plug in socket will take 30 hours. In normal, everyday, long-distance motoring, that’s as much use a cell phone in a lifeboat, in the middle of the Atlantic ~ no damn use at all.
- Total Battery Life. How long will the vastly expensive lithium-ion battery pack last before it’s only so much junk? All batteries have a finite life, so how long will the battery in a Tesla last? If you drive it every day, then my guess is performance will start to fall off, (a lot), after 4 or 5 years. Total usable life? I have no real idea. Hey, I know the theory of making baked Alaska, but any real attempt by me would be just embarrassing. (If you want to be an expert start with Arrhenius’ Law.)
Tesla make great looking, technologically advanced cars, with one huge flaw ~ all batteries eventually die, even sophisticated rechargable batteries die eventually. One day the battery pack in your Tesla will reach the end of its usable life. But the Tesla is a fashionable throw-away product, made for fashionable throwaway people. (It’s also very unethical and environmentally damaging. Recycling lithium-ion batteries is damn difficult. You get toxic waste, not wildflowers.)
I would drive an electric car, if I had to. I would not choose any electric car for a cool road trip. The Tesla is very sexy looking, but it’s got no soul. For the price of a Tesla, I could buy a really cool car instead.
For the Backwoods / Backstreet Engineer interested in becoming ‘greener’ self sufficient and possibly going off grid, there are some serious problems with the two common types of combustion engine.
- Steam Engines. It is perfectly possible to build, operate and maintain your own steam engine, and you can power it using wood, (or practically any other combustible material come to that). However, you will soon come up against the problem of the high-pressure boiler, (leave aside how many psi constitute high pressure). Very hard to make, requiring official inspection, and a big bomb waiting to go off.
- Internal Combustion Engines. Basically your car / truck / tractor engine. Doesn’t matter what shape you choose the problem you have is making clean fuel. You can make your fuel from just about any type of vegetable matter, including wood, and you can make either a gas or a liquid. But making methanol from wood is fraught with issues. Gasification of wood is a bit easier, and you can even buy a small-scale gasifier in kit form.
The Stirling Engine solves many of the issues raised by the two more common combustion engines. And, here we get into the realm of the impossible. To a lesser engineer a Stirling Engine looks like a perpetual motion machine because it operates on a closed cycle. For an engineer who properly understands heat a Stirling Engine makes perfect sense. Heat = Energy = Work
The good part is that we probably get to explore our pyromania and build a fire.
The Stirling Engine works because a gas takes up more room when it’s hot than it does when it’s cold. If there isn’t any more room ~ as in a container ~ then the pressure increases. Cool the gas and it will take up less room ~ the pressure drops.
Therefore a the operation of a Stirling engine is exactly like the essence of a woman, she will blow hot and cold, and it’s a man’s job to harness and control her.
To make a Stirling Engine 5 elements are needed:
- A temperature difference. This is the essence of a good heat engine. It’s not raw heat that’s needed, it’s a temperature differential. If you have a source of cold ~ (OK physicists can shut up) ~ you can make a Stirling engine run on sunshine.
- A working fluid. A gas is best, you can use everyday air. For the sake of argument our working fluid is any gas, (NOT Gas as in Petrol).
- An expansion cylinder. This is where the hotter part of the gas gives up work.
- A compression cylinder. This is where the colder part of the gas gives up work.
- The mechanical linkages turning lateral motion into rotary motion.
There are two basic models for the Stirling Engine:
- Alpha ~ two cylinder engine
- Beta ~ one cylinder engine
For me, the two cylinder engine is far, far less complicated to build and operate than the one cylinder engine. That is counter-intuitive, but I told you the Stirling Engine is like a woman, the logic is a little twisted, but it’s there all the same.
The benefits of a Stirling Engine are:
- Low noise.
- Very energy efficient
- Simple in operation
- Very low maintenance
- Very scalable ~ you can make a little one or a huge one
- Can use any combustable crap as a fuel
- Can utilise coldness as a fuel
I could design, draw, fabricate, build, operate and maintain an Alpha type, 2 cylinder Stirling Engine using basic tools and techniques. I probably wouldn’t need a machine shop, but access to one would simplify things.
Do some more internet research and you will find some resources to get you started.
But I would caution you NOT to use a pellet system unless you are allergic to hard work. Pellet systems tie you to going on buying your fuel from the outside. The thing about a Stirling Engine is that it should run on any old wood. To get your free power, you need to get away from the bad idea of buying fuel.
A small Stirling Engine is an ideal power generator for anyone going anywhere near the green / self-sufficiency / off grid lifestyle. And, you probably get to use up a hell of a lot of that wood you just happen to have lying around.