I'm looking for a rechargable battery-operated remote control toy car (or truck) or other similar innovative, off the grid power toys that help kids learn about the positive uses of alternative energy sources. Any input? Stephany Schenker, POB 431, Anahola, HI 96703

Stephany, you can buy off the shelf solar toys and solar experimentation kits from a number of suppliers. Alternative Energy Engineering and Real Goods Trading Co. are two that come to mind. You can find them in the advertiser's index in the back of this issue. George Hagerman of Seasun Power Systems is a teacher who has been putting together solar education kits and teaching teachers how to teach kids about renewables and conservation for years. You can find George ar 703-549-8067. If you're feeling a bit more adventuresome (or have a tighter budget), I've found that many battery operated toys can be easily modified to run directly from a PV. My favorite is the Capsela® 1000 motorized construction kit. You can make all manner of wheeled, tracked, or paddle driven vehicles, pumps, cranes, and even a vacuum cleaner. Replacing the AA battery pack with a 5 Watt PV in full sunlight will run darn near anything in the kit. — Bob-O

Positive Switch

We've been using a PowerStar 200 to run a few lights and our radio. But because of the high idle draw of the PowerStar 200, I put a switch on the positive wire to disconnect the inverter when not in use. This switch is more convenient to use than unplugging the inverter. Is there any reason why not to do it this way? And another thing, what can we do to make sure Bill Clinton incorporates renewable energy in our energy policy? Many thanks. Forever Alluvial, Mike Redman, POB 2825, Del Mar, CA 92014

Hi Mike, If you put your switch in the positive wire between the battery and PowerStar's cigar (do people still smoke cigars in cars?) lighter plug, AND that switch is DC rated to 20 Amperes or better, it's a fine idea. Put a 20 Ampere fuse in the positive wire on the load side of the switch. If you were to use say, a 20 Ampere Square D QO Series circuit breaker as your switch, you'd be covering a lot of safety bases at the same time. On the other hand, if you break the input wire between the cigar plug and the inverter for your switch, there went your warrantee. Politicians say that they are most likely to respond to well-written individual letters from citizens than form letters, fax flurries, and the like. I think we should direct our thoughts to Al Gore rather than the Big Cheese hisself. Gore has already committed himself toward a more benign environmental stance, so you'd be speaking to something he already believes in, and I think we can pretty safely assume that he has the BC's ear. Bob-O

Paint It Black

I'm looking for black chrome paint for collector. Where to buy? Page 61, HP #31, Tom Lane stresses use of same. Contact with Sunelco and the Real Goods people, along with two local paint companies, netted negative results and no knowledge of it. Hope you can help me. Thank you, Robert Crumley, POB 1482, Graham, WA 98338

Here, Robert, is the access for Selective Black Solar Collector absorber paint. This paint collects more and reradiates less solar energy than BBQ or woodstove type high temp flat black paints — also it will not 'outgas' as other paints will. Dampney Co.,85 Paris St., Everett, MA 02149 • 800-537-7023 — Bob-O

Contractor Concerns

Regarding the use of AC or DC to pump water from a well using PVs and an inverter (ac) or only DC, which is more reliable and and/or more efficient? Which are the most efficient appliances, refrigerators, dishwashers, etc., for use on a PV system? The best "on demand" hot water units? I want to build homes off grid and believe your magazine has the best information available. Is there a problem with inverters breaking down? Thank you, Don Thompson, Thompson Construction, 900 Indiana SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108

Don, ac and DC pumping both have their advantages. DC pumps are more efficient and don't require an inverter which further increases the efficiency as well as the reliability of the system (though 95% efficiency in inverters are common and inverters are reliable). AC pumps, on the other hand, are more common, less expensive, and do not have brushes that need to be replaced (though only every 5 years). If you want to pump more than five gallons a minute or from deeper than 250 feet, ac pumps are the way to go. We're pumping 100 feet, 1 gal/min and decided to go with a DC pump to keep the system simple. Our system is array-direct, so we don't need batteries either. When the sun shines, water pumps up to a storage tank. It's separate from the house electrical system. The most efficient refrigerators available now are Sun Frosts, 824 L Street, Arcata, CA 95521 • 707-822-9095. They use seven times less power than the average refrigerator. Fluorescent lighting is also very important in home power systems. Jim Forgette of Wattevr Works, POB 207, Cedar Creek, San Andreas, CA 95249 • 209-754-3627 sells kits which replace standard washing machine and swamp cooler motors with more efficient ones — maybe he can do the same with dishwasher motors. Inverters are solid state devices which are in general reliable. Appliances, such as laser printers, with thyristors blow up on modified sine wave inverters. — Amanda

The 12 V Answer Machine Answer

Dear Home Power; We have lived with solar since 1980 and gradually expanded to where even our camcorder batteries are juiced by the sun. Everything seems to work well. The problem I'm having is how to change my answering machine, so it would like 12V instead of 120v, without investing in another answering machine. I have written G.E., but you know big business. I don't like to use inverters for every little thing I add for our convenience. The two large TrippLite inverters have worked well all these years. So, if you could tell me how to change the answering machine I would appreciate it very much. Sincerely, Ludo van Helsding, RD1 Carhill 4073, Cortland, NY 13045

Ludo, it's impossible to tell what kind of power your GE machine likes to eat without seeing either it or a schematic, but here's a clue. If the machine is fed thru a "wall cube" type of power supply which runs the power thru two small wires to a detachable round plug in the back of the machine, you are probably feeding it DC power already. Look on the wall cube name plate to see what the voltage OUT is. Match that and be mindful of the polarity of the plug. (There is usually a drawing showing the tip and ring polarity stamped into the plastic housing of the machine) — Bob-O

Hello, Ludo. Actually the problem of 12 Volt DC powered answering machines goes deeper than just supplying power to the machine. It seems that the telephone companies have been grounding the positive pole of their power supplies since Alexander Graham Bell first phoned, "Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." on March 10, 1876. If you power the answering machine from a 12 Volt battery that has its negative pole grounded, then you have a great ground loop going with both positive and negative power poles earth grounded. I have tried this with a variety of answering machines and none worked. The line ceased to function—no dial tone out and no ring in. If you want to power the answering machine on 12 Volt DC, then don't ground its negative pole. In most systems, the inverter accomplishes and assumes negative battery pole grounding. So, if the main system's battery is attached to an inverter, or a standard 120 vac mains distribution panel, or another radio that uses common grounding between the negative DC input and the RF ground, then that battery cannot power an answering machine. Use a battery with no ground connections at all. Power the answering machine, and only the answering machine, from this small, but dedicated battery. Charge this dedicated battery with its own small but dedicated PV module. This way the phone company can have whatever grounding dementia it may wish, and you can power your answering machine however you may wish. I did this for several years and it always worked fine with any answering machine that ate 12 VDC from its wall cube power supply. —Richard

Now You're Cooking

Home Power; In issue #31 Therese Peffer wrote about your experience of buying a new gas/propane range. I wish you would have written that article two years ago, so we wouldn't have bought one with a piezoelectric ignition. Never thought to ask how much electricity was used to run a propane range. On cloudy rainy days I would have loved to do some baking, but I couldn't because of the large power usage of the range. Anyway, we found a company who only makes spark ignition ranges. It only uses electricity to spark the pilot. Then the pilot stays on throughout the oven cycle. The company name is Peerless Premier Appliance Co. • 1800-858-5844. You can either call them for a distributor in your area or go to an appliance dealer who deals mostly in gas appliances. Be aware most salespeople don't even know there are two types of ignition systems. In California they use the brand name of Modern Chef (don't get it confused with Magic Chef or Modern Maid) but the name could change regionally. They make a lot of different sizes, colors and styles so you don't have to be stuck with white. They also make some without clocks — a miracle in itself. They have a nice brochure that pictures their entire line. Hope this helps anyone in the market for a new range (gas) on or off the grid. Renee Thompson, POB 79, Boonville, CA 95415

Hey, this is great, Renee, I am in the market for a new gas range. I got my old one for $50 and it's worth every cent. It has a grill, which I really like, but when I put the oven on low it heats to 600°F and when I put it on broil it cooks at 325°F. Those are my only options. I've looked into getting it fixed but it costs more than the old stove. The control knobs are disintegrating from age and heat leakage from the oven. I called Peerless-Premier's 800 number and ordered the brochure. I received a prompt reply in the mail consisting of a letter with the name of the dealer in my area and a color brochure of the available models. Nice pictures of lots of models and good spec chart on all models. Thank you — Kathleen

[It wasn't the Magic Chefs piezoelectric ignition that drew so much — it was the 600 watt electric glow bar ignition in the oven — Chris]

Equal Rights for 120 VDC

You should give equal time to Alternative energy users who prefer DC appliances, instead of using inverters. Issue #32, pages 96, Q&A, "Wire We Here" letter was a discouraging answer. I get the impression that your inverter advertisers have you in a "conflict of interest" situation. Also, there is an interest in 120 volt DC systems. There are electric tools and appliances still rated 120 AC-DC. Look in a Milwaukee tool catalog. The Croft Manual has a page on DC fluorescent lighting. Jeff Hammer, POB 168, Tyrone, NM 88065

Jeff, the possibility of cancer from EMF from 60Hz ac power is reason enough to consider DC electricity. But I said in my answer in HP #32, finding DC appliances is difficult, and quality will probably be lower for the price you pay. You can run heaters, incandescent lights (and the special fluorescents you mentioned), and "universal" series motors on 120 VDC. But 120 VDC is dangerous stuff. Make sure your fuses and breakers have sufficient A.I.C. (Amperes Interrupting current) ratings for DC voltages. A fuse or circuit breaker has an easier job of stopping a short circuit current in an ac system because the voltage and current goes to zero 60 times a second. In a DC system, once a short circuit current arc starts, it's harder to stop it. (This is especially true for higher voltage systems.) For the same reason make sure your switches are DC rated.

Also, be aware that switches will wear out considerably faster in high voltage DC applications — again, because they must break the DC arc.

If you do install a 120 VDC system and find you want to run standard power tools, a television, computer, stereo, etc., you'll need an inverter. Chad Lamkin of Michigan Energy Works builds a fine 120 VDC to 120 vac inverter. 9605 Potters Rd, Sarnac, MI 48881 • 616346-9445 — Chris

Jeff, I'm told by Ron Carter of North Carolina that most late model color televisions without an ac power transformer will run just fine on 120 VDC too!—Bob-O

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