SOLAR: Making Waves

Roger and Monica Gastrow attack the energy issue from both sides: supply and demand. Check out their clean installation of a clean energy supply.

HYDRO: Cheap Power

Using salvaged components, ingenuity, and just a few dollars, Steven Gima and Eileen Puttre now have lights and water at their weekend mountain cabin in the Adirondacks.

WIND: Power From Scratch.

In the Scottish Highlands Mike Islam builds wind gennys from the ground up as an exploration of the value of power, nature, and life itself.

60 15 Years Without a Driver's License

Larry Warnberg's approach to go-power is fundamental and worthy of praise. He adds new meaning to the term Seafood Pedaller.


34 History of the Ni-Cd

William Farrell shares his insider's wealth of knowledge on the development of the nickel cadmium cell.

44 Clean H2O for All

An exploration of low tech solutions for drinking water pasteurization in the developing world.

64 What is Electricity?

An attempt to make a little sense of basic electricity.

74 Intro to Alternating Current

Part one in an exploration of the more devious concepts in electrical theory.


53 A Car is Born

Part 2 in a series: Chuck Hursch gets his hands dirty as the Voltsrabbit conversion becomes a reality.


40 Living With Lil Otto

Hydro supplies power during the rainy season for a remote Tropical Research Station in the northern rainforests of Australia.

Cover: Mike Islam and his scratch built wind generators in the Scottish Highlands. Story on page 20

78 Lead Acid Restoration

Jon Kenneke reviews the effectiveness of EDTA Tetrasodium restoration on several makes of lead-acid batteries.


24 Cheap Towers II gg*

John Dailey's design for a 60 foot tilt-up tower is layed out for cheap wind generator projects everywhere.

Things that Work!

30 The E-Meter

Review of Cruising Equipment's full function meter: a compact instrument for less that $200.


82 Independent Power Providers

The utility companies as RE dealers? How does it affect the industry? the consumer? Don Lowberg explores the pros and cons of playing with the big guys.

86 Code Corner

John Wiles lends reason for the NEC with discussion of Murphy's law and RE systems.

90 Power Politics

As the political race heats up, Michael Welch gives us some insight into the positions of the parties and their candidates.

92 Home & Heart

Kathleen has a dishwasher! Kathleen has a dishwasher! The deciding factors in the purchase now; performance evaluations to come.

99 the Wizard Speaks...

On FREE Energy.


4 From Us to You

80 HP's Subscription form

81 Home Power's Biz Page 96 Happenings — RE events 100 Letters to Home Power

107 Q&A

109 Micro Ads

112 Index to Advertisers

Access and Info

Access Data

Home Power Magazine PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520 USA Editorial and Advertising:

916-475-3179 voice and FAX

Subscriptions and Back Issues: 800-707-6585 VISA / MC

Computer BBS: 707-822-8640

Internet E-mail:

[email protected]

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Cover paper is 50% recycled (10% postconsumer and 40% preconsumer) Recovery Gloss from S.D. Warren Paper Company.

Interior paper is recycled (30% postconsumer) Pentair pC-30 Gloss Chlorine Free from Niagara of Wisconsin Paper Corp.

Printed using low VOC vegetable based inks.

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Home Power (ISSN 1050-2416) is published bi-monthly for $22.50 per year at PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520. International surface subscription for $30 U.S. Second class postage paid at Ashland, OR, and at additional mailing offices. POSTMASTER send address corrections to Home Power, PO Box 520, Ashland, OR 97520.

Copyright ©1996 Home Power, Inc. All rights reserved. Contents may not be reprinted or otherwise reproduced without written permission.

While Home Power Magazine strives for clarity and accuracy, we assume no responsibility or liability for the usage of this information.

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The Winter of 1996 was a toughie here at Home Power Central on Agate Flat. For weeks on end it seemed the snow never stopped. At one point we measured the snow depth, in the open, at 49.1 inches. We were paralyzed. We had our truck stuck in a snowbank about 1.5 miles from our home and office. We backpacked in all of our supplies through waist deep snow. As I write this (3 March), we have still to get the truck to HP Central on a regular basis. I wait for a frozen morning and hope to zip in without getting big time stuck. And big time stuck we have been twice this winter. Many thanks to our good neighbor, Jim Murdock, who towed us out with his bulldozer.

HP Crew Members Ben Root (left) and Michael Welch (right) get ready to pack to the stuck truck.

While transportation ground to a halt and power failed everywhere around us, our RE systems trucked on through the snow. We had to shovel out the PV arrays every morning, but they still made solar electricity for us. Our wind generator still produced power in spite of the deep snow. We rediscovered the joys of being snowed in and wanted to share them in the form of these pictures.

Richard Perez for the Home Power Crew

Dale Andreatta Sam Coleman John Dailey William Farrell Roger Gastrow Steven Gima Michael Hackleman Mike Islam

Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

Jon Kenneke

Stan Krute

Don Loweburg

Harry Martin

Karen Perez

Richard Perez

Shari Prange

Eileen Puttre

Benjamin Root

Hugh Spencer

Bob-O Schultze

Larry Warnberg

Michael Welch

John Wiles

Myna Wilson

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.'

Carl Sagan

• Complete Functional Solar Electric Generators •

• Pre-assembled, Pre-tested, Code-compliant Systems •

• Standardized Designs for Easy Deployment and Troubleshooting •

• Transportable Design for Easy Removal and Redeployment •

• Lockable Enclosures to Limit Unauthorized Access •

• Optional Back-up Engine Generators with Automated Controls •

• 10 Year Module Warranty, 2 Year System Warranty (5 Yr. Optional) • Optional System Performance Data Logger with Remote Phone Access

• Many Models and Sizes for Commercial & Residential Applications •

We Also Distribute System Components: Solarex PV Modules, Batteries, Regulators,Trace Inverters, DC Switchgear

San Rafael, ca 94903

61 Paul Drive Phone: 415-499-1333 800-822-4041 Fax:415-499-0316

San Rafael, ca 94903

61 Paul Drive Phone: 415-499-1333 800-822-4041 Fax:415-499-0316

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8605 Folsom Blvd. Phone:916-381-0235 800-321-0101 Fax:916-381-2603

Sacramento, ca 95826

8605 Folsom Blvd. Phone:916-381-0235 800-321-0101 Fax:916-381-2603

Qualified Dealer Inquiries Welcome. Hands on Training Seminars for New Dealers

©1996 Roger Gastrow

1 think it started when I was six. My electric toy cars just kept running out of battery power. After much thought, I borrowed some paper clips, an empty wooden sewing spool and some scotch tape and proceeded to construct a solar battery charger. Needless to say it didn't work, but it was a start. I never thought that just over 25 years later, most of my home would be powered by sunshine.

So...Welcome to Wisconsin

We live in the "Kettle Moraine" area near a small town named North Prairie, about 45 minutes southwest of Milwaukee. Here, occasionally you'll see a wind generator, some houses with solar hot water heating, but no homes with PV power. Everyone here is within arms reach of the power grid, so why bother? I really don't know why, But I think its probably the same reason that people climb mountains—for me the technical challenge.

I first learned about Home Power Magazine from an ad in Back Home Magazine. It was exciting for me because after researching renewable energy for years, the libraries only had old materials that were sadly out of date. I quickly called and Karen sent me a free issue—after which I promptly subscribed.

Well, you gotta start somewhere!

After telling my wife Monica about my idea (and months of convincing), we started with reducing electrical loads. Monica actually started our energy savings by finding a rebate program from Wisconsin Electric. They would rebate us $10 for every fluorescent energy efficient lamp we purchased—up to 12 of them. I couldn't believe it when the electric company sent us a check for $120.00! Wisconsin Electric frequently has different programs to encourage energy conservation. I really had to twist their arm to get a rebate on my Sun Frost, though—they had never heard of it. Which brings us to our next step.

Our refrigerator was in need of replacement, so after examining all the alternatives, we decided to save for a Sun Frost. Our model is a white RF-16, powered by 120

vac. Who ever said energy conservation meant going without! It does some tricks our old refrigerator didn't do, such as holding two one-liter soda bottles on the door and it offers total control of freezer and refrigerator temperatures. It wasn't cheap, but then good stuff usually isn't. The beauty of the Sun Frost is its simple logical layout, heavy insulation, compressors on top, glass shelves and plenty of room for everything. The company is also very good to deal with. They've always answered any questions I've had.

Believe it or not,up till this point, I'd never seen a working solar panel. So before covering the roof with them, Monica suggested we take a look at some. After some looking, we linked up with Chris Brile from Photocomm in Downers Grove, Illinois. He really was a valuable find and taught us the basics of solar. It was refreshing when we asked questions and got good answers, whether it made him a sale or not. Sadly, several months after our meeting , he was killed in an auto accident along with his son. I still carry his business card in memory.

By this time, we had our first eight panels—Kyocera K51s. After designing a rack and obtaining some aluminum, we hoisted them onto the roof—all eight at once. What a job! The panels are connected with water tight flexible conduit with low oxygen wire and are

Above: Monica shows off the Sunfrost RF-16.

Below: Roger on the roof adding Solarex MSX-60 panels to the existing array of Kyocera K-51's.

Below: Roger on the roof adding Solarex MSX-60 panels to the existing array of Kyocera K-51's.

Left: Sixteen of the twenty-eight Exide GC-4 batteries. 1540 Ampere-hours at 24 Volts DC.

Below: A close up of the copper bus bar showing the wire loom covering and tinned area for better contact.

Left: Sixteen of the twenty-eight Exide GC-4 batteries. 1540 Ampere-hours at 24 Volts DC.

Below: A close up of the copper bus bar showing the wire loom covering and tinned area for better contact.

grounded at the junction box on the roof. Four runs of #4 wire run from the roof into the basement in 1 1/4 inch PVC conduit, along with the ground. Always figure on expansion. According to my calculations, this wiring should be good for about 2400 Watts of solar. Some good tips here are: 1) solder all connections, 2) use spade lug connectors when wiring panels, 3) use heat shrink tubing liberally after cleaning rosin and other stuff off the wires, and 4) a weatherproof terminal block on the roof makes it much easier to expand your system.

Originally, our system was designed for two inverters, an "always on" switch mode type and a "brute force" transformer type for heavy loads such as water pumping. Logically then, our next acquisition was a PowerStar 1500 watt inverter. I still can't believe that a box the size of a block of Velveeta cheese could power our Kenmore washer, refrigerator, freezer, TV and lights, all at the same time! After researching batteries we decided to try alkaline batteries; the idea of batteries going after ten years didn't appeal to me. After saving again, we purchased a set of batteries—supposedly new, sight unseen. Big mistake! Upon arriving, they were battered, minus electrolyte, one cell was different from the others and a majority "rattled." In the bottoms of the cells, that nasty black ookie graphite had leaked from the plates. Of course, I was reassured that these were new and I should give them a chance. After receiving the chemicals, I mixed the electrolyte and charged the cells. So far, this had taken four months to receive all the parts for the batteries.

After charging and charging and charging, I was ready for the capacity test. Armed with my Cruising Amp Hour +2 and Fluke 87 meter I watched and measured. Results? 42 AH out of a 320 AH battery. Subsequent tests only got worse. The cells came with a "no questions asked" return policy which I now decided to exercise. The dealer informed me he would not return my money! After the threat of legal action and several months, I did receive some merchandise to make up for most of the difference.

At this point I got some good advice from the dealers I do business with now. Some good guidelines for selecting an RE (renewable energy) dealer are:

1 Deal with a local dealer if possible. It's always easier to solve problems and ask questions of someone nearby and familiar with your situation.

2 Ask to see systems they have installed and work they have done. Don't be satisfied with "Rube Goldberg" looking jobs—remember, even though you are dealing with renewable energy, this is high power stuff and installed incorrectly, it can be dangerous.

3 Do they live with what they sell? Would you buy a car from someone who never drove one? Of course not! Dealers that live with the items they sell are more likely to know what to expect and any quirks the items may have.

4 Shop for a good deal, but don't beat them up for pricing. If something is being sold for a lower than normal price—beware. You may not get any backup on questions or problems you may have. Even in this business, there are quick-buck "fly by night" dealers. If it's too good to be true in price or performance, it probably is.

5 Be realistic in your expectations—especially in what you expect to use and produce. When seasons charge, a little foresight will keep you from being caught short. Remember not to waste the time of the dealer if you honestly have no intention of buying anything. They need to make a living too.

6 See what you are buying. Even if it means taking a trip to see it, it may save a lot of disappointment later. Some things, such as panels are pretty universal, so once you've seen one you know what to expect; but meters, batteries, pumps, and other specialized equipment deserves more attention.

And now ... back to the system

After the battery problem, a friend set me on the trail of some brand new Exide GC-4 batteries available locally. Best of all, I got all 28 of them by bartering for them! What can I say? With 1540 Ampere-hours at 24 VDC, I now have more than enough power for dismal weather, short sun days in winter, and high surges. Lead acid isn't so bad, just study up on their characteristics and treat them nicely. The buss bars in the back were made by strategically crimping a piece of copper water pipe, drilling holes in the correct places, then tinning the exposed areas with solder to prevent corrosion. The ends connect directly to 3/0 UL approved cable. In the battery bank as on the roof, solder all connections and use heat shrink tubing (correctly color coded) on all interconnects. Wire loom used in car stereo installations fits neatly over the copper pipe and prevents accidents if you drop your screwdriver in there.

In the controls department, we use a Trace C-30A charge controller. Nothing fancy yet, but it works nicely. As the system grows, I'll be installing a home brew diversion regulator to regain some of those lost electrons on long summer days. For metering, we have a Cruising Amp Hour +2 meter. One channel measures daily power production and the other measures battery charge capacity. It's a nice meter but has a few things that could use improving. First, the charge channel resets itself when the batteries stop charging—so you have to race to the control panel before the sun sets to find out how much power you produced that day. The other bummer is the battery charge efficiency function. According to what I've read, the battery needs to be cycled from full charge to over 30% discharge several times for the calculation to be made. That's fine but we've never used more than 25% of our battery storage. I'm sure by now Cruising has addressed the problem and I still think it's a good basic meter. It is also pretty accurate on voltage and current measurements.

At this time we added six Solarex MSX60 PV panels to the system. This brings up that burning question in any person's mind that is thinking about panels—which work best? From our experience, both are great panels and I wasn't disappointed by either's performance. The Kyocera panels are a little cheaper per Watt, but Solarex has a 20 year warranty and nice heavy black anodized aluminum. Their junction boxes are also a little roomier for heavy wiring. The only tip I can relate here is make sure that your panels are of compatible voltages when mixing panel types.

Solarocity achieved

After operating our system with the PowerStar inverter for over a year, we decided to proceed with the next step—the water pump. It took months of study; reading, hair pulling, and "sleeping on it" to make a decision on how to do this. In our area, we don't have a local dealer that distributes the nice low voltage pumps that some RE systems have, and after the alkaline battery thing, I decided to use local technology. About the time I thought I knew what to do, the new Trace sine wave came out. After talking to as many people as I could find, I went for it. It wasn't easy, it is expensive, but wow! What an inverter! Even with all its great options, we use it for its primary purpose, a stand alone sine wave inverter. After rewiring, adding some more conduit

Above: Roger and Monica enjoying the comfort of their renewable-powered home.

Above: The battery box and control center including a Trace SW-4024, C-30A, and Cruising AH+2 meter.

and a new refurbished breaker, we were ready. The well pump was a 220 vac, two wire, Jacuzzi pump with pressure switch in the basement. We added the Trace T-220 autotransformer to run the pump.

Time for the big test. First the countdown ... 5-4-3-2-1 hit it! ... Nothing—except the 260 Amps discharge reading on my Cruising meter! The rotor in the pump's motor locked and wouldn't run. Even with this huge surge, the lighting stayed on and no inverter noise was heard. We tested the pump and found that with this arrangement it would start about 80% of the time. In retrospect, here's what probably happened. Two-wire pumps have a large capacitor in the motor to create a phase shift to start the motor. While the SW4024 is more than capable of starting a 1/2 horse pump, it seems the autotransformer inductance was cancelling out the inverter's power factor correction to start it, so there was no phase shift in the pump to start it.

When wiring for water pumping, here are some shortcuts to save time and money:

1 Read all the articles that Windy Dankoff has written in Home Power about ac pumping.

2 Do not use a two-wire pump, especially with an autotransformer. Some may work but some may not.

3 Make sure you have a large pressure tank so the pump doesn't continually cycle.

4 Even with a sine wave inverter, use the relay type starter box on three-wire pumps instead of the solid state version. The solid state box is much more susceptible to lightning damage (ground strikes) and won't work with modified sine wave inverters at all.

Finally, we decided to do this right. We replaced the pump and wiring. Our new pump is a Red Jacket 1/2 horse, three-wire, 120 vac pump with the relay type starter. It took some convincing of the pump man to put this in, because it isn't a "stock" pump. It works beautifully, charging our pressure tank in about 75 seconds up to 60 pounds of pressure. The inverter doesn't even flinch when starting it, even when it's running the washer and the rest of the house!

Electrons in action

In our system, we started with power conservation, then fitted the system to what it would power. Primary concerns were refrigeration and water pumping. Most 120 vac equipment works fine on sine wave power, but we did fine tune some things to work better. A regular refrigerator would draw too much power, so we were especially curious to see how well the Sun Frost lived up to its claims. After about six months of daily measurement, we found it consumes about 900-1000 watt hours per day. When you figure inverter inefficiency into the picture, this really isn't too bad. The water pump, when running, draws about 1400 watts and surges at about twice that when starting. When figuring the number of cycles and duration of the pumping time, it uses about 350 watt hours per day.

Figuring the wash load is a little more difficult. The stock Kenmore washer we have is about ten years old and washes an average load for about 400 watt-hours. When we ran the washer on the PowerStar inverter, we used a large isolation transformer to prevent problems with the directly coupled semiconductors in the output section.

In the entertainment department we have an NEC 26" TV, slightly modified. When running, it now consumes less than 100 watts. Things to look for in an efficient TV are a switch mode power supply and battery backup of any memory the TV stores. This is important since almost all TVs are phantom loads—consuming power even when they are not on. We mounted a power strip with switch next to ours to shut off the TV and VCR. Our

Eight PV Modules Kyocera K-51


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Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable.

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