In this post, My Solar Backup Depot offers a step-wise approach to generating more of your own electricity. As a general rule: INCREASED generating capacity = DECREASED frustration during power failures!
The simplest backup system is a “stand alone” system, which never becomes part of the house’s electrical system. As the name implies, the system is self-contained: it generates and stores electrical power, and household appliances can be plugged directly into the unit. A portable system of this type was described in my earlier post, 1800 Watts… and I’ll Take My Solar Backup System to Go! Small, portable gasoline generators, which must always be operated outdoors, can also be “stand alone” units.
To take it to the next level, we’ll need equipment that will be integrated with the home’s existing electrical system. For this type of backup system, the first item that will be required is a transfer switch. This switch is essential, in order to disconnect the house from its usual power supply, the power grid, and connect it to an alternate power source. These switches can be manual switches, but fancier systems will utilize an automatic switch. (Consult with your local, licensed electrician here!)
With the transfer switch in place, gasoline, propane or diesel generators could be used to generate electricity, but the units are noisy, and expensive to run for extended periods. Nevertheless, these generators may provide a short-term answer for emergency situations.
When I first started generating my own electricity, I used a cheap, imported 5500 Watt generator, which cost about $500. In fact, it was our only source of electricity for 3 years, but I could only afford to run the generator for about 6 hours each evening. We lived on an acreage far from town, and off the grid, so noise was less of an issue. Note that some of the more expensive generators will run quieter, but they are still costly to run for extended periods.
So let’s suppose you have your transfer switch in place. To keep your initial costs low, you purchased an inexpensive gas-powered generator for backup purposes. You are are now prepared for a short term power failure, or a longer one if you can endure the noise and afford the gasoline. But when you’re ready to improve the efficiency of your system, it’s time to take the next step. Your next purchase should consist of deep-cycle batteries and an inverter/charger.
A “bank” of batteries should be purchased together (or within a short time-frame). Like a chain, one older, and weaker, battery could become the “weakest link” in your system. Also required at this juncture will be an inverter/charger. This unit will serve two purposes. Firstly, when power is required from the batteries, the inverter will change the low voltage direct current from the battery to the 120 volt alternating current you’ll need in your home. And secondly, the unit will maintain the batteries at full charge when outside power is available.
With the batteries and inverter/charger in place, continuous operation of the gas generator is no longer required. Now when you run the generator for a few hours a day, you’ll have power in your home 24 hours a day! This is because when the generator runs now, it will be operating at approximately 80% its of full-rated wattage. This results in much more efficient use of generated power. It will also result in less carbon build-up in the engine (a good thing!).
Now, the final step: It’s time to go solar! (Wind and hydro power generation are also options, but are outside the scope of this article.) The nice thing about solar is that you can always add more solar panels, one-by-one, as determined by your needs and your budget. And you will know you have enough panels when you no longer (or rarely) need to fuel up your generator!
So there you have another solution from My Solar Backup Depot: a common sense, step-wise approach to generating more of your own electricity, and always having a backup power supply.