Looking for Ways to Reduce Electricity Usage (Possibly Solar Cells)

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I'm looking at $200/mo electric bills on average, even though I have stopped using many heavy-draw appliances.
I am down to just my four PC computer servers that must be on 24/7.
We emptied shut down our chest freezer last November.
We're saving to replace our 1962-vintage HotPoint refrigerator (which is still working fine) with a new Energy Star rated fridge.
I've converted a lot of the incandescent lighting to fluorescent.
I've stopped using space heaters.
I've stopped using the big sound system for background and monitoring applications in my studio, replacing it with a small mag-field amplifier that has a low quiescent power draw.
The way I see it, the biggest continuous draw are my computers and musical instruments (synthesizers). In the past, I have looked into solar cell panels and found the costs to be prohibitive, requiring a mortgage to pay for. I would like to do something on a smaller scale.
If I could power even one computer by storage batteries and a solid state sine wave inverter, charged by solar cells during the day, with enough reserve to run the whole night throught til sun up, I would consider that a great start. Because of budget limits ($300-500) this will be a DIY project.
A few years back, I heard about "thin film" solar cells and they were in the experimental stages of development, but claims of efficiency completely blew convention cells out of the water. Are these new cells on the market today and are they as efficient as the early Popular Science articles suggested?
I'm looking for a variety of alternative energy source ideas, even wind power to charge batteries. Perhaps it makes more sense to have one big 3kVA inverter and three times the battery capacity and more cells charging by day and wind-driven generators charging by night? What I'd like to do is create a hybrid system that is scaleable as my needs/budget grow.
Is anyone on this discussion group doing serious alternative electric energy generation? Would love to discuss some ideas and expand my awareness of what's available in terms of hardware.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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In alt.home.repair

I'm not sure this is going to be easy. How many monitors are you running? You can invest in a box that will allow you to use one monitor with all 4 servers if you haven't done that.

The efficiency is HALF of current solar cells. The advantage is that they are cheap. I just read an article about NASA planning on using them for satellites. I don't think they are commercially available yet.

This may work but batteries need to be replaced every few years. Don't make the mistake of not figuring that into the cost.
You're best bet may be a fuel cell. I think they ARE commercially available but you'll need natural gas to run it.

Nah, I just pay the big bills.
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a
project.
I am hesitant to spend a lot of time on alternative energy if the technology hasn't progressed a lot since I last looked into it (the late 1980s) and the cost hasn't come down substantially. As for the monitors, I have 2 21" monitors that go on standby after 3 minutes of non-use. One 17" monitor that is turned on once a week to change a server configuration, then it's powered off the rest of the time. The biggest hogs seem to be the server boxes, using about 6 times as much energy as one 21" monitor in operating mode. The servers are drawing between 6 and 8 amperes, depending on whether they are idle or running CPU-intensive CAD rendering (the power supplies start to hum audibly when CPU load increases, interestingly enough!)
Any figures on how much a 42-yr-old fridge uses as compared to a modern Energy Star rated fridge? That's another area where I suspect we are wasting.
I've checked everything else.. the water pump is not cycling unnecessarily, the furnace is running well, circulator not running excessively.
The big drain seems to be the Athlon servers (8 physical hard drives in each, too) and to my advantage in the winter, they heat the 1000' square foot studio in which they reside adequately that I don't need to use the main heating system until it gets down to the single digit temps. But in summer, this is a liability. I also did some tests timing the spin rate of the demand meter and found that the two big monitors barely affect the draw of power, but when the servers are powered up, the spin rate really gets up there. Everything's on a 3kVA UPS, so it's easy to pull the plug and watch the meter come to a near-standstill. That was an eye-opener. Gone are the days of PCs that used less than 200W. :-)

the
blew
today
suggested?
Okay, so it's price, not performance that they offer... but depending on HOW much cheaper they are, it might be possible to use 3-4 times as much cell area for the same price, gaining a near 2:1 price/performance improvement. But I don't see anything less than multithousands in cost that provides any useful amounts of output yet.
I figure I have a constant 20A draw on that UPS (all computers together) and if the primary is 48VDC, then I'm looking at just about 60A of load on the batteries (figuring inverter losses of at least 20%), so to run overnight, I need at least 600Ah of battery capacity. To match the load, I would figure I need at least 60A of output from my solar panels at 48VDC to maintain the charge. That's a LOT of solar cells. Add to that the fact that we're in a heavily wooded area, with decent sun in winter, but very little in summer as a result, so we're gonna see maybe 20% of their output in summer.

Yes, though fortunately, lead acid batteries for RVs and tractors are becoming less expensive, yet more powerful. I figure we'd see 4-5 years good use before replacement. So a couple hundred in replacement batteries every five years is not bad. That's 1-2 months regular electric bills.

An interesting concept, but I don't want natural gas or propane canisters anywhere near my house. Though not likely, the catastrophic results of a mishap with gas are too great to risk.

energy
We have been too, but we recently had a major increase in property taxes, plus our electric bill nearly doubled since 2001 (despite our taking numerous energy-reducing measures like shutting down our freezer, not using the big sound system as a background/monitor system, getting rid of our 12 year old 21" NEC monitors and replacing with Energy Star monitors that can power down after an idle period, banning the use of electric space heaters, etc. We've cut our usage from 50kWH to 28kWH per month by doing this. But the bills have done the exact opposite, increasing from a range of $72-$140/mo to a constant $200/mo with the occasional $160 bill. Income is flat, while other costs are rising rapidly (not to mention fuels like No2 oil and gasolene!) So it's imperitave that we find cheaper energy sources, lest we go back to using candles and woodstoves again. :-)
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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You say you use 28 kwh but im sure you mean 2800 kwh and at 200.00 a month you would be paying apx .07 c US for electricity. Alot of juice. First get a Kill- A - Watt meter at Radio Shack. and do an audit, Refrigerators do go bad and can consume alot more than rated, ex. low on freon. A short in your service can occur giving a constant drain. And you say that that your bills are up 250% ? 2800 kwh x .07 = 196.00 US 5000kwh x .02 = 100.00 US Well unless your rates went up 250% which i dought you have other problems. A bad meter or more likely bad apliances A new energy star frige can cost 35.00 yearly to run for a Sears 19 cu ft . at .08 kwh US. You are paying maybe .07 kwh. At the rated 417 KWH x .07 = 29.19 yearly or 2.43 monthly. A large side by side can cost 20 a month if its 15 yrs old. Side by sides are less efficient. I just tested my 19 cu ft Sears on a kill- a- watt and the monthly figure was 21 KWH almost half the Gov test, or for a cost of 1.30 a month. Quite a savings over 20 a month. But its winter, cooler in the house, and the test is a 4 person test. Generators at your KWH cost will cost 5x to 7 x to produce electricity, Dont forget Gen cost, interest lost, depreciaton- gen life, and maintenance. At alt. Energy . Homepower there are alot of Off Grid people who know systems.
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post in alt.energy. homepower and to realy monitor and audit your kwh use get a Kill a Watt meter it records time, kwh used amp, watts , hz
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On Fri, 30 Jan 2004 22:05:31 -0500, "Mark & Mary Ann Weiss"

A home alternative energy installation is often not worth the investment. But a possible formula may be
. A diesel fueled electrical generator to run a whole house heat pump - cools the house in summer and helps to heat it in winter. The generator part recharges your battery. Maybe divert the radiator coolant to supplement house heating. Of course there is no such thing as free energy but the battery charging and waste heat recovery may work out to be less than the bills you pay the utility company. The only "free" heat comes from the heat pump set up.
I am not that convinced about solar cells. Grime often reduces their efficiency and therefore output.
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I had considered a diesel genset some time back. I know in one Scandinavian country, a lot of homes use the exact system you described above. I was still under the impression that the cost of fueling the generator was still higher than the cost of utility-provided electricity. However, I hadn't thought of the heat pump angle on this. If the engine drives a compressor, which heats the house in winter and cools it in summer, that eliminates a lot of summer load. The coolant can probably heat a house twice our size (3000 sq ft) if we're talking about a 40kW generator/Detroit diesel, 82HP or so--diesels put out an awful lot of heat. If it can run on No 2 fuel, it can share our 2000-gallon tank as a source, but then the question is how many gallons per hour will such a genset use (average load less than 4kW, with peaks reaching 3/4 capacity at certain times). Since a generator runs continuously, I can see a lot of oil being consumed in a short time, versus the furnace and hot water heaters which use a certain amount, but only run for very brief duty cycles.
It might be possible that we're talking about intermittent generator operation, such as to charge batteries, or when the thermostat calls for heat (using the engine coolant to heat the baseboard radiators.) But either way, I don't get the impression that the efficiency will compete with even the high-priced utility power.

Yes, that's a big factor, and even bigger is the situation of our house in a forest, so we only get good sun in winter, but nearly none in summer.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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In alt.home.repair

This is probably against the law and doubtfully cheaper than buying from the utility.
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(Bruce) wrote:

You're probably right about the cost comparison -- but why would it be against the law?
-- Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
How come we choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
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In alt.home.repair snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

I don't think it should, but it is. You are not allowed to compete with the utilities. That may have changed since deregulation, but I don't think so. Secondarily, for pollution, noise and safety.
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snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Bruce) wrote:
-snip-

TWIAVBP -- Where do you live? In NY, we not only *can* make electricity, the power company has to buy it from us if we have extra. [I'm pretty sure it's been that way for at least 25 years.]
See http://www.akeena.net/solar_energy_benefits/homepageny.html for one way it is possible. [not necessarily a good idea-- just possible.]
Jim
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snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Bruce) wrote:

Where might that be against the law? [It may well be, I just haven't ever heard of a law against generators.]
In my part of the world, the northeast US, heat pumps are pretty much useless in the winter months-- but if that guy can tell me about a diesel generator that can produce electricity cheaper than I can buy it from Niagara Mohawk-- I'd like to sell it to my power company.
Jim
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I had briefly looked into a 'system' proposed by a fellow named Dennis Lee, who purported to have a 'free energy' system that used geothermal energy in conjunction with freeon flowing through coils to generate turbine movement and hence operate a generator. He claimed to offer free installations for a limited time of these units. I also read that he was arrested for fraud. I watched a video that his people produced, and although some of the 'theory' looked almost plausible, the guy didn't strike me as an inventor, but more of a marketeer/shyster. Right now, I expect to find solar cells and wind power to be closest to realistic, unless there have been significant advances in other technologies that I'm not current on.
But during these ultra-cold winter nights, I wish I could block the cold air from flowing down the chimney and into my furnace and hot water heater and cooling them down prematurely. I read that as much as 20% of the steady-state operating heat goes up the chimney in modern furnaces. That's significant. A lot more has to be recovered after the furnace has been off for a while. Ours comes on about every 2 hours on very cold nights, so in that time, most of the boiler energy has gone up the chimney and it has to heat up from almost cold. An automatic stack damper would be a big help there.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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@earthlink.net says... ~ ~ > Hi, ~ > Considered geothermal energy source under your house? Need to drill ~ > holes deep down. ~ > Tony ~ > ~ ~ I had briefly looked into a 'system' proposed by a fellow named Dennis Lee, ~ who purported to have a 'free energy' system that used geothermal energy in ~ conjunction with freeon flowing through coils to generate turbine movement ~ and hence operate a generator. He claimed to offer free installations for a ~ limited time of these units. ~ I also read that he was arrested for fraud. ~ I watched a video that his people produced, and although some of the ~ 'theory' looked almost plausible, the guy didn't strike me as an inventor, ~ but more of a marketeer/shyster. ~ Right now, I expect to find solar cells and wind power to be closest to ~ realistic, unless there have been significant advances in other technologies ~ that I'm not current on.
I think you should read up on earth-source heat exchangers (often erroneously called "geothermal"). They aren't inexpensive to install, but they're the most practical "sustainable" heating source.
There are dozens of websites of interest, including many government websites in the US and Canada that describe how they work and what efficiencies you can gain with them. They are powered by electricity, but use roughly 25% as much electricity to heat and cool your home as using electrical heating. You could also consider an air-source heat pump, but they aren't as efficient. However, the payback period is shorter since they're not much more expensive than regular heating systems.
Rick
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technologies
I think all of this goes somewhat beyond the scope of my original inquiry, which was about finding a way to power some PC servers off of solar or wind-generated power.
The installations you discuss are interesting, and if I had a lot of money and was building a new home, would definately consider them. But at the moment, they are out of the question. We would have to truck in a lot of fill to cover the heat exchangers, as our locale (mountaintop) is rocky and mostly ledge. It would be absurdly-expensive to do this, and that negates my short-term goal, which is to save money in the coming year or three.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Java Man (Espressopithecus) wrote:

Hi, Here I saw a few working geo thermal heat exchange systems installed by local firm. It's great. Only problem is it costs ~25,000.00CAD for the time being. If I were building a new house, I'd give serious consideration to it. Tony Calgary, AB.
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@earthlink.net (Mark & Mary Ann Weiss) says...

You didn't mention your heaviest draw appliance, the water heater. Is that gas, or are you still taking showers? Convert to natural gas, and consider a solar water heater.
Then turn your monitors off, which draw more power than the computers. If you are actually using $200/month in computer power, the payback on switching to Centrino technology notebooks would be pretty short. The Pentium M is pretty energy efficient.
--
http://home.teleport.com/~larryc

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stopped
All heating systems in the house are oil-fired, including the water heater.

The monitors each draw about 1.5A when running (not standby). The PC servers draw close to 8A each when number-crunching. Since the computers are relatively new, highly customized and configured with a lot of proprietary hardware and software, we're looking at a 5-year amortization on the costs, and it will be a few years before we replace them with newer technology. I used to think it was solely the Athlon CPUs that were drawing most of the juice, but between our four PCs, there are 22 hard drives that are running at all times. We do use laptops too, but only for limited use, mostly portable non-realtime applications--their hard disc systems are far too slow. The servers are using RAID discs for sustained very high throughput.
We're pretty much stuck with the loads, so we are looking at finding cheaper ways to power them.
-- Take care,
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss
VIDEO PRODUCTION . FILM SCANNING . AUDIO RESTORATION Hear my Kurzweil Creations at: http://www.dv-clips.com/theater.htm Business sites at: www.dv-clips.com www.mwcomms.com www.adventuresinanimemusic.com -
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Except for the adventure of it all, I think you'd be well advised to get a meter and find out exactly how much your computers [and other circuits] are using before spending a lot of time & money on alternatives.

And have you eliminated any possible wiring problems?
-snip-

Just as a data-point. I paid $170 for 1494 KWH [$.113/KWH] last month.
I have recently replaced a 10 yr old, energy star rated, refrigerator/freezer with a weak compressor. When I did that my bill dropped 2-300KWH from last year. [$22-33/month]
I'd wager that if you're paying anywhere close to a dime a KWH the payback on your old frig will be less than a couple years.

-snip-
How about hair dryers, toaster, electric stove. . . .
Have you had your utility company come out and do a survey? I had one done once and it must have been the surveyors first day because it was a waste of both our times-- but I've talked to other folks who were helped by the survey & eliminated an electricity hog that they never would have thought of.
Jim
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One of the biggest users is an electric hot water heater. You can reduce this by placing it on a timer and taking showers every other day rather than every day. (get a 7 day 240 V timer - link below)
So on "shower days", set it to make enough hot water for your shower and to go on (then off) just before your shower. Only warm (not hot) water will be left in the tank after your shower and this will be sufficient for hand washing for the entire day. (If you have a bunch of teenage girls in your home, this will of course not work.)
On "non-shower days", set it to run for about 5 minutes in the morning. This will make warm (not hot) water for the days hand washing.
Basically you are producing hot water for showers, but only warm water for everything else. If your hot water is 30% of your bill and you are cutting down on water heating by half or more, this could be a BIG savings on your electric bill.
Also place electronic stuff like TV, microwave, stereo, etc. on a switch. These things use electricity when not on. Turn off power to these things when not in use.
Heating/air conditioning costs can be reduced by adding insulation and replacing your windows with energy star double pane windows. Close off rooms which are not used, install heavy drapes on windows.
Also post to misc.consumers.frugal-living (This group can give you all sorts of money saving ideas...)
One model of water heater timer... (Search for water heater timer) http://www.energyautomationinc.com/ti040.shtml
Energy Star Web Site... http://www.energystar.gov/
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