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

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• posted on February 1, 2004, 5:15 am

We're oil-fired hot water and oil-fired furnace here. N/A.

That's true, but the problem is I have a constant 20A draw from four computer servers running 24/7.

The house is super-insulated. 6" wall studs, 1" foam, + 6" fiberglass, + aluminum foil under the wallboard. Ceilings have 12" joists, 10" fiberglass and 1" foam. Temp drop is very slow, even at -10ºF. The problem is our electric bill, mostly, due to these computers. I'd like to find alternative sources of energy for them.

Good info! I'll peruse these tomorrow.
-- 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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• posted on February 1, 2004, 11:57 am

Consider:
20A * 120V = 2400W 2400W * 24 hr/day = 57600 watt-hours/day = 57.6 KwH/day 57.6 KwH/day * \$0.08/KwH (estimated) * 30 days/month = \$138.24/month
I believe you said in your original post that your electric bills are in the range of \$200-300 monthly. Thus, the computers account for roughly half to two-thirds of your total cost. And *that* means that to make even a twenty percent reduction in your bill, you need to (a) reduce your electricity demands, exclusive of the computers, by roughly forty to seventy percent -- which is going to be very difficult -- or (b) turn off the computers.
Bottom line: you're doing this to yourself. If you're trying to run a business out of your home, either move to a commercial building so you get commercial rates, or quit complaining about paying residential rates for your electricity.
If you're *not* running a business... then shut off some of the machines. *Nobody* needs four servers 24/7 for personal use.
-- 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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• posted on February 1, 2004, 10:11 pm

That sounds about right for the consumption figures. Option A is my only option right now. I would LIKE to find alternative energy sources to run them so I can avoid option B which is counterproductive, as I would have leave the computer age and return to the cel animation age, which is counterproductive. The computers are doing distributed rendering (making animation a la Pixar), and some of the renders take up to 6 weeks to complete 150,000 frames of animation, so turning the machines off isn't practical. Then I have the issue of my samplers, which draw 240W each. Startup is very complicated because it involves a labor-intensive process of loading up to 999 samples from disk and manually selecting out of tens of thousands in sample libraries. Restoring the setup can take hours of button-pushing, which is why I have these on a dedicated UPS in case the master UPS fails. It's technically-complicated, but if the samples aren't loaded in the right addresses, the works-in-progress (mainly large symphonic scores) won't play properly or have missing parts or wrong parts (ie, an oboe playing where a violin spiccato articulation should have been). It's a massive pain to get samples loaded up and we recently went through that after moving the equipment, which involved powering down.

It's not commercially-viable to justify running out of a building downtown, and also it violates my "60-second commute" rule. We're snowed in here for a good 2-3 months each winter. Getting down off the mountain, especially within a week of a major snowstorm is pretty difficult, even with 4WD. Some hills, you just don't want to chance because once you start to slide, there's no safe place to run off the road without doing a lot of damage.
At any rate, I'm simply asking if alternative energy sources for small-scale use are becoming viable. It would be nice if I could save that \$138/month on electric and have one, then maybe two PCs running on solar power.

That depends on your ambitions and hobbies. I have a friend who builds Tesla coils and likes to fire them often. His problems are far more than electrical though. As I write this, one machine is crunching animation, and another is compressing digital video into DVD-compliant MPEG stream for a distribution DVD of my wife's dance group, another server is streaming audio for one of our web sites and my wife is using her computer to update her association's web site. It's not as though the stuff is idling and can be turned off. The only time this stuff gets turned off is when we're out of the country for a week or more. Then we finished up or reach a stopping point on all projects, shut the machines down, go through our checklist, and then leave for the airport. Upon returning after one such trip, two of our servers would not come up after being powered on. One would load the 'wallpaper' but the desktop never appeared. Luckily, I had a Norton Ghost image of the C: partition and was able to roll back the system to a month earlier with an image made then. The other had some other problem that took about 30 minutes to resolve. I'm a little paranoid about shutting them down when I go on vacation because of those two incidents, but will probably continue to do full shutdowns when on vacations.
-- 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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• posted on February 1, 2004, 10:43 pm

I can only offer this. I think you'll be best off to find the loads that run 24/7 and concentrate on reducing them. Even a small improvement helps a lot with 24/7 loads. This is obviously your computer equipment. Can computing tasks be concentrated to a single computer at certain times of they day so another could be shutdown or at least put in power save mode? Are you utilizing the power saving features of the OS? Is it possible to buy a single larger computer instead of several smaller ones? Can you use a different type of disk drive that that allows you to use fewer but faster disk drives (SCSI or Fiber Channel)? Are there interface boards in your computer that you don't use that can be removed? Can you use fewer monitors and use a video switch or KVM to allow them to go away (or at least be powered totally off 99% of the time)?
The only other thing I can see from a system point of view is that the computer is driven by DC. You have losses in the power supply converting the AC to DC. You have even more losses since you're using a UPS going from AC to DC to AC and then the computer goes to DC. I don't know if you could buy a power supply or would have to make it (since you need multiple voltages at a rather heavy current), but a DC battery system that provides DC to your computers may save some conversion losses. Solar generation is also DC and you could gain some free electricity that way.
I'd focus on finding a way to get external free DC into the UPS battery system or a separate computer power supply. If you add a lot of battery capacity, you may be able to rig a controller that removes AC from the UPS and runs off the batteries. Do this when the sun is just beginning to shine and continue to run from the batteries until they are some percent depleted (perhaps 40%?). At that point, switch the AC back on to charge them back up. Finding an off the shelf system that works well this way may be a challenge. But the hoepower people may have equipment that works more for what you're trying to do rather than a UPS.
If you only improve the computer power system by 20%, your overall power bill will probably be reduced by about 15%.
-- Mark Kent, WA
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• posted on February 3, 2004, 12:29 am

This has up to a 20% advantage due to elimination of conversion loss, but the complication of externalizing all those power leads probably brings more risks than benefits and would be expensive and complicated to implement. Therefore, my solution has to be able to convert solar to 120VAC.

Possibly some savings could result if I could trickle charge the UPS off solar, but I think the results would be so small as to be negligable. Now if I ran everything off an inverter, things might be different. Or maybe I could just take up golf and forget about computing. :-)
-- 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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• posted on February 3, 2004, 1:10 am
Mark & Mary Ann Weiss wrote:

PCs need to be configured to take advantage of power saving. My PCs all go to stand-by and sleep after certain period of inactivity. Even hard drives cycle down. Nonitor goes blank. Older boxes may not do this well but newer ones which is ACPI 2 compatible only needs configuration from your system BIOS/OS. Tony

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• posted on February 3, 2004, 7:03 am

Hi,
Have done this already, but had to disable the CPU sleep mode and the hard drive spin down. 'Seems my Wacom digitizers don't come back up after a standby event. I wrote to Wacom about it and their attitude was to tell me not to use the power saving features of my PC. Obviously, it's their driver that's at fault, but they have no interest in fixing it.
I decided it wasn't worth making a stink about, since my PCs almost never get to idle, with one rendering animation frames day and night, another compressing MPEG streams for DVD master, and another serving internet web audio.
I sometimes wish I could make the graphics accelerators sleep while the main CPU is rendering, since I don't see any video during that function, and since the GPU uses 75W by itself.
Believe me, I tried everything, but the simple immutable fact is, for X amount of work done, X amount of electric current gets consumed.
-- 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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• posted on February 2, 2004, 12:09 am
In alt.home.repair

Mark, the simple solution is to send out a whiny letter to your customers about the constantly increasing price of energy and raise your rates to cover it.
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• posted on February 2, 2004, 6:54 am
Bruce wrote:

LMAO.
I'm guessing here, wouldn't an imbalance of draw between legs of a service cause the meter to indicate a higher than actual power usage?
If not then I wasted allot of time laying out circuits and their breakers in the load center.
--
--

Mark

N.E. Ohio
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• posted on February 3, 2004, 12:45 am

Not business--yet, still hobby. I don't think my work is good enough to compete with Pixar et al., :-)

That is true. To avoid ground loops, all the computer stuff is "star topology"--centrally powered on one big huge rack mount UPS from APC. Due to the fact that my large sound system is power off 240VAC (both legs) and the fact that the PCs and all their associated audio are powered off just one leg, I do have ground loop/hum problems when sourcing audio from the computers to the large house sound system. But I rarely use that anymore, because the idle current of a rack filled with pure class-A power amplifiers was costing me \$75/month for just a few hours a day worth of use. I've since added a smaller system, powered off the same leg of the service as the computers, and it's a mag-field amp with a very low idle current, driving very small but powerful speakers, which now do an adequate job when I compose and mix down my own music. But your thought about the unbalanced load affecting meter accuracy has raised my curiosity. The meter is a 1960's model that's the original when we built the house. It's accuracy could be a factor.

No, it's a good idea to do this to reduce drops from appliance startup surges. I generally try to balance the larger loads. That's why my main sound system is using all 240V industrial power amps and I have a separate 150A feed dedicated just to that. But it doesn't get turned on but once a month now. I must be getting old... high SPLs have not been quite as agreeable to me in recent years as in years past.
-- 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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• posted on February 3, 2004, 12:35 am

I don't really have any customers and this is not a business, although it could become one if the right potential client sees the product of my work. This is more of a hobby of intense interest. Over the past 28 years, I've invested \$180,000 in it for software and hardware.
My wife has a non-profit org that she's the secretary of and they put on dance performances, which I videotape and then sell the DVDs I produce to the organization members for \$12 each. We've gotten a couple of requests to due weddings, but the dollar offers were absurdly below market value, so I haven't made much of my investment back. It continues to be mostly hobby, from which some others benefit. But the recent increases in our electric rates are starting to give me an increased sense of urgency about finding alternate ways to power the computers.
-- 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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• posted on February 3, 2004, 6:58 am

Incidentally, I was going through back bills for tax purposes and noted that on a bill last year, the rate was just over 11 cents/KwH. So maybe my computers are not using QUITE that much, but still, savings could be substantial.
-- 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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• posted on February 1, 2004, 4:02 pm

Im curious.... what kind of switch? A manual one.... or a timer based one?
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• posted on February 2, 2004, 12:07 pm
On Fri, 30 Jan 2004 22:05:31 -0500, "Mark & Mary Ann Weiss"

FWIW, If your studio is drawing half of the \$200 bill, it's using \$100 worth of electricity. If you are using the gear 160 hours a month, that's about \$0.63 an hour for power.
Conservation efforts can be noble on other levels, but from the money angle, is this worth your time and effort?
Barry
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• posted on February 3, 2004, 12:51 am

Not a business, really. Though I have done quite a few videos for my wife's non-profit cultural dance organization, and a few small projects for some outside clients. Mostly, over 95%, this is an intense hobby interest in which I have invest \$180,000 in software and hardware over the years. I'm just growing concerned about the rapidly rising electric rates, as I hate monthly drains that add up over time. If I can find a means to power even one piece of equipment and then another, over time, from alternative sources, then I'd consider those steps in the right direction. Money thrown away on electricity is money I can't use to further my software and hardware needs, which seem endless... :-)
-- 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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• posted on February 3, 2004, 11:16 am
-snip-

You've got 180K worth of computer equipment & a 40 yr old refrigerator that you say you're 'trying to save up to replace'.
You want more gadgets? Get a meter and put it on that old reefer. Then replace it.
Jim
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• posted on February 3, 2004, 11:15 pm
Jim Elbrecht wrote:

And that's making it real hard to keep focused on how to reduce this fellas electric bill.
Either this joker has done one of the most successful trolls I've seen, or he's dumb as a mud fence. What kind of joker has tens and tens of thousands of dollars of electrical swallowing equipment and worries about a \$200 + electric bill?
--
Mark

N.E. Ohio
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• posted on February 4, 2004, 1:40 am

Just another shit stain.
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• posted on February 5, 2004, 4:03 am
See: http://oikos.com/products/special_const/apc/index.html AC Solar Panels.