The introduction speaks of the inspiration that got this book off the ground, and for whom it was written. Not everybody needs the amount of electrical power that this system is capable of producing, but for those who do, there is now an easy and cost- effective way to have it. A generator-based system does not have to be an environmental disaster, and this very efficient system is certainly not!
It then covers some of the rhetoric that flies regarding whether "true homesteaders" would use a fossil-fuel powered generator to produce electricity, and why this particular system falls into a category not usually associated with generator-based electrical systems.
There is a brief discussion on the alternatives to this type of system, how they compare, and why none of them proved satisfactory in an application of this nature.
Concluding the intro are some safety cautions and recommendations.
How It All Works
This chapter describes the system, what it's capable of, and also the environment it was specifically designed to support.
There are thorough discussions on each major component of the system: The generator, batteries, inverter, charger, and the peripheral items. Each section describes the available alternatives and why the particular unit was chosen over the others. The generator section makes clear why a diesel generator is the only option for a dependable and efficient, long-term and permanent installation. It describes the vast performance and longevity differences between gas and diesel units, and then evaluates the options among available diesel units. The sections on batteries, inverters and chargers are equally as complete.
Ordering and Receiving Your Equipment
Although ordering and receiving your equipment may seem pretty elementary, there's a lot more there than meets the eye. This chapter will leave you prepared to deal with all the variables so that the costs are minimized and the convenience is maximized.
When dealing with freight of heavy equipment, there are some little tricks that can cut your costs considerably; sometimes by as much as one half.
Placing the order for you generator will involve making some choices on how the machine will be set up. You can save yourself a lot of hassles later on if you know in advance how to have the machine configured. This chapter gives you all the information so you can make some intelligent requests at the time you place your order and get the machine the way you will need it for your installation. Having to make these changes later can involve ordering (and waiting for) more parts and having to do the mechanical work when they arrive.
Also covered are some safe, efficient ways to get the machinery from the delivery truck, often a huge semi-trailer, into its final destination: your generator shed. Again, there are options, and they depend on how the unit is shipped, how difficult it will be to get the truck right to your generator shed, and even the weather.
Where To Install It
There are many factors to consider on where to install your equipment. Among them are convenience of installation, accessibility for service, protection from the elements, cost of running wiring to the point-of-use (house or shop), noise control, and even whether or not the generator will be remote- controlled.
Each of these considerations is discussed in detail in this chapter, and solutions are offered for each of them. There is a thorough evaluation of the pros and cons of remote-control, weather considerations in planning for accessibility, and some fuel-storage essentials not apparent to the new user of diesel equipment. There are considerations here that one is not likely to come across except by experience. Reading about them is the easy way!
How To Install It
We've had lots of feedback that this chapter is worth many times the price of the book! The topics covered are a thorough discussion on generator sheds, what to make them out of, the size, and how to sound-proof them; how to easily and safely install the heavy and cumbersome equipment, even by yourself; how to keep the shed cool enough to ensure the health of your equipment; handling engine exhaust; some options on engine cooling systems; some essentials of fuel-storage; cold-weather considerations; installing the inverter and batteries; and the fun part: starting it up for the first time. Well, starting it up sounds simple enough, right? You just push the "start" button! Not! There are some very important issues at hand for this exiting moment; some for the health and welfare of your equipment and others for the health and welfare of your person!
This chapter starts with an overview of your new electrical system, from the simplest possible way to get it properly running to the other end of the spectrum: a fully remote-controlled system that can be monitored and completely controlled from the comfort of your kitchen. For us, that was a nice touch when we had five feet of snow on the ground and it was twenty-below out there!
The overview touches on options available in monitoring equipment and the value of these options for your application.
The chapter then explains the electrical components and requirements for the shed itself: a light that is sufficient for night-time servicing, a cooling blower, the main disconnect switch, any breakers needed for your system, and the monitoring equipment.
There's a section on remote-start: what it takes above and beyond the standard manually-operated system, how to make it work really well, and a discussion on the responsibilities that goes along with the luxury.
There are ample clear wiring diagrams for every way you might wish to configure your system, and diagrams and drawings to show how to install things like coolant-temperature and engine- temperature monitoring gauges.
The section on hooking up everything to your house and/or shop include optional circuits for automatic low-voltage protection, and a clear explanation of why this is important in some installations and not in others. There are also several special circuits for specific hard-to manage equipment, like air- compressors and water pumps that come on automatically. And there's another circuit that will make sure your generator never has to start against an electrical load.
The chapter concludes with instructions on installing your remote-control panel and making your battery hookups.
Maintenance and Repairs
Maintenance is necessary to your generator as it is to your car or truck. Your generator will require a lot less of it, though, because it has no carburetor, distributor, points, or any of the other myriad things that seem to plague vehicles on a regular basis. The only regular maintenance your generator will need are its scheduled oil changes. There are some preventive maintenance items discussed here that will ensure the long life of your equipment and the safety of those who take care of it. These are discussed in detail, paying particular attention to remote- controlled installations, where it's easy to just forget that you even have a generator!
The chapter concludes with a thorough trouble-shooting section that is broken down into symptoms or problems, their probable cause, and the remedy.
Cost of Operation
Here we'll talk about how to determine what your cost of operation will be and how to figure in the amortization of long- term costs, such as the eventual replacement of batteries. The figures in the book are based on 1990 costs, but the only item that has gone up enough to make a difference is fuel, and fuel is a small part of the cost of operation. Unlike some of the systems we've all seen that use gasoline generators, this system sips fuel at a very modest rate. The overall management of the system (which is thoroughly covered) means that the generator will be on-line for very few hours a day. For example, we often went for a week in the summer without running ours, and in the winter, even with the shop running full-time, the generator rarely ran more than four hours per day. This machine runs for five hours on a single gallon of diesel fuel, and off-road diesel is still reasonable in most areas of the country.
The initial cost of the equipment is nearly the same now as it was then, except for the generator itself, which has gone up by about 20%. Batteries have actually come down in price, and inverters, although maybe a bit more costly now, are far more sophisticated, dependable, capable and efficient than they were then.
The chapter gives tips on how to purchase your supplies at the best prices, too.
Living With Your New Electrical System
There's more to running your own power company than putting it together and turning it on. There will be some bugs to work out at first, but More Power To You! covers every conceivable one of them. This info was not only the experience of the author, but is derived from research of many operating systems using the same generator and basic equipment.
Covered are the day-to-day things you'll need to pay attention to, and how once your equipment is functioning smoothly and effortlessly, it's important to not forget it's there and still needs your tender love and care! The chapter tells what to look for, how often it's necessary to monitor the actual equipment even with a remote installation, how to "break in" your new engine (This is extremely important to the longevity of the engine!), special considerations for cold and hot climates, "red flags" that signal the possibility of impending problems and the importance of checking them out before they become problems, and more.
The chapter concludes with a discussion of water pumps, their effect on your system, how to select ones that will be friendly to the system and how to manage their operation once installed.
If We Had To Do It Over
This is the point we all get to eventually whe think we've made all the mistakes humanly possible. Amazingly, this system was well-enough planned that it worked really well from the first time it was turned on. Over the ten years in operation (until the homestead was sold to its new owners) the system did evolve somewhat, as opportunities came along to improve it. The final evolution, which is what this book is all about, is about as trouble-free and easy to operate as imaginable. Over the ten years, there was never a blackout or a significant mechanical problem. There were a few growing-pains at first, but they were never serious and never caused an unwanted shut-down. There were some cooling-system ideas that would have been implemented if we were to have done it all over again, but these wouldn't have improved the operation of the system itself; they would have used excess heat from the engine to heat the shop. This is also covered.
Also discussed are some possibilities for a multi-family electrical system, and the attendant pros and cons.
The book concludes with a resource guide that will locate every component, listed item-by-item, used in this system, with lots of options. This is the fourth printing of More Power To You!.
And finally, the thoughtfully-constructed (as opposed to computer-generated) index will help you find anything covered in this very complete how-to manual.
About the Author
Back in 1979, Skip Thomsen and his family moved onto 108 acres of forest on the north-east slopes of Mt. Hood, Oregon. The nearest power was far enough down the road that the utility company wanted $10,000 for a connection. Since Skip had always dreamed of eventually making his own electricity anyway, this was all he needed to make that dream a reality. He had had lots of experience with things electrical over the years, and he designed his system from the beginning to handle the loads he knew it would eventually have to handle: the house, office and shop. The three-bedroom house included the usual large and small appliances, a water pump, ample lighting, TV, VCR, and a fairly extensive audio system. Office equipment would eventually include a computer, printer and a photocopier, and the shop (in which Skip earned the family's income) had all sorts of power tools and an air-compressor. In addition there would be other water pumps to handle moving water from various sources into storage tanks.
After the new system was up and running, visitors to the Thomsen's home were always amazed that this "normal" home, with normal lights and the usual electrical goodies was being run from home-made electricity. Some of their friends suggested to Skip that he write a manual on how to duplicate this system. Eventually, the idea began to sound pretty good, and More Power To You! became a reality. The book has been updated several times, and is now in its fourth printing. Skip and his wife started their publishing company, Oregon Wordworks, and have added several books since, including The The Modern Homestead Manual. He is also a frequent contributor to various publications, including Backwoods Home Magazine.
The Thomsens eventually
sold the homestead, but the electrical system is still in service.
Skip is looking for that perfect piece of land to start all over
again, only this time on an Island in the middle of the Pacific.