A. Lizard

How to Protect Yourself from the Year 2000 Crisis

Chapter 5. Energy Preparation

Chapter 6. Communications and Other Ways to Burn Juice 

Chapter 30: The Spiritual Side of Y2K - AFTERWORD

Appendix: Outline From Book Proposal

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Copyright © 1998, 1999 by A.Lizard.Use of this material other than "fair use" as provided by copyright law is forbidden. For permission to use this material, contact alizard@ecis.com


How to Protect Yourself from the Year-2000 Crisis

Part 3 - Personal Preparation

This section concentrates on affordable preparation. There are many books and Web sites on how to build retreats and how to stock them, and a fair number of places that offer 1 year packages of food (military rations, freeze dried foods, etc.) at relatively high prices should they still happen to be available. While I'll be happy to point people at them who actually want them, food is only part of the problem.

WARNING: This chapter will probably be recommending that you purchase tools and devices unfamiliar to you that are dangerous as well as useful. When you do, READ THE MANUAL BEFORE USING, and if you can't make sense out of it, FIND SOMEBODY WHO KNOWS HOW.

Chapter 5. Energy Preparation

5.1. Even the relatively benign Y2K scenarios involve rolling brownouts, blackouts, power surges. A rolling blackout can mean that power is unavailable for 1/2 hour between 3 and 4 AM, or for several hours or a day at a time. Hopefully, rolling blackouts will be announced in advance. That's one reason you need a radio. If this means getting up at 3 AM in order to charge batteries, you will probably want to, it'll be easier than finding generator fuel or sunlight on a cloudy winter day. The nasty Y2K power possibilities mean power being down for days, weeks, or months at a time.

5.1.0 Definition of terms: Note that CO means carbon monoxide. It is the result of incomplete combustion. It is an odorless gas. It can kill you. Ni-Cd means nickel-cadmium rechargable batteries. A is a elecric current measurement, e.g. 120 volts at 10 A. This means quantity of electricity, it's analogous to number of gallons. V is for voltage is an electric pressure measurement. AH or mAH are units measuring how much charge a battery can hold. A 12 volt battery with 1 AH capacity can put out 12 volts at 1 amp continuously for an hour, 1/2 amp continuously for 2 hours, or 2 amps for 1/2 hour, etc.. Larger batteries (lead-acid auto) are usually rated this way. mAH means milliampere hour, a a 1.5 volt 1 mAH cell can put out 1/1000 amp for one hour. Small (AAA, A, C, D, 9v, rechargable power pack) dry cell batteries are usually rated this way.

5.1.1. heat sources: Remember that 12/31/1999 is the middle of winter for the Northern Hemisphere. People freeze to death even during normal short-term power outages. Y2K-related outages are likely to last longer. Here's how to keep warm. The worst case situation dealt with here is your heat depending on an electric power supply, either directly for electrical heat or indirectly via thermostats and air circulation fans.

WARNING: The bad news is that the most effective easy heat, light, and power solutions can all set your place afire if not used carefully. Don't let it (portable heater, oil lamp, generator) fall over, put it in an area that is clear of fire hazard problems, e.g. loose paper, flammable chemicals or spills. . .

WARNING: Gas ovens are not a good heating device. Avoid using them in any but the most dire emergency. (In this case, dire means you are at more risk from freezing than from CO poisoning.) Gas ovens put out significant amounts of CO and the thermostat and other important parts of the oven are NOT designed for continuous use.

5.1.2 Passive gravity gas heaters: If you have a passive gravity type gas heater (no electric fans) your best solution might be to convert it for dual fuel use, or store the supplies needed to convert regular house type gravity gas heaters to propane and do the conversion when things hit the fan. You may need power for the thermostats, solar battery charging is a logical solution. Another possibility is to mount RV type gas heaters, permanently if the fire codes allow, or install it after trouble starts. You can also buy propane residential type heaters, and install them in addition to your current heating system. Unvented gas fireplaces are another possibility. Permanently installed gas heaters are an expensive (several hundred dollars each) solution, but they will work. Note that of the major utilities, natural gas has the best chance of being fully operational, Y2K remediation is relatively simple for gas distribution facilities. However, the chances that natural gas may be down in your area are sufficiently good that I recommend not buying anything for Y2K preparation designed to burn natural gas that can't be quickly and easily modified to burn propane, usually all it takes is a swap in the burner.

The best answer for short-term emergency heat for most people is probably catalytic heaters (fire hazard) fed by 5 or better yet, 20 gallon portable bottles. This is commonly used even under normal conditions to provide heat in areas where natural gas isn't available.You push a button and hold a flame up to light in a specific spot. A large flame covers a surface for a few seconds, and then a cheery red glow replaces it. WARNING: The portable heaters are not rated for indoor use. If you set your place afire with it, your insurance probably will not cover you. If you set your apartment afire with it, a great many people will be violently angry at you. The active surfaces of these heaters get very, very hot. If your child touches the heated surface, she will be badly burned. (get some average fuel consumption numbers for heaters to find out how much for how long is required)

I prefer propane because it's relatively inexpensive, 5 gallon or larger portable bottles are fairly easy to handle and refill, it burns cleanly, the shelf life is indefinite, and the containers are less likely to become corroded. Your mileage may vary. More to the point, you may already have kerosene. For portable bottles larger than 5 gallons, you'll want a dolly or a hand truck to move them when full.

5.1.2. The wood stove / wood stove fireplace conversion is probably one of the safer "alternative" heat sources to be found in the average home. These things are solid, massive, and aren't going anywhere. The conversion from fireplace to wood stove costs a few hundred dollars. Young children may have to be carefully watched around it. Pelletized wood stoves are also expensive, and worth thinking about. A cord of fireplace wood or a ton of pellets might get you through a winter quite nicely regardless of what your local power provider does. Fireplaces aren't nearly as useful, 85% of the heat goes up in smoke. There are items such as fans and things (find catalog listings) which tap the heat of the fireplace and reradiate it into a home. I saw a design for an energy-efficient fireplace in Mother Earth News. It was expensive, labor intensive to build, and possibly worth it if you own your own place. Make sure that you have had your chimney (or stovepipe on your wood stove) checked and cleaned before you start using it to heat your house!

5.1.3. carbon monoxide and fire monitors: If you're burning indoors using an unconventional heat source, this could save your life. CO poisoning has sneaked up on quite a few people and killed them; people fall asleep due to warmth and the beginnings of CO poisoning and never wake up. The argument for fire detection is obvious, just make sure your fire detector can be set up to ignore your flame sources (e.g. catalytic stove and oil lamps) when in normal use, i.e., when the flames are contained where they are supposed to be instead of setting fire to the furniture.

5.1.4. Keeping your oil / coal heater usable: Your options are to either get a high-power 120 VAC source (see following section) and run the fans, blowers, thermostat, etc. as usual, or figure out low power replacements for them. Note that these heaters are often fairly inefficient due to the uninsulated ductwork, but if you've filled the coal bin or oil tank, this is probably the only way you'll be able to get energy content out of that which you've paid for

5.1.5. Warm clothing and sleeping bags will reduce your need for warmth indoors substantially. Remember that even a cheap sleeping bag can be extremely effective in an enclosed, windless space. You can even pitch a tent indoors to retain heat. Don't smoke in that tent. Other passive solutions involve putting covering your window openings with plastic, either via storm windows or by simply stapling (tape doesn't work well) plastic sheets over the window openings. Another thing that helps is to open the curtains when the sun is out and pointed at your window and close them when they aren't. Main problem with not heating a place isn't during sleep, it's trying to do household chores while wearing heavy gloves and outdoor clothing.

5.1.6. cooking: The cheap, simple possibilities are a camp stove, hibachi (CO hazard) Remember that most "survival foods" either require cooking or taste much better when cooked, or at least reconstituted in hot water. If possible, make sure your camp stove and emergency heater and Coleman lantern work off the same kind of fuel. If you can get stove /heater / lantern with dual fuel capability, so much the better. I have no more idea than you do whether propane or kerosene or white gas or whatever will be available in your area post 1/1/2000. Whatever you choose, store as much as you can safely in advance. You can even purchase kits at wherever you bought your propane appliances which will allow you to operate multiple appliances at the same time off the same 5 gallon or larger tank. Of course, if you have a kitchen type wood stove, you simply fill the firebox and ignite as usual. If you're living in a rural, wooded area, you might want to consider getting one if you're expecting a very long term interruption of services, i.e. propane deliveries. Otherwise, there are reasons why your great-grandparents traded in their old kitchen woodstove in for a gas or electric unit at the first possible opportunity. If you get one, read the manual! A balcony or patio is the place to use a hibachi. Using one for warmth is possible, but a wonderful way to catch CO poisoning. Don't do it unless you're likely to die anyway without warmth, open the windows and put out the hibachi if you find yourself getting sleepy.

Also remember that reflector ovens are available for camp stoves. Also, solar cooking is an option, but only for those who can depend on intense, uninterrupted sunlight. Good choice for the summer, perhaps, but not in the middle of winter. Try Jade Mountain for these.

You can get woodstoves ranging from portable to kitchen and a wide range of other non-electric items which will substantially reduce your need for electric power at Lehman's (see Vendor List)

5.1.7. emergency improvisations:


This is a quote from a post on a y2k preparation mailing list I'm on, used with permission from the author.

For the heat source: [These make okay candles, too.]

 Take an empty tuna can with corrugated cardboard strips all wound around one another pressed down in the can so you can see the corrugations. Really FILL the tuna can with the cardboard. Then pour or spread bacon grease or oil or melted parrafin down in leaving some very small amount of the cardboard poking out into the air. I actually am trying one right now with regular cardboard and just plain canola oil---it has been going for about 20 minutes now, and is really cookin'. (You can also use dried mullein leaves for this instead of the cardboard.)

For the stovetop: Next take an empty ~3 lb coffee can (#10 can, whatever you have) and, using tin snips, snip several triangles down around the edges of the top of the can. Now, around the top, use a can opener for just a tiny little ways four to six times for small slits. You can also use the tin snips through these slits but down the side a little to create a couple more air openings. This will create a nice chimney effect to keep the burner burning very hot. Turn the stove over to cover the heat source and put your pot of stuff to warm on top.
- -Ellen

5.1.8. fire extinguisher! Get a 10ABC unit, not the cheapies if you can possibly do so, you might need it more than once. Or get a spare. Remember that the fire department is one of the emergency services you may not have access to during Y2K season; you may not be able to call them because phone lines are down, lack of electric power or Y2K compliant equipment may take 911 down, or they may just be too busy putting out fires in other places.

5.1.9. What to do about refrigerated storage ... In general, clean out the refrigerator by eating the contents before starting on the stored food. If your problem means keeping medicines cold, you've got a special problem, see the following section on generating electricity. For long-term storage of vegetables, etc. if it looks like affordable power isn't coming back, check into "root cellars"; holes in the ground with doors over them dug deep enough to take advantage of the fact that if you dig down far enough, you'll get to a point where the temperature is well below ambient air temperature. I suppose plastic linings would work, you'll have to surround these holes with a framework adequate to keep the hole from collapsing. And, of course, if you're growing your own food, grow stuff that can be kept in cool rather than refrigerated temperature levels. If this sounds like an argument for underground / semi-underground buildings in hot climates, it is.

5.2.1 Lighting

5.2.2 Useful tools when working with battery power:

multimeter (measures voltage, current, resistance) If something isn't working or working as expected, knowing how to use this will tell you why.

small needle nose pliers, regular combination pliers

small diagonal cutters

soldering pencil for small stuff, soldering gun or blowtorch for larger connections


hemostats (or other locking pliers) for holding parts for soldering

Heat shrink tubing is a wonderful way to insulate connections neatly and solidly. It's simply a plastic tube that shrinks when heated.

crimp tool for solderless connectors and a collection of solderless connectors.

soldering pencil and stand. Also note that butane and battery operated soldering pencils are available.

Learning how to solder and work with electricity to a certain extent definitely qualifies as a survival skill you ought to know. If you decide to wire your place for 12 volt battery power, being able to solder will save you a lot of trouble and money and increase the reliability of what you make. A book on elementary electronics (get the name of one) and a basic tool kit with the above items is a good place to start. Get a stand for the soldering pencil, it's worth the extra few dollars to know that the soldering pencil isn't going anywhere when you put it down, the battery powered soldering units don't need a stand.

5.2.3. battery powered lighting and its limitations: If you've got enough solar power to keep them charged, this is a good, safe alternative for the home, especially apartments or households with children. Battery powered fluorescents are one, easy good choice for general illumination. You probably won't be able to get your place as bright as you do with ordinary illumination, but you may not want to. Being the only place with visible lights on in a neighborhood may make you far more conspicuous than you want to be. This may not be a problem in a real situation, oil lamps and candles are very common. The other advantage of low-power electrical lighting that doesn't require the use of a generator is that unlike oil lamps / Coleman lanters / candles, you don't need to buy fuel from retailers that might not have any. You might want to reserve your oil lamps for days where your power source isn't working, i.e. no sun for solar cells, no wind for wind power, etc. One low cost, low hassle solution is those garden lights with a small solar panel on top that turn on when the sun goes down. Put some out during the day, take them in at night.

5.2.4. 12 volt lighting, etc. I'm making a special point of mentioning LEDs in this context because while a single LED doesn't provide that much illumination, arrays of LEDs can provide adequate brightness for many purposes, they are very efficient compared to incandescent lighting or even fluorescent, and they have a very long (100,000 hour) lifespan. That's several years of 24 hour a day, 7 day a week usage. You can buy packaged LED lighting from several retail vendors, but I don't like the prices I've seen and this is an easy way for do-it-yourself construction to save you a good chunk of cash.

LED expense varies largely dependent on color. Red is least expensive (around 10 cents per LED) and will interfere least with dark adaptation of the eyes, it's a good choice for night lights, orange / amber / yellow / green is comparable in cost, white is most expensive ($2-4 per LED!), blue is almost as expensive as white. White LEDs capable of an output of 5 lumens per watt are available from Nichia Chemical Industries Ltd. of Japan and it's US distributors (http://www1a.meshnet.or.jp/nichia/ledhome-e.htm) or from Ledtronics (http://www.ledtronics.com). White and blue LEDs require a higher voltage (3.6-4 V) ordinary LEDs. C.Crane Co. (see Vendor List - Chapter 6) and other vendors have a white LED flashlights. Detailed information on care and feeding of blue and white LEDs is available at http://www.netaxs.com/~klipstei/blueled.html. (may get permission to reproduce FAQ in book)

Jade Mountain sells a line of packaged LED lighting. A set of yellow LEDs might work well for a reading light or for general illumination. White is most important when accurate color perception is necessary.To determine visual symptoms of illness, to determine visually if food is bad, to tell if a wire is red or some other color are just a couple of examples. However, if exact visual color isn't a problem, doing yellow / red / green is very economical if they are mounted as suggested below. The only concern about mixing and matching is current draw, e.g. if one is 20 ma, the rest should be somewhere around 20 ma. Radio Shack and a number of other electronics parts vendors carry LEDs. Jameco is one, Mouser is another, see the Vendor List. If you're ordering in quantity, the second two vendors are recommended for any colors other than white. (consider purchasing a stock of white LEDs and a few other parts that aren't available outside industrial electronic distributors and making them available to my readers.)

Figure 5-2-1

Do-it-yourself LED wiring diagrams

One cheap way to handle LEDs is to chop up intact parts of a dead series string of Christmas tree bulbs as shown in Figure 5-2-1 and plug the LEDs straight into the sockets. You can determine what's good and bad on a series string with a multimeter or other continuity checker, if resistance reads zero or the continuity checker beeps or buzzes, the portion you're measuring is good. A 4 bulb string handles 6 volts, an 8 bulb string handles 12. Twist the stripped ends of the wire pair together at one end, solder or use a solderless connector on them, separate the stripped ends of the wire pair at the other. This is where you put the electricity in. You can wire them to a cigarette lighter plug or directly to a battery via clips. A single string draws about 20 milliamperes. I saw a recent claim that a 1.2 watt LED fixture is equivalent to a 20 watt fluorescent. That would be about 5 12 volt 8 bulb strings, and would draw about 100 mA. Note that when white LEDs are in use, use 3 bulbs for 12 V.

Another cheap solution is to buy a small (as small as 1" x 1", or a larger one and make several) "project board", this is a small phenolic or glass-epoxy with holes on 0.1" x 0.1" centers. By mysterious coincidence, this is exactly the size of the spacing between leads of an LED. In other words, they'll drop right in. Wire as indicated in Figure 5-2-1, positive to negative to positive to negative... This you might be able to put in a lamp fixture as a 12 volt replacement if you're clever. (solder the lead wires from the unit as a whole to wires from a broken 12 volt bulb base...)

5.2.5. Flame-based light sources: Coleman lanterns, hurricane lamps, oil lanterns are fire hazards but very workable. The obvious problem here is that if they get knocked over, flaming oil may run out, or the glass on the lantern (if propane) may crack, leaking out flaming gas. This isn't necessarily a problem in a place with no small children or pets. The other major disadvantage of this kind of lighting is that they depend on available lamp oil being available for purchase or barter when your supply runs out. That's one reason why I prefer solar cell / 12 volt lighting. They also contribute a certain amount of heat to a place, but in winter this is not a bad thing. If you're using oil lamps, you'll want to buy your lamp oil by the gallon.

5.3. Electric power - making your own: How much you need depends on what you plan to do with it. The power levels I deal with here (Very Low Power, Low Power, High Power) are arbitrarily chosen for convenience.

Very Low Power means relying on rechargeable dry cell type batteries and (AAA, AA, C, D, 9 volt) solar cell recharging. This is by far the simplest and least expensive system. If it'll fits your needs, its a good choice for you.

Low Power means a 12 volt system that's permanent or semi-permanently in place using a 12 volt lead acid battery comparable in size or larger physically to an auto battery. Doing this gives you some substantial capabilities a dry cell battery charger system doesn't, i.e. powering anything built for a mobile 12 volt use that you can provide sufficient recharge capability for.

High Power means a 120 volt system with battery backup capable of powering major appliances if desired.

For an average resident of a suburb or city, the High Power choice generating enough power to keep your electric heat / air conditioner / other major appliances going to continue your normal lifestyle if the local power grid goes down is not affordable. Think in terms of 2-10 kilowatts of generated power plus battery backups and inverter-controller systems. On the other hand, if you aren't using electricity for space heating / cooling / refrigeration / lighting / computing / major entertainment appliances, you don't need a lot. The only things that uniquely require electricity are electronic devices used for communication / computing. Generating electricity by solar cell is going to cost you $10/watt for the panels alone. For solar power, that's $50-$100K. If going off the electrical grid were easy and cheap, everybody would be doing it. For generators, think of $1000 +.(see below)

One other reason to consider alternative power and low-energy alternatives to the way you perform your usual household, etc. activities is that I've seen credible speculation suggesting that Y2K problems may mean drastic increases in the price of delivered power by electric utilities when power is actually available.

An obvious alternative is a generator / battery backup system. I do not recommend a generator without battery system, the most efficient way to use a generator both in terms of fuel efficiency and service life is at full load. The problem with a generator without battery backup is that it needes to be sized for peak loads, and will generally be running most of the time at a fraction of full load. If you run it every time you want to turn on a light or run an appliance, you will wear out your generator quickly. You don't have the fuel to waste and worse, will find yourself with a dead generator at the worst possible time.

A generator is usually also loud, noisy evidence that you have power and probably other useful survival supplies. In a residential city / suburban neighborhood, this may provoke hostility from less prepared neighbors even if civil order is maintained, and appears to me to be an open invitation to a home invasion robbery. Of course, some generators are much quieter than others. Look for a dB rating on generators, the lower the dB number, the quieter they are. In a rural / farm area, most of your neighbors probably already have them. A commercial farmer may not be able to afford not to have a generator. In a farm area, farmers are expected to be self-reliant and to be prepared for emergency situations. More to the point, rural areas generally have more frequent power outages even during normal times, and may be considered low priority for power supplies during Y2K season. If you are a farmer, you may want to add battery backups for your generator sets to allow more efficient use of your current generator(s) if you don't already have them, you may be off the grid for weeks or months at a time even if cities have power.

It also depends on your being able to have a large enough tank on your property of whatever it's burning to get through quite some time without refills. With propane, this might not be a problem if you've got a large (150, 500 gallon, etc.) tank and the emergency in your area is for a limited period of time. Of course, fuel consumption depends on exactly what the fuel is used for. If you use propane the way you were using electricity back when it was cheap and available, your tank may not last long and it may be a long time before you can get more. Diesel oil is more difficult to store and gasoline is much more difficult to store, mostly due to required regulatory agency approvals. Note that chemical stabilizers are available for both. A product called Sta-Bil is often recommended for gasoline storage. A product called Diesel Fuel Stabilizer is available from Diesel Injection Service. (see Vendor List)

Nearly every kind of alternative energy equipment mentioned here can be purchased at Jade Mountain, see Vendor Listings at the end of this chapter. [a much longer list of alternative energy dealers will be supplied with the finished manuscript - while it's one stop alternative power shopping, they will probably have entirely too many customers by the time this goes into print.]

5.3.1. Very Low power: under 10 watts: solar cells and NiCads, etc., packaged solar panel battery chargers.

At that level of power, you can run a laptop computer, and small, efficient lighting setups if you like, and using batteries means not having to string lots of wires to keep your place going. Also remember that sometimes, even at high noon, there's not a whole lot of sunlight available, get extra batteries and keep them charged. When your solar cells are drawing sunlight, try to do as much as you can with that power. This should cost you less than $100

One example of a packaged solar panel battery charger is from C. Crane and Company (see Chapter 6 - Vendor Listings), it costs about $15, and will charge 2 batteries of the same type (D, C, AA, AAA) at a time. If you're serious about this, you'll want more than one of these chargers. They state in the ad description that other units they had tested provided inadequate voltage for charging purposes. C.Crane, Jade Mountain, and many others sell packaged solar panels. Figure about $10/watt, if you're paying more, shop around. Remember that the wattage output of a solar panel is found by multiplying volts times amperes. (find a much bigger solar panel charger or show a DIYsetup)

You may be able to find solar cell battery chargers compatible with some of the more specialized battery types, such as ones used in battery soldering irons, cordless drills / screwdrivers, etc. Chances are, with cordless power tools, you'll need a Low Power source for recharging.

You can get unbundled solar cells in any number of places, (Jade Mountain, or check any electronics surplus catalog) but you really need to know a little bit about electronics (how to solder, how to read schematics) to use them effectively, including how to wire them properly in series-parallel arrays to get the desired amount of voltage and current. Among other things, you might have to work up or get an appropriate kit for a battery charger. Jade Mountain sells the only used solar cells I've ever seen, if available, they go for $5/watt. Remember that Ni-Cd batteries must be completely discharged before recharging, otherwise the memory effect cuts in, and your 1.5 AH cell might turn into a 0.5 AH cell. Other kinds of rechargable batteries have other kinds of usage restrictions and peculiarities, check information with the battery package or on the vendor's Web site for details; two batteries with nominally similar chemistry may have different charge / discharge characteristics.

Remember to get extra NiCd cells in whatever sizes you use. NiCd batteries have a limited number of charge-discharge cycles like any other kind of battery. You don't want your batteries to go away before civilization's problems do.

5.3.2. Low power: 12-120 watts for 12 volt distribution (1-10A), meaning standard 17 volt panels designed to charge 12 volt batteries though a charger. At the low end of the scale, a 10 watt solar panel would work for about $100. Or you could use multiple panels. A cheaper temporary alternative is to use your car's generator to charge lead-acid batteries and 12 volt RV/camping appliances. This will work but you'll need deep cycle batteries and you'll need to do a certain amount of wiring for bution, this is common to any application at this power level. Unless you are figuring on a very short term emergency situation, you don't want to use a car battery. Deep discharge followed by fast charging will kill your ordinary car battery quickly. See information on deep cycle batteries below. Remember when figuring out how many solar cell panels you need is that you must be able to put energy into the batteries at a rate comparable to which you are taking power out averaged on a day-to-day basis. For instance, you can take 300 watt-hours in a hour from a battery at night, if you can put 300 watt hours back in at a rate of 1 hour at 300 watts from a generator, or 50 watts per hour for 6 hours from a solar cell panel.

You can get deep cycle batteries at an RV dealer, or via mail order at Jade Mountain. This is an economical solution as long as you have gasoline and as long as the engine runs. Note that running an automobile engine at idle for short periods of time is bad for the engine. Also a possible choice for low-wattage situations, but it depends on the engine continuing to work and it may be a very conspicuous use of energy in the event of a breakdown of civic order. Running the engine in the garage is a bad idea, open the door first. At this level, a small 12 volt thermocouple type refrigerator is practical given an available generator for recharge or fairly substantial solar cell bank or preferably, both. Or any of a substantial number of appliances and tools designed to work at 12 volts for the mobile / RV market.

This option probably starts at $250 or so in cost, depending on how much improvisation you're able to do and what you are trying to accomplish 12 volt wiring setups: WARNING: Lead-acid batteries evolve hydrogen gas when charging. This gas is explosive and flammable. You are better off keeping a battery outdoors if possible, or an enclosure vented to the outside. Otherwise, your pilot light, flame type heating, lighting, or cooking source or even your cigarette might touch it off. If the outside temperature is much below 50 degrees F, the battery efficiency will drop. Think about this when planning your system.

The above warning does not apply to NiCd, may not apply to all gel cells, be guided by the manufacturer labeling.

You'll want some sort of permanent distribution panel if you're going to be using any number of 12 volt lighting and other accessories at once. The most important 12 volt standard plug/outlet combination in use today is based on the cigarette lighter type automotive plugs and sockets. You can buy multiple sockets at an automotive supply store. for $5 for a 3 outlet setup. You might as well get two or even three. You can also get them with individual switches for a higher cost. Mount one or more of these on a board, hook the multiple power socket (for more than one) in parallel to a termination to which you should attach heavy gauge wires (RED for positive, BLACK for ground/negative) to battery clamps. Mark these clamps for positive-negative. For cigarette lighter plugs, the center pin of the plug and anything attached to it is positive, the conductive surface on the outside of the plug is ground / negative. The jack for a 12 V DC "brick" is to allow testing this without a 12 V battery.

Figure 5-3-2

Use the heaviest wiring you can manage everywhere in the circuits you wire, remember that power that doesn't get to where you intend to use it due to wiring losses simply gets turned into heat. You don't want this to happen, it's a waste of battery power, and if the wires get hot enough, the insulation may melt. (this has happened to me.) Put the distribution panel and battery as close as possible to whatever you have in place which will use the most power, i.e. a battery powered refrigerator. I've seen small battery powered units (no separate freezer) as low as $100. Deep cycle lead-acid batteries are ones intended for use in deep discharge, fast charge situations. They use different (and more expensive) internal components and chemistry than the standard lead-acid batteries. Unless the only electricity you plan to use is in rechargable Ni-Cd AA/AAA/C/D type batteries, you need to know about them regardless of your intended source of power. Even with these, you're better off only discharging them partially.

Here are lifespans for different types of batteries in this kind of service:

"A car battery might only last a few months. A golf cart battery maybe 2-3 years, Gel Cell batteries 3-5, Trojan L16s 8-12 years. Our chloride industrial strength batteries up to 20 years and Lineage 2000 up to 70 years! " quote from the Jade Mountain Web site.

Typical pricing (from Jade Mountain):

deep cycle lead-acid:
6V 350 AH - $190 (premium L-16) 124 lbs
6V 235 AH - $ 90 (L-12) 66 lbs

gel cell:
12V 29 AH - $100
12V 90 AH - $297

A smaller battery may best fit your intended pattern of use.

They have a number of other battery types, sizes, chemistries. Check out their reconditioned Ni-Cd and NiFe batteries.

Simple prepackaged solar power systems are available at C.Crane and Real Goods. The C.Crane system is larger than their 2 rechargable dry cell charger, but not as expensive and elaborate as a full solar power system. Real Goods has a wide assortment of systems and components (such as power controllers) for different requirements. (see Vendor List)

5.3.3. High power is the realm of expensive solutions, i.e., solutions that put out appreciable amounts of 120 volt power. This means thousands (generators, most types, 1-10KW) or tens of thousands (solar cells, a complete steam outfit plus inverter) of dollars. With this, you can run major appliances, desktop computers, power tools and even electric heating and air conditioning. If you intend to power up a business that's more than just your own home office that can operate during Y2K conditions, this is for you. generators (gasoline / kerosene / diesel / propane / natural gas)


WARNING: If you use a generator to power your house via your conventional 120 volt house wiring system which is ordinarily powered via electricity from electrical utilities, have an electrician put a (preferably automatic) power transfer box between the meter and the circuit breaker box. This disconnects your house power (and your generator) completely from outside power. If your generator is running and you are connected to the outside power lines, you may kill a power company lineman attempting to fix power lines on your street. This has happened on a number of occasions. Don't even think of using a "suicide plug" to backfeed power into your house wiring. (Male plug to generator connected to extension cord and male plug to AC outlet on house AC line) This is not only stupid, it is illegal in many areas. The other problem is that if your generator power is on, connected to the utility grid and the grid turn on, your generator may blow up or melt down, your house electrical wiring may catch fire, or any appliances plugged in may blow up or melt down. You might also damage your neighbors' appliances or even the utility equipment.

Second: You are generally not going to want to run a generator indoors, though if it is vented to the outside and your generator is on a fireproof platform, this may be done safely. CO is a normal part of unwanted internal combustion engine outputs, and CO isn't something you want in your home or business. Also, these things get hot, and if you spill gasoline in the wrong place, you might set something (like yourself) afire.

Gasoline is unstable and extremely flammable. However, gasoline generators are relatively inexpensive. Diesel oil, is relatively stable, not that flammable, and diesel generators are relatively expensive. Also, a diesel engine will generally burn almost anything that's liquid, combustible, and has sufficient lubricating capability. I've even heard of them running on cooking oil. (This is not a recommendation!) Propane burns clean (you still have to vent them to the outside), the fuel is stable. Kerosene has a lot in common with gasoline.

Running a generator at less than full load is expensive (say, using a generator that's rated for a kilowatt to run just a single 100 watt load), inefficient (it'll use about the same amount of food) and often bad for the generator. What you will want to do is to run off batteries most of the time and start the generator when your batteries need charging or when a heavy load (e.g. a refrigerator compressor) kicks in. A high-quality inverter can monitor system conditions, sensing heavy loads or low battery chargers and turning on a battery-start generator, or setting off an alarm telling you to pull on the handle of the recoil start type.

The best inverters can monitor multiple sources / storages of power, e.g. can monitor solar cells, generators, batteries, turning on any combination when conditions call for it. Trace Engineering makes a line of this sort of inverter that will interconnect with utility (integral transfer switch), battery runs house when utility goes off, automatic generator start. This unit runs 4KW continuous, 10 Kw surge for $3425. This is a top of the line unit. Other power levels and price ranges are available. get some more inverter / controller info before submitting manuscript

Here are some recommended inverter brands:

TRACE: this is the one everyone who knows alternative power recommends. And priced to match.

Exceltech (good for clean power, i.e. computer)

Heart Interface (good for economical high power)

Statpower (more useful to the person planning for lower levels of power consumption) How much power do you need?

Simply add the power consumption figures for all the devices you plan to run at the same time to determine how much power you need. If you're powering electric motors of substantial size (e.g. a water pump) use the "starting wattage" numbers instead of "running wattage". The peak number you need to plan for depends on how many high-power loads you plan to start at the same time.

The chart is available at http://pw1.netcom.com/~mikemilr/honda.html - it's a scanned chart from Honda.

The table from Honda shows not only average draws, but the peak wattage drawn at startup by various standard appliances and tools. Note that if you do not have a battery / inverter in the circuit and are simply using a generator for power, your generator must be sized to handle the peak loads. One major purpose for a battery set in a system powered by generator is to make it possible to handle peak loads while using a smaller generator. generator duty cycles - light vs. industrial
The typical backup / personal generator is typically intended for light use, no more than 3 hours at a time with several hours between uses. If they are used continuously, they will break. Good maintenance and lots of spare parts will extend their life. (regardless of duty cycle) Information and pricing from Jade Mountain unless otherwise indicated.

Typical units and pricing include:
Honda   EX1000 1000 watts @ 12 V, 100 W @12 V $608
Honda Deluxe EM1800XK1 1800 watts @ 12 V, 100 W @ 12 V $828
Honda Deluxe EM2500XK1 2550 watts @ 12 V, 100 W @ 12 V $977
Honda Deluxe EM5000SXK1 5000 watts @ 12 V, 100 W @ 12 V $1824

Note: This is only a representative sample of the Honda product line, there are plenty of other manufacturers. The prices are from Genex Power (see Vendor List), you may be able to get better prices over the Internet or in your local community along with local service. I've seen a fair number of recommendations for Honda generators.

Onan Pro Series Portable Generators
Full-perimeter protective carrier frame -Simultaneous AC and 12VDC output - AC and DC circuit breakers - AC and DC receptacles - Low oil shut down w/indicator light -Voltmeter 1 year limited warranty.

 1.7 kW (manual start only, not Pro-series) (GN251) $810
 2.5 kW (manual start only) $1250 Add electric start $300
 4.0 kW (GN252) $1600 - 5.0 kW $1850
 6.0 kW (GN253) (electric start only) $2450

Industrial type generators are intended for continuous use. They typically run at half the speed (rpm) of lighter-duty generators, 1800 rpm instead of 3600.

Onan Commercial Gensets - Low 1800 RPM run speed - Electronic Ignition - Automatic low oil pressure shutdown - Control board includes LED diagnostic lights and hour meter - Two year/2000 hour limited warranty - Specify 120/240 volt output or full-capacity 120 volt power - 4.5 kW Commercial LP $3235  - 4.5 kW Commercial gasoline $2905

Onan Commercial Diesel Genset 

Liquid cooled - Variable speed - Glow plugs for easy starting in all weather conditions. Smooth operation with 4-point vibration isolation
 7.5 kW $8195
 8.0 kW $8375
 10.0 kW $8450

5.4. Unusual alternative high power sources

5.4.1. thermocouple generator: (Jade Mountain) This unit is an array of thermocouples in a magnetically circulating ring heated by propane or kerosene. 12+% thermal efficiency is claimed. As of when this was written, the unit was in pre-production testing and sales orders were already being taken. (actual availability and test data should be available before manuscript is delivered) The unit is quiet and comparatively nonpolluting, and has no moving parts. The cost is approximately $1000 for 5KW of power, if it works as advertised. Hopefully, information on test units will be available by the time this book goes to press. It consumes about 1 pound (.25 gallon per hour. a 5 gallon tank would last 20 hours if used continuously, which is unlikely) per hour of propane. I might get one myself if they can actually deliver the units. The heat outlet on top of the generator can be used for cooking. (and might be usable for absorption refrigeration systems)

5.4.2. A propane / kerosene burning fuel cell: is a nearly ideal alternative. Analytic Power (http://www.analyticpower.com) and Plug Power (http://www.plugpower.com) have both announced that these fuel cells are under development. Unfortunately, neither has announced commercial availability of these units before 1/1/2000. These units are composed of a catalytic cracker which reduces the petrochemicals going over them to hydrogen and elemental carbon, and the fuel cell proper under which hydrogen and oxygen combine, producing water and elemental carbon. The elemental carbon can be safely and easily disposed of. The cell is pollution-free. I mention it because if enough people contact them and express an interest, they mioght be encouraged to speed up the development process and put it into production. They are not in the Vendor Lists because they are not currently offering an available product.

5.5. alternatives for retreats / farms (steam, hydro, wind
Many of the best places to put a retreat don't have easily accessible electric power, it is often not cost-effective to string power lines to truly remote areas. This is not a good thing, remember as a general rule, the cheapest way to get electric power is to buy it from the power company, save your gas / propane / diesel oil / wood for when they can't sell it to you.

A mix of the options that work at your site might is the best choice for those who can afford it. For passive alternative sources, (wind / hydro/ solar) there are generally times when power obtained these ways don't work, or the hardware breaks down. Steam is a good choice for people with wooded lots, but while chopping wood either by hand or chain saw beats being without power, buying power from an electric company is probably more fun. Jade Mountain and others sell steam, hydro, wind, and solar power systems.

5.5.1 The obvious advantage of a steam-engine generator is that any fuel that will heat the water in the boiler to boiling will operate the generator. Coal and wood are traditional, with wood, you can go out and chop firewood. Lots of it. What specific fuels will work with a steam generator depend on it's specific configuration. Cost starts at $14K or so for the steam engine, etc.

5.5.2 Wind power is an option for some: To find out if you are one of these people, look up the following chart. You need an average wind velocity of over 15 mph to make this a practical option. Most units start producing enough power to charge batteries at 8 mph and peak output about 30 mph. Cost starts at $300 for the controller and $550 for 375 peak watts. You can spemd more to get more power. To look at the other end of the price spectrum, a 50 KW wind turbine costs $6000. (the other peripherals will take the price to about $10K.

5.5.3 Water power: If you have a stream on your property or a spring up a high hill putting out a reasonable amount of water, or live directly on a coast where substantial tidal action can be used, small scale hydroelectric power may be for you. This is often a close to ideal solution, unless your stream or spring dries up in the summer or the hydro setup is unworkable if the top of the stream is frozen. A typical price is $1100 for 100 continuous watts, more is availalble in both cost and power if you have the conditions to use it. Even 100 watts is a very good thing given that this means 100 watts 24 hours a day that can be used to directly power things or charge batteries and you won't have to buy fuel or chop wood to get it.

5.6 Consumption / conservation tradeoffs:</> There are many possible tradeoffs between low consumption (replacement of major appliances with high-efficiency and rather expensive major appliances), lifestyle changes (ones I occasionally find inconvenient) which reduce consumption, i.e. a clothesline instead of a dryer. . . and the cost of generating 5 Kw and required battery backup. For medium / long term scenarios, you are best off using generated power only for things that only electricity can power, electronic devices (including microwaves) being the main things in this category. Even flat-panel televisions are now at the high end of the consumer prices. ($700 for 14.1" diagonal) www.flat-panel.com, this is 30 watts instead of 300 watts.

Other alternatives include propane / natural gas refrigerators and stoves / ovens. There are many propane items designed for RV use which would be perfectly usable in an ordinary kitchen. Remember, the tradeoff is between the need for propane (or other fuel) and the need for electricity.

Roughly, energy efficient major appliances use about 1/3 of the resources (power, and water where relevant) of conventional appliances. They cost about 3 times as much in purchase price. However,. the tradeoff here if you are off-grid or planning to become so is that you can build a much smaller energy generation setup than you would if you were using regular appliances. Even using conventional power, a watt gained by conservation is cheaper than building the generation capacity to generate that watt. That's why your power company has been bombarding you with information on energy conservation, low-interest loans for energy-efficient air conditioners, etc. This gets even more important when you are your own power company.

A conventional sized energy efficient refrigerator is available for about $1K. The difference is much lower power consumption and in some cases, alternative (12 v and/or propane) power sources.

A conventional washing machine requires about 500 w/h per load, costs about $350. An energy efficient washing machine requiring 200w/h per load costs about $1K.

The cost of these energy-efficient major appliances is in nost cases, going to be lower than using conventional appliances and designing an alternative power system large enough to power them.

If you're running a conventional electric dryer, you're brtter off getting a clothesline if you're planning to power your home with an alternative power system. Also note that there are other ways to dry clothes. Around a wood stove, for instance.

5.7 One interesting possiblity for a retreat for space heating/cooling is the use of a moderately high power system driving a heat pump with buried heat exchanger. This heat exchanger is usually a brine-filled copper pipe buried a few feet underground. This allows leveraging the local environment, i.e. for heating, the heat pump pumps heat out of the ground into your space instead of heating it directly, extracting 3 watts from the ground for every watt used in pumping it, and for cooling, dumping heat into a cooler ground is much more efficient than dumping it via radiator / fan into warm or hot air. Perhaps this could be combined with an absorption type refrigerator cycle to use waste heat from the generator. (Remember that no generator is 100% efficient, 10-30% efficiency, i.e., 10-30% of the heat energy that feeds the generator gets turned into electricity, the other 70-90% comes out as heat. Finding a use for this heat is a good thing.)

Expensive to install, but it beats chopping wood, and with the right alternative power source for your situation, would be a very economical means in both operating cost and personal labor for having winter heat and summer coolness. It's conceivable (I haven't run the numbers) that feeding a generator to heat with this system might take less propane, etc. per hour than burning it directly in heaters. If you have the resources to try this, please let me know via e-mail how well this works.

5.8 Home Power Magazine extensively discusses homemade power options. It's listed in the Vendor List below.

Vendor List:

Jade Mountain Inc.
P.O. Box 4616, Boulder, CO 80306
Call - 800-442-1972
Fax - 303-449-8266

Home Power Magazine
PO Box 520
Ashland, OR 97520
1-800-707-6585, 530-475-0830

Jameco Electronics
order free catalog at 1-800-536-4316

Mouser Electronics
order a free catalog by:
Phone: (800)346-6873
(find out if they cater to hobbyist market on purpose)

Genex Power
3339 First Street
Riverside, California 92501 USA
Toll Free (800) 782-5509
Fax Line (909) 782-8612

Real Goods

This will get you directly to their solar power + components section.

Diesel Injection Services
The phone numbers or the Web site will tell you where the nearest local dealer is.

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next sample chapter (Chapter 6)

For more information, go to A.Lizard's personal Y2K page.