I want to take a few moments today to write about alternative energy. Now I don’t advocate this because I am a believer in man-made global warming. Quite the contrary, I believe it is a complete fraud.
However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore alternative energy sources just because the Al Gore crowd thinks we should.
It makes a ton of sense for the prepared family to have a good alternative energy setup, even if you have no plans on going completely off-grid.
The first thing most folks think of when you talk about alternative energy sources is solar power. Despite there being a number of other alternative energy sources, solar is usually the foundation for every plan.
Simply put, solar power is the act of harnessing the energy that the sun radiates onto our planet every day. We generally do this using photovoltaic cells, also called solar cells.
These solar cells are aggregated into solar panels that can generate a usable amount of electricity with no environmental impact or ongoing expense.
While residential solar power wasn’t viable until Bell Labs developed a high power solar cell in the mid 1950’s, the solar cell itself was discovered in 1839 by a 19 year old!
Solar cells have specially developed semiconductors that have extra electrons. When the sun shines on the cell, it excites the extra electrons and they jump to another semiconductor in the cell that was designed to receive extra electrons.
By attaching a load to the cells, it takes those electrons through the electrical circuit, thus creating electrical current. The electricity that is generated by the panel heads through wires into some sort of storage system, or sometimes directly into whatever is consuming the electricity.
You can get solar panels practically anywhere nowadays, but they can get pretty pricey if you’re not careful. It’s worth shopping around to make sure you get a good deal.
Another great option for alternative energy is wind power generation. You may have seen massive wind turbine farms while you are driving down the highway. These are obviously commercial turbines but it’s pretty easy for you to install your own residential wind turbines in your back yard.
Wind power is simply the conversion of wind energy into more useful energy. The term wind power is rather generic and covers everything from wind turbines that create electricity, sailboats, and wind mills that pump water in a pasture somewhere, and everything in between.
Wind power is called non-dispatchable. What that means is that when the wind is blowing, the power is there. When the wind stops, no more wind power. So for most applications you must design your wind power system to store the power generated in some way.
For example, if you are using a windmill to pump water, you’d want to have a storage tank that is filled when the wind blows, but has enough storage capacity to provide water when the wind isn’t blowing. Or if you’re using a wind turbine to generate electricity, you’ll want to store that electricity in battery banks for later use.
For most preparedness situations you’ll want to generate electricity, but keep in mind that you can use windmills for mechanical work as well.
Mini Hydro Power
Much rarer than wind or solar power, mini hydro power is only really useful if you have a source of running water. While you don’t necessarily have to have a ton of flow, it has to flow to work correctly.
A mini hydro turbines are usually a self enclosed unit that has an input and output pipe and directs the flow of water over a fan blade like turbine which rotates the generator unit, creating power.
I’ll be honest, I don’t know a ton about this, but it’s something I’m looking into. One interesting application I could see is using rain water runoff from your roof to generate power with one of these turbines. Worth looking into anyways…
Something To Watch Out For
If you’ve surfed around the net looking at options for solar or wind power you’ve probably come across the DIY kits that talk about how you can create an endless amount of power for $200.
Sorry folks, it doesn’t work like that. Now, you absolutely CAN build your own solar panels and wind turbines. A friend of mine and I have actually collaborated on a class on how to do that, which will be part of my new venture. (Yeah, the venture that I wanted to announce last week, but isn’t quite ready yet…)
But the idea that you can power your entire 10kW load from a $200 DIY solar panel is laughable. Now if you build enough panels, you can, but what I recommend those sorts of kits as a good inexpensive way to get your feet wet with solar and wind power.
Personally, I’ll probably use mostly DIY stuff at our new place, but that’s because I’m comfortable with it. You should think carefully before you embark on your project full bore. Let me know if you need some advice, I’m happy to help in any way I can