Determining The Best Renewable Energy Source For Your Homestead
What Are Renewable Energy Sources That are Right for Your Homestead?
Living off-grid with the best renewable energy source has benefits and rewards. The most obvious is the saving of money on monthly power bills. Setting up your system requires upfront cost, this is true, but many off grid power systems quickly pay for themselves.
There are a few variables, including location and even plain old personal preference, which will determine the best renewable energy source for your homestead. A homestead with good southern exposure would be a good choice for a solar system, while an area with constant wind exposure might benefit greatly from a wind turbine.
Some people think of wood power first when thinking of off-grid power sources. They know what the best trees for firewood are in their area. They have developed the skills of choosing the wood, chopping the wood and storing the wood. Cooking on a wood stove is something they are skilled at as well. However, for many off grid homesteaders, there are other power needs which cannot be met with wood.
We’ll cover these options and hopefully, you’ll find the best renewable energy source for your homestead. The right system will save you money with rising electrical prices or save you from having to deal with a total grid melt down. There are many variables contributing to the growing concern over the aging power grid.
Solar power is an option for those of us who have good southern exposure on the homestead. The workings of a solar system are fairly straight forward. Solar panels capture energy from the sun, your inverter converts the energy and then sends it to batteries to be stored. The batteries provide power for your energy needs. Any excess is diverted away from the batteries when they are full. I realize this is a simple explanation, but you get the general idea.
There are so many options available for solar power. Solar panels are as thin as a sheet of paper, less expensive than in the past, and more efficient than ever. This is the most used and widely accessible power source for off grid homesteaders.
Wind turbines need…you guessed it! A fair amount of wind. You’ll need to take wind measurements for a few months at the location you want to put the turbine up. Learning how wind energy works is a necessary step. As with any system, some preparation and investigation must be done before purchasing. The AWEA suggests a wind turbine owner should have an average wind speed of 10 MPH for a successful wind energy turbine.
Hydroelectric power is basically generated by converting kinetic energy into electricity. You can divert the incoming stream into a pipe and taper down the size of the pipe over a distance. This increases water pressure. As the water exits the pipe, it hits a Pelton wheel or other device. As the water turns the wheel, the wheel powers a turbine which generates electricity. The electricity is used on demand and/or stored in batteries.
Depending on your property and access to running water, it may or may not be something you want to explore. Small hydroelectric power systems are in use in many applications today. This system can generate power every hour of every day where water flows and the system remains functional regardless of rain or shine.
Several hydroelectric power kits are available for purchase on the web. Remember to think about how often your system will be able to run. If you live in an area where weather, such as freezing water or drought, will stop your ability to produce energy in its tracks, you may need a secondary power system.
Diesel generators are rugged, reliable and need very little maintenance. They’re a great way to supplement your renewable energy source.
Diesel generators require fuel, oil, filters, hoses, replacement batteries and a host of other minor supplies which are readily available at your local hardware store. A diesel engine can run on different kinds of fuels. A little research on the web may surprise you at the ways people have found to run diesel engines.
Geothermal power is generated from the heat which is stored in the cracks in the earth’s crust. Electricity is produced by drilling into the earth and utilizing the steam power stored there. Steam generated from the heat is piped to the surface where it drives turbines which convert the energy to electricity to cover your power needs.
There are a couple of drawbacks we might want to consider. Of course, you have to live in an area where this is an option. Only in geothermal areas is it even feasible to consider.
If you’re interested in geothermal power, you should contact a geologist to see if you are in a good location. Geothermal power is designed and used mostly for large-scale industrial purposes, not as a residential solution. This means there will be extra design and installation expenses for a small homestead application.
Geothermal power has the advantage of not being affected by environmental issues which affect other alternative power sources. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Batteries are the Backbone of Most Systems
Off-grid battery banks are the backbone of most off-grid power systems. They store power for use during the night or on days when there isn’t enough power to run your homestead.
Batteries have come a long way in the last few years and some now require little to no maintenance to continue to work for up to 20 years. Many of the first off-grid homesteaders used car batteries to store energy. They didn’t last more than a year since they weren’t designed to endure this kind of use.
Then came deep cycle, lead-acid batteries which charge deep and provide a steady current for a longer period of time. The characteristics of the acid battery’s deep-cycle storage cells made them perfect for the off-grid homesteader.
They do require monthly maintenance. Water must be periodically added to the solution to account for attrition. Lead-acid batteries are inexpensive, don’t weigh a ton, and produce quality energy on demand. Multiple batteries can be arranged in sequence and in parallel sets to store energy equal to your needs.
This type of battery includes golf cart batteries, which are mass produced and have one of the lowest up front costs. A set of four 6-volt, 225-Amp batteries hooked in sequence will produce four Kilowatt hours of energy. If you need more, you can set up a three-string limit for a total of 16 Kilowatt hours of power. These batteries can last up to five years with good maintenance as they are extremely dependable.
L16 Batteries were originally made for use in floor scrubbers. Their lifespan is longer than golf cart batteries, coming in at around eight years. They’re twice as heavy, weighing around 120 pounds. They’re also twice as expensive and might not be worth the initial expense.
This brings us to industrial batteries. The price of these puts most of us off from even considering them. They start at around $2000 and go as high at $10,000 depending on your setup. They weigh over 300 lbs each.
The benefit of industrial batteries is they can produce a whopping 2,500 Amps of power per cell and have a 20 year possible lifespan. In the long run, they can save time and money as long as you are good at keeping up with the regular required maintenance.
You can also consider sealed lead-acid batteries. They use gel electrolytes to make what many consider a better battery. There is also the option of an AGM (absorbed glass mat) battery. They require no maintenance, produce no gases which have to be properly vented and take up less space than most other batteries.
They also won’t have terminal corrosion problems and can be charged to lower charge rates. There are some situations where AGM batteries are not suitable.
- Areas with poor ventilation.
- Areas which are prone to vibrations or shock.
- Areas where it would difficult to do maintenance (remote sites).
- Areas where temperatures the battery is exposed to are -40 F or lower.
- Areas where you need a totally sealed battery for safety or environmental reasons. (I think this is necessary everywhere.)
Sealed, lead-acid batteries have two major weaknesses. They are extremely sensitive to charge levels. This means they are easily damaged if you overcharge them. Kind of like a person with their feelings always on their shoulders – I mean really sensitive!
Then there is the price. They come at about twice the cost of industrial batteries, but they only last half as long. So this battery may not be worth anything for the off grid homestead. Maybe it would be an option if you have a seasonal home. Seasonal homes only need a little energy now and then and these batteries may work since they are virtually maintenance free.
Tesla’s New Powerwall
This is a new battery offering from Tesla. I am impressed with what this company has done with their electric car production. The possibilities of what they are offering to those seeking to be off grid is astounding! The company website states the following.
“Current generation home batteries are bulky, expensive to install and expensive to maintain. In contrast, Powerwall’s lithium ion battery inherits Tesla’s proven automotive battery technology to power your home safely and economically. Completely automated, it installs easily and requires no maintenance.”
I’ve shared their information video on our YouTube channel and on The Farmer’s Lamp Facebook Page.
Every homesteader has to determine what is the best renewable energy source for their homestead. The factors which determine this are property location, weather and of course money to invest in your energy freedom.
Every little step makes a huge difference as they add up to create your self-sufficient dreams. With all the options available, you can decide which one or any combination of these will be the best renewable energy source for your homestead. You’ll be saving money and producing peace of mind which supplying your own power needs provides.
What is the best renewable energy source for you and your family? Share your experience with us.
Safe and Happy Journey,