Once upon a time I had the pleasure of living in the beautiful nowhere of Arizona beneath an old, creaking windmill that rhythmically drew water up from the Earth for our pleasure. I have also lived without power and with a percentage of my power generated by the Wind and Sun. These are all conditions I would return to. In fact, I am planning on an off-grid future.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been researching innovations in the off-grid arena and thought I’d share just a smidge:
According to the Global Wind Energy Council the wind power industry grew 31% last year despite the economy, making wind power a 63 billion dollar a year industry. Investors are not hesitating to throw their money into the wind. Grin.
One of the most promising products for home wind energy production is Honeywell’s new gearless turbine, engineered to serve the mainstream. It was named one of Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products of 2009 and solves many of the issues commonly associated with personal wind turbines. The gearless turbine requires only a quarter of the wind speed to generate power, compared to geared turbines of the same diameter!
Another promising product from Popular Mechanics 10 Most Brilliant Products list that I’d already taken notice of in the Blogosphere is the Andalay AC Solar PV Panel. Because it’s an AC system, there’s no need for an inverter and a tricky wiring job. All the mounts, racking and wiring are built right in. Essentially the closest thing there is to plug-and-play power for the home user!
Unlike Sun and Wind, which can be more or less accessed by everyone to some degree, using hydro-power relies on being lucky enough to have access to a source of running water from the property. Yet when there is a spring, creek, or river (or if you happen to live on a boat), a micro-hydro power system is the most constant and reliable source of renewable energy available. The most recent advances in micro-hydro turbines seem to reflect a similar trends in the wind power industry toward permanent magnet motors with fewer parts. This improves performance in every way – creating turbines with more responsivity and less parts to wear out.
As I don’t drive and don’t feel particularly inclined toward fuel-burning engines, bio-diesel is admittedly not my forte. However, I am savvy enough of off-grid circles to have second-hand knowledge of the glory of the Listeroid, a heavy-duty diesel generator that can be run off of filtered waste vegetable oils. The Lister diesel generator isn’t anything new. In fact, it originally came onto the market in 1929 and is today a standard of the Amish. It is also known for bringing a reliable power source to scores of remote locales around the globe. It can specifically, directly power older tools & equipment having belt drives, or newer devices like water pumps, as it works to generate power for your battery bank. Good for an off-grid homestead! Put one in your workshop and use it to power the tools, pump some water, and back-up the batteries of your primary system on calm, cloudy days!
Is this the future? The Bloom Box has been called technologies’ newest darling, perhaps in part to early high-profile customers like Google and e-bay. This fuel cell device is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and it takes only two of these small boxes to power the traditional American household. The suggestion is that for an initial investment of roughly $6k the standard American home will be able to become their own power center; just order on-line and set it up without having to worry about wiring. Also, because the boxes can generate both energy and hydrogen the company describes a future where Bloom Boxes are paired with solar and wind systems to enable 24-hour power AND are used distribute hydrogen to “hydrogen fueling infrastructures”, potentially providing fuel for your hydrogen-powered car. While you still have to feed the Bloom Box fuel after your initial investment, they are capable of using renewable bio-fuels, converting the fuel into electricity and hydrogen at over twice the standard rates. It is this factor – that fossil fuels aren’t requisite – that is the Boxes’ saving grace and sets this technology apart from other similar (and failed) attempts at the same idea.
There are so many other amazing ideas in development out there aimed at an off-grid future, from city-powering wave generators to kite-sails designed to harvest electricity for villages of clustered homes…the list goes on. What I included here I kept on the home-powered, reasonably affordable scale.