Power in the middle of nowhere

One thing we love about our piece of property is that you really feel that you are in the middle of nowhere. Even though we have a neighbor, and at least at the initial home site, he’s a 2 minute walk away, there’s a real feeling of being “out there”.  But with that feeling, comes some challenges, after water, comes a need for power.  We do after all still live in a connected world that requires power, and connectivity creates international communities that I hope we never lose.

So, how do we deal with power when we don’t have any?  The most obvious answer, given where we are situated, istoduse solar energy for day to day uses, including lighting, and even heating and A/C.  Well, at least that’s the idea. And while it is feasible to put together a big enough solar system for all of this, I think it’s more realistic to assume that we will still end up with a generator providing at least some level of peak power support.

Well, a generator seems to be a reasonably un-controversial source of power, until you realize that in the great state of California, we mere mortals are no longer allowed to purchase high efficiency diesel generators (that could also run off of bio-diesel, or even vegetable oil).  At least not new ones, and while I’ve done a little bit of searching, and have found a few diesel generators floating around second hand, diesel still has some negatives, especially for a generator setup that at least initially might only be used once every couple of weeks or months.  That is that even though it is a more stable fuel than gasoline, it still has issues with sludge buildup and water contamination.  Gasoline, on top of being less efficient, is even less shelf stable, and would effectively require being cleaned out after every use.  On top of which there are a number of other issues (such as carburetors gumming up even if they are used regularly, etc.) that make gasoline a less than desirable fuel, last but not least being that the price is starting to creep up again, and I do fully expect to see 5$/gallon gas by next summer.

So how to resolve this dilema?  It turns out that we will likely be getting a gas generator after all, and that rather than gas, it will be set up to run off of propane or natural gas!  This provides equivalent efficiency, cleaner burning gas, no gumming of the system, effectively infinite shelf life, and the ability to use the same fuel to run a number of other systems as well (such as a LNG refrigerator and/or Air Conditioner!).

There is at least one company that makes retrofit kits (http://www.propane-generators.com/carb-conversion.htm), and the retrofit looks mighty easy to boot.  So for an extra 2-300$, you get an efficient power system, a fuel that doesn’t need to be stabilized and used in a limited time frame, and a generator that could still be run of of regular gasoline in a pinch!

Now the only question:  what size generator to get?  Oh, and electric or pull start?  Oh, and should I get one big enough to run my welding outfit?

Actually that last question is a good one. One of the areas I’m currently investigating, and will be writing more about in the future, is using DC to run a welding setup (see the prior post on welding with batteries). I’m looking at the best way to tie all of these power users and generators together for all of the different needs in building and maintaing, and most importantly enjoying this home away from home.

But before I get too far off topic, I want to leave you with one last thought.  Given that I mentioned bio-diesel and other alternate fuels, I though it interesting to consider that there is an alternate fuel for a gas/gasoline powered engine as well… Methane.  We don’t have animals, so this isn’t actually a great solution for us, but if we were to get perhaps a couple pigs or even  a bunch of chickens, it would be possible to ferment the sewage from the animals to make gas as well!