Energy Production

The contents of this page would not be possible without the information contained within the Energy section of Troubled Times. The information below, however:

  • Eliminates some of those energy options which may lie beyond our means or are simply impractical.
  • Expands upon some options that may be more applicable to our local situation.
  • Leaves out some of the more technical information better left in the hands of someone with electrical experience.
  • Presents vital information from pages that branch off from Troubled Times, information that is time-consuming to gather.
  • Takes information from disparate sources and combines it into a more cohesive, understandable whole.
  • Begins the search for a synergy of solutions, so that our efforts along the lines of energy production complement our efforts regarding food production and shelter construction. For instance, our choice of shelter will influence our gardening options, which in turn influence our choices regarding energy production. Such overlapping of solutions will save time, money, effort -- and lives.

The situation:
Imagine the power in our homes going out for a few hours. A real pain in the neck: No TV, no radio, no computer, no lights. If the power went out for a few days, the food in our refrigerators would go bad, some of us wouldn't be able to cook, nor could we heat our homes or take hot showers or recharge our cell phones. Now imagine the power going down permanently, because that's what will probably happen in two years when the pole shift takes out the worldwide power grid. On the bright side, we won't have any idiots running their lawn mowers at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning.


What the power will be used for:
Remember, the three main issues we need to address as a group are:

  • Food production
  • Shelter construction
  • Energy production
We can construct adequate structures without electrical power, and of course one can grow food without power, but that's assuming growth conditions in the aftertime will approximate the conditions we face now, which of course they will not. Traditional agricultural methods will probably fail, as noted elsewhere on this site, so we may need to depend on a hydroponic growth system that requires artificial lighting. The hydroponic system will be our electrical priority. Here's another reason why it's so important for us to sit down and think things through ahead of time, for predefining our parameters will save us weeks of missteps afterwards, missteps that can kill us as well as those we cherish and love.


A penny saved is a penny earned:
As mentioned, predefining our power needs will save us precious labor-hours in the future. Here's what we need to remember, which is simply a matter of stating the obvious: The less power we use, the less we have to make, and the more time we have available for other pressing tasks. For instance, in some homes today some 25% of the electric bill goes toward heating water. All told, heating and air conditioning are the biggest energy hogs, followed by the washer/dryer and stove/oven. These items can easily consume 60-90% of the electric bill. Therefore, since we'll be using less, we'll keep the expense of our electrical system down. After the shift, for example, we simply won't bother heating water, at least not electrically. This will reduce our energy needs considerably.


A primer on power:
Here are three points to remember when no electricity is available from outside sources:
  • The most efficient way to use power is not to create electricity at all, but to drive devices directly.
  • The second most efficient way to use power is to pedal a generator to drive devices directly, with no battery. Be careful about voltage, or use a good regulator.
  • The least efficient way to use power is to generate electricity and store it in a battery, then extract it from the battery to power some device.
If you believe this theory is incorrect, please let me know.


Voltage/Current and AC/DC:
Here's where I start to lose myself a little bit, because I'm not electrically inclined. First off, household appliances run on alternating current (AC), which we will probably not be able to produce on a consistent, reliable basis. We may need to go with direct current (DC), and various devices are available that run on different DC voltages. So we need to choose a voltage standard, and the best option appears to be 12 volts DC, which I believe is the voltage of a standard car battery. Devices that run on 12 volts DC can be found in camping and marine gear stores, and of course on the Internet. They include stoves, lanterns, and light bulbs. In addition, laptop computers run on 12 volts DC (to my knowledge), and PC's will become impractical anyway. Remember, one of our highest priorities will be to establish shortwave links from laptop to laptop so as to communicate with other survival groups around the world. When operating on a 12 volt DC basis, we'll need a 12 volt generator with integrated accumulators, a concept that loses me. In addition, there's a book on the market called "More Power to You," which may be the best when it comes to creative uses of 12 volt power. However, some people believe a 12-volt standard may be inadequate for our long-term lighting needs, especially if we intend to feed larger groups of people. The argument is that high voltage AC systems are sustainable, the technology is well established, supplies are widely available, and most of the infrastructure required is relatively low tech. Either way, whether AC or DC, the more planning we do in the next two years the better we'll be able to estimate our daily wattage requirements.


Manual Power Generation:
Power can be derived from various sources, including wind and running water. As far as cooking is concerned, note that usable wood may be in short supply. But one reliable source we can't overlook is human pedal power, which of course will be less reliant on the elements. Making a bicycle generator is relatively easy and very cheap, apparently a used weed-wacker motor would serve as a good generator, and a voltage regulator may be necessary. And apparently an exercycle with a large flywheel would create more power than a traditional bicycle. Here's a photo and description of a Bicycle-Powered Generator. Also, here's a site that offers a pedal power-generating system for about $500 Windstream Power Systems. (Click on the section called "Human Power".) The Windstream page says the pedal unit can also power AC devices, but how well it does so is a matter that remains to be seen. In addition, pedal power can be used to recharge 12 volt batteries. Pedal power has its limitations of course, as do all power generating systems. Spare chains will be necessary, as we can't expect one single chain to last for years. To learn more about improvising life's necessities, pick up the Reader's Digest "Big Back to Basics Book." In addition, here's a photo & description of a hand-crank generator.


Crank Power:
The hand-crank generator demonstrates one type of device, already on the market, that requires no outside power source, not even a battery. Such devices may prove invaluable in the aftertime. They include:
  • Wind-Up Radios. These are light, can pick up AM/FM/Shortwave, and a few cranks can give you a half-hour of listening time. They are currently in wide use in third-world countries. Whether ham frequencies are available on such radios is a question we need to answer.
  • Wind-up lanterns.
  • Wind-up flashlights. However, we may overestimate our need for flashlights, as our eyes should adjust to the constant dim and dark conditions.
  • "Magnetic force" flashlights.
  • "Russian Pumper" flashlights. (Scroll down near the bottom of that page.) Apparently the gears on these can wear down after a while, and like the magnetic-force flashlights, the luminence may not be all that great to begin with. They may be available at Army/Navy type stores.
Theoretically if it's possible to crank up these items, it would also be possible to hand-crank laptop computers and other devices as well. Such technology may also be able to power a Morse Code transmitter, which would require relatively low transmission power.


Wind Power:
All wind systems consist of a wind turbine, a tower, wiring and the balance of system components: controllers, inverters and/or batteries. Wind turbines consist of blades on a rotor, a generator mounted on a frame, and a tail. The spinning blades turn the rotor, capturing the kinetic energy of the wind. This is converted to rotary motion to drive the generator. The best indication of how much energy a turbine will produce is the diameter of the rotor. This determines the amount of wind that will intercept the turbine. Wind speeds increase with height in flat terrain, and this is why towers are used to mount the wind turbine. Generally speaking, the higher the tower the more power the wind system can produce. A general rule of thumb is to mount the wind turbine 30 feet above any obstacle that is within 300 feet of the tower. There are two ways to tie into the grid: with and without batteries. A load diversion controller is typically used to prevent the wind turbine from damaging the batteries. Here is one source of Windpower Information. One big problem with wind power as opposed to solar is that when charging batteries, or with direct use, any power above and beyond that being used will require a diversion load, usually a heating coil, to consume the excess load. Otherwise the system could burn up. In addition, here's how to build a windmill made entirely of wood.

Some other notes regarding windmills and wind power in general:
  • In small systems, direct drive is preferred to geared drive for its higher reliability.
  • When high velocities or gusts of wind try to speed up the rotation of the shaft, the extra torque must be absorbed by the drive train and the tower. This causes torsional stresses on the mechanical parts.
  • Based on the number of people we expect to feed, we must determine the annual amount of kilowatt-hours our power system must provide. This will determine the size and number of wind-producing units necessary.
  • In recent years, technology has increased the energy output, lowered the noise (who cares at this point!), and has enabled turbines to work at lower wind speeds.
  • Some windmill models are equipped with braking devices that limit the speed of rotation. These brakes are used to lock the blades in high winds.
  • Windmill towers can blow over in high wind, and they cannot be assembled until well after the pole shift is over. Additionally, towers can also call attention to our position, so they may not be advisable for several months.
  • The blades can ice up, and so can the generator.
  • For redundancy and spare parts, we can possibly use several windmills in the range of 500-watts to 5 kilowatts (1 kilowatt = 1,000 watts). Of course, the higher the wattage, the more initial expense, which I hope is starting to become less of a consideration for you. Extra units will allow us to cut our losses in case of mechanical failures, which must be anticipated. Another consideration will be to find units with permanent magnet motors, instead of the usual copper winding motors. In the event of strong electromagnetic pulses (EMPs), as can be anticipated, any device with an inductive load would be the first to go. A permanent magnet motor would be least affected. If we do go with copper winding motors, we'll need spare, thinly-insulated wire on hand to rebuild the motors.
  • We'll need spare bearings.
  • Good pre-manufactured windmills allow you to adjust the pitch of the blades, or else a severe storm can tear the unit apart.
  • Spinning propellers can kill people.
  • Car parts can be used to make home-built windmills, and this page contains a diagram of a Tire-Wheel Windmill.
  • Here's a sketch of a Homemade Wind Generator.
  • A Nebraska Windmill is a low-tech device that can operate on ground level. It appears relatively easy to make and would help us maintain a low profile, though the energy output probably wouldn't match that of tower-based windmills, unless we could construct many in a series.

Hydro Power:
Hydropower is a possibility, with relatively low startup costs, but the ongoing need for replacement parts renders the option less than ideal. The standard V-pulley belts must be replaced every six months. Also, the bearings need to be replaced yearly. The brushes and bearings in the alternator are also replaced annually. The pulley system is replaced every two years. Hydro systems include the Pelton Wheel and a water turbine


Inverters:
The way I understand it, an inverter takes 12 volts DC and converts it to 115-120 volts AC. If we choose to go strictly DC, of course, inverters may not be necessary. Fortunately, devices created strictly for DC tend to be less power hungry. A drawback with DC power is that the source must be relatively close (say 30 feet max) to the unit consuming the power, but there are tradeoffs to every solution we can think of. Additionally, in the aftertime there will be a major problem with reserve parts. We have to assume that inverters will break, so we need reserve inverters. If we don't have one, or the last one goes down, our batteries and light bulbs become useless. However, if we plan to use 12V batteries and 12V light bulbs our dependencies are much lower. Thus, using all equipment with the same assumed voltage allows us to improvise more than if we depend on inverters and transformers. This is the main reason some people recommend the 12-volt standard, not because stepping up to 120V canít be done. What kind of inverter do we need, if we choose to go that route? The type and size of inverter depends on our planned applications. To determine this we must first calculate the maximum amount of load intended to run on the inverter at one time, and then choose one with the appropriate capacity.


Batteries:
Some people believe the best batteries are the ones designed for golf carts. They can be drained right down to zero (unlike car batteries) and can take a full recharge successfully. They can also be connected in series to form a large storage unit for electrical power. However, if one of the batteries is failing, this will pull power away from the good ones. Car batteries wonít do, as these will drain quickly. Whatís needed are deep-discharge marine and RV-type batteries that provide a smaller output for a longer period of time. If these are 6 volt, we can use two in series. The difference between a car battery and a deep-discharge battery is that an auto battery is designed to supply a large amount of electricity in a short burst. Deep-discharge batteries used in renewable energy systems are designed to give a moderate amount of amps for a long period of time. In addition, batteries canít sit idle for a couple months, lest they become unrechargeable. On car batteries, some people used to tape a penny onto the terminal. This would take the brunt of the corrosion instead of the terminal. Seagoing ships use this principle and it is called a sacrificial anode. Batteries do carry some hazards, however. In an enclosed environment the hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide gas produced by the charging cycle of lead acid batteries can build to dangerous levels. If heavy charge/discharge cycles are used routinely, the life of these cells will be short. They will have to be rebuilt, and the materials they contain are toxic and pose a risk of contaminating food and water. Eventually any kind of battery is going to wear out and won't recharge any more.


Solar Cells:
This topic will expand, even though we'll be operating in low-light conditions. But apparently, one can place solar cells near a fire to generate enough energy to recharge accumulators. Solar panels can be expensive to install, but tend to have upwards of a 20-year lifespan. A note on fires: These must be handled carefully, since daytime smoke can reveal our position to outsiders with bad intentions.


Lubrication:
As with any mechanical device, the parts will need to be greased and oiled, and the nearest Pep Boys will be in rubble. We'll have to develop our own source -- possibly vegetable oil, which also has the potential of becoming an alternative fuel to a small degree.


Water Pumps:
These aren't quite an "energy" topic, but note that such pumps can be found in old washing machines.


Lighting:
As one of our prime considerations for the eventual hydroponic system, lighting will become one of our main priorities. Carbon-arc lighting is one possibility, though the drawbacks can be considerable. The luminence can be brilliant, as Edison learned, but carbon arc lamps take a lot of precious juice to maintain. Another lighting consideration is how to magnify the minimal natural light we'll receive, since we can anticipate perhaps 20 years of dusk-like conditions due to the anticipated volcanic upheavals. Devices such as the Tru-Lite Tubular Skylight demonstrate how reflective aluminum can maximize the amount of light we receive, thus decreasing our energy consumption. The shelter section (not up yet) will discuss more ways to reflect lighting, which is measured by the intensity of candle power per square foot.

Lighting will present many logistical difficulties, not to mention the difficulty experienced by most of us who just want to understand basic lighting dynamics. Here are some of the lighting considerations we must address:
  • We will not have an overabundance of energy to produce light. We'll want to produce just the light frequencies needed for maximum plant growth. Once these frequencies are found, then we can determine which light bulbs produce these frequencies. Of the bulbs that fit the criteria, which ones are least expensive (not always the major consideration), longest lasting, and most durable to survive the jolts of the pole shift?
  • One person claims you need at least three 12-volt lights per plant (never mind the light spectrum at this point), and that you'll need at least 100 healthy plants per family, minimum. So as you can see, lighting is a major consideration.
  • But another person says: It's the diffused light that plants use during most of their photosynthetic cycle. Does anyone care to comment?
  • Some people believe that blue light is essential to plant growth.
  • For indoor growing under artificial lighting, a range of 395 to 500 "micro-einsteins" is considered by experts at NASA to be the minimal energy level for plant growth.
  • The site Aeroponics.com suggests filtering out infrared radiation (zeta ratio) so as to reduce heat buildup inside the plant cells. Aquatic plants are less sensitive, however.
  • We'll need to determine how many hours a day to keep the bulbs lit, as various plants may have differing lighting requirements. This calculation will help determine our energy-output needs.
  • There is a basic tenet of thermodynamics that says heat causes failure. A light source that produces a lot of heat because of inefficiency will also experience a short life as a result of that heat.
  • Many light bulbs are inefficient. Typically only 10% of the energy goes to make light in vacuum tungsten filament light or possibly up to 20% with halogen bulbs. Florescent bulbs are about 70-90% efficient
  • How much light (for growing plants) does one need? 20 to 40 watts per square foot is a general guideline. The more efficient the light source, the less watts per square foot needed. For example using one 1000-watt metal halide light in a 50-square-foot area would give you 20 watts per square foot and a total of 120,000 lumens.
  • Here are some tips on making a lightbulb
  • Our lighting needs can be complemented by candles, some of which can be made from animal fat.


LED's (Light Emitting Diodes):
When compared to other sources of light, LED lighting is apparently more efficient in its energy usage. This type of bulb has a much longer lifespan than a traditional bulb, up to 100,000 hours, but they aren't cheap. ($1 to $3 apiece, and we'd need plenty.) They can emit blue light, red light, or various other frequencies. NASA has determined that the optimal mix for plant growth is about 10% blue and 90% red. They are apparently shatterproof, though they don't emit as much light as a standard household bulb. Another drawback is that they may require a lot of power generation, which would stress our capabilities. We would need to determine if such lights arranged in a grid could withstand voltage fluctuations, and whether it's better to run them on 12 volts DC or 120 volts AC. As far as repair goes, once they go down they're probably down for good. White LED's are available, though the red and blue types are considered more energy efficient.


Halogen Quartz Lamps:
These are the same as the ones fitted into car and truck headlights, the very ones that can go for a rough ride in a four wheel drive. Hybrid Fluoro lamps are so tough they need to be physically crushed to put them out of service. These lamps are all 12 volt quartz Halogen, using low watts, but because of the nature of low voltage, the low watt quartz Halogen light in lumens is quite significant and may be the answer to lighting in the aftertime. And if we donít settle too far away from a current population center, there just may be plenty of car headlights hanging around (if they havenít been demolished by the earthquakes).


Determination of annual wattage:
You need about 144 square feet of garden space to feed a person for a year. Therefore, just for one person, you need about 2000 watts of electricity if using halide, or 720 watts if using LEDís. So for a community of 30 people, halide lamps would require annual power generation of 60 kilowatts, with LED's requiring 22 kilowatts. In addition, you need 144 square feet of garden space -- times 30. That's quite a lot, so we've got our work cut out for us. But hey, it's a lot easier than going at it alone.


Additional sources of information:
Here's one site that deals with alternative energy methods, though I haven't really checked it out yet: Bagelhole.org


Summary:
It doesn't look very pretty. We should opt for a combination of hydro, wind, and manual power, and this appears to be the least of our problems. How to generate enough light to sustain indoor plant life is the question that drives this entire page, and few working prototypes exist in the world. We're on our own, but solutions will come to us if we keep applying ourselves. What saves a person is to take a step, not to sit idle and worry. Further, our solutions must coordinate with and complement those discussed on the upoming Food Production and Shelter Construction pages. With so little time left, these solutions must be workable and practical, not a matter of speculation, which anyone can do.



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