New Member intro/Off-grid living

Hi Chemists Without Borders,

I have just become a recent member of Chemists Without Borders with interests in clean water technology and renewable/alternative energy solutions for third world communities. I have spent many years working for testing laboratories and an environmental engineering company that focused on groundwater and soil testing and remediation resulting from hazardous waste releases.
During my email conversations with Steve Chambreau I mentioned that my wife and I live off the grid in central Vermont. VT may not be the sunniest place in the world, but one can live quite comfortably utilizing solar power. Steve asked if I would talk a little about living off the grid.

Our current set-up uses a photovoltaic array of eight(8) 63 watt solar panels wired together for 24 volt input into a battery bank (consisting of 12 large 2-volt cell batteries). The DC voltage stored in the batteries is inverted through a 1200 watt inverter and wired directly to our 120 volt AC circuit breaker box. The house is wired like any normal house (all outlets and lights are AC voltage). We also have a small micro-hydro system running off a nice waterfall next to the house, but keeping water running in Vermont winters has proved to be a challenge. Typically we rely on the solar. Large power tools and the washing machine run off a gas generator. If our inverter was 2400 watts instead of 1200 watts, we could probably eliminate the generator.

As you can imagine, when you are at the mercy of the sun shining or wind blowing, we tend to be very frugal with our power consumption whenever possible. All our lights are low watt halogen bulbs, our water pump is a low-watt shallow-well jet pump, and we don’t have appliances like microwaves or electric dryers.

We have found living off the grid to be rewarding. We are much more cognizant of weather, changes in season and how much energy is consumed during our daily routines.

I would love to put renewable/alt energy systems in places where other people could benefit from them. I also see any clean water systems that we develop powered by renewable/alt energy as well.

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0 thoughts on “New Member intro/Off-grid living”

  1. Brian, How much did your off-the-grid system cost, and how much would it cost for a system that could run larger appliances? Did you build it yourself, or is there off the shelf technology?

  2. Thanks for the post Brian. I hope one day to do the same.

    Do you know if there are any systems that store energy as H2 from electrolysis of water and then convert the stored H2 to energy via fuel cell?


  3. Steve,
    We were very lucky with respect to cost. We heard about a couple that was selling their complete system (panels, batteries, accessories) for a fraction of the cost of a new system. We paid $2,000 for our set-up. New this might have cost 10-15K. The limiting factor for us is the inverter size. Currently our inverter is capable of producing 1200 watts (approx 10 amps). Our washer and some of my power tools have a higher amperage draw than 10 amps, so the inverter shuts down. If I doubled the inverted size to 2400 watts I feel I could run the whole house on solar alone (provided the sun keeps shining!!!). The cost for a 2400 watt inverter is about $1,000. I installed the system myself with a little technical help from the previous owners. There are many vendors who make solar equipment. Giaim (RealGoods) is a good source. We have purchased several add-ons from them with good success. As you may have gathered, I enjoy talking about this stuff, so please don’t hesitate to ask more questions. I’m not an expert, but living it for the last two years does provide experience. Thanks

  4. Steve,
    I have not heard of such a system. I would think that H2 production from electrolysis would require a large amount of energy, but if it was done via renewables (solar, wind, hydro etc..) the cost to create H2 would be less expensive in the long run than using conventional electricity sources. Interesting idea! More things to think about. I may not get any work done today.
    FYI – a quick search on the web for arsenic remediation systems turned up a tremendous amount of information. I did not find any current systems using water hyacinth for arsenic removal. Is it permissible to email Dr. Haris and ask some questions about his research? This is all new to me, so I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.

  5. Mark,
    The PV panels and batteries are the most expensive part of the system. I just went on the Gaiam website and comparable panels to ours were about $420 each (we have 8 panels in our array). The batteries on the website were different than what I have seen from them before. A battery pack rated for 600+ amp hours was $1,800. This is twice the storage capacity we currently have. Other expenses include inverters, fuses, load diverters, and wire add to the cost, but panels and batteries are the most costly. I haven’t been on the Gaiam website in a while and it looks like there are some new products for solar production and storage. Hope this helps.

  6. I would think that H2 production from electrolysis would require a large amount of energy, but if it was done via renewables (solar, wind, hydro etc..) the cost to create H2 would be less expensive in the long run than using conventional electricity sources. Interesting idea!

    I had an opportunity to judge a science fair here in MA last fall. One student’s alternative power source project dealt with using wind power to generate H2 via electrolysis. He had several ideas on how it could be done and what problems would be encountered and what problems could be solved easily. He had performed several model studies that were promising.

  7. Why not store the O2 also, then just burn the 2H2 + O2 to make water again? (Totally clean water, I might add, that could also be used. Gotta love when your ‘waste’ stream is valuable in and of itself.) No need for expensive fuel cells, and you haven’t wasted the energy you used in creating the O2. Plus, the burn would be clean, since there is no N2 or other contaminants coming in with the O2 to create pollutants. Also, if you are recapturing the energy you’ve used, it doesn’t matter if the electrolysis requires a large amount of energy, unless your energy system has trouble creating a high enough voltage to perform the electrolysis. This assumes, of course, that the energy efficiency (i.e. losses) from each step of this process isn’t much worse than the losses from any alternate process. Stored chemical energy is stored, whether in a battery, or as H2 and O2. I suppose if you need electricity out, the losses would be too great if you then had to run a turbine to generate electricity. Even if you use the H2 to run a fuel cell, it would be better to have clean O2 to combine the H2 with, since a big problem for fuel cells is poisoning of the catalyst (as I understand it.) Carting around H2 and O2 is a safety hazard for cars, but probably not as bad for a stand-alone, off-grid, immobile system.

  8. Hello, my name is Patty. I Like you blog. I have a new blog on power inverters. I think it would be interesting to your readers. Would you like to exchange links? I could put a link to your blog on mine right away if you’re interested. I think that it would help us both get more traffic.

    My blog is

    Let me know what you think.


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