John Drake Services, Inc.
1427 E. 68th Street
Long Beach, CA 90805

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(562) 423-4879
electricity from the sun by John Drake II     |     home
About Us   |   About this website.   |   Getting Started   |   Solar Panels / Photovoltaic Modules - Read Before You Buy   |   Make A Plan   |   PV System Layout and Parts   |   Start with the loads you are going to operate   |   Battery Types and Sizing   |   Battery Safety   |   Battery Charging Voltages and Temperature   |   Battery Trouble Shooting   |   Charging Batteries - You can't have everything.   |   Battery State of Charge and Measurement   |   Safety Devices Fuses and Circuit Breakers   |   Series & Parallel Wiring   |   Wiring and Power Distribution Connections   |   Photovolatic Module Specifications - Real or a Pipe Dream   |   Photovoltaic module solar panel location and positioning   |   Photovoltaic Module and Solar Panel Information   |   Charge Controller Types   |   Wire and Cable Types   |   Wiring  - Doing it Right   |   Connections for Wiring   |   Voltage Drop - Wire Loss, What are they?   |   Outdoor Connections   |   Wire loss - Voltage drop charts   |   D.C. to A.C. Inverters   |   Low Voltage D.C. Lighting & Color Temperature of Light   |   Battery System Monitoring   |   Dont fool yourself - Spending your money wisely.   |   Solar Converters GS-1AC   |   Linear Current Boosters for Water Pumping   |   Utility Grid Intertie Systems   |   Solar Insolation Chart   |   More Information   |   Alternative Energy Expectations   |   Power Needs Worksheet   |   Reference Sources   |   Contact Us
Alternative Energy Expectations
Will I be able to have as much power as I do now being connected to the utility company?
Only if you have pockets deep enough to purchase large quantities of photovoltaic modules (solar panels)
and batteries.
When using solar energy you are actually the power company.
The amount of power you will have access to depends on how many solar panels and batteries you
have as well as the amount of sunlight you receive on average throughout the year.
One thing that we constantly run up against is an installation
that does not have enough photovoltaic modules to do the job. Many people
expect more out of their photovoltaic array than it can deliver.  I have seen many
websites as well as listings on a popular auction site that describe how many
kilo-watt hours of power their modules or systems will produce each month.
Please do the math before you purchase alternative energy equipment.
Most importantly - DON'T FOOL YOURSELF -  be realistic and you won't be
Remember, an alternative energy system is like a bank account - you can't
take out more than you put in.  
What will I have to do differently than I am doing now?
Your lifestyle will undergo some changes. You will not have a seemingly unlimited supply of energy
like you do with the utility company.
You will have to make it a habit, if you have not already, to turn off lights and appliances when no one
is using them.
And no more gazing into the refrigerator until your nose becomes numb.  
Can I use sunlight to heat my home or office?
Solar air and water heaters being made today are very efficient. The major limiting factor is surface
area available for the solar collectors and amount of sunshine your site receives.
Also, the better insulated and sealed a building is, the smaller the collectors need to be.
As far as heating with electricity, with one exception, don't bother.
Electric heating (resistance heating) consumes so much power that it is impractical.
The only way to utilize solar electricity for heat is to use a diversion type of solar charge controller
(which keeps from overcharging the batteries) between the solar panels and the batteries.
Once the batteries are charged, the excess power can be sent to an air or water heating element.
For space heating we would also suggest either a gas  furnace or if you like chopping wood,
a wood burning stove.
Some wood stoves can also heat a limited amount of water. When using a gas fired water
heater we would recommend the tankless type.
Within their limitations, they are an excellent choice. We have been using one since 1985.
Alternative energy can be used to power the blower in a furnace. This has become quite
common in areas where storms regularly knock
out power in the winter. As long you have fuel and enough electricity you can run the blower
and can keep warm.
How about cooking?
For cookstoves we recommend gas. An electric stove draws just too much power and is
wasteful of energy.
Most stoves today come with two sets of gas jets, one set for natural gas and another for propane.
Please use the proper setup for the kind of gas your are using.
Propane has a much higher Btu content (more heat for a given volume) than natural gas.
Many of the pilotless stoves made today use a great deal of electricity to operate.
As an exception to the non-electric rule,
many people use microwave ovens powered by alternative energy sources.
The run times of the ovens is usually so short that they start to make sense.   
What about cooling?
Fans and ventilation are well suited to being powered by solar panels.
The brighter the sun is, the more power you will have.
Air conditioning is out as it uses a large amount of energy to run the compressor pump.
In areas of low humidity, solar powered
swamp (evaporative) coolers work very well. Building design will also be an aid in cooling.
Can a refrigerator or freezer run off solar power?
It can, but with some limitations. There are excellent and highly efficient refrigerators being
made that can be used off-grid.
Sun Frost makes a line of superb refrigerators, refrigerator/freezers and freezers that run on
low voltage direct current.
These are of a superior design but they will consume a sizeable portion of your electricity
production. Please click onto their website here http://sunfrost.com for specifications and
further information.
If you insist on an electric refrigerator or freezer, this is a much better way
(depending on the distance from the battery bank) than using a conventional a.c. powered
unit on an inverter. Another option would be to use a propane powered model.
Please weigh the options as either option represents a significant amount of money.
What kind of lighting can I use?
The most energy efficient type of lighting would be LED light fixtures followed by
fluorescent fixtures..
This is true whether they are powered directly off the batteries or from a d.c. to a.c. inverter.
When using low voltage direct current there is a wide selection of lighting options available.
How about laundry?
There are washer conversion kits for operating conventional washing machines on low voltage d.c.
Staber produces a horizontal tub washer that can be run off an modified sine-wave inverter without
voiding the warranty, it is extremely efficient and uses very little water or energy.
If you are set up using an inverter, the major manufacturers are introducing horizontal tub washers
which use an amazingly small amount of water, detergent or electricity.
I have no experience with them but the Maytag has received many accolades.
 As for drying your clothes, you can use a gas dryer or the old fashioned clothes line and
let the sun do the work directly.  
http://staber.com link to Staber for more information
Where can photovoltaic modules (solar panels) be used?
Photovoltaic modules can be used just about anywhere in the world.
Some areas are better than others.
This is dependant on the amount of sunlight available throughout the year.
Some limiting factors are: surrounding objects that can cast shadows on your panels or
environmental conditions such as overcast conditions or long term incliment weather.
How about cost?
Solar space and water heating systems can start out small and be expanded as the
needs and pocket book grow.
However of these systems can be difficult to expand. On the other hand, photovoltaic
systems can be easily expanded and are very versatile.
What about stereos, television, vcr's and other appliances?
Many of these are available in 12 volt d.c. versions. Ones that are not can be powered
by a d.c. to a.c. inverter.
How about water pumping?
Whether it is pumping water from a well or providing water pressure in your home,
alternative energy is an excellent choice.   
I have no experience with wind powered generators but have gleaned a few bits of
information over the years.
Electricity production by windmills is very dependant on the AVERAGE wind speed
Just because you have a lot of wind does not mean that there will be a useful amount of
electricity produced on a regular basis.
My suggestion (and please consider the source and lack of experience) would be
to rent or buy a recording windspeed indicator.
Many people have spent a lot of money on wind mills, the unit itself as well as the
tower and balance of system components, only to find that power production is insignificant.
In the neighborhood where I grew up are two wind turbines, one is roof mounted across
the street from a heavily wooded park.
The other is on a mast (from a distance this appears to be 12" pipe) in a residential area.
Both of these systems are more show than anything else.
Know what your average wind speed and duration is.
Understand how nearby hills, trees, buildings, structures and other windmills can
affect your site's wind potential.
There are excellent books out there on the subject - knowledge is power.
Many of the guidelines dealing with solar power are also applicable with wind power.
As in wind power generation, I have no experience in hydro electric, but let's see
what little I do know.
Some things to consider when planning a hydro-electric system are: do you have a
fast enough flow as well as a high enough volume in your
stream, creek or river to justify the investment in equipment?
Does your flowing water source freeze in the winter, overflow in the spring while
turning to soup or does it dry up in the summer. The type of water flow will help to
determine the generator type. A horizontal flow may dictate
a different type of unit than if you have vertical fall like in a diverted stream at an
elevated level or under a water fall.
Floating, as well as submerged, debris can also be a deciding factor in your
choice of equipment.
Many of the guidelines dealing with solar power are also applicable to hydro-electric power.
Real Cost:
How does the cost of alternative energy compare to that provided by the
utility company?
Up front it usually costs much more. In the long run however it is quite competetive
in terms of not having utility bills as well as the cost to our environment.
However, if you now live, or are planning to live off the power grid, there is something
you should consider.
Utility companies can charge $10.00 to 30.00 per foot or more (depending on
location and topography) to bring the power lines to you.
This makes the investment in alternative energy equipment much easier to accept,
and no electric bill in the mail each month.    
The seldom mentioned bonus:
Going outside every morning and looking at your own private power plant gives one a
feeling that is hard to describe. Our large array has been producing electricity since 1988.
Some of the panels in the array were purchased used and were producing electricity before we got them.
Since we live on the grid I will tell you our feelings, it is even stronger for those living off the grid.
Much of our power is produced by a source that would otherwise be wasted. Our impact on the
environment is less than that of our neighbors.
We are taking responsibility for some of our energy needs. If the power goes out, due to
storms, blackouts, natural or unnatural disasters as well as influences from around the world -
we won't be left in the dark.  

copyright by John Drake Services,Iinc.

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