17 February 2008

Homemade Energy

In a prior post Meg and I had said a word or two about the windmills we see off of the Pennsylvania turnpike. During these gray and chilly winter months I think wind powered energy is probably the best way to go as opposed to solar. Let's face it, from November through March, we get a lot more wind than sunshine. Actually if we had our way I think we would try to harness the sun and the wind to provide our energy needs, but those are much bigger projects than what I'm about to unfold here.

Solar and wind power can be had by anyone willing to make the pricey investment. Right now in Pennsylvania the financial incentives for the installation of an alternative energy system are none. Some of the folks we've talked to who want to make the switch are deciding to wait for the commonwealth to make the first move.

We too are in the middle of a waiting game. Before we can make a move on buying land and building Future House, one of the many colleges that I've sent applications too needs to realize their English department will be vastly improved with my superior teaching skills. While we wait for one of these schools to come to their senses, we want to see if we can bring renewable energy to our chickens.

Yes this is ridiculous, but so is calling a two-party system a democracy. (Wow! That came out of nowhere.) What we have in mind is something we can take with us and also make with used or found materials. The reason we'd like to add power to the coop is that we'd like to be able to provide heat for it in the winter and vent it in the summer. In addition to the chicken's level of comfort, we think a wind powered coop would be kick-ass.

Right now we are strictly in the planning phase. While we visited with friends and family this weekend, we picked Dan's (my mother's wicked smart husband) brain about what it would take to make and store energy from a windmill. Aside from the actual windmill the scrounging list would go as follows:

  • alternator - attached to the turning blades will create the charge
  • contact ring - allows horizontal rotation without the wires getting tangled
  • deep cycle battery - usually found in boats; it can take and give an even charge
  • inverter - will change the DC current of the battery into a usable AC current
I did some light searching for some of these items on Craigslist and eBay and they are out there. Before we make any purchases though we need to come up with some concrete plans. Our chickens have been quite happy without a heated and vented coop, so we would also have to find some other uses for a power station to make the endeavor a lot less ridiculous and a bit more practical.


Christina said...

Invention Nation did a great focus on energy at home via windmills. They even had someone show how he made them work for him.

Mad Man Bamboo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mad Man Bamboo said...

I'm not expecting any great leadership from state and national governments on subsidies. In California, they have the Million Solar Homes bill that passed a year or two ago, solar is still way too expensive. From what I have heard, nanosolar, a new technology funded by Google, may soon bring the cost of panels down considerably and make it easier to install. Keep your fingers crossed. Keep us posted on the DIY project.


Ali said...

Don't know if they are looking for anyone, but have you considered Unity College?

I'm guessing you'd fit right in. It is a small, friendly, crunchy, campus.


Patrick said...

The climate in Holland is really we suited for small windmills. The problem we have here is zoning.

If you are a household and you want to put up a small windmill, it's a huge undertaking with lots of red tape.

If however, you are a huge corporation, and want to construct a massive windmill farm in some scenic area, it's usually not a problem.

Even pretty small windmills can be efficient enough to connect to the power grid, use it for your house and sell the excess to your power company. Have you looked into this? Then you don't need a battery. The main expense here would be paying an electrician to wire it all up for you.

The main logistical problem I think you'll have is getting the windmill up high enough. You have to look into it to be sure, but it probably has to be higher than any structures in the area, and at least a few hundred feet.

Kelly said...

Christina, Thanks for the info. We'll be sure to check it out and post about any findings.

Sean, Solar certainly has a good many wrinkles to iron out. I like the idea of it because there are no movable parts like windmills, so there is a whole lot less wear and tear. But the resources they use to make the panels are not in an endless supply. So I'm not sure if the supply would ever meet the demand. I've heard of nanosolar, but I haven't had the opportunity to read much about it.

Ali, Wow! Unity college would be great. I went to their site and they unfortunately are not looking for and English professor. I've never sent an application to a school that wasn't looking, but I may have to rethink that with Unity. Thanks for the heads up.

Patrick, The chicken windmill, if we do in fact build it, will be very small scale. I don't think we will be calling the power company just yet. However, I have never heard of tying the windmill directly into the grid without batteries. I will certainly read into that, thanks.

Mike said...

One thing seldom mentioned about small windmills: they can be quite noisy!

Peculiarly, they are noisiest in light to medium breezes; in heavy winds most are designed so that the vains feather out of the wind to prevent them overspeeding, and anyway, heavy winds are pretty noisy by themselves, masking any windvane noise.

The wind is usually not the product of the alternator/generator, but of the vanes themselves. As they move through the air, they leave a partial vacuum behind the blade, and the noise comes from air "collapsing" into that vacuum. Exactly the same reason that sonar operators can hear ships and submarines moving about.

Kelly said...

Mike, I admit that I hadn't thought of the noise they make, but as I read your comment, I could recall a number of occasions when I heard that whooping sound. If we had a field of windmills making that sound I could see how that would cause someone to curse. However, I highly doubt we would ever get to that point. By the way, how do vertical axis turbines compare in this arena?

Mike said...

Kelly, I've never come across a working vertical-axis machine, so -- sorry -- but I can't comment there. My guess is that they might be even noisier, since they tend to operate at (sometimes much!) higher speeds... Still, it's just a guess ;-)

Kelly said...

Thanks Mike. If I find anything definitive as I research this more I'll be sure to send it your way. I have a feeling that your assumption about higher speed equaling greater noise may be on target.

Anonymous said...

check out pacwind.net and broadstarwindsystems.com

Nate B said...

You may want to look into a passive solar heater for the colder months and a small battery/photovoltaic panel with a DC fan (eliminates the inverter) to provide ventilation during the summer.

I don't think that car alternators are a good choice for a turbine. I believe they are electrotmagnetic and need an intial electrical source to get them working. A DC motor from a treadmill may be a better choice.





Suzie Queue said...

If you just want to keep the coop warm and don't care how as long as it is not electric or fossil fueled, just let the manure build up, always making sure you keep a clean layer of bedding on top so the bird doesn't come in contact with the manure. The composting manure will keep the coop warm. When I used to raise dairy goats, we followed this method of handling manure. This is a well known method and is utilized by many foreign and domestic farms. Twice a year, we cleaned the barns - spring and fall. the "pack" kepts the goats warm and I had pen doors that I could raise as the pack got higher. The goats never came in contact with raw manure. You put clean straw down to prevent that. There was no smell - until you started cleaning out the barn - as soon as you start digging it out, the amonia about knocks you out. That's where you make sure there is plenty of ventilation during clean-outs.