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I thought propane when I first started down the whole house genny but now that we have NG and not having to mess with trying to find a decent tank to buy or renting from some propane company that is what I have decided to go with is NG for now. Solar living in TN has me of two minds but that is just me.

Also look on homesteading forums there is usually a pinned or live thread that is all about solar and offgrid living.
If the fan blades turns brown you can not rely on NG! Even this last cold spell showed that. I would have propane or gasoline/diesel for a back up gen rather than NG if I were you. Nuff said. ;)
 

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Anyway, my take is there is no cost effective way for us to use solar for short term emergencies. It is just much more cost efficient to let the food spoil. I actually had a freezer go bad while gone once, it was full of elk and venison. My insurance did reimburse me a bunch on it. I had to throw away 80 pounds of elk. Pretty sad deal for sure.
Winner.
 

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If crap hits the fan. Otherwis known as TSHTF
Oh, you mean when the grid goes down and stays down, yea, that must be it. I think we are all preppers just depends on our personal situation, where you live, what resources you have, what neighbors, friends and such.

The OP has defined what matters and I totally agree, food is the big one, and a hot shower pretty often is important too. Me, I insist on enough power to run the heat and air which I can do with a 3,800 genset and run the other appliances intermittently. And after several tornadoes taking out the power, having the TV and internet service is a big deal too. For those that do not have tornadoes, you usually lose cell tower service also.


I am a believer that sooner or later we will have massive blackouts of the grid, not just storms, but overpowering the system. Planning in advance just makes sense.
 

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Discussion Starter · #27 · (Edited)
Having wasted both time and money on small systems let me throw out some ideas. Three rules. It takes far more equipment than you would think, it will cost far more than you think, and it will never, ever break even compared to electricity or using portable generators.

When you talk about off grid, that never means having the luxury like you have in a regular home. I understand your concern is fridge and freezer, your ultimate play will be to run the fridge 7 hours, shut it off and run the freezer one hour. Every spare inch of your freezer will be filled with ICE, frozen gallon jugs is good, it is water if you need it, and it keeps the mass colder than air will. Some considerations have played with it for years.

First, do not even think about using the battery, solar or wind power to heat anything. It takes too many BTUs. You mentioned heating water. Bad idea. Electricity supplied by batteries should never be used to heat anything. If you are talking about an electric home water heater, they will zap your batteries. Even when calculating the power needed to run one on a portable generator the general rule is: A 5,000 watt generator is capable of running a electric water heater, but caution should be taken not to exceed the generator’s total 5,000 wattage rating. A electric water heater needs 4,500 watts to start the appliance and 3,500 watts to continue powering the heater. So, if that is the plan, it too should be put on a timer and the fridge and freezer turned off while it heats up.

One suggestion I have for off grid water, is the propane heated instant water heaters. Usually called the tankless water heaters, you still must have water pressure, a small propane tank and batteries, then hoses run to a portable shower. They could also be piped right into the plumbing side by side with the existing water heater

Second, batteries are not what you think. The only rational batteries at a decent cost for your planned use are golf cart batteries. Let me talk just a second about the whole concept. You will need deep cycle batteries, do not get stuck with the new technology yet. You need to know exactly how much draw your older appliances draw. You mentioned a 10KW system, that is a lot for the cost compared to alternatives.

Do not trust any of the articles you read about how much power your fridge or freezer will use and do not believe the label on them. For about $40 you can buy a device called the "Kill-o-Watt" that you plug into the wall and your appliance into it, and it tells you exactly how much power your unit it using. Most will use more as they age, seals leak, etc. You have to measure everything you want to put on the back up power, everything. Alarm systems, motion detector lights and everything draws electricity, if it is plugged in.

Your refrigerator takes up to 1,200 watts to start the frig every time it starts, but then may only use 500 watts or less to run, assuming Energy Star everything. The freezer the same way. In an emergency, you should plan to put them on timers, the freezer only needs to be on every few hours, you do not want both of them trying to start at the same time, so you put the on timers.

When you say a 10KW system, I assume you are planning for things like a weather outage? If so, you can never plan on having solar when the weather is bad, bad weather means clouds, rain, snow or other, but not bright sun. So, if solar and batteries are for bad weather, you will need enough battery to run 4-5 days with zero sun. Then if they get to zero, it may take a day or two before they have the start up power needed for each appliance. Like the has water heater, it take a lot.

We live at the dead end of a rural line and use the generators 1-3 times a year, sometimes several days. The smartest and most cost effective thing is a generator, a multi-fuel is great. That way you can buy a couple 40 gallon propane tanks and 5-10 gallons of gas and be set for a very long time. You never worry about the wind or the sun. Generators are easy to maintain and cost zero 99% of the time. A solar system has batteries that are losing their value every day and about year 5 will have to be completely replaced. Small portable generators will last a lifetime. I have 4 generators and use them for many things. The little 4,200 watt from Cabelas and the 3,800 KW Champion just run and run and run. The Champion is over 20 years old and shows no signs of slowing down. Just change the oil every few years and filter and run clean gas in them, and will last a lifetime. I actually run a couple 50 foot coords from outside thru my house when needed. I alternate the fridge and freezer and run my whole house central heat with no problems. It will run the AC summer or winter, I have propane heat.

I put together a system using Harbor Freight 45 watt panels. I only use them for lighting and radios and light duty stuff, the cost of batteries is just too much. To give you an idea of cost, Lowes sells a plug and plan solar kit, it supplies 1,240 watts, nothing close to your 10,000 watts. The cost is $6,700.00. Here is the kit.

OVERVIEW
Plug and play solar.
  • Off grid plug n play solar system with 1500 watt supply inverter ideal for small size remote cabin
  • Includes 2 batteries and additional batteries can be added later
  • Pure sine wave inverter
  • Adaptable installation that can be mounted on the roof or on the ground
  • Quick tilt adjusting mechanism for maximum solar energy production and easy snow removal
  • Smart finish, aluminum and galvanized steel for that elegant and efficient look
  • High energy production at low cost
  • 4 solar panels with total solar power storage 1240 Watts or greater
  • 25 year manufacturers limited warranty on solar panels and 1 year on inverters,1 year on workmanship
Installation ManualPDF

View attachment 182157


SolarPod Portable Solar Power Kit in the Portable Solar Power Kits department at Lowes.com

Anyway, my take is there is no cost effective way for us to use solar for short term emergencies. It is just much more cost efficient to let the food spoil. I actually had a freezer go bad while gone once, it was full of elk and venison. My insurance did reimburse me a bunch on it. I had to throw away 80 pounds of elk. Pretty sad deal for sure.

Excellent overview, thank you!

I also talked to a very seasoned electrician yesterday and the kill-o-watt type devices came up. That's square one. If I want a off grid water heater I need to think about using the sun to directly heat the water in one of the rooftop coiled pipe/solar oven style systems. He also gave me some ideas for natural gas genny, battery back up systems, he has installed some mini wind mills (under eaves and on fence posts) and he's an ardent fan. He talked about a lot of the same things you mentioned.

He speculated that I could install a back up NG genny to run the whole house with gas heat (which we have) for about the cost of a wind/solar system for just the fridge/freezer/water heater.

So, new plan, step one is to determine the real peak and daily draw of my fridge/freezer and forget about the ELECTRIC hot water heater for now.

Plan A is probably going to be an ON GRID battery back up and fix up/trade in my old gas genny on a natural gas/tri-fuel one, and then look to supplement with wind/solar.

To be perfectly frank, the only thing that has me considering this as an "off grid" project as much as a "back up power" project is the constant deterioration of EVERYTHING from infrastructure to supply chain. Unless things turn around what may have been 7 days without power (which I have experienced and lost a freezer full of meat) may turn into many weeks without.

Natural gas should be the last thing to go, but it would be really helpful to keep food fresh when all else fails. Losing my freezer full when it counts may not be something I am able to replace as easily as protecting it up front.
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 ·
Oh, you mean when the grid goes down and stays down, yea, that must be it. I think we are all preppers just depends on our personal situation, where you live, what resources you have, what neighbors, friends and such.

The OP has defined what matters and I totally agree, food is the big one, and a hot shower pretty often is important too. Me, I insist on enough power to run the heat and air which I can do with a 3,800 genset and run the other appliances intermittently. And after several tornadoes taking out the power, having the TV and internet service is a big deal too. For those that do not have tornadoes, you usually lose cell tower service also.


I am a believer that sooner or later we will have massive blackouts of the grid, not just storms, but overpowering the system. Planning in advance just makes sense.
That's a contributing factor for SURE. This last cold snap was the first time in history that TVA used rolling black outs. They have closed coal and nuclear scaling DOWN energy production as demand goes up. I don't see it getting better any time soon.
 

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The MOST important thing that you MUST have is WATER! Depending on the OAT and the amount of exertion you can only go a few days w/o water.
 
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I have several working springs on my property, and my neighbors the same. :) So we do not have to worry about water. Not to mention several creeks and ponds on the property.
 
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That's a contributing factor for SURE. This last cold snap was the first time in history that TVA used rolling black outs. They have closed coal and nuclear scaling DOWN energy production as demand goes up. I don't see it getting better any time soon.
That rolling blackout thing is a scary proposition. Without going full conspiracy theory head for the bunker mentality, we have evidence of how and why they work. And if the climate change people are even close, the rolling blackout will become a standard policy of utility regulation. Not if but when and how often they will happen is a real issue. For example, last year they had a big chunk of Texas without power, too cold for the grid. Well just so happens we have a place in Oklahoma, about 150 miles from the Texas border, where Texas buys its electricity for their grid. The Sate of Texas contracted to buy wind energy from massive wind farms in western Oklahoma. Not a big deal, lots of wind. But these mega companies came to Oklahoma and got massive tax breaks and subsidies under the idea they were producing electricity from wind. But when the lights went out for one to three weeks, and with win towers spinning like crazy and people freezing in Oklahoma, local folks learned that those 200 wind towers just west of our place were sending electricity 200 miles away to Dallas. So, everybody understanding this....people out of electricity for 3 weeks had massive amounts of electricity running right past their house on it's journal to Texas, it was being allocated.

And then there are "priorities".


We all know that there will be priorities. They will claim that military bases are a priority one location. Of course we want the lights on down at the missile silos and the basses where they keep the B 52s loaded with nukes, I worked around both, I understand the priority.

Then of course, we need the police, fire and ambulance service up and running so they can respond to emergencies. And of course, hospitals where those ambulances take those folks will be a priority. You cannont replace a heart vale of deliver twins in the dark.

And then there are those critical agencies and private companies. Remember covid? They set up a system of priorities as to who could stay open. So, Walmart is too big to fail, and they have food, so Walmart gets electricity, I get that. The days we have ice storms would be a good rime to rotate the tires and change the oil at Walmart.

Then of course, in my area we find that gas stations do not plan ahead, so the power goes out, the cannot pump gas, so if you did not stock up for the storms and/or rolling black outs, it will be cold at your house too. And what about all those federal government agencies, the IRS, CIA, FAA, ATF, and such, they need to have electricity for sure.

I could go on but I think everybody gets the idea. When they do the rolling black outs, the folks living down the road in the boonies, or the burbs, and so low on the priority list, there is nothing left. The little old ladies and folks who do not have wood stoves--and wood--will be getting cold fast. City water will run fine, until your pipes freeze. And of course your food is good for a couple days in the fridge and then it is not.


So, yea those rolling blackouts make it a much more serious issue. Thanks for bringing that up, I had totally forgotten. Just for grins, we have a forecast of 5 days of freezing rain and ice starting Sunday. So, I ran my 3,800W gen set for about 15 minutes, added some Stabil and topped it off. I also have a Class C RV with a 4K Onan in it. I ran the genset and the RV for about 15 minutes to make sure everything was good to go. The RV is back-up especially a place for family in the area if they get in distress. I have another 4,500W gent set that I have not started in a while. I have lots of family that does not plan for such things, so I will fire that one up and have it ready tomorrow, if necessary it can go on loan.

Not paranoid because this happens every year where I live and is happening more and more. So, I agree with you OP, it is only a matter of time when everyone's power goes out. Many folks spend $10K on a whole house system and store lots of gas or diesel or propane and that works fine. Some of us just use gen sets. Solar is a nice add on, but in my view is just pretty expensive if the power is out very long. I do not use it, but I have a large wood stove and a couple ricks of wood, should the propane run dry. And our well runs off the gen set. It is only a matter of time, get ready...
 
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