like to tinker. I like things mechanical. A little music is good too,
especially if it is creative. And I love things that are free: like the
wind. The sound of it, the feel of it on my face, and the intrinsic
energy inherent in it.
years ago, I put up a rooftop-mounted wind generator, and then another the
following year, and then a third a year or so after that. It wasnít hard
to do and didnít require any special-function tools, just the regular ones
everyone has. Even so, I figured that I better leave the tools handy.
Those mechanical whirlygigs, I supposed, will need attention, and more
than likely, lots of it and real soon. I get a typical wind of 10-15 mph
almost every day, stronger in the winter, and much stronger in a storm.
Notice the weather beaten and wind eroded appearance of the stain on my
homestead, certainly in need of a fresh coat. I even had a hurricane back
a year or so ago. No one liked that. Not the house, not me, not even the
wind generators. But nothing broke, so those tools still lay dormant!
Normally, due to a genetic flaw from somewhere in the past, I seriously
lack organizational skills. I just leave my tools wherever the last
project was. This tool filing system came about from having to drop
everything and quench the fires typical of every do-it-yourself
homestead. Then, of course, there were those especially special fires,
the hot ones, the ones you canít put off, not even for a moment. We all
Mine may involve immature but awful big and awful friendly
livestock playing with the ladder Iím standing on, or even worse, a bunch
of eternally immature Australian shepherds trying to herd a slow-moving
porcupine or an even more recalcitrant skunk towards an open door. Such
episodes dull the mind, they so laden it with immediate panic that not
only is the tool hopelessly mislaid, perhaps even thrown, that even after
the rescue, (or climbing back up the ladder after being tossed off it) my
brain is still dulled to the point where I cannot not even recall WHAT I
was working on... the tools laid down or tossed in haste, become
hopelessly lost almost forever... until the lawnmower finds them.
But, for the most part, sans panic, this drop-íem-where-you-are process
works out ok, I only have to remember what the last thing I worked on was
and... voila! thereís the tools. All in all, it works pretty good
for me. Of course, now and then I need to have duplicate sets of cheap
Chinese tools scattered around. Iíd be derelict if I didnít mention to
you, however, that this filing concept breaks down when it comes to
rooftop projects. And since this is dealing with a rooftop project, I best
mention that this filing system works dangerously poorly for this kind of
project. Being clanged on the head by a big pipe wrench, even a cheap
Chinese one, rolling off the roof because the roof somehow knows I am
within reach is not my cup of tea anymore. I donít think it is anyoneís
cup, except perhaps Evel Kneivel, but I think he is dead. Or at least
it comes down to this: when the wind generators get broken, I have to hunt
for the tools because I know they are not on the roof. That could take
days; it could even take weeks, but the doggonnest thing is... the
dang wind generators donít break! So much for tinkering. So much for
chaos, one less need for duplicate cheap
tools or choice words because the tools are not on the roof where, in a
perfect world, they should have been left.
Who needs tools if the dang things donít break? Well, I suppose,
thereís still the tractors... they are always broken, or rusted, or... well, never mind!
Alas, thatís not entirely true. There have been some repairs made to the
wind generators and this update to the
Rooftop Wind Farms article
is designed to highlight the maintenance issues Iíve faced and then pave
the way to subsequent articles on installing a fourth wind generator.
recap from the Rooftop Wind Farm article, I have three roof mounted wind
generators: two Southwest Windpower 400 watt Air-X units and an 800 watt
Mallard 800E along with some solar panels that supply my electrical power
needs. I do have, and I highly recommend if you live off grid, a
backup gasoline powered generator. In fact, I have two backup gas
generators; one is a small 1,000 watt unit that I use most when the sun and
wind abandon me for more than 4 days at a time.
It is a cute little fuel
miser that will run my computers, both at once when I need to, plus fire
up lights, a boom-box, low-power tools and assorted other things including
the radio dish for my internet connection, wireless router and some other
electronic doo-dads. I also use a second and larger gas generator, a
3000 watt unit, to juice my power tools or water pump... the big boys,
the watt suckers, like the two-burner electric stove I use for burning
dinners on occasion. It is less miserly on gas so I use it only when
required. But with the backup generator, I can cook beans and steak at
the same time. I cannot with my alternative energy setup and do not mean
to imply that it is a totally sufficient system for the typical
household. At least not at the scale I live on.
Air-X units, those fish-tail looking units near the crest of the roof,
have been flying for over 6 and 5 years respectively. The big green,
6-bladed Mallard on the lower south roof has been in service for 3 years.
So, being almost 7 years off the grid, I have some experience in dealing
with the unexpected, the malfunctions, Iíve had direct contact with Mr.
Miserable, Malfunction-Murphy himself. Here is a list of the repairs so
Air-X, west side of roof: Burned out control circuit board 1st year of
service, repaired under warranty by the factory.
Air-X, east side: Same thing, first year of service, circuit board
replaced under warranty. A replacement circuit board was sent to me
free of charge from the factory with instructions on how to install it.
Oh boy! I get to use tools. Where might they be?
Mallard 800E: In the 2nd year of service it suffered a bent hub, thatís
the thing that secures the blades to the rotating shaft. The hub was
replaced with a new design, one that is stronger and lighter. Cost:
around 25 bucks, 28 bucks if you include new cheap Chinese replacement
tools for the ones you canít find, thirty bucks to include a can of shiny
paint to match the rest of the unit. Oh boy, once again, more roof-time.
Replaced ALL rubber vibration isolating mounts on the mast, way more than
once. Eventually I changed them all to solid mounts with rubber spacers.
I only had to do that once, problem licked.
Air-X east side: Tossed its plastic nose cone in year 3. Nose cone
retrieved from the meadow and I epoxied the cracked cone then reinstalled
it. Two weeks later I had to fetch it again, same meadow, about the same
distance away. No more epoxy, it is now and forevermore running without a
Air-X west: Blown fuse. This is a very noticeable condition with the
Air-Xís although it took me about 20 minutes of head scratching to figure
out what was going on the first (and only) time it happened. When a fuse
in the Air-X blows, the unit will free-wheel and winds up to full speed,
the internal speed control senses this and slams on the brake. The brakes
are nothing more than a feedback of generated current into the armature
windings that creates an electro-magnetic drag on the rotor. This slows
the rotor and the brake releases. Then, the unit spins itself crazy again
until the brake once again slams it to a stop electro-magnetically. This
will go on and on unmercifully until you realize the fuse has blown and
replace it. To correct this, I put the stop switch between the Air-X and
the fuse. Now if the fuse blows, the stop switch can still be thrown to
the closed position which shorts the windings and puts a drag on the rotor
at all wind speeds.
The Mallard does not have the electronic brains like its sisters, the
Air-Xís. There is no automatic electronic braking feature. I use a
stop switch positioned between the fuse and the wind generator that will
short the windings to create the drag. Otherwise, without a stop switch
positioned ďupstreamĒ of the fuse, the Mallard could spin itself to a
violent death if the wind is strong enough.
Thatís it! No other repairs, not even tune ups. Well, no, thatís not
true. I did clamor up on the roof one more time to adjust the voltage
control unit on the Air-Xís to the OFF position. That was necessary after
I installed a diversion load controller on the battery bank inside the
house to take over the control functions. Note that the Mallard does not
have any circuit boards or control electronics in itís housing. A
definite plus in my experience.
Robust little things these little wind generators are, I must say, but if
you are a tinkerer, it can be a dilemma. Thereís just nothing to do but
sit, watch and listen to them sing ... all day long. ďNo fix-emsĒ,
they should call them. My tools are rusty from repose... at least I
suspect they are, I canít find them since they are not on the roof where,
according to my tool filing system, they should be.
other maintenance issue to be aware of is that in the winter, after a wet
snow and cold windless night, the blades can ice up and not spin until the
sun comes back out to melt the ice, generally the next day. I have yet to
climb up on the roof to de-ice the blades, a particularly treacherous
thing to do on a metal roof in the winter.
thatís it for maintenance. Letís talk about cost effectiveness.
Bear in mind that Iím not a financial genius.
West side Air-X. Below the wind generator is a wind
speed sensor coupled to a read out display inside the house.
Does is make sense to generate your own electricity? Will it pay off in
lifetime? It did for me. Although my circumstances are a little unique,
with the wind generators, the pay-back period was almost immediate and
well in my favor.
often asked how long it took to break even on purchasing and setting up an
off-grid facility. The cost of a small (read that as very small) system
like mine is relatively budget friendly: less than $600 each for the
Air-Xís, $385 for the Mallard. Thereís additional costs of around $250
each unit for pipe, mounting hardware, wire, switches, gauges and other
support equipment (like replacing lost tools), not counting the free
labor... mine, or kids', if you can find them. Thereís also an
inverter and batteries to consider and that could get expensive depending
on your choices. Miserly me took the cheap road during the learning
phase, Wal-mart batteries (deep-cycle kind, about $60 each), 5 of them,
and two 750 watt inverters for about $79 each. Iíve added more items
along the way but for the most part, the above represents a functional
basic system that has worked well for me.
donít use much electricity, hence I donít generate much electricity, or is
it the other way around? In either case, does it make more sense to generate it
or just buy it from the locals?
Aside from personal philosophy and the thrill of doing it myself, in my
case it certainly made sense to generate it myself. With a minimum
$30/month electric bill, ordinarily it could take a while to justify the
cost of the off-grid system. But it would have cost close to $14,000 to
bring power in to my facility since I do live a fair stretch from
civilization. Hence, the payback justification was quite immediate.
watt Mallard chasing the wind.
real payback for me however, came from the psychological and philosophical
change to my very core thatís worth way more than the dollars I have or
ever will have saved. It is actually no longer a matter of dollars
saved. I have comfortably found that I just donít need much of the stuff,
the very same stuff that I didnít even need before but didnít realize it.
Ahh, the Zen of it all! My eyes have been opened. And I get lullabied to
sleep almost every night in the process of generating the electricity for
tomorrowís use or for the next few days.