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  • Low-Cost Durable Solar Systems

    I have been staying on a off-grid, mainly self sufficient farming community, called Living Energy Farm, for the past couple months and thought it might be useful to share their approach and see what the group thinks.

    They use strawbale construction, rocket stoves, passive solar, solar water and air (directly heating air and water without the need to create electricity) and thermal mass storage.

    They also use a unique DC solar electric system that is far more durable and cheaper than comparable solar systems and doesn't require inverters. It has nickel-Iron solar batteries that are less toxic, don't require rare earth metals and can be discharged without degrading over time. The need for excessively large battery banks is avoided with most things being direct daylight driven (plugged directly into panels with fuses or breakers), they just only use these appliances during the day or store energy in heat form through thermal mass. They have been living with these systems for 10 years with very few issues and near zero maintenance costs.

    I think this is a model with much potential and superior to anything I have seen aid and development organizations proposing. In developed countries it would take a bit of a lifestyle change but is ready-made for off-griders, homesteaders, transition initiatives, intentional communities, etc. From my research, there is a good amount of disinformation or lack of knowledge about this, especially the Nickel-Iron batteries.

    I am interested if anyone has experience with similar systems, feedback or suggestions for groups, NPOs, businesses, etc that might be interested in this tech package.

    Here are some videos explaining the systems:





    The basic battery box systems and direct drive solar fridges are now available for purchase at:

    I have deleted your weblinks due to them not being approved.
    Last edited by SunEagle; 03-27-2020, 10:39 AM.

  • #2
    Well, the modern world is fully set up for AC appliances and DC appliances are generally much inferior in performance, cost, and durability. DC systems as you suggest would be quite suitable for use in the 3rd world though.
    BSEE, R11, NABCEP, Chevy BoltEV, >2500kW installed

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    • #4
      He didnt mention the gunk that forms at the bottom of NiFe batteries, which has gotten a lot of discussion here.
      9 kW solar. Driving EVs since 2012

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      • #5
        I've been running a NiFe system for about 10 years and taking meticulous care of it. No gunk on the bottom of any of the 42 active cells.
        2 years ago, I performed the required electrolyte flush and had no issues.
        Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
        || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
        || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

        solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
        gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

        Comment


        • #6
          Originally posted by aurando View Post
          I have been staying on a off-grid, mainly self sufficient farming community, called Living Energy Farm, for the past couple months and thought it might be useful to share their approach and see what the group thinks.

          They use strawbale construction, rocket stoves, passive solar, solar water and air (directly heating air and water without the need to create electricity) and thermal mass storage.
          Since you ask:
          All the non electrical ideas you write of have been around for a long time (rocket stoves for example are loosely based on the roman hypocaust and other such things) and all can be good/useful as far as they go.
          See a volume entitled "A Golden Thread, 2500 years of solar architecture and technology" by Butti & Perlin, ISBN 0-442-24005-8. There's not much new under the sun with respect to those ideas.

          While no insulation material is perfect, the idea of straw bales or other organic material, while perhaps more site available, seems to present problems that non organic insulation doesn't have. Moisture retention, food for bugs and critters, bacteria growth, settling, combustion/fire concerns and other things well meaning but ignorant folks don't consider can lead to problems most of which can be avoided with fiberglass batts and attention to sealing details that are usually ignored or unknown. If they aren't a problem yet, the probability that they will present in the future is higher than if more fit for purpose materials are used.

          Most folks confuse thermal mass with insulating value. The two are not the same. Thermally massive materials like rock, stone, brick and water are usually lousy insulators. They lose/gain heat more quickly than insulating material. It just takes longer for the more thermally massive materials to gain/lose their thermal energy. Get a lot of thermal mass and insulate the crap out of it. Seal the building envelope, insulate the outside surface of a large thermal mass for low heat transmission and a long building thermal time constant ( f(thermal mass/heat loss)). Just don't get it so tight it gets unhealthy and smells can't be easily handled. Insulate to lower energy use. Use thermal mass to mitigate temperature swings, control solar temp. gains, and for thermal comfort.

          Use window placement and exterior shading schemes to enhance/avoid/modify the effects of solar heat gain. Lots of slick tricks that can have large/small effects are around in the literature.

          Active solar thermal for space and water heating is a well developed technology. See builditsolar.com for lots of ideas. Just be careful to separate reality from the redneck engineering that seems to be more prevalent there than some other places.

          Read/Study up. Get informed. Avoid the scams and the cults.

          Take what you want of the above. Scrap the rest.

          Welcome to the neighborhood.
          Last edited by J.P.M.; 03-28-2020, 11:46 AM.

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          • #7
            Originally posted by Mike90250 View Post
            I've been running a NiFe system for about 10 years and taking meticulous care of it. No gunk on the bottom of any of the 42 active cells.
            2 years ago, I performed the required electrolyte flush and had no issues.
            That is good to know. I realize that other thread was only anectdotal. Are there sources where one can purchase NiFe batteries at a reasonable cost today?
            Last edited by Ampster; 03-28-2020, 12:14 PM.
            9 kW solar. Driving EVs since 2012

            Comment


            • #8
              The sources are not "reasonable" - Iron Edison and Be Utility Free
              are the only 2 distributors I know of.
              Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
              || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
              || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

              solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
              gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

              Comment


              • #9
                Originally posted by Ampster View Post

                That is good to know. I realize that other thread was only anectdotal. Are there sources where one can purchase NiFe batteries at a reasonable cost today?
                There are a lot of options for how get nickel iron batteries. The quality manufacturers are Henan Troily, Changhong, and ADS. An old Russian nickel iron has 5 plates per cell (on their small cells). A changhong has 7 plates. The modern Troilys have about 15. They have a lot of metal in them. Living Energy Lights has 10 ah Troily cells. Those can be stacked to get more ah. They are very powerful batteries for their size. Living Energy Lights also as ADS cells in 100 ah size. Those are made in Ukraine. They are a more traditional nickel iron cell, as strong as a Changhong, and with the best watering system on the market. Turn a valve and the batteries are watered. Very easy. The price on the ADS cells is likely to be better as well, as everything coming out of China has a 25% tariff on it right now. Changhong cells are available through Qualmega and Iron Edison. The former is cheaper, but keeps less stock on hand. The biggest issue is avoiding massive battery sets tied to inverters. That is hugely costly. A much better approach is a DC microgrid that allows you to reduce your battery bank size by 90% while maintaining a high level of service. See Living Energy Farm and Living Energy Lights for information about that.
                Last edited by aurando; 03-29-2020, 10:16 AM.

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by aurando View Post
                  Here are some videos explaining the systems:
                  I saw many video and a lot of systems created from them and their farm / factory.. they are.. creative
                  But you didn't mention what is your budget and a minimum goal to archive!
                  and also have you already call other companies to compare with Living Energy Farm?

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                  • #11
                    Originally posted by solarix View Post
                    Well, the modern world is fully set up for AC appliances and DC appliances are generally much inferior in performance, cost, and durability. DC systems as you suggest would be quite suitable for use in the 3rd world though.
                    The modern world is set up for AC appliances, if you accept destroying the planet as appropriate, or paying $1000 year to replace a massive set of lead-acid batteries. DC "appliances" are not inferior. Living Energy Farm runs a fully tooled metal shop, with lathe, metal cutting band saw, drill press, grinders, compressor, the works, all on DC brushmotors. The motors on household AC appliances, the ones that you can pick up and move around, are actually universal motors that run better on DC than they run an AC. The shop tools at Living Energy Farm are all DC brush motors. They tolerate a 500% voltage swing with no problem. They last half of forever. The universal motors need stronger power than the brush motors. All need external switches because DC will burn AC switches. Some appliances are new on the market, like good quality brushless fans. There is no good DC clothes washer on the market yet. So it's not all the same. But the rewards of a DC system are huge. NEAR ZERO MAINTENANCE COSTS. That's. the big kicker. The DC microgrid pushes 90% of the electricity through a daylight drive system. The PV panels and industrial motors last a long, long time, and there's nothing else to break. The remaining 10% of the electricity goes through the nickel iron batteries. Those last for decades. The set at Living Energy Farm is 10 years old and still at 120% capacity. There is a 74 year old set at Living Energy Farm at 50% capacity.
                    As for straw bale, I have been building with bales for 25 years. It's true they are not new, but when you combine good conservationist design with a modern high efficiency DC microgrid, you get to live in a high degree of comfort with NEAR ZERO MAINTENANCE COSTS. That low maintenance costs is also a measure of environmental footprint -- which is much, much lower than any other energy system.

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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by aurando View Post
                      The modern world is set up for AC Appliances....
                      And there is a good reason for that which goes back to a disagreement between Edison and Tesla. Edison was brilliant but he was wrong. That train has left the station. There is no evidence that AC current is destroying the planet. There are many ways to generate clean AC.
                      ...........DC "appliances" are not inferior. Living Energy Farm runs a fully tooled metal shop, with lathe, metal cutting band saw, drill press, grinders, compressor, the works, all on DC brushmotors. ........ The shop tools at Living Energy Farm are all DC brush motors. They tolerate a 500% voltage swing with no problem. They last half of forever. ........But the rewards of a DC system are huge. NEAR ZERO MAINTENANCE COSTS. That's. the big kicker. The DC microgrid pushes 90% of the electricity through a daylight drive system. The PV panels and industrial motors last a long, long time, and there's nothing else to break. The remaining 10% of the electricity goes through the nickel iron batteries. Those last for decades. The set at Living Energy Farm is 10 years old and still at 120% capacity. There is a 74 year old set at Living Energy Farm at 50% capacity.
                      .........
                      That is all good and well for a microgrid but I don't see it being economic at scale or being relevant for the transportation sector. Three phase AC motors are much more efficient than DC motors and have no brushes or commutators to wear out. NiFe batteries are a lot less efficient than Lithium batteries and too bulky for motive power. They also don't seem to be competitive in bulk with the $200 per kWhr now being seen with some large scale Lithium batteries.
                      9 kW solar. Driving EVs since 2012

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