ALTERNATIVE SOURCES: Alternative Power Explained

I came across an interesting on-line catalog which actually has factual, explanatory material on alternative power sources: wind, solar, and water. The prices seem very high to me (I have found some of their products elsewhere for a lot less money), BUT the information is free and seems pretty comprehensive given the limitations of length.


I have found two good on-line locations for some basic alternative power.

The one thing I found here that I haven't found anyplace else is a solar powered car battery charger. $32.95, plugs into the car's cigarette lighter. I think it probably takes a while to recharge, since it probably provides only a trickle, but it works on sunpower. I'm not sure about the philosophy of the site (something about Earth changes and some kind of Marian apparitions, but I don't think they're Catholic, more new-agish).

GENERATORS: Generator & Extension Cord

Subject: Generator connections
From: Tom Troncalli <>
Date: Sun, 02 Aug 1998 15:54:33 -0400

Our system does not use backfeeding, is not phase dependent, and uses a stepped load transfer to minimize overloading startups on the generator. In other words, it is simple and it works without the pitfalls of some other hookups. Here is what we did:

We have the generator in the basement on a really heavy power extension cord. I added an 30 amp RV type plug on the generator to allow 30 amp service from the generator to the extension cord. The duplex wall type outlets on generators are either 15 or 20 amp per receptacle and cannot carry the generator power with a single plug.

The other end of the heavy extension cord is connected to a heavy duty service switch disconnect and fuse box that can be purchased at Home Depot or any electric supply house for about $15.

Now I was ready to make a connection and this is where the simplistic and reliable beauty of the plan comes in. I identified a critical circuit that I wanted on standby power, like our refrigerator. I turned off that breaker and removed the switched wire from the breaker output. I lead it out to the common terminal of a commercial duty 20A three-way light switch mounted beside the house breaker panel. This 3-way commercial duty light switch is the heart of the system.

I then put a jumper wire from one of the two switched terminals on the 3-way switch and connected it back to the house breaker where the first wire was removed from. I ran another jumper from the other switched terminal on the 3-way switch to the switched and fused side of the service disconnect switch I had installed at the end of the extension cord from the generator. I had now completed the first of many transfer circuits. All of these circuits are really just a diverter switch to allow the house circuit to feed from the braker panel box or from the generator, but NEVER both at the same time.

When the generator is running, I flip the three-way to the generator side of the switch and that circuit is on generator. If I flip it back, I am again on utility power. I could have added a transfer switch for every breaker if I wanted but it was not necessary. We have 12 circuits on our transfer system they cover every crucial circuit.

We use a very small 2.6KW Kawasaki generator because it is quiet and fuel efficient. Do not let the breaker sizes of your circuits scare you. We have many 20 amp breakers on our house panel box but if we are careful about power usage, we will never use very much current from our generator. The generator has it's own breaker so no damage can be done if the load exceeds the current available from the generator.

One beauty of our system is that it is not phase dependent or sensitive. When you have 230V single phase service provided by your electric utility, what you really have is two 115V alternating current wires 180 degrees out of phase. These wires change polarity 60 times per second. When one wire is negative, the other is positive. The potential, or voltage, between the two AC wires out of phase is 230V. That is where your 230V comes from but don't let that confuse you. The important thing is to keep the utility phases from combining in your generator system and causing problems. We no not have the power to run 230V electric hogs on our power generator anyway. Even if we used a larger generator with 230V available, we felt it was not necessary here to have 230 volts service during a temporary electric outage and the larger generator would burn too much gasoline. If you have a well on 230 volts, you may need to connect for 230 volts also. You make that decision. By staying with only critical 115V circuits, we can disregard the phase problem associated with some other generator connection arrangements.

Half of the 115V circuits in your breaker service panel are on one phase from your utility company and half are on the other phase. Chances are great that your power outage critical circuits you want to feed by generator are shared with both phases of the panel box. By connecting to the generator like we have done, all circuits are on a single phase when on the generator and isolated from the two phases of the utility power.

We have used this system during power outages for many years. I have run the exhaust of the generator through a radiator in the basement to save the heat and conserve gasoline consumption by keeping the furnace from running as much. On a freezing day, our furnace seldom comes on when we are on emergency generator power because of the extra heat buildup in the basement. The exhaust heat extractor also quiets the exhaust. The cooled exhaust goes out the back basement wall where it is whisper quiet. My exhaust system is made of regular 1" plumbing pipe and tested for leaks. I have strain relief supports on the system to prevent metal fatigue from vibration.

During Summer usage when byproduct heat is unwanted, I just disconnect the pipe union welded between generator muffler and heat extractor/exhaust system and roll the generator out the back door of the basement.

On the generator I also installed a manual gas selector valve like some trucks use. One side of the valve feeds gasoline from the generator built in gas tank. I connected an outboard engine fuel fitting to the other side of the valve so I can feed the generator with my 6 gal. boat tanks. I just place a boat tank higher than the generator and let it gravity feed. This makes refueling in the basement a safe and simple matter of connecting a hose and turning a valve with no spillage at all. I use the generator's fuel tank only while switching boat tanks so we can have uninterrupted service. This fuel transfer system is also safer in dark or distressful conditions or by inexperienced help such as kids, etc.

With twelve circuits currently installed in our house, we have at least one light and receptacle in every critical area plus our refrigerator, freezer, electric garage door motor, and security lights. If we use only lights and appliances as we need them our fuel will go a long way. While on generator, we turn off any "ghost loads" like instant-on TV's, wall chargers for adding machines, cordless telephones, etc. Those little transformer cubes that plug into the wall outlets can collectively use quite a lot of electricity (read gasoline!)

We have quiet hours after everyone is in bed and we turn off the generator until morning. We are considering installing an inverter and battery system for low demand quiet hours so the refrigerator and freezer keep running along with night lights and bathroom lights, etc. We would just unplug the main generator supply power cord and replace it with the inverter connection cord. A large single-pole double-throw transfer switch could be used but they are expensive and not essential.

I have a 115V buzzer I made from Radio Shack parts that we can plug into a non-generator outlet so when utility service is restored, we are alerted to switch back the 3-way transfer switches and turn off the generator.

We have used this system since the late '70s and it is really easy and cheap to install once you have a generator. Even though this system is not "code", it sure is safer than backfeeding double-male extension cords from house to generator and hoping you have not combined both phases, and hoping you disconnected the main breaker on your panel box, and hoping you got everything done in the right sequence, and hoping you know when service is restored, and hoping.......

Sorry for the length and confusion. Anyone wanting more info, please e-mail me and I will try to clarify better.---Tom


From: Frank Trozzo <Pearl@CITCOM.NET>

I've been generating now for about four years, mostly for convenience knowing that it would only be a matter of a day or two before the power returned. SO I would like to share some info as to how to hook up a system. It can be very confusing and cause more problems as well as electrical accidents. Several important issues need to be addressed.

Power Requirements

Look into your fuse box for the largest size breaker. AC units are usually the largest at 40 amps. Well pump 20 or 30 amps. Dryer 20 amps, Stove maybe 30 amps. Examine all your circuits and clearly label them. Write down all the breaker sizes and what they supply.

A 20 amp, 220 volt breaker that runs a well pump for instance requires 4,400 watts or 4 kilowatts (kW). 20 x 220 A 20 amp, 110 volt breaker that maybe runs a refrigerator requires 2,200 watts. etc. etc. etc.

If you are on well water, the 5 kW generator will run the well pump alone, but if you have electric water heater with a 30 amp breaker, you'll need 6,600 watts. A 5 kW generator will barely do the job. You need at least a 10 kW generator if you're an electric household. Same goes for heat pumps usually requiring 8,800 watts.

10 kW units are very expensive, $5,000 and up.

If you're on gas, you can do it with a 5kW unit and will be able to run all your appliances one at a time. A gas furnace only needs about 2,200 watts to run its blower motor, so you can have heat no sweat. A gas water heater needs no power, you only have to run your well pump to have a hot shower.

The main deal here is to establish your needs and determine how many watts you need to run at any one time, to establish the generator size.

A standard Coleman or DeVilbiss 5kW unit with a seven gallon tank is available for $500. If you want electric start plan on $1500 and up.

HOOK UP - Here in lies a problem. Utility companies and building codes require a fail safe switching device to go between the generator and the power panel. Guess how much? $250 + $250 to install !!! You just doubled your cost. UNLESS you know how to backfeed you power panel safely and can follow a disciplined procedure, usually while in the dark.


You need a 220 volt breaker installed in your panel, with a 220 receptacle positioned near where you want your generator usually on an outside wall. You can tell the electrician you'll be doing some welding. The dangerous part is that you need a 220v - 10 gauge extension with male plugs on each end. One goes into the generator the other into the wall outlet.

Now, the 220 breaker becomes you backup main breaker after the main is thrown off. Your panel is now energized and ready to feed any other circuit by selectively throwing the individual breakers.

I have written an emergency backup power procedure and placed it inside my panel box. It is as follows.

"Backup PowerUp Procedure"

  1. Try to remember which lights and appliances were on in the house when the power went off and turn them OFF.
  2. Throw Main Breaker to "OFF"
  3. Turn "OFF" the 220v backup main power breaker
  4. Turn "OFF" nonessential circuits Anything you know you won't need, you can label them "NE" in red
  5. Turn "OFF" Optional circuits Those circuits you know you'll be using, label them "OPT" in blue >
  6. Unplug Driveway lights, Humidifier, and Air exchanger These are units in my home that are plugged into my furnace and refrigerator circuits which need to be unplugged manually. Look for yours!
  7. Bring Generator up to full speed 2 to 3 minute warmup to stabilize the voltage.
  8. Plug extension cord into 220 volt wall receptacle
  9. Plug extension cord into generator
  10. Turn "ON" 220v backup circuit breaker Label this "Backup Main" in bold black letters
  12. Turn "ON" optional circuits as needed

NOTES: These are specific to my house but illustrate how to choose among the optional circuits.
2. In order TO RUN WELLPUMP, leave the pump breaker "ON". Turn "OFF", both refrigerators, and furnace. Do NOT use washer, dryer, range or microwave.
3. In order TO RUN FURNACE, Turn "OFF" Wellpump, both Refrigerators, and do NOT use washer, dryer, microwave and range.
4. Label all your light circuits "LITES" in green and leave them on at the panel but off at the upstairs switches. This will allow you to go into any given room and just turn on the lights, generally one room at a time. Very convenient !!

"Power Down Procedure"

Use if generator runs out of gas while supplying house

  1. Turn "OFF" optional circuits
  2. Turn "OFF" the 220v backup main breaker
  3. Refuel and restart generator until running smoothly.
  4. Turn "ON" 220v backup breaker
  5. Turn "ON" optional circuits as needed.

"Switching Back To Utility Power"

  1. Stop generator
  2. Unplug at generator
  3. Unplug at wall receptacle
  4. Throw Main Breaker to "ON"
  5. Turn "ON" all breakers


A double throw disconnect switch is a 3 position switch that has a top, middle and bottom position, which would be for "utility power", "off" and "Generator". This would be fail-safe if you were to throw it to utility it automatically cuts off the generator and visa versa.

Backfeeding allows the possibility of accidentally throwing the main while feeding into the backup line simultaneously. Bad News here..... We're talking potential for big explosion !!!!!!

The next consideration is an extension with male plugs on both ends. Again Potentially very unsafe. If left plugged into the wall outlet and the backup main is turned on, you have 220 volts on the end of an exposed plug. Be very careful not to let that happen.

I hope this is helpful to you all. It illustrates the fact that you really just can't go out to Wal-Mart and buy a generator and come home and plug it in and go, without some important preparation and considerations. Frank

GENERATORS: Propane Generator Safe & Expensive

We opted for a propane generator that will turn on if the power fails (diesel was way out of our budget, and we didn't want gasoline for safety reasons).

It's a Winco Packaged Standby System (Winco PSS8000). Produces 100 amps, enough to run two or three hours a day to keep basic things (furnace, well pump, hot water heater, freezers, plus a few lights) running. Has a manual override. It's in a - quote - "self-contained, sound-attenuated outdoor housing" -- a metal box about the size of an air conditioner -- which we'll install in a garden shed next to the house. The price quoted by Winco was $4,019. But the nearest Winco agency wanted about $1,600 more than that, so our electrician will try to get it for us at the $4K price. Anyway you look at it, a generator, unless you're experienced in putting one together yourself (we're not), is expensive.

For a brochure or more info on the Winco generator, call 1-800-328-0328.

. . . If you have neighbors close by, and if they're y2k-aware, or at least preparedness types, you might be able to go in with them on a generator. Some one the mid-sized diesel gen-sets provide enough power for several homes. They're expensive, though. If you go this route, then you and your neighbors can split the cost of the gen-set, the batteries, the inverter, wiring, fuel, etc.

Another option is a gasoline/propane generator. They're much less expensive, but also have a much shorter lifespan. They also use much more fuel than a diesel.

A third option is to connect an car alternator to a small, lawn mower sized motor. There are special brackets available at The Epicenter at The Epicenter also has inexpensive inverters on the same page.

Whatever option you go with, you should have a generator, an inverter, and a deep cycle battery to make a complete system. Such a system could easily run your fridge for a year (provided you have enough fuel).

I'm in the process of installing a backup power system, so I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have, direct you to someone who knows the answer, or just commiserate. Mike Aimino

.. . I have a good website for generators

My husband and neighbor are working on ideas for a steam powered generator boiler for power run by wood fuel. Let you know how that turns out.


For anyone in a financial position to buy another appliance, I would suggest looking at the Jade Mountain website for information on LP gas run freezers and refrigerators. They have been in use in motor homes and travel trailers for years and the large ones are super efficient. They only use about two gallons of gas a week in the hottest climates which at a dollar a gallon is much less than running an electric one. LP gas stores for much longer than gasoline which you'd have to store if you had a generator. If you have your own tank keep it topped off and if a shortage hits, you are set for quite a while. Even if y2k never "hits" , there are sure to be more ice storms and hurricanes which will cut off supplies and electricity. Been there done that - patti


> > Subject: Refrigerators >
From: Tom Troncalli <>

My wife Diane and I live in North Georgia. I want to address an easily available alternative 115V source of power. Not only is having 115V available a luxury that we all appreciate, but storing food and medicine by refrigeration can be vital.

An "Inverter" is something that converts 115V alternating current (like a house has) from a direct current (DC) source. The DC source can be typically 12, 24 or 48 volts. A car type battery is roughly 12 volts direct current. Some inverter systems use batteries running in series for their power source end to end like a flashlight, to get 24 volts or more, depending on the number of batteries. There are advantages on a house installation to have higher DC voltages by series connecting the batteries but for Y2K easy preparation, it is probably easier to work with 12 volts for a number of reasons.

Many low voltage appliances are available that either charge or run off of 12DC volts making the battery source for the inverter a direct power source for these appliances also. On the market are 12DC solder irons and other shop equipment. You can find travel hair blowers. shavers, reading lamps, etc., that are 12DC also. Just about everything we use as consumers is either 115 AC or 12V DC.

Because of the popularity of 12 volts, 12V DC inverters cost less than the higher voltage input inverters and are available from many more sources.

If you want a larger, longer lasting charge of available 12 power, which is rated as "amp hours," you can combine similar batteries in parallel. Parallel is side by side battery connection instead of end to end in the serial type connection. In a two battery parallel connection, the battery voltage stays the same going to the inverter but the endurance of a charge is doubled with both batteries contributing. The actual amount of work done, (watts,) is the same for both systems but because of the practicality of working with such a common voltage as 12 volts this is probably the best method for most Y2K applications.

Without getting too technical, higher voltages can transfer more power for longer distances because the line loss is less with higher voltages. That is why those utility grid system wires stretched across America carry many thousands of volts. (Not too practical in a house, though!)

A transformer in your neighborhood reduces the incredible voltages down to manageable lower voltages to your telephone pole near you. Another transformer on the pole drops the voltage again to two 115V AC voltages that are 180 degrees out of phase with each other. Even though they are each 115 volts, the difference between them is 230V which is what your well pump, air conditioner and electric range run on. The higher the voltage, the more efficient the line transmission. That is why the cross country lines are such a high voltage. Line loses go down with higher voltages.

For short runs where everything is close together, like in a Y2K refrigerator system where the battery, inverter, charging system and refrigerator are probably close together, line loss is not a big problem. I think the advantages of 12V outweigh the disadvantages for such a system. If you are going to go all out with big bucks and do your whole house on solar, the higher voltages are more efficient.

Please let me know if I can address any detailed situation regarding this stuff. The Sunelco company has about the best catalog and info that I have ever found. Their catalog is worth the $4 for the info alone. (Unless you are a technoid, it can also be pretty deep!) - Tom

REFRIGERATORS: Small Refrigeratior With Battery

From: Tom Troncalli>

I have been lurking in the shadows and have read several contributions regarding questions about storage of meds that require refrigeration. Some have mentioned using small refrigerators with a battery and inverter.

It is important to take load demands into consideration in regard to the use of inverter. A small campus type refrigerator like those sold so reasonably in the stores require at least several hundred watts. The startup loads on an induction type motor may be twice its running load. That means a 300 watt motor may require a 600 watt or more inverter. Also, no electronic equipment should be run at it's maximum capacity, not to mention that it may be useful to run more than one item off of the inverter at the same time, like extra lamps, two-way radios, etc. Some of the new larger inverters have a 230VAC and 115 VAC output. These could run your well as well as your refrigerator. Without electricity, deep wells are a problem.

The 115 VAC inverters that you see advertised for under $100 are usually in the 75 to 250 watt range and will not perform the required loads needed for the little refrigerators. Companies like Statpower and Whistler make these little inverters and larger sizes that cost a little more but will have the ability to run the small fridges, electric drills., etc. without stalling on startup and without premature burnout.

This new generation of inverter is of the high frequency design and are generally smaller and cheaper than the more traditional ferro-resonant types. Some loads are sensitive to the "output wave" of 115VAC. This is the output form of the alternating current that can be seen on an oscilloscope. A waveforin from your local electric utility is a true sine-wave. (probably regulated by a non-Y2K compliant embedded chip!)

The modern high frequency inverters are smaller and lighter than the larger ferro-resonant inverters. However, these inverters do have a drawback.They make a "modified sine-wave output" unlike the utility grade "true sine-wave output" like the larger, more expensive ferro-resonant type inverters produced from the Heart and Trace brands.

Some computers and other sensitive electronic equipment will not function well or at all on anything but a true sine-wave output. The little high frequency inverters are now starting to become available with true sine-wave outputs but at a much higher price. Some companies now offer both output grades in their selection. Which ever way you go, do not buy the old square wave inverter of a few years ago. You can get them at flea markets, etc. but they are not a bargain at any price. About the only thing they are really good for is incandescent light bulbs. (non-resonant or non-inductive loads, i.e.. no motors!)

I have operated a small refrigerator on occasion with a 600 watt modified sine-wave high frequency inverter and have had no problems. This inverter works at load with over 90% efficiency. Even though the output is "modified sine-wave" I can still use it on sensitive electronics if I use charging transformers to the electronics instead of 115 volt direct connections. This "cleans up" the waveform. This means that you can charge VCR batteries, car batteries,, even laptops if you have a 115V to say a 12 VDC charger cord.

Running a 115V TV directly from the inverter may be a problem. You probably will not damage the TV but you could get lines, snow, reduced picture size, etc. However, this will probably not be your worst Y2k problem! (:>

For the price difference on the inverter types, the cheaper modified sine-wave inverter make a lot of sense except for only a few applications like the above mentioned.

Inverters make sense in general on loads like a refrigerator that are of inconsistent loads. A refrigerator will not pull any load until the compressor cycles on. To run a refrigerator on a gasoline generator would be terribly inefficient and noisy. An inverter uses current only when a load is present, like when the refrigerator cycles on. There is a small "idle current" that is required by the inverter in the stand-by mode but the idle current is negligible compared to the inefficiency of a gasoline generator running with no load, not to mention the wear, noise, fumes, fire hazard, etc., of a generator.

Another big advantage of an inverter is that they can run off of a battery that is maintained by a solar panel. FREE electricity from the sun. I don't know, but I'm betting that the sun will be here longer than any stored gasoline you have! I have one 45 watt solar panel and I can keep my small fridge going indefinitely if I do not open the door too often. Also, you can effectively double the efficiency of these small refrigerators by taping or gluing 1" Styrofoam on the sides and door to help insulate them. Keep the condenser coil in the back in a free flow of air for better circulation. If your unit has the coil embedded in the side panels, make sure that you do NOT insulate those areas. Those areas needs to be in a good air flow just like an exposed condenser in the back. If you do not see coils in the back on your unit, feel for hot spots on the cover for the condenser and insulate everywhere EXCEPT the hot spots where the condenser is. The hot areas need to be in the best air flow possible and uninsulated.

Even if your refrigerator pulls more watts than the solar panel can replace, the panel will help prolong the time needed between making other types of re-charging necessary, like cranking the car, the portable generator, etc.

For about $1000 you can put together a solar fridge with a large solar panel, high frequency type inverter, and deep cycle battery to keep insulin, etc. for as long as the battery remains serviceable. Even though you are keeping the battery charged, any battery has a finite life and needs to be replaced someday. If you're worried about battery availability in the future, a second deep cycle battery of the dry-charged variety purchased now could sit on your shelf as standby for a long time without degradation. When you do put it in service, you add the sulfuric acid electrolyte and charge it at that time. Only then will the life count-down begin on that battery.

I know some of this is confusing but it is really very simple to put this life saving system together without any previous experience. Just make your power available is greater than your power demands and the system cannot fail. Solar panels are good for at least 30 years and have no moving parts to wear out.

SOLAR POWER: Go To RV Sales Store For Solar Power

Our local RV sales store told me they build solar panels for RVs all the time. For a smaller one that could run a TV, small refrigerator, radio ... runs $300.00. Anyway, what it does is continues to recharge a BIG battery with an adapter for the plugs of the appliances. I thought that was great! I was wondering if I could put one on my water pump for our well, and/or for a small refrigerator. I will get the web site info on how to build it yourself too. It's at =""> "How to make a solar power generator" They said you can get everything you need at a Radio Shack


How to make a water-wheel to generate power:

The rainbow power company sells and promotes energy from solar, wind and water power. The URL is: They sell a book "Energy from Nature". They also have the following products:

Rainbow Dolphin - rechargeable dolphin torch
BEST Eco Cooker - Fuel efficient stove
Rainbow Hydro - 300w pelton wheel hydro
BEST Combined Heat and Power - Steam Engines
Rainbow Sine - 300w sine wave Inverter
Glockeman - Water powered pump
Rainbow Microgrid - small scale power distribution
Selectronics Inverters - Coming Soon

WIND POWER: Windmills

Cumberland General Store has a catalog with lots of windmill information in it: Cumberland General Store,(An hour west of Knoxville) #1Highway 68, Crossville, Tennessee 38555 1-800-334-4640 fax 931-456-1211

There is also a company called Kansas Wind Power (?) Also there's a windmill research center in Lubbock, TX. The address is: American Windpower Center PO Box 4666 Lubbock, TX ZIP? 806 -788 -1499

WIND POWER: Wind Power For Off-Grid Electricty

Going completely solar is cost prohibitive, we found. We were quoted $75,000 to have a solar system that would keep us off the grid.

Wind seems to be the best bet...but it'll only work in certain areas of the country. Check out the wind map at Wind Resource Database( to see if you are in an area that is efficient for wind.

A great site to check out is World Power Technologies, Inc. for more information on wind turbines. They sell one of the best...the Whisper. They also have lots of links on their resource page. Home Power Magazine, the hands-on journal of ... just did an article this month on how to pick a wind turbine. It's in Adobe (which I have successfully downloaded!!! YEAH!!!) and was very helpful.

It looks like we'll be able to set up a complete power system (wind, with solar as a backup for windless days) for around $7,000...and that will keep us off the grid.