Friday, January 18, 2008

The Generator: Tool for Freedom

The electric generator is, like the rifle, a tool of freedom. Although it is certainly possible to live with no or minimal electric power (as I have done on a few occasions), no one can deny that electricity makes life easier in so many different ways. The problem with electricity is that, for most people, it is supplied by a public utility company, most if not all of which are government subsidized.
Aside from the governmental aspect, one becomes reliant upon a large infrastructure which can fail for various lengths of time and various natural or man-made reasons. Also, continuation of services depends upon a steady, monthly supply of the legal tender; which brings us to the governmental aspect. Not only is every one of those kilowatt-hours going to be taxed, the legal tender one uses to pay for the service will be taxed at least once before you can use it to pay for anything.
Connecting to the system in the first place will be controlled, too. Your electrical system will have to be installed by a licensed electrician, then inspected by the government. All this, of course, costs you more money. The chances are good that, before you will be allowed an electrical connection, you will have to have a public water connection, if such is available in your area. Almost certainly, you will be required to have a licensed and inspected septic system. More money, more inspections and permits, more taxes.
In a lot of jurisdictions, trash pickup will then be required as well. In most of my experiences with public utilities, the fee (and taxes, of course) for trash pickup have been automatically assessed as part of the utility bill, whether the service was actually used or not; and there was no provision for opting-out.
In some jurisdictions as well, there is a driveway connection fee that is automatically assessed, that may be possibly bypassed if one never initiates the process of applying for public utilities. The utility department seems to be the “horse” that all these other, not necessarily wanted, services ride in on, along with their attendant fees. If your jurisdiction is relatively free from all these added “gotchas”, don't be so smug; as they could start adding those things at any time, and if you are already connected, it will be very difficult to disconnect. In fact, it probably won't be allowed. Part of the “social contract”, you understand.
That utility company is a convenient handle to grab you by, and once they have a grip, they don't let go easily.
If you move into the backwoods beyond the powerlines, say to get away from the encroachment of civilization, you are going to be charged for extending the powerlines. This can and probably will run to many thousands of dollars, after which you will be subjected to all of the above mentioned problems, perhaps with even a higher charge for your service than if you had moved closer to town like “normal” people. What are you gonna do after paying twenty thousand bucks for the extension; refuse to pay the surcharge? And now you will probably see that encroachment of the masses you were hoping to avoid, who were only staying away because they didn't want to pay for the powerline; and now you have taken care of that obstacle. They probably won't even thank you, they will just start complaining about your chickens and your ugly old truck.
So what option do you have? Buy a piece of land in a relatively unrestricted area; an area that doesn't require building permits. Build something, find an unlicensed local handyman to build it for you, or drag a trailer or something out there. Build an outhouse, a composting toilet, or dig your own septic tank, or hire the aforementioned handyman to help you. If you can't find a local unlicensed handyman for whatever reason, take a drive through the parking lot of the nearest Lowes or Home Depot; it is a near-certainty that you will find some guys there who are willing to help. Get there early, though.
For water, you can rent or buy a drilling machine, or drive a well, or buy a tank or build a cistern and build a rainwater catchment system, or just haul your water. Or maybe a combination of two or more of the above.
Now, you are ready for electrical power. Time to get that generator. You will probably want to get a battery bank and inverter so you still have power for lighting, refrigeration, entertainment etc. without having to run the genny all the time. You will probably also want to eventually add solar panels and/or a wind generator or whatever, to extend the time you can operate without running the genny. That way, you can run the genny just one to three times per week, 8-12 hours each time, to top off the batteries and operate your heavy loads. Or if you need air conditioning, you can run the genny for a few hours each day, and size your battery bank and inverter to power a small air conditioner overnight in your sleeping area.
But you can make it for awhile with just the generator, if you don't have money for all that other stuff right off the bat. You want to get a good one, though; preferably diesel and definitely 1800 rpm or less. No 3600 rpm screamers here. Although the new ones can be incredibly fuel efficient and quiet, they just don't last long under continuous use. Also, they are too easy to steal. The kind of generator you want will weigh a minimum of 800 pounds, maybe double or triple that. It will be fuel efficient and able to run days, weeks or months continuously if necessary at near-maximum loads. Not that you will be running it like that, but knowing that it is designed to handle it gives you peace of mind to go to sleep, leaving it running overnight if necessary. There will probably be times that it will be beneficial to do that.
Of course, the generator will need fuel, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have to leave the homestead and take a job to pay for that fuel. If your homestead isn't producing much legal tender, you can still produce methane gas or producer gas (woodgas) to run a spark-ignition engine; and with a diesel engine you can either grow oil-producing plants or find a restaurant or two that will give you their used cooking oil. With some diesels, you can even supplement the oil with methane gas or producer gas injected into the intake air stream, which will reduce the amount of fuel oil used.
If you play your cards just right, the “Matrix” may never even notice you are there, thanks in part to your generator.


Sharon Secor said...

You were exactly right, I did find this post interesting and useful. Good info. With the number of big beasts that I have (I share my space with a pack of Great Danes), I've been giving serious thought to a methane digester. Would be a great way to fuel a generator...



Anonymous said...

I like the looks of the genny in the picture. Diesel and water cooled. The heat transfered to the coolant can be captured for heating a living space, giving more bang for your buck. The trucking industry is under new environmental regs that require trucks to have auxiliary power units (APU). Most of these are small, high quality, water cooled, diesels driving generators of about 10kw output. The units are running upwards of $10k, but they are going onto millions of over-the-road rigs , which means that they should be hitting the used market in abundance over time.

Tracy said...

You're right. Kubota makes a single-cylinder water cooled diesel that is commonly used in the APUs you mention, as well as in marine gensets; and the US Army uses them to drive a hydraulic pump for a firing platform leveling system. These engines are selling as surplus on Ebay for $500, and I bought one and plan to build a portable genset for long-term camping use. When I do, I'll write an article about it. In the meantime, I recommend that anyone who wants one of these engines watch Ebay for them, and grab one when you can. When I get a chance, I'll make a quick video of mine running, and post it here.