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Geothermal Off-Grid


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By Karen in Maple Falls, WA on 7/20/2008


We're about to build a house in the northwest corner of Washington State in the foothills of Mt. Baker. We are far from the grid and run solar panels with a generator back-up. I'm interested in doing geothermal, but cannot find any numbers regarding the electrical demands of the pump (i.e.: amp/hours, average hours of operation...) does anyone know where I could find this?

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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 7/22/2008


Sorry I don't have an answer to your question.  However, I was wondering if you obtained a loan for your off-grid construction?  We wanted to go off-grid initially but couldn't find any banks that would fund an off-grid home.
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By Jere in Ray Twp., MI on 7/24/2008


Karen,

Your best bet would be to talk with a couple of geo thermal contractors in your area.  I believe in average temperatures, a geo thermal system doesn't require much electricity.  In extreme temperatures, hot or cold, if the primary system doesn't satisfy the temp that you are trying to achieve, a backup stage will kick in which draws more electricity.  I want to say up to 50 amps, and the next stage if that one doesn't satisfy the requirements may be up to 100 amps.  This would be in extreme cold or extreme hot temperatures.


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By Neil in New Albany, OH on 1/27/2009


The Water Furnace website has PDF files that include power draw.  They are not for the faint of heart, but they do give hard numbers.  Your architect should be able to deal with the numbers.  The architect will need to figure out heat load to see how big a unit is required.  Also, there is the decision about aux heat.  If it is fossil fuel such as propane, you have less peak power demand.  That peak hits you on or near the shortest, darkest days of the year. 

We are on-grid.  Our geothermal uses electric resistance heat for backup.  If I had enough solar to power it in the dead of winter, our house would be a power company the rest of the year.  If I had to power our house off-grid, I would add a wind turbine (our windy months are November-March).


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By John in Twin Cities, MN on 6/16/2010


Also, remember location. In NW Washington, you rarely get snow, unless you are on a mountain... which means it doesn't get below freezing for EXTENDED periods, right?


(Unlike MN, which has two seasons, winter and road repair...)

Pursuant to the previous poster, check out the Honeywell wind turbine - (I forget the name) it looks like someone is finally listening to the residential market, for added energy for those interested in 'off-grid' scenarios, or possible 'off-grid' scenarios...

In the Upper Midwest, if I could be totally off-grid in January, we'd power the rest of the USA the rest of the year- lol! (Ahhh, those lovely 30-below WEEKS we get from time to time.)

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By Neil in New Albany, OH on 6/16/2010


Be very cautious about that "Honeywell" wind turbine. Wait for independent, third-party testing and commentary. I am an engineer, although I am not an aeronautical engineer, and I am EXTREMELY suspicious of the claims for that turbine. Honeywell has lent their name to the turbine maker, it's not made by Honeywell.

The basics of wind are well understood:

  • Bigger swept area means more power and/or improved low-speed performance.
  • The higher up you put it, the better. Down low the wind is gusty and slow.
  • There is effectively no power at low wind speeds. Turbines and their electronic controllers can get very little power out of gusts compared to a steady wind.
  • There are a lot of snake-oil salesmen out there. Don't be the first to buy anything new - the first penguin off the ice is the one that gets eaten by the killer whale.

For useful amounts of power, two of the brands I keep seeing are Bergey and Proven. The Bergey (made in USA) wants a strong steady wind and given that, it delivers. The Proven (made in the UK) 6kW is the turbine of choice in places like the Falklands and Orkney; it survives extreme winds and will make rated power all the while. The Bergey has less-than stellar low-speed performance. The Proven does better at low speeds (given the rating differences) but years ago there were some teething issues that appear now to be solved. 

There are some decent toy-sized turbines out there [real turbines that make small-but-real amounts of power], and there are numerous expensive toys out there [turbines that make bigger clams than they deliver]. There are a small flood of cheaply made Chinese-sourced turbines that look respectable on paper but have unproven (or known-bad) reliability issues.

Beware of anyone who tells you that technology of their new device means it gets better numbers on less-swept area. Beware of anyone who tells you that it's fine to mount it on your house roof instead of up high, well above nearby obstacles. Beware of anyone who claims to make much power at low wind speeds.

The really short form: Big blades on a tall tower is what makes power.


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