STEVE MAXWELL | Published on: July 25, 2017 |
Slowly but surely, the Canadian electrical system is changing. On the generation side of the equation there’s more solar and wind power coming on stream across the country. But small equipment that boosts electricity independence for end users is changing, too.
I’m always surprised how many people have a deep interest in making their own electricity at a household level. I’m sure the attraction is about more than just economics, too. While big electricity bills are scary, there’s more than just financial fear at work. Quite apart from saving money, many of us feel an attraction to being somewhat self-reliant with a commodity as basic as electricity. It simply feels good knowing you’re not completely dependent on some faceless company out there at the end of the wires.
One of the main refinements to come along lately in the world of home-grown electricity is what I call storage and conversion technologies. If you produce your own power with a windmill or solar panels, then you need to be able to store that electricity for use later. And stored electricity isn’t necessarily something that can power the lights, small appliances, computers and fridges in your life. That’s where conversion comes in.
The best storage-and-conversion equipment I’ve seen so far uses several 12 volt batteries of the size you might find in a car. As with all batteries, the stored power is in the form of direct current (DC). Trouble is, most of our electrical world is made to run on alternating current (AC). You can have a ton of energy stored in batteries, but it won’t be able to operate your microwave, water pump, light bulbs or computer. To make that happen, the DC needs to be converted to the right voltage and frequency of AC. Generically speaking, this job is done by something called an inverter. Sounds complicated? It isn’t because this technology is getting simpler for end users.
Xantrex (www.xantrex.com) is a BC-based company that’s at the leading edge of the kind of equipment that lets people become more energy independent. For the last few months I’ve been working with their PowerHub 1800 battery powered inverter and it’s the best I’ve seen so far. While it’s specially made to connect to solar and wind installations, it serves a useful purpose for anyone connected only to the grid, too.
Imagine a very high capacity uninterruptible power supply (UPS) of the sort you might use to protect your computer. Equipment like this keeps sensitive gear safe from electrical surges, and keeps it running when electricity flickers ON and OFF. As soon as the power goes out, even for a few milliseconds, AC power converted from the battery is delivered as needed. In one way, the PowerHub is like a UPS, but much longer lasting, more powerful and more versatile. Instead of just keeping your computer running with a few hundred watts of power for a few minutes, as a standard UPS does, the PowerHub could keep your laptop operating for more than 100 hours. It’ll keep an 18 cubic foot freezer going for 30 hours and it’ll power a sump pump for more than 8 hours of continuous operation. Maximum continuous power output on this device is 1440 watts – similar to an ordinary 120-volt wall outlet. It’s like your own private, household battery pack.
This unit is quite rightly called a “hub” because it’s made to accept incoming power from different sources. It’s also the first device in the world that accepts power generated on site with wind, solar or a backup generator, as well as power from the grid. It was also exclusively designed in Canada, too.
Our world faces energy challenges, but the solutions are on the rise at the same time. Look around and you’ll find more than a few new things that’ll let you have fun boosting your energy independence.