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theWatt Podcast 63 Part 2

Bill Kemp, author of the books below, is on the show talking about off-grid living. More info on Bill's books can be found at AzText Press. Transcript available below.

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Quick summary of podcast:
  • Bill talks about the reasons for living off-grid and how living off-grid is not necessarily going to reduce your carbon footprint, because typically off-grid homes are in remote areas that require lots of driving to get to and because most off-grid homes exisiting today are powered by diesel generators.
  • The topic of making your home as efficient as possible came up, because this means that it would cost much less when sizing renewable energy sources. But, it doesn't mean that you have to change your lifestyle. Bill has managed to reduce his home's energy consumption to just 3kWh/day on average!
  • Bill's home uses a wind generator which mostly operates in the winter, photovoltaics, which mostly operate in the summer, battery storage and a biodiesel backup generator just in case.
  • The issue of maintaining your off-grid home came up. In 14 years of living off-grid, Bill hasn't had to replace much, just his PV tracker. It turns out that it is not too hard to maintain your power plant, but you must make sure that you take proper care of your batteries especially.
Disclaimer: This transcript was provided by a 3rd party and may not be 100% accurate. Please refer to the audio as well.

Ben Kenney: Bill Kemp who has written books about biodiesel off-grid living and energy efficiency joins us on the show once again. He is on the line from his off-grid home, which is close to Ottawa, Ontario. Bill was on a show three weeks ago now talking about biodiesel. It actually feels longer than three weeks for me, but for today's show we will be talking about living off grid and how to ditch the grid if you want to ditch the grid. Bill has written a book about this topic called the Renewable Energy Handbook, which you can purchase from and actually I also noticed that Amazon now has Biodiesel Basics and Beyond in stock right now. So, Bill, how long have you been living off-grid?

Bill Kemp: Well, we have been 14 years now off the electrical grid and the natural gas grid, but the only grid we have coming here is the road.

Ben Kenney: Why did you decide to live off-grid?

Bill Kemp: Well, people who live off-grid do it for a number of reasons but primarily the main reason is economics, which surprises a lot of people because you hear a lot of people say, "Oh, it's too expensive," but that is really not true. It should not actually cost you any money. What it is, is a decision as to where you want to live in. Usually what promotes it is see there purchasing a new lot to build a new house or cottage and when you find the ideal spot that might be overlooking a lake or up on the top of the mountain or wherever it happens to be. There becomes an issue of, "Oops, the hydro wires are a distance away," and hydro does not extend the wires for free, you have to pay for that. What you will find, depending on the type of soil and where the property is located, a kilometer or more of distance from your chosen building site to the hydro wires will generate a bill for extending the lines of up to $50,000 and of course it goes up from there. It does not take an awful lot of thinking to realize that if the extension of the lines is 50 grand and I can put an off-grid system in for $35,000 or $40,000 that suits my lifestyle needs, then it is a no-brainer. Why would I spend that equity on somebody else's equipment when I can put it into my own home and also live with the energy self-sufficiency and much more reliable power in the long run.

Ben Kenney: Yeah. So one thing that is I am kind of wondering though that if people are building or living in kind of remote areas, does that mean that generally they are driving more?

Bill Kemp: Well, certainly and just because you are off-grid does not necessarily mean that you are more environmentally friendly or that you are less carbon neutral and that is one of the big myths about off-grid living. In fact, I would argue that in most cases a person who lives downtown in a condominium wears an Armani suit to work and walks or takes public transit is going to be way ahead in terms of environmental footprint than the back to the lander who is off grid grows organic food and uses a 1972 Chevy pickup truck to cart stuff to a distant village. So environmental friendliness and off-grid do not necessarily go together. You have to actually look at the whole picture before we can take an accurate environmental assessment.

Ben Kenney: I know in your book you have a short survey of different people living off grid and how they live off-grid. Are there many people living off-grid?

Bill Kemp: Oh, yeah. There are an enormous numbers of off-griders. If you look at North America, although it is not super accurate statistics, but if you just take single family homes and cottages or second homes, the number is estimated at around a quarter of a million. We are probably in Canada, we probably have a higher number actually by per capita than in the United States because we have a lot of off-grid either hunting camps or fishing camps or ecotourism camps as well that can be added into the list where it is just completely impractical to extend the hydro lines. There are many of these types. Now, not all of these off-grid installations are benign and pretty. Many of these just simply run diesel generators for their off-grid applications. If we deduct them, in Canada, we are probably down to some going from about 30,000 to 35,000, we are probably cutting it down dramatically probably into the 15,000 to 20,000 range of people that are using renewable energy to produce their electricity in their off-grid home.

Ben Kenney: I guess they would just do that, people will be using diesel generators just because they are a lot cheaper than buying wind power or…

Bill Kemp: That is right and maybe their energy needs are extremely high or they have been there for a long, long time. The chapter that you refer to what we have done there, we call it a Showcase of Off-Grid Homes. I am focusing primarily on the issue of renewable energy rather than just simply using fossil fuels to generate your power and one of the big issues of course is sizing the system to your lifestyle needs and of course that is a very important part of the whole application, to match the budget and the system size.

Ben Kenney: Before we get into that, what type of lifestyle changes have you had to make living off grid?

Bill Kemp: None.

Ben Kenney: None.

Bill Kemp: Absolutely none. If you were to take a little tour of our house what you would find is that it is a very sustainably built and energy efficient home, but what you will find inside is that we have a very, very typical kind of middle class life in terms of appliances, I mean electric refrigerator, we have a big screen television set and surround sound system and satellite TV and satellite Internet, we have a bread maker, cappuccino machine. We have a gymnasium downstairs that we built that has cardio equipment, treadmill, another stereo system down there. I have got my office with computer, fax machine; all of the usual stuff. So really what you see here is a very, very normal kind of lifestyle, but having said that, it is designed in such a way that we have used the most energy efficient appliances and so on so that our total electrical demand is actually around five times less than the average North American home. So it is still quite easy to live a good quality lifestyle. It is just making sure that you get the most energy efficient appliances.

Ben Kenney: Can you give us any numbers like how much is your home? How much power does your power consume?

Bill Kemp: Sure. Well, on an average day, assuming we do not need air conditioning, the house will consume about 3 kilowatt hours per day.

Ben Kenney: Okay.

Bill Kemp: If we crank on the air conditioning, of course, it depends on the… Primarily here it is not so much the temperature, it is more of the humidity extraction so it does not need to be on very much, but if it is an extremely hot and humid day, you could take our consumption up to maximum of well, maybe 9 kilowatt hours, perhaps 10 kilowatt hours would be a bit on the high side, but somewhere on that range, but that happens very infrequently, but even still the system is still able to support the air conditioning system for the house. We are still far below the average home.

Ben Kenney: Three kilowatt hours that is really, really small. In my apartment, I am using around 11-16 kilowatt hours and I thought I was doing pretty well.

Bill Kemp: Well, that is not bad for an average person connected to the grid, but you know you will find that there is an enormous amount of waste built into that and it is very, very important for people that are off-grid to understand energy efficiency first because the fact of the matter is, is that you are simply building your own power station and for every dollar you put into energy efficiency you save probably $5 or $6 on the equipment necessary to generate the power so it is just completely uneconomic to be putting poor quality or energy inefficient appliances in. So if you look through our house with an untrained eye you will not see any difference, but if you look through our house with a trained eye, what you are going to find is compact fluorescent lights serve are everywhere. There is no doorbell at our house. Doorbell draws an enormous amount of power sitting there doing absolutely nothing because it is what we call a phantom load and so it is actually drawing just about as much power sitting there doing nothing as it does when you are actually pushing the button. So what you are going to find here is a door-knocker that does exactly the same job. You will see that the house is actually wired for X10. We have remote control so that, for example, when you are sitting in the living room, you can turn on and off the lights or dim them while you are watching TV. We are not losing any of those nice features but what you will find is at the end of the night when we are done watching the tube and turning of the surround sound system that there is a couple of on and off switches that we put off to turn off the TV, to turn off the stereo and the amplifier, so that they are not sitting there consuming electricity while they are sitting in the idle mode. It is interesting to note that on our big screen high def TV, it is almost exactly the same amount of power when it is turned off as when it is turned on running, unbelievable. So it is very important to find all of those little tricks and reduce the energy consumption just to keep the cost of the equipment down.

Ben Kenney: So what is the big thing that we should be focusing on? I guess heating and cooling your home?

Bill Kemp: Well assuming it is a new house, the first thing that you are going to do is start with the design and the biggest energy consumer is the heating and the cooling of the house and I am not going to bother getting into the sustainability of the house and the embedded energy in the material. Let us just talk about the actual operation. So, you want to build the home to at least R 2000 certification for energy efficiency and take advantage of as much passive solar heating and cooling as you can and this requires careful site planning. The long access of the house should face solar south. Roof overhang should be designed to reject the summer sun, but allow the winter sun to come in. The house should be well sealed and have proper air exchange in it to keep the quality of the air as high as possible. The heating system needs to be carefully designed. You are not going just slap in a central furnace in an off-grid home because the fan that runs maybe 10 hours a day in the wintertime is going to be too high of an electrical load so you are going to pick different designs. Traditionally, most people use a high-efficiency woodstove preferably one that is environmental protection agency rated for low emissions. In our home, when we built the state of the art of the time unit had a catalytic converter built into it and we still use that stove in our home, although the technology has changed now primarily to this more advanced combustion systems, but in any event as long the unit is operated properly and well maintained there is very little emission not to mention very little cost in operating the house. The air circulation should be done as much as possible by natural convection and looping. So it is designed to allow the heat to rise and the cool air to fall down so that it self-circulates. The proper insulation in the house, radiant barrier insulation in the rafters to reject the summer heat in the home to reduce the cooling load, so there is a lot of thinking about that. Backup heat has to be considered unless you are the sort of people that stay home all the time. There has to be some way of heating the house in the winter when you are not there. This tends to be where most people will pick propane as the heat source of choice and indeed that is what we have used until very recently in our efforts to reduce carbon footprint completely. We have actually gone to using the biodiesel units that look like a woodstove, but they actually burn biodiesel and do not require any electricity to operate.

Ben Kenney: That is interesting.

Bill Kemp: Yeah.

Ben Kenney: Pellet stoves are also quite efficient.

Bill Kemp: Pellet stoves are okay. You have to be a bit careful with them in terms of the total electrical energy that is required to operate them, but there are some that are designed specifically for off grid and certainly one of the advantages of pellet stove is that the pellet themselves are actually made from waste wood product in the first place, so they tend to create a relatively carbon neutral fuel source and as you point out are very energy and environmentally friendly, so another perfect application. The hydronic heating systems are fine. The one thing that I want people to stay away from are these notoriously inefficient environmental disasters, these outdoor boiler stoves that we see doting the countryside. They are just the absolute wrong place to start for heating the home from the efficiency and from an environmental standpoint. So once we have got the heat load of the building taken cared of and the cooling load taken cared of and reduced as much as possible then we can start to look at the appliance selection inside. Most of the systems now are wired just like a regular house and in fact there is no really no need to be wiring 12 volts or systems like old RVs did in the old days. In fact, even RVs and boats now are all wired for 120 volts and just simply use inverters because the inverters are so efficient and the appliances are so wide scale and efficient that you do not have to compromise anything in your lifestyle. Our house is just wired just like a regular home up to point of the electrical panel and that is where things start to change a bit. In terms then of the appliances, it is just a matter of getting energy start-rated appliances or searching out the very best appliances to reduce the energy consumption, making sure that phantom loads are not there.

Ben Kenney: Actually, I have a kilowatt meter that I use to monitor all that type of stuff.

Bill Kemp: Yeah, those kilowatt meters are a very good idea. For those who do not know what they are, they are a little plug-in-the-wall adapter, which has a little display and then you can plug your appliance into it and measure the amount of both power and energy that it consumes over time to get a good handle. In fact, one of the things that I always suggest people do especially if they are buying my book is to go to Annex 7 and what I have got in there is a worksheet and what it does is it is a survey and I suggest people photocopy it 10 or 20 times because you are going to be playing with pencils and paper and figuring this out and right down all of the appliances that you want to have in this off-grid home. If you want to track the number of hours a day that you use them and what their wattage consumption is, which you can get off the label in the back, and then you add it all up and we can see what our total energy balance is. The energy consumption in kilowatt hours per day is very, very important because you do not want to go into a dealer to buy equipments and have the dealer say to you, "How much do you have to spend," because that is the wrong way to look at this. What is important here is how much energy is your lifestyle going to consume and of course you want to try to get your lifestyle to the point where it is consuming as little electricity as possible, but without making huge sacrifices in the quality of your life because you just will not be happy with it over the long term. It is very important to get that energy balance worked out as accurately as you possibly can so that you can go to the dealer and say, "Okay, what I want you to do is find me a system that will produce this much energy," and now let us go through and work on the design of that and then we will worry about what the cost is at the end of the day and we will see if it fits our budget needs.

Ben Kenney: Does it also matter when you are actually using that energy because for instance if you have a hair dryer on in the morning and your fridge all of a sudden turns on, too?

Bill Kemp: Generally, no. That was an important thing years ago when inverters were anemically powered. People were always buying systems that were underpowered for the demand. That is where we have to understand the difference between power and energy. Power is essentially the instantaneous amount of electricity that we are using. So, if a device is drawing 10 amps of electricity, that is like the amount of flow of water that is going through a pipe, so the larger the pipe the more amperage that we can supply. There is a limit to how much of that we can take instantaneously, but what is happening is that modern inverters are now sized so large that it becomes almost a non-issue. For example, in our home, the cleaning days here are Wednesday. We have somebody who comes in and does the cleaning and while that is happening we do the laundry and it tends to be a fairly heavy day so on that day you have got the central vacuum running, you have got the water pump operating, the washer and sometimes the dryer depending on the weather, is operating, the lights are on, of course, and all of these stuff is running simultaneously just like any other house and as long as the inverter is sized large enough to operate those loads instantaneously, it is a non-issue.

Ben Kenney: So getting back to the actual design of your home, did you design that yourself and build it yourself?

Bill Kemp: Well, yes and no. What happened was that we designed the basic look of the home and the floor plan layout to look like an old century farm house and we drew up the plan as best we could and then we took it to a retired architect who then sort of fiddled with our design and what we wanted to do is we wanted to design that would use the least amount of materials and minimize the waste, so we did not want to be putting up sheets of plywood having to cut them in half and throw half of it away. We wanted to make sure that everything was used and that the space was optimized, the design was optimized. We took an awful lot of engineering cues from some of the high-efficiency homes that had been built around the world and showcased at that time and so we used a lot of things that were unusual at the time, for example, the TGI floor joist, which are now pretty much standard, but at the time were completely unheard of that use a third of the building materials and allow you to have very large spans without support walls so that we could reduce the cost of construction and also the material impact. So, we finished the designs with Bernie and then we preceded to build the house and we decided that we would build it ourselves. I had done an enormous amount of work on the previous home, so I was quite familiar with all of the construction techniques and so on. So, we subbed out all the stuff that we could not do, obviously, the concrete and the excavation. We even contemplated doing the drywall ourselves but we found that there is a physical limitation to that one. So we subbed out the drywall, but everything else including the plumbing and wiring and what-not we did ourselves and completed the house and it took us about a year and a half and very pleased with it.

Ben Kenney: I assume for people who do not know how to do all that stuff, who do not want to do all that stuff, there are companies out there that will actually design from the beginning a really energy efficient home for you.

Bill Kemp: Absolutely. You can go to almost any builder that has R-2000 certification and have them work on the design. The big issue is you have got to work with the builder that understands that you have limitations in terms of electrical energy and that will work with you to make sure that all of that is taken into account. If they cannot comprehend building a house without a furnace, then you best move on to somebody that has more experience. Of course a lot of people that want to live off-grid tend to have their own idea of what their dwellings will be. Straw bale homes, for example, tend to be very popular with folks that live off-grid so they have builders that are already tuned in to the whole issue of renewable energy-powered home.

Ben Kenney: Okay. So what is powering your home?

Bill Kemp: Well, that is a good point. It is going to be different for every location but the main choices that you have for renewable energy-powered home are photovoltaic panels, which are the one that converts sunlight into electricity. You can have wind turbines for the home as well. You can have micro hydro systems if you have got sufficient water resources on your property and you can also have, and this one is surprises a lot of people, a diesel generator that is powered with biodiesel as your renewable energy supply to the house. So those are the primary four electrical inputs that you can use for powering the home. On top of that, because our house needs thermal energy for hot water and also we have a Jacuzzi out on the deck, we have a solar thermal system that provides the thermal energy for the domestic hot water as well as heating the Jacuzzi. Okay, we do not have all of those by the way on the electrical side. In our house, we have photovoltaic, we have wind turbine and we have the biodiesel generator as our input sources.

Ben Kenney: Okay and do you have batteries as well storing electricity?

Bill Kemp: Yeah because the sun generally goes down at night and you generally want your lights on at night, you need some way of storing the energy that you produced in the daytime and need to store it for periods of time when there is no wind or sun and so every off-grid electrical home will have some form of battery storage. There are different kinds of batteries but without a doubt the most common and the most economically efficient batteries are the deep cycle lead acid batteries and people get a little excited about them saying, "Oh gee, they are not as friendly and there is new technology then there is supercaps," and there are all of these things. The problem is they are really is not… The only thing that is out there that works are batteries. You may be able to get NiCad batteries or gelled cells as alternatives, but 95% of all the applications it is deep cycle lead acid batteries and the good news is that they get recycled at the end of their life. It is not like these things are going to landfills and you have to the electricity.

Ben Kenney: There are some issues with batteries as well. Do you keep them inside the house or are they outside in the shed because I think that there are some gases that are coming off of those lead acid batteries, are there not?

Bill Kemp: That is correct. The lead acid batteries do give off hydrogen gas during the electrolysis process of charging, the final stages of charging. Ours are inside the house. There is nothing dangerous about it. It is just a matter of they need to be in a sealed cabinet or a sealed room and they have to have a vent that goes outside. It is best to keep the batteries indoors in Canadian climate. If you are in warmer climates, in southern part of the states, no problem leaving them outdoors. The issue is that, anybody who has ever tried to start a car with a weak battery in the wintertime recognizes that the colder the battery the less available energy that is in it, due to temperature, so it is nice to keep the batteries at room temperature, in a cool, dry location that is also clean. So by all means they can go outside in an insulated shed if that is what you want, but there is no harm in putting them indoors as long as the building and the room is properly ventilated and so on. We have a section in the book that discusses all of that.

Ben Kenney: Okay.

Bill Kemp: So maybe I should take you for a little tour quickly as to how the flow the system works then you can kind of poke through it from there. So what happens is that photovoltaic panels are probably the primary source of electrical input for most off-grid homes. The beauty of them is that once you have got a self-facing location or in our case we have such a wide open area that we can have a mechanical tracker that literally tracks the solar panels from east to west during the day to follow the sun. The electricity is produced in direct current form and therefore can go directly into the battery. We have a device that called a maximum power point tracker, which is just a fancy word for an electronic voltage control that make sure that the photo cells are working at their maximum efficiency for charging the batteries and to ensure that the batteries are becoming properly charged and not overcharged or undercharged. The power from the wind turbines, we have a fairly large one, it is a 1.5 kilowatt rated Bergey unit, which sits on a 33 meter or 100-foot tall tower. It produces three-phase alternating current, which is not compatible with batteries so the power from it has to go through a rectifier, which converts it from alternating current to direct current and it goes through a controller and then into the charging of the batteries. The power then is accumulated in the batteries. When the batteries are full, any excess power that is produced is dumped into another controller into an electric hot water heating tank, which simply preheats the cold water coming in from the well. So we are trying to capture all of the available energy that we have got here to improve the efficiency. From the batteries, you can store the electricity at different voltages, 12, 24, 48 volts are the most common voltage ranges, but it is pretty tough to run a home on direct current. I mean it is possible to do it and maybe for small hunting cabins or occasionally used cottages, you might want to do that just for the simple reason of not having to pay for an inverter, which converts the direct current to regular household 120 volts AC, but in a full-time residence, you would not want to do that because the problem is the selection of appliances is very poor. The price for these 12 volt appliances tends to be much higher and the quality tends to be much lower as is the energy efficiency. So in most homes, you take the power from the battery and put it into a device called an inverter, which converts it as I mentioned back to regular household power.

Ben Kenney: What type of efficiency losses are there associated with the inverter?

Bill Kemp: Negligible. People get fixated on that, they are not 100% efficient for sure. There is a few percent depending on load, but the problem is that what people never ask on the other half of the question is that if you did not have the inverter, what are the efficiency losses by using 12 volt appliances? What you will find is that the 12-volt appliances tend to be considerably less efficient than the equivalent appliances operating at 120 volts. I always say to people just ignore that any efficiency drop across the inverter. You will find from one inverter to the next that yes, there might be a couple of percent difference in conversion efficiency curves between one and the other, but really that is a mood point. It becomes lost in the background noise. When you are upgrading your home day to day. For us, it is something that I have measured the first couple of times just to see what it was, but in reality it makes no effect in the quality of your lifestyle so you do not see it.

Ben Kenney: Wiring must be a pretty tricky part of integrating a wind power system and photovoltaic as well, right?

Bill Kemp: Not really. The house side of the home is wired perfectly normal. In fact, I encourage everyone to have the house wired by a certified electrician and have it inspected by your electrical safety authority having jurisdiction. The reason is very simple. One is that from an insurance standpoint, it is not going to confuse your insurance agents. It is just a normal home that has a normal wiring certificate and two if you ever decide to sell your home or if the wires ever happen to be extended from the hydro electrical company, utility company, you may want to connect on or if you sell the home, the next owners may not be quite as excited about off grid living as you are, and this potentially could eliminate a future handicap in terms of selling the home. So, from that standpoint up to the power panel to the circuit breaker panel in the house everything is identical. Now, where it gets different is from the photovoltaic panel or the wind turbines into the battery bank and inverter and that is different, there is no question. It requires a different kind of wiring than most electricians are used to and there are requirements for that. Both the Canadian Electrical Code and the National Electrical Code in the United States have specific wiring requirements for wiring of systems in, but aside from the fact that the wire is bigger and heavier because you are working with lower voltages, it is really not that much more difficult for somebody who is used to working with industrial wiring or house wiring to follow through.

Ben Kenney: Interesting. So, before I asked about inverters I guess I cut you off; you were talking about your system having solar wind batteries.

Bill Kemp: Okay. Yes, that is right and a biodiesel power generator. Well, the power input becomes important to understand and a lot of people make comments, I hear this one all the time, "Oh, we live on a hill. We live by the water and we got lots of wind and so we want to run our home on wind." Well, it does not work that way. What you have to do, of course, is find out how much energy that you are going to use on a daily basis. Then we have to find out how we are going to produce that energy. We have to look at the total energy production over the course of a year. Now, it is very easy in any location in North America or the world for that matter to look at a solar insulation chart, which will tell us pretty much exactly how much light or sunlight that you would get in hours per day during all phases of the year, for example, in the darker winter as well as in the brighter summer. From that we can calculate how much energy we can produce from the photovoltaic panel and then that will give us an idea of what percentage of the total electricity we produce from that particular source. Now, an interesting thing from where I live in Ontario, Canada, in summertime we have an enormous amount of sunlight. Right now, the sun is getting up at about 5:30 or so and by 6:15 or 6:30 in the morning it is hitting our photovoltaic panel and then because of the trackers thing with the panel right through until say 8:00 at night or so. We are getting an enormous amount of sunlight, but in the month of November, you can actually have two or three weeks where you will not see any sun or very spotty. The problem is do you calculate how much energy you are producing in the winter or in the summer? The tendency would be to say, "Well, obviously we've got to live in the wintertime, too, so we'll just put more panels in to compensate," and which you will quickly find out if you do that is that you will need a bank account like Bill Gates to make that happen. So most people do not do that. What they do is they look at how much power they can produce from one source and then they start to lay in multiple sources such as the wind turbine and the generator and we call these hybrid systems because what we are going to find is that in the summertime here in Ontario, there is no virtually no wind where we live in the summertime, it blows a little bit but certainly not enough to produce any power and we can go to modeling software on the net, for example, is a Canadian map and there are equivalents in the US and you can punch in your longitude and latitude and the system will give you a pretty good idea of how much wind you get in your area based on computer model. It is not 100% accurate because wind is not quite as democratic as sunlight, but it will give you a pretty good estimate and then you can lay on some estimates on top of your photovoltaic power production with your wind and what you will find typically happens as it does here is that in the winter and spring, the amount of wind that you get is higher than it is in the summer, which perfectly complements the photovoltaic, which are exactly the opposite. So that tends to fill in some of the blanks over the course of the year, but inevitably what you are going to find is you cannot make 100% of your power with wind and photovoltaic without spending an inordinate amount of money. So most people then will provide some form of backup power and oftentimes what they will do is put either in gasoline or natural gas or propane or diesel generator in place and use that to bump up the difference. So that is exactly what we have done in our home except that we have used biodiesel to reduce the footprints, the carbon footprints, as much as we can and so we find in our location that we get 80% of our yearly energy from photovoltaic panels, 15% from the wind turbine and about 5% from the backup generator. So you can play an awful lot of these games and it becomes extremely important to understand all of this that is why I encourage everyone to get as much education as you possibly can and that is one of the reasons why the Renewable Energy Handbook is so big. I mean it is a 600-page monster, but at the same time make sure you get hooked up with a dealer that has a good amount of experience with this in your area so that you can work through all of these sizing and sighting issues to make that.

Ben Kenney: Yeah. Yes, sizing is I can imagine really important. Have you ever heard of a program called Homer? It is published by the National Renewable Energy Labs in the US and it is a perfect, perfect program for somebody like you and you people wanting to live off-grid. It is free. You can download it for free and basically what you do, it is an optimization software, so you say this is my load so this is how much energy my home uses. I want to power it with a wind turbine, a diesel generator and I have batteries backups and what it will do is it will calculate for you and optimize exactly the size of the batteries that you should be using, the size of the wind turbine that you should be using so that it gives you the most cost-effective solution.

Bill Kemp: Right.

Ben Kenney: It is a really excellent program actually.

Bill Kemp: Yeah. I think these sorts of tools I mean they are springing up all over the place. We have similar ones that are produced here in Canada by Natural Resources Canada and they are all very, very useful and I think the more that you can do these numbers and run the calculations yourself with the aid of software and so on, the more that it will help you ensure that the data that you are putting together is accurate and that the system that you get ultimately at the end of the day will meet your lifestyle goals because one of the worst things that can happen is that people go into this with an unrealistic set of expectations. It is like a bank account, if you take more money out of your bank account than you put in, something is going to breakdown sooner or later and that is the end of the withdrawals. A renewable energy system is exactly the same. If you continue to consume more energy than you produce because you incorrectly size the system or you got an unscrupulous dealer who undersold you equipment or gave you poor quality equipment, your power system is going to be shutting down. It is going to be inadequate and you are going to be disgruntled and disappointed with it. I see it all the time where people have sold systems because they were unhappy with the system or that it did not do what they said it would do and yet there is no absolutely no need for that. We have got a system here that is completely transparent. The system can turn on and off the generator if it needs power because we have had exceptional cloudy days or what have you. Indeed, it turns out that a properly designed system is a treat to live with and there is no reason for you to live a sparkling lifestyle either.

Ben Kenney: So 14 years of living off-grid, have you have to replace anything?

Bill Kemp: Let me think about that for a second. The tracker that moves the panels has a little control module and it has been knocked out twice now because of lightning storms. It is not as well designed as I would like to have seen it. I have actually spoken with the company about it. In fact, I have actually offered to re-engineer it for them, but they have not done that, but at the same time I will give them credit that they have been very good about replacing the controller under warranty and mailing a new one quickly. It is not a critical piece, the good news is that everything still continuous to run, you just have to manually move the tracker back to the south facing position and just leave it there until the spare one comes in. There is a number of people that live off the grid within about an hour's drive of where we are and we have made a little arrangement with a few of them where we have purchased spare components and just kept them as a little community pot so that if anything goes down we have got them and as it turned out we have never used any of our parts, so it has been quite good. Now, having said that, you know it is a power station and you have responsibilities to maintain it. There are things you have to do, the batteries are probably the weakest link where most people completely tend to forget about them, they sit in the dark little walk cabinet in the basement and nobody looks at them and everyone thinks, "Well, as long as the lights are on. Everything is working." The batteries do require, you need to keep them clean. The outgassing may cause some bubbling and buildup of salts and what not on the tops. We want to make sure that is all cleaned off. We have got to fill them generally a couple of times a year with distilled water to top them up. You have to check the specific gravity with a little bulb that draws a little of the fluid out and we want to check those "occasionally" and I put word in quotes because what tends to happen is that beginners get into these systems, they do not pay attention to the battery and they do not understand the relationship between the specific gravity of the battery acid or electrolytes that is inside of it and the amount of energy that is in it. So, they tend to be always overdrawing power from the batteries. I recommend that for the first month or so that people who are living in an off-grid home that they measure the specific gravity at least weekly and possibly even daily for awhile and preferably it also have a meter, a battery meter, that electronically is monitoring the amount of power and watching that you understand how the two are synchronized together so that you can understand what the energy consumption is like and that your batteries are being properly maintained. Once you understand that, then you read your battery meter electronically, it becomes almost a non issue. I read the specific gravity now on our batteries twice a year and just mark it down on a chart so it does not take a lot of time. Photovoltaic panels, not much there, they come with very long warranty. It is usually 25-30 years. If the warranty is 25 years, the lifetime is obviously considerably longer so there is very little to do with them other than just clean them if they become dirty for any particular reason and usually the rain will take care of them. Wind turbines, well, they are mechanical and that depends on awful lot in the quality of the unit. I know of many people who have had wind turbines that have watched them disintegrate you know on a relatively frequent days. I have one person that has been in touch with me over last four years and has been through three of these little, I am going to call them toy wind turbines more than anything. I have got a Bergey, which I consider one of the best. I paid more for it for sure, but it has been up there an awfully long time and the maintenance manual is pretty explicit. It says once a year in a windy day, go outside, look up, and if it is still spinning then you have done your maintenance for the year. Well, I do take that a little bit with a grain of salt, I have gone up and just check the slip rings and what-not and everything has been very good on that unit. So, that is pretty much all there is from the maintenance standpoint and just being aware.

Ben Kenney: Okay. My last question, how do you do things like phones and Internet? I mean I know you are talking to me once about how you are testing all kinds of different Voiceover IP systems for phones.

Bill Kemp: That is right. Well, generally speaking if the hydro wires do not come to you then neither does the telephone lines and so there are some concerns there. Now, we were quite lucky. In our case, the telephone lines were just strung down the road for whatever particular reason to go across the lake and so we are able to get wire line communication here, but having said that, we do not have access to any high quality ISDN lines for Internet. What we have done is we have gone to satellite system. We use the, satellite for high speed Internet communications and we could if we wanted to use Voiceover IP on that system. That is certainly one way of getting Internet and voice line at the same time. Depending on how close you are to some municipal areas, there are different types of line of sight microwave Internet systems that are available. In Ontario here, is an example where if you are within about 12 km of a municipal water tower, which tends to be where they put this, you can get high speed Internet and of course Voiceover IP on it. Cell phone is of course another option and of course if your bank account is fairly deep and your way in Northern Alaska or something you can always go to satellite phone if you really have to. So, there are options just depending upon where you are.

Ben Kenney: All right. Excellent. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show once again.

Bill Kemp: My pleasure, again.

Ben Kenney: All the listeners out there, do not forget to check out Bill's book, the Renewable Energy handbook, and of course his new book, Biodiesel Basics and Beyond, and the publisher's website is