Friday, August 31, 2018

Backup to a Better Backup Generator Solution

You may already have a backup generator for the house. In fact, you may have the backup generator with you just about everywhere you go. Plus, it might be totally quiet, for hours.
Yep, we are talking about your hybrid gas-electric vehicle. Hybrids have been selling like crazy on the farms because they can easily be used to generate 120-volt electricity to run hand tools and generally provide backup power.

Most newer vehicles offer a 120 plug, but they won’t power much. What you need is an inverter that will power whatever you want, frequently 300 to 400 watts will be sufficient for many applications. Smaller inverters can be simply plugged into a cigarette lighter, but bigger inverters should be wired directly to the battery.

A backup solution for the house is rather awkward, inconvenient and requires fuel at a time when the least fuel is available, storms and outages. Here’s the cost for a generator solution.

The generator solution costs something like this:
·         Generator $500 (or about $500 to $1,000 for an inverter that is much quieter and provides smoother power).
·         Fuel, maybe 8 to 12 gals per day. At 10 gals x $3 is $30 per day.
·         Storage of generator and fuel cans.
Traditional generators (gas or propane or diesel) provide lots of smoke, noise, and require maintenance. The generator produces electricity, even under very low loads, so much (maybe most) of the electricity (and fuel) is wasted.
Generators are best used some distance from the house so as not to asphyxiate the inhabitants.
Tip. Make sure not to allow the generator to run out of fuel, the sputtering causes the generator to surge which kills off appliances at an alarming rate.
Auto with Inverter
Hooking an inverter to the vehicle may be a very good solution for many purposes, especially lower loads in the house such as refrigerator, lights and fans. However, you will have to go start the vehicle before the battery gets too low. (Taking regular lead batteries below 50% will seriously erode their life span.)
A 1000-Watt inverter can cost between $80 and $110 (modified-sine wave), and about twice that for the higher quality output of a pure-sine wave recommended for sensitive electronics.
Your vehicle is rather quiet, and rather fuel efficient compared to a generator. Your typical vehicle will not be able to handle large loads, however. One approach is to set up a battery (or battery bank) that can be recharged via the vehicle.
Even better is to hook up to your hybrid vehicle.
Hybrid Vehicle with Inverter
The hybrid vehicle is a wonderful backup power supply, just like the uninterruptable power supply (UPS) you use for your computers and wifi. You can have continuous power as needed, when needed. Plus, the hybrid vehicle is designed to start up the motor and recharge when the collective batteries get low. Very cool.
Here’s how you do it. Hook up your power inverter directly to the 12-Volt (direct current) battery of the hybrid vehicle to produce alternating current (120 AC). Put the vehicle in the “on” mode, but with all the vehicle electronics turned off, i.e., turn the air conditioner and lights off. Now, when the batteries run low, the vehicle will automatically start to recharge all the batteries, lithium as well as the 12-volt battery.
Tip: Please make sure the vehicle is in a safely ventilated area. Do not set this arrangement up in the garage!
Add in a Battery (Bank) and a Solar Panel (or More)
So good news, you now have an inverter with your vehicle so you can use good, clean, quiet power anywhere you and your Prius happen to be. Yippee!
But how about the home or cabin when the Prius is away?
Get a battery or more, and hook up the inverter to it. This should help you get through several hours with just the refrigerator. Batteries of this type (deep cycle, for example) will cost $150 to $350 each.
Then, get a solar panel, or more, and hook them up to recharge your batteries during sunlight hours. (Costco has a 100W Coleman with 8.5 amp charge controller for $159.)
Now, I have continuous power for low load (the battery plus a 1100W inverter at $90, all for under $400). I’ll buy more batteries and/or more solar panels as and when I need them. The 1100-watt inverter does everything that I want to do in emergency or in the cabin. It does a small air conditioner (window unit or small mini-split for a short period of time; a refrigerator for several hours; LED lights and fans for days). It won’t do central air, well pump, oven, dryer, hot-water heater, microwave, or several heavy load items simultaneously. Bigger load electronics include blenders (making Hurricanes and Margaritas), blow dryer; coffee pots, electric saw, etc…
Be careful putting together your system and your battery banks. Hooking two 12V 100 amp batteries together can result in doubling of the voltage (48 Volt in series) or double the amps (200 amp hours in parallel) depending on how you hook them together. Make sure you get the right inverter to match the higher voltage if you go in series. Try to get the same batteries if you bank ‘em.
I can see you eyeing your electric golf cart, you already have your own battery bank on wheels. Unfortunately, the voltage will be 36 or 48 Volts (say 6 x 6-volt batteries hooked up in series is 36 volt). Your inverter would need to match the voltage of your cart (or carefully hook up a 12-volt inverter to 12-volt battery equivalent, which in this case is two 6-volt batteries).
In short, you may already have a great backup power supply solution. Hook up your hybrid to an inverter and you are good to go. Add in a battery (or more) and a solar panel (or more) and you have a nice, quiet, renewable power solution.
Tip. Use a volt meter. The meter is cheap. Burning out electronics can be expensive, cause fires, shock the bejeebers out of you, and generally be very inconvenient!
Tip2. When you buy your new hybrid vehicle you get “up to” $7,500 back in the form of current-year tax credits! The federal tax credits for new EV and PHEV cars (and for home solar, as well) are phasing down, so you might want to accelerate your purchasing decisions. (See ins and outs of tax credit for vehicles at Edmonds.)

Do we all need to rethink the way the design/plan for (emergency) backup power? Let us know what you think? 


  1. Does this have to be a hybrid or will a regular car battery work?

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