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Off-Grid Power in Rocky Hollow

With a little ingenuity and improvisation, the author was able to set up an economical off-grid power generation system.

| July/August 1980

  • 064 rocky hollow - ford engine
    The Ford Pinto engine that drives the Megnin's off-grid power generation system only used about $15 worth of fuel a month yet met all their electrical needs.
  • 064 rock hollow - water tower
    The 250 gallon water tank the Megnins filled every day, with their car engine driving the water pump

  • 064 rocky hollow - ford engine
  • 064 rock hollow - water tower

How would you like to live free of power poles and light bills yet still have electric lights, television, a water pump, and more for a total energy cost of around $15 a month? Well, impossible as it sounds, that's just what my family is doing!

My wife and I worked for several years and saved both our money—and every single issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS—in preparation for our move back to the land ... which finally took place in September 1978.

We bought 120 acres in the very rough timber country of northeastern Alabama (maybe 20 of our acres are flat enough for cultivation) called Rocky Hollow. There are no springs or creeks for hydropower on our land, we seldom have enough breeze to run a windmill, and we're more than a mile from the nearest power pole. But we've found that enjoying the luxury of electricity deep in the woods doesn't have to be a big problem at all!

AC/DC at Our Disposal

Our home energy system began with the purchase of a 120-240 volt alternator (it's a Sears 4,000-watt model) and a used 1976 Ford Pinto engine. Then, using a steel bracket, I mounted the alternator so it could be driven by the engine's fan belt. The setup provides 120 and 240 volts AC whenever we need it ... which is for a 15 minute period every other day to run the well pump.

When the pump isn't in operation, we use the 12-volt DC that's produced by the engine. To do so, I simply replaced the Pinto's single small battery with four larger units in parallel and the auto's alternator keeps our battery bank fully charged.

Next, we ran underground cable (two conductor No. 10 wires) from the batteries in the "powerhouse" to the switchbox in our mobile home, and hooked it up as though it were 110 volts from a powerline. However, we first had to remove all the light sockets in the house and replace them with 12-volt sockets, which we ordered from Newark Electronics. We then inserted 12-volt bulbs into the sockets (also from Newark Electronics). By placing a light over each critical area (the sink, stove, etc.), we can have nice, bright illumination whenever and wherever we need it.

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