Energy Flashes: Home Power Generation and Solar Energy Storage

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Small scale home power generation becomes feasible with wind turbines like this one.

“WHAT HAPPENS IS THE TWIRLING BLADES tell a variable-pitch motor how fast they’re going and then it feeds back processed electronic signals that automatically shift the pitch of the propeller as the wind speed rises and drops.” Nope. It’s not a multi-degreed engineer talking . . . only 15-year-old Matt A. Kaltenbach of rural Lebanon, New Jersey explaining the operation of his 120-volt wind-driven generator. Matt, an electronics whiz, spent three months designing and four weeks building the ten-bladed fan and other components of his rig for home power generation. “I had to rewind the whole alternator to change it from three phase to single phase,” he says, “and it produces 136 volts of alternating current. Line losses bring that down to around 120 volts when it reaches my control center, where the juice is converted to direct current and stored in a 12-volt battery. I then use it to power a 12-volt TV set, 12-volt bulbs and–after I’ve stepped the current back up to 120-volt AC–ordinary fluorescent lights.”

A FARMER WITH AN 80-COW BEEF OR DAIRY OPERATION who invests $15,000 once in a methane generator could realize an annual return of $5,000 every year for the
next 25 years. That’s the way it looks to Winston Way, agronomist at the University of Vermont. Mr. Way figures that 80 head of cattle will produce enough manure to generate 8,000 cubic feet of methane a day. That’s the equivalent of 40 gallons of gasoline, worth about $15.00.

Experiments conducted by Pennsylvania County Agent Glenn E. Miller and his assistant, Newton J. Bair, tend to support Way’s speculations. The two men have produced methane from a slurry of cow manure and water and report that two to three pounds of dry animal waste will, when anaerobically composted, change into both a nitrogen-rich fertilizer and approximately 10 cubic feet of the fuel. Bair and Miller have run a garden tractor on their methane and burned the vapor in a gas stove, water heater, refrigerator and lamp.

HANDBOOKS ON LOW-COST TECHNOLOGY AND SOLAR AGRICULTURAL DRYERS are being prepared by “those who know” at the Brace Research Institute of McGill University in connection with the Canadian Hunger Foundation and the Canadian International Development Agency.

We’ll be reviewing these handbooks as they become available. In the meantime, the folks at Brace, CHF, and CIDA would like to hear from those of you who have developed, built and operated equipment suitable for use in developing areas around the world.

A NEW WAY OF STORING LARGE AMOUNTS OF ELECTRICAL ENERGY with superconductive magnets is being investigated by professors Roger Boom, Herold Peterson, and
Warren Young at the University of Wisconsin, College of Engineering. The project–funded by a National Science Foundation grant–could produce a perfect, resistance-free conductor, says Professor Boom. If so, scientists–for the first time–will be able to store great quantities of electrical power at essentially zero loss until the energy is discharged . . . thereby making large scale solar farms (which can generate huge amounts of energy, but only when the sun shines) practical for the first time. 

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