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ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

motors and pumps are not available at


all in 12 volts, because the lower volt-
Selecting the right PV voltage age motors are less efficient and require
costly, over-sized wire, breakers
dollar! Efficiencies also tend to and switches.
increase with higher voltage/lower We do not go to 48 volts very often,
By Windy Dankoff current. To see an extreme example of because we cannot get DC lights,
relative wire sizes, look under the refrigerators, and well pumps at that
T he independent home power sys-
tem is based on storage batteries and
hood of your car and see the big wire
that goes from the battery to the
voltage. Most PV dealers and users
agree that DC power still has its place
direct current (DC electric power. starter. A typical circular saw requires for running the specialized, super-effi-
Batteries are low voltage modules that as much power as your starter, but cient DC appliances made specifically
may be assembled in 6, 12, 24-volt or look at the little wire it uses! The saw for independent power. Direct use of
higher configurations. Voltage is the uses 120 volts, and requires 1/10 the DC in well-engineered appliances
electrical pressure at which the sys- wire size to carry the current. reduces both energy consumption and
tem operates, and part of the batterys The common voltage standards for inverter requirements.
job is to maintain this pressure at a independent-powered homes are 12 We are maintaining 12 and 24 volts
fairly constant level. Thus, a 12-volt volts and 24 volts. Your choice of as our DC home standard because it is
battery maintains a working voltage standard is based on these factors: safer and less costly to use than higher
within the range of about 11 to 14.5 1. Overall system size: Small, cabin- DC voltages. (1) Less battery cells are
voltsa standard. A 12-volt appli- size systems standardize on 12 volts, required (they are 2 volts each) with
ance will run properly within this which offers the widest choice of less connections between them. (2)
range of electrical pressure. small DC appliances and small High DC voltage from batteries (120
While the voltage remains fairly inverters. Medium to large homes volts) poses a serious shock hazard
constant, the current (measured in generally cost less to set up on (twice that of 120 volt AC). (3) High
amps) varies according to the power 24 volts, for the reasons below. DC voltage poses more fire hazard (it
required by the appliance. As more 2. Inverter size: Inverter require- causes much bigger sparks) than AC
lights are turned on in your house, ments beyond 2,000 watts or so indi- power at the same voltage. Low volt-
more current is drawn from your bat- cate 24 volts, for lower cost per watt age virtually eliminates these hazards.
teries. A large bulb draws more cur- and higher efficiency. 120 volt DC is used in industrial
rent than a small one. Some appli- 3. DC well pump or other large power systems, but generally not in
ances draw different amounts of cur- motors: Motors above HP often homes. Our use of high-efficiency
rent at different times; a circular saw necessitate the use of 24 volts, appliances and our elimination of
draws more current cutting 2 wood whether they are DC motors or AC electric heating devices keeps power
than wood, because the motor run by inverter. Large motors are consumption low, so wire sizes in our
works harder. more efficient at higher voltages. High DC homes need not be 5 or 10 times
Twelve volts is the most common current is required to start most oversized for low voltage!
standard for alternative energy homes motors, so both wire and inverter need A system dedicated to one special-
only because it is already a conven- to be oversized. So the potential ized purpose need not conform to the
tional standardfor vehicles! As we savings are especially great in going common 12 or 24-volt standard. When
progress to higher voltages, less cur- to higher voltage for motor circuits. a solar system is designed only to
rent (amps) is required to deliver the 4. Wiring distances: Long wire power a well pump (with a motor
same amount of power (watts/horse- runs from PV (photovoltaics, or solar range of to 1 HP) we may go to 60
power). Wire, switches, and other cells) or (especially) wind or hydro or 120 volts DC if that optimizes
inline components are sized according generators, to a DC well pump, or to economy and efficiency.
to the current they carry; the voltage other buildings, can be very costly at Remember, the final product of your
has little bearing on their sizing. low voltage/high current. The longer energy system is not voltsits light,
Therefore, a 24-volt home electric the distance, the larger the wire must water, communication, mechanical
system is less costly to wireit be to reduce losses. So cutting the cur- energy, etc. The voltage selected
requires half the wire size, and less rent in half by using twice the voltage should be that which produces these
labor to install. Control systems and can cut your wire cost by nearly 75%. ends at the lowest overall cost, with a
inverters contain components that the 5. Plans for future growth: If any high degree of safety and reliability.
current must pass through, so they too of the above indicate a requirement
can be smaller and less expensive in a for 24 volts in the future, set up for it
higher voltage system. from the start so you wont be left
To confirm this for yourself, com- with obsolete equipment (such as elec-
pare prices of 12 and 24-volt charge tronics) on a 24-volt system. High
controllers and inverters. The 24 volt quality 24-volt lights are nearly as
models handle far more watts per common as 12. Many large DC

230 The Fourth Year