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Design Stage for Off Grid Generator and Battery Shed

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  • Design Stage for Off Grid Generator and Battery Shed

    Greetings! I'm looking at installing a small solar array (four 315 W panels) and having a generator on site for winter use. The property is near Lake Louise and temperatures can dip down to -40 on occasion. I'm contemplating building a stand-alone shed to house the batteries and generator, as well as all the power generation and control electronics. This is for a cabin that may be unoccupied for months at a time, so I'm looking at how to ensure that the generator is able to start automatically when the solar controller calls for power.

    This is the design stage, so I'm not locked into anything yet. My primary concern is having the generator and fuel be warm enough to start, so my thoughts are on insulating the structure and capturing some of the waste heat from the generator to warm the shed. But there's a lot I don't know, so I'm asking you all for your personal experience dealing with similar situations. About the only thing that is off the table is having the batteries and/or generator be attached to the cabin. Partly from safety and mostly because the cabin isn't built yet! :-)

    Appreciate your thoughts and ideas, CT

  • #2
    One method on a constant source of some heat would be a propane gas light in the room . This could be hooked to a couple of 100lb bottles with a auto switching valve.

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    • #3
      The propane light idea would probably be the easiest, but make sure the batteries are properly vented or use AGM batteries.
      Make sure any fuel fumes are vented as well. I plan on connecting a vent fan to the generator so as soon as it fires it starts venting. I'm mainly doing this to rid the gen room of excess heat as it will be heavily insulated to cut down noise and keep heat in the shed.

      There are other ways to do it but a lot more trial and error will be needed. Mainly the auto start would need to be delayed so that block and fuel heaters (if using propane) could run to warm up the genny and fuel before attempting to start.
      My neighbours use magnetic heaters on their 100# propane tanks to keep up pressure and stop gelling.
      sigpic
      www.arcticangler.ca
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy_7mPiqoqw&t=11s

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      • #4
        Hey CT,,,,,, 1st thing that comes to mind in reading your Post, I would re-consider your Order of Construction,,,,, ie.... Building a shed 1st, then putting all of that EXPENSIVE Equipment inside, and then being gone from the area for an extended amount of time,,,,,, Not a Good Idea, maybe 30-40yrs ago yea, it worked then, maybe........ all I'm saying here, is,,,,,, been there and DONE that.
        The way I would do this,,,,,, in this day and age,,,,,, is wait until you start the Cabin Construction, you just haul-in a Gas Gen for Construction Purpose's, and once the Cabin is coming along, then you start your Power Shed, and if possible "Bury" your AC Feed Conductor 2-3 feet down, basically you want to be living there before you purchase and install that Power Equipment and Batteries,,,,, you can't leave that type of Equip. out there for extended time-frames, if your not around,,,,,, and Expect it to be there when you show back-up again,,,,,, that's why the Hunting/Fishing Lodges of any size have a "Care-Taker".
        If you like, I can help you size your Elect. load and the Type of Equipment that's best suited for your application going forward...... let me know.
        TG
        [ USMC 1st Marine Div. 7th Engineers, VietNam 69-71, Semper-Fi ] :topjob:

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        • #5
          Thank you both for insight. I have a quote on a solar install with 1300 W panel array and four 6V AGM batteries for 10kWh of storage. My initial thought was having a single structure to house the generator and the batteries. After reading various threads on some of the solar forums, most recommendations are to keep them separate. From a risk-management standpoint it makes a lot of sense. I think I'm going to have to accept that it will take a substantial amount of energy to keep the system operational through a dark cold winter. It will be worth spending a little more to keep the critical systems separated. A fire in one shed won't automatically destroy the contents of the other. Powered vents, perhaps with fans, will necessarily be a part of the mix. I'm also contemplating a passive solar heat box, with vents that are opened by a thermostat. Diesel, gas or propane on the gennie? I'm leaning towards diesel but am open to gas or propane. All fuels have issues, and I'll have to decide on something. I know the issues with propane at low temps, and have first-hand experience with my portable gas generators. What are folks' experiences with diesel generators in the cold? Is auto start even feasible or sensible?

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          • #6
            TG, we already have a Weatherport on site and visit regularly. Plus our property is far off any beaten path, so the greater risk is likely from bears than beasts that walk on two legs. But you raise a good point that I should keep in mind, particularly as the amount invested in equipment jumps in leaps and bounds. I should also mention that in two weeks I will be full-time retired. SWMBO and I will be spending the majority of our free time at the cabin, which is why I'm looking at this upgrade. Winter and summer will see lots of occupancy, with freeze-up and break-up being the only period when we will be away for a couple months. Thanks for the offer on sizing the electrical load. It's a bit of a challenge because our current use is on the order of 20 watt-hours per day. Just headlamps and use of a 12V battery to power my CPAP. Our household in Chugiak averages about 25 to 30 kWh per day in the winter, but that's a three bedroom house with inefficient appliances. So I'm thinking 2 to 5 kWh per day for our future cabin use. This won't be an off grid homestead, just a recreational cabin. We'll want a few of the electrical luxuries of home but can do without washer and dryer, for example.

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            • #7
              CT,,,,,, Ok, 1st, how are you accessing this Property, what type of Vehicle, is it Diesel or Gas,,,, if you can keep your Fuel Requirement to one type, for all of your needs, that's a plus,,,,, ie... Chain Saw is Gas & Mixed Oil, ATV is Gas, maybe your Truck is Gas,,,,, there is nothing wrong with a Gas Generator either,,,, see where I'm going with this,,,,, but your beast Bang for the Buck, is Propane for the Fridge and Cook-Stove, and back-up Lights in the Cabin,,,,,, I'll expand on how to Build your Propane Storage Shed, that will be attached to the Cabin, but not inside.......
              [ USMC 1st Marine Div. 7th Engineers, VietNam 69-71, Semper-Fi ] :topjob:

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              • #8
                The full suite of fuels are already being used. Currently I have snowmachines and UTV with tracks using gasoline, a compact tractor using diesel, propane for cooking, and wood for heat. The future use includes a fridge in the summer, which will likely be propane. I'm amenable to a generator running off gas, diesel or propane. In the summer the generator would likely only be run for regular maintenance or for powering specific tools. I envision the generator cranking up fairly regularly in the winter. I need to do some calculations to see what fuel consumption would likely be, that should help me in this decision process. My worries about gas have been volatility and fuel stability. Thinking about it more, I doubt that the fuel would sit long enough to be an issue, especially if using a fuel stabilizer. So a gas gennie might be the best choice. But I don't see myself running everything on just one fuel, but if I did I am more inclined to have it be diesel. Perhaps that's just personal bias.

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                • #9
                  CT,,,,,,, Ok then, sounds like you are on your way, Best of Luck going forward......
                  [ USMC 1st Marine Div. 7th Engineers, VietNam 69-71, Semper-Fi ] :topjob:

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by ChugiakTinkerer View Post
                    I have a quote on a solar install with 1300 W panel array and four 6V AGM batteries for 10kWh of storage.
                    When I compare the size of the batteries in a kit for a off-grid cabin and the size your going to be using. I don’t know why they say you need 10KWh of storage? Did they give a reason?



                    If my calculations are correct your looking at $4000 for 4- 6 V AGM battery, you might be better off with Lithium batteries. What is the model # and size of the batteries? Is the battery bank 12 V or 24 V system?




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                    • #11
                      MacGyver, The system they specced for me is based on my guesstimate of what future energy use will be. The system is 24V, with an inverter capable of 4000 watts. I'll have to look up what the range of daily energy use was, but as I recall it was 4 to 5 kWhr per day. That's pretty substantial, but I envision having remote internet with a continuous weather station and remote monitoring, plus many of the comforts of home. I hadn't considered lithium batteries, I'll have to do some reading up on those. Thanks for the inout, and let me know if I've missed something obvious. CT

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                      • #12
                        If you want some pretty thick insulation in the walls you can sometimes find it on Craigslist. Construction companies sometimes take up the old insulation on roofs and then sell the panels fairly cheap.

                        Patriot Life Member NRA
                        Life Member Veterans of Foreign Wars
                        Life Member Disabled American Veterans


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                        • #13
                          CT AGM batteries are what I'm going to run at my place. AGM work better than flooded lead acid batteries in the cold and don't have the freezing problems.
                          Lithium Ion batteries are way expensive compare a 10KW Full River array at $2,300 to a Discovery Battery LifePo4 24v 5.6KW for $6,500.
                          Flooded lead acid batteries are the cheapest but there is maintenance that needs to be done on a monthly basis.

                          FYI
                          I'm ordering my system from California and having it shipped up and will install myself.
                          sigpic
                          www.arcticangler.ca
                          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy_7mPiqoqw&t=11s

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Daveinthebush View Post
                            If you want some pretty thick insulation in the walls you can sometimes find it on Craigslist. Construction companies sometimes take up the old insulation on roofs and then sell the panels fairly cheap.
                            Thanks Dave, I'll keep an eye out.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by DRIFTER_016 View Post
                              CT AGM batteries are what I'm going to run at my place. AGM work better than flooded lead acid batteries in the cold and don't have the freezing problems.
                              Lithium Ion batteries are way expensive compare a 10KW Full River array at $2,300 to a Discovery Battery LifePo4 24v 5.6KW for $6,500.
                              Flooded lead acid batteries are the cheapest but there is maintenance that needs to be done on a monthly basis.

                              FYI
                              I'm ordering my system from California and having it shipped up and will install myself.
                              DRIFTER, I'm looking forward to seeing and reading about your install. Your cabin project has been inspirational.

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