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Old 06-09-2013, 13:19   #1
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Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Has anyone built one?

When I built my lake house, natural gas and electricity were almost free in this formerly Communist country. You had to pay a lot of money to get connected, but once you did, the costs were negligible. Therefore, I didn't pay much attention to minimizing floor area and volume of the buildings, and ended up with more than 1,500m2 of buildings on the place (15,000 square feet). Stupid, stupid, me.

History marches on, and now we have some of the highest electric rates in the world, higher than New York City. Utilities are eating me alive.

Besides that, the power lines out here in the country are above ground, and the power goes off every time there's a storm, which is very annoying. I have a 12kW SDMO backup generator for such cases.

Now that I have, like we all have, a lot of experience producing electricity on board my boat, I'm thinking about applying the lessons to a land application.

I am hugely enamored of the old Lister diesel engines that work at 600 RPM and can go for 100,000 hours without an overhaul, and was really surprised to learn that they are still made, in India, and are not at all expensive. I'm thinking about making a power plant out of one. I have a freestanding garage cum guest house where I could find space to build a really soundproof room to house it.

I think even a single cylinder one producing 3kW of power would cover most of the needs of the place, if I can do peak-shaving (demand peaks at 30kW but probably averages closer to 3kW). I could rig it to charge a 48 volt battery bank with a large bank of charger/inverters supplying the main power system. In case of need, the generator power could be supplemented with mains power (which of course I am not going to disconnect) or my existing standby generator, which has a control unit which can start it up automatically.

These Lister engines are made to run continuously (extremely low bearing loads, 2000cc and 750 pounds of iron for 6 horsepower at 600 RPM!). These are incredibly beautiful machines. And they run well on used cooking oil, if you install equipment to preheat it, and to allow you to start and shut down the engine on regular diesel.

Restaurants around here actually pay you to haul away their used cooking oil. They pay enough that transportation to my place would be covered at the very least.

One of these Listers uses about 1 liter or 1.5 liters an hour at full load, so running continuously that would be around a thousand liters a month -- one tank. An average restaurant with frying operations produces 500 liters a month, so I would only need to have contracts with two. 3kW/hours * 24 *31 = 8,928 kw/hours per month, for which I pay more than $500 (my bills are actually closer to $1000, so maybe I need two of them). The capital expense for such a plant would be less than $20,000, of which the biggest expense will be the charger/inverters. So I reckon it would actually pay for itself in a reasonable period of time -- three years? Four, tops?

Besides power, I could get heat out of it. With a decent exhaust heat exchanger, I ought to be able to get 5kW of heat out of it, enough to mostly heat my 200m2 garage/guest house. I haven't calculated how much that's worth, but surely an extra hundred or two a month.

I just don't see any reason not to do it -- do you all?
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Old 06-09-2013, 13:46   #2
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

my family is in a similar situation in hungary,though on a smaler scale,with a traditional 3 room mudbrick dacha,it has a combi boiler that is very cheap to run on russian nat gas,the house is super insulated,with 3 wood burners that provide most of the heat,so the boiler really is only a back up,but provides on demand hot water.

during the summer,solar panels would easily provied all the power with a 1200w array,and during the winter a big wind generator once the steppe winds start blowing,with an inverter charger to keep things topped up off the grid.
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Old 06-09-2013, 13:52   #3
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

The arrangement you are contemplating is similar to one which was often used on remote farms and sheep and cattle stations in Australia. The generator was a DC unit and usually employed a large knife switch to reverse current through the generator to crank the engine, when the engine started it was thrown over to place the generator into charge mode.

Inverters were not used in these installations as you could buy DC powered appliances back then. Probably not the case these days with the availability of high powered inverters.

If you had a decent sized, insulated water tank and connected the cooling system to it you could get carry over night time heating from the stored heat in the water.
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Old 06-09-2013, 14:09   #4
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Are you saying the price of natural gas is going to be a lot more than diesel generated electricity?
All the free waste oil has long stopped being free as 'eco' businesses collects it now
in most places. Solar not going to work? A big building must have a big roof.
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Old 06-09-2013, 14:23   #5
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Quote:
Originally Posted by nimblemotors View Post
Are you saying the price of natural gas is going to be a lot more than diesel generated electricity?
All the free waste oil has long stopped being free as 'eco' businesses collects it now
in most places. Solar not going to work? A big building must have a big roof.
Natural gas is for heat, not power. It's expensive.

Generating electrical power with diesel fuel and a really cheap to run genset powered by a Lister type engine will be close to the price of store-bought power, but not less. But with free (still free) cooking oil, it's hugely cheaper.

I don't know anything about solar. At this latitude, I doubt that it will work very well, although maybe I should verify that with some calculations instead of just presuppositions.

Yes, it's a big roof, but it's solid copper and pretty, and I'm not sure I'd want to junk it up with solar panels.
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Old 06-09-2013, 16:20   #6
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

You can run an engine on natural gas and turn a generator. I would assume a natural gas source is a pipe in the ground and not subject to disruptions like electricity in overhead wires. Natural gas is inexpensive here in california and the USA in general. I think it is about half the price of diesel.

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Old 06-09-2013, 17:04   #7
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Has anyone built one?

I am hugely enamored of the old Lister diesel engines that work at 600 RPM and can go for 100,000 hours without an overhaul, and was really surprised to learn that they are still made, in India, and are not at all expensive. I'm thinking about making a power plant out of one. I have a freestanding garage cum guest house where I could find space to build a really soundproof room to house it.

I just don't see any reason not to do it -- do you all?
Ummmmm ...... you might have been able to baby a true Lister to 100k hours but the clones out of India run a small fraction of that time. You can expect between 1000 and 10000 hrs with an average of 2 to 3 k hours before serious maintenance. You also need to be prepared to fix up the engine before putting it into service. If you expect to achieve any long term usage, expect to completely tear down the unit before cranking it over. Lister clones are no longer allowed to be imported into Canada and the US so you would need to verify if you can import them.
Rebuilding a genuine Lister would be a much more reliable setup.
Yes you can do all kinds of nifty things with that kind of a setup but don't expect it to be easy. I have about 3000 hrs on a two cylinder Lister clone, the vast majority running with veg oil (without pre-heat but starting and stopping on diesel). If you enjoy tinkering with engines and building things then it's a great hobby but it is not an easy way to get power or heat.
My setup was used primarily to generate heat - I extracted heat from the exhaust as well as the cooling system and all the generated power was used to run immersion heaters in a large hot water holding system. The holding system in turn was used to heat the house as well as pre-heat domestic hot water.
I shut down operations recently because of the constant effort needed to maintain the system. It makes more sense for me to pay for electricity then to spend my time maintaining the system. If you enjoy tinkering then the maintenance is no burden and the whole idea makes all kinds of sense.
A quick look at the maintenance aspect: Change oil ever 150 hrs (fairly large oil capacity in my twin - lots of $). Assuming you modified your engine to include a filter then that needs changing. The exhaust heat exchanger needs rodding every 100 hrs approximately. Oiling is done every few start ups. Injector pumps are sensitive to gumming up if the engine enclosure is too effective - my first engine enclosure required disassembly of the injector pumps every 500 hours of run time. Expect to tear down the engine every summer for de-carbonizing, cleaning, checking for wear etc etc.

Another aspect of this is system automation - you can not (should not) run the engine unattended unless it is highly automated to shut down under a number of scenarios.

Be prepared to have your engine room coated in soot on the inside (I would not run the engine inside a building that is used for other purposes).

At this point I haven't even started talking about what is required to process vegetable oil to make it fit for running in the engine (and if you store it too long it needs to be re-processed or disposed of)

My original intent was to feed power into the electrical grid when the engine was running and pull power from the grid when it wasn't running (we get charged on net energy consumed) but the cost for the grid tie inverters proved to be prohibitive.

PM me if you need further details.
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Old 06-09-2013, 18:57   #8
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

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Originally Posted by atoll View Post
my family is in a similar situation in hungary,though on a smaler scale,with a traditional 3 room mudbrick dacha,it has a combi boiler that is very cheap to run on russian nat gas,the house is super insulated,with 3 wood burners that provide most of the heat,so the boiler really is only a back up,but provides on demand hot water.

during the summer,solar panels would easily provied all the power with a 1200w array,and during the winter a big wind generator once the steppe winds start blowing,with an inverter charger to keep things topped up off the grid.
Your folk's home is mud bricks???? MOve it to where I live and sell it for $500K or so
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Old 06-09-2013, 19:23   #9
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Dockhead, looks like Jd1 is the man on this subject. Who would have thought on a cruiser's forum someone would have experience in these slow Lister engines.

I came to the thread because I've done a few off grid homes, one being lucky enough to have a year around creek running through the property. Flow rate and head is a great way to power up.
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Old 07-09-2013, 00:55   #10
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jd1 View Post
Ummmmm ...... you might have been able to baby a true Lister to 100k hours but the clones out of India run a small fraction of that time. You can expect between 1000 and 10000 hrs with an average of 2 to 3 k hours before serious maintenance. You also need to be prepared to fix up the engine before putting it into service. If you expect to achieve any long term usage, expect to completely tear down the unit before cranking it over. Lister clones are no longer allowed to be imported into Canada and the US so you would need to verify if you can import them.
Rebuilding a genuine Lister would be a much more reliable setup.
Yes you can do all kinds of nifty things with that kind of a setup but don't expect it to be easy. I have about 3000 hrs on a two cylinder Lister clone, the vast majority running with veg oil (without pre-heat but starting and stopping on diesel). If you enjoy tinkering with engines and building things then it's a great hobby but it is not an easy way to get power or heat.
My setup was used primarily to generate heat - I extracted heat from the exhaust as well as the cooling system and all the generated power was used to run immersion heaters in a large hot water holding system. The holding system in turn was used to heat the house as well as pre-heat domestic hot water.
I shut down operations recently because of the constant effort needed to maintain the system. It makes more sense for me to pay for electricity then to spend my time maintaining the system. If you enjoy tinkering then the maintenance is no burden and the whole idea makes all kinds of sense.
A quick look at the maintenance aspect: Change oil ever 150 hrs (fairly large oil capacity in my twin - lots of $). Assuming you modified your engine to include a filter then that needs changing. The exhaust heat exchanger needs rodding every 100 hrs approximately. Oiling is done every few start ups. Injector pumps are sensitive to gumming up if the engine enclosure is too effective - my first engine enclosure required disassembly of the injector pumps every 500 hours of run time. Expect to tear down the engine every summer for de-carbonizing, cleaning, checking for wear etc etc.

Another aspect of this is system automation - you can not (should not) run the engine unattended unless it is highly automated to shut down under a number of scenarios.

Be prepared to have your engine room coated in soot on the inside (I would not run the engine inside a building that is used for other purposes).

At this point I haven't even started talking about what is required to process vegetable oil to make it fit for running in the engine (and if you store it too long it needs to be re-processed or disposed of)

My original intent was to feed power into the electrical grid when the engine was running and pull power from the grid when it wasn't running (we get charged on net energy consumed) but the cost for the grid tie inverters proved to be prohibitive.

PM me if you need further details.
Incredibly useful and sobering advice -- thank you!

Some of this information I was aware of, other not.

I was aware that the Indian Listeroids should be regarded as kits. If I acquire one, I will tear it down completely and build it back up, ensuring that everything is the right dimension, replacing anything dodgy, and getting all the casting sand (!) out. I would have it balanced. I have heard that the camshafts and idler gears on the Indian twins are irredeemable carp; no big deal to have proper ones made up by a good machine shop.

I was not aware that they only live 10,000 hours; in fact I have heard numerous reports of the opposite, once you get them right. Actually, the useful life is supposed to be essentially unlimited since everything is massively overbuilt, and the small number of moving parts are all replaceable, down to individual cam lobes. Parts are abundant and cheap, and these motors are incredibly easy to work on. The crankshaft main bearings are externally mounted! It takes five minutes to pull the heads! This is the opposite of modern disposable engines which are so complex you need a laboratory to take them apart (and you don't; they're basically disposable).

Why in the world would you change oil every 150 hours in an engine in continuous duty and with such tiny bearing loads? That's like once a week! I would have thought much longer intervals would be typical -- 500 hours? Or does burning used vegetable oil contaminate the lube oil?

I was aware that reprocessing was involved in preparing used vegetable oil. I am not (yet) aware of how involved that is; thanks for the heads up. Have you experimented with used motor oil? Can you mix them?

The soot-coated engine room story is also sobering. You've given me a lot to think about -- thanks very much!
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Old 07-09-2013, 02:39   #11
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Yanmar make a line of single cylinder diesels which are designed similar to the old Listers. Yanmar is generally pretty good quality. You may be better of in the long run to see if you can pick up one of these and rebuild it.
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Old 07-09-2013, 02:43   #12
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Used engine oil can be burnt in diesel engines if you dilute it with diesel, it's how offshore oil rigs dispose of it.

Treating vegetable oil to turn it into biodiesel requires processing it with methanol and a caustic soda solution, you should be able to find a recipe on the net.
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Old 07-09-2013, 03:40   #13
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

if you do decide to got the lister route,i would not bother with an indian one,look on ebay uk, genuine second hand ones come up for auction just about every week and go for between 300-700 search for "stationry engine or generator"

findafishingboat dot com is also a good site for used listers as a lot of the old mfvs had them as donkey engines,air cooled
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Old 07-09-2013, 04:08   #14
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Re: Off-Grid Power Systems on Land

Quote:
Originally Posted by RaymondR View Post
Yanmar make a line of single cylinder diesels which are designed similar to the old Listers. Yanmar is generally pretty good quality. You may be better of in the long run to see if you can pick up one of these and rebuild it.
Thanks -- any names or links? I was not aware that Yanmar made stationary engines.
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Old 07-09-2013, 07:40   #15
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My house is totally off grid, but Im in an area where I dont need climate control ... thats by far the biggest energy hog...no way around it you need lots of energy for that. It is set up generally just like a boat. My charge sources are solar and a Honda 2000w genset. With everything on, including 12v fridge, the place burns no more than 15A DC peak load (laptop computers excluded, but Ive gone to a tablet now which is much less load).
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