My Big Rack

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“Plenty of power, free of charge. Sort of…”

As per usual, the Rugged Dude (that would be me, ya cement head) starts an article with a weird, if not somewhat, dumb title. A “big rack” could be taken as a nice big-ass buck with a set of antlers pushing the 150 mark. Or, a “big rack” could be provoke visions of a smokin’ hot chick with a very large set of… wait for it… titties. That’s right, I said titties. It’s my site and I’ll say whatever I want… So, therefore, titties. Okay, the first part about the antlers could be right, I guess, considering this site has a lot of hunting info on it. But, the second bit? Nope. I’m not a smokin’ hot chick and I don’t have any titties (large or small) growing out of my chest. So, what the hell do I mean when I say, “My Big Rack?” If you were to pull into my yard you’d see my big rack… a huge mounting system for my solar panels. Twelve in all.

I’ve mentioned this before, so I might as well get into ‘er (rugged for “it”) once again. There is one main reason why I choose to live off-grid. It allows me to live back in the woods, well away from other homes. It’s not that I hate all people or anything, but I could never live in an area with neighbours close by, especially right next door. Living on 5 acres is not enough “buffer area” to shelter me from dumb-asses whom I may dislike or their untrained, useless piece of shit barking dogs that I abso-friggin-lutely would dislike. “Way back” in the woods (in my case, my closest neighbour is 2 miles away) means privacy and peace and quiet. And, in most cases, to be able to live this way means being way back and off-grid.

A natural bi-product of living way back in the woods means I can walk to my deer stand or duck blind. And, I can walk down to the brook and catch a couple of pan-sized brook trout for dinner without having to negotiate “brook space” with others. I can cut firewood whenever I want, I have plenty of room to raise chickens, pheasants and hogs and I have unlimited space to train my dog.

Labrador retriever – rugged!

Now back to my “big rack.” Hey, that rhymes. I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it… Okay, not funny. Been used before… I know. Sorry. Solar power allows me to also have a completely modern way of life with things like running water, lights and a place to plug in my ghetto-blaster. I just couldn’t go very long without listening to my favourite band, Rush. Many people who hear “living off-grid” automatically visualize a small cabin, carrying buckets of water up from the lake or creek and candles or kerosene lamps for lighting. Some off-gridders do live that lifestyle by choice and do so successfully. But, for me, I have the best of both worlds… I live the old way, but I do have some of the modern conveniences too. I have a bath tub, a shower, kitchen sinks with hot and cold water, lighting in all rooms and the Google. Yes, I have the Google. There is a tower just a few miles from my house and bingo… I have the Google. After all, I must somehow get this article to guys at Computions in New Brunswick so they can pop ‘er up on my site.

Let’s focus in on the solar power system that gives my wife and I our power. Number one (and this is the part that most people just do not understand) we can’t really be without power, or, more simply put, it can’t just suddenly “go out” like on-grid what many on-grid people have to constantly deal with. For example, some asshole slams his dump truck into a power pole in your area and at the snap of a finger your “power is out.” And, for how long? I don’t know. Or, on a windy day, a tree or two comes down and takes along with it some power lines. Again, at the snap of a finger… “The power’s off!” You may recall back in 1998 in eastern Ontario, Quebec and into New York and Maine, when they had a wicked-ass ice storm that knocked out the power to millions of homes for weeks and in some cases, months. People had no heat, no way to cook their food and many pipes froze and really caused problems. Anyone living off-grid back then would not have been affected by the storm. Actually, the only way they would have been, is if their own solar panels were damaged by the ice, which is unlikely because they can be cleaned off quite easily. Mine are on a ground mount system, so I will never have to get on the roof to clean them anyway.

Bottom line – as much as I don’t have unlimited power, my power can never suddenly be cut off or go out. Yes, during 6 or 7 day stretches with cloudy or darker days, I must be careful how or when I use my power. But, for the most part, I have more power than I’ll ever need and it’s always there for me, courtesy of the sun. The government hasn’t taxed the sun yet. Pricks.

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“This is the brains of my power system. And, a few jars of pickles!”

Another thing I really love about solar power is the simple fact that I never pay a power bill. I love telling big companies (like the power company) to kiss my ass! I constantly hear about people’s power bills going up and up and friggin’ up! They never go down for some reason. How much does the CEO of Ontario power (Hydro One) company make again? Oh yeah, something like 3 million a year. However, it is debatable as to just how long it would take to re-coop your initial investment, should you go the “big rack” route. Let’s take a look at my example. My wife and I spent $16,000 CND on a system that gives us 12 panels that are approximately 4 feet by 3 feet, 8 enormous batteries that are stored in the utility room, along with all the other gear required to make things happen. Installation is included in the 16 grand. In Nova Scotia, where I live, a typical single dwelling power bill could be around $150 per month, or more. In some parts of Canada, people pay much, much more than that. Now, let’s do some math… 12 months times $150 comes to $1,800 per year. Then, to find out how many years it will take for our investment to pay off, we divide the $16,000 by $1,800 and we get 8.8 years. So, in theory, it’ll take about 8 – 9 years for us to get back to ground zero on the initial investment of 16 Gs. However, there is more to consider: power bills increase almost annually, so that must be taken into account. Also, the eight batteries that store our power will need to be replaced after 8 – 9 years. And, they cost about $200 a piece. But, they are going down in price all the time, so again, my estimate of 8 – 9 years to get my money back from all of this is a relatively loose one. Still, it sure feels great never having to pay those thieving bastards another power bill.

You’re probably wondering what all my wife and I run with our $16 grand worth of solar power gear. So, here ya go… We have an electric refrigerator (a smallish one that used only 311 kilowatts of energy per year.) The system also handles our water pump, which brings water up from the brook that runs behind the house. Part of the water system has a UV light that removes bacteria from the water. That way, I can drink the water without suddenly shitting my pants while standing in the checkout line at WAL MART. We have lights in all rooms, with LED bulbs, of course. We have a small flat-screen TV so we can watch a movie whenever we want to. We have an electric washing machine for our dirty laundry. My laptop, Google WIFI thingy, cell phone charger, radio and ghetto blaster all run from the solar power system. And, I can run my power tools and vacuum cleaner (Shop Vac – rugged) as well.

Our system gives 60 volts at full power and that’s about 4600 watts. On sunny days, the system is nearly always at or near 60 volts. On cloudy days like we have here today, we’re running at about 52 V. But, that’s still plenty of power for the two of us. As a back up, we have some kerosene lamps and a 2000 watt Honda generator that could be used in a pinch. In fact, on cloudy days or at night, I’ll use it to run my circular saw, belt sander, bench grinder or air nailer (and compressor.) But, on sunny days, I could have a goddam Van Halen concert at my house and not worry about a thing.

We do have a propane range, propane hot water system (“on demand,” meaning it only uses propane when you turn on the hot water tap) and a propane clothes dryer for rainy days when we can’t use the clothesline. We also have an old wood burning cook stove, which is as “kitchen-rugged” as it gets. But, for power… we’re fine.

Maybe the coolest part of all? Being able to tell the power company to kiss my ass!

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