I had a call the other day from a very nice lady who explained that she and her husband had been living in an off-grid farmhouse for more than 20 years with a succession of generators as their only source of power. She went on to explain that they usually started the generator in the morning and ran it until late morning when it was stopped, and then re-started in the late afternoon or early evening and run again until bedtime. As the generator was becoming difficult to start, would I like to call by and give them some options.
A few days later I called to take a look at the setup. Over an excellent home-made mince pie the very nice lady explained that whilst she had some six decades behind her, her husband was in his eighties and still running his one man livestock haulage business which is why he wasn’t there as he was taking some ones cattle to market. There were a number of expired or spare generators in the barn but the one in current use was a twin cylinder diesel Ruston Hornsby probably from around 1960 or so. It had recently become very difficult to start so it took both of them winding the handle and operating the decompressor to get it going. As her husband was often away with his wagon very early to pick up livestock and get them to a market somewhere the joint effort to start the Ruston would often be around 4 to 5 in the morning. At the other end of the day the house might be on candles or oil lamps until 6 or 7 in the evening when Mr got home again after taking different livestock from the market back to a farm. As soon as he arrived they could then tackle the Ruston and with their joint efforts persuade it to put the lights and the telly on for a few hours before bed, and another day. When we talked about the loads in the house I discovered that they basically included just lighting, an old fridge and an even older television which didn’t seem to like the generator. A washing machine and a microwave had been tried but neither would work on the generator. A freezer would have been wonderful but was just not possible due to the intermittent power source.
I could have nothing but admiration for their cheerful stoicism (in addition to the most excellent mince pie) but had just a little difficulty in getting over how things have moved forward since the sixties. A good quality modern generator will put out a “clean” output capable of running all modern appliances like washing machines, microwaves, televisions and computers. Using a correctly sized battery bank and a Sunny Island or Victron inverter will provide not only 24/7 power but also fully automated control of the generator. Adding a renewable source like solar PV or a small wind turbine will dramatically reduce generator run time and fuel costs with a corresponding increase in lifetime.
A long written response followed my visit with details of what I recommend for an easier and less stressful life for a quite remarkable couple up in the hills. I understand that I will be going back shortly to answer some queries and then finalise the specification for their new power system.
Bringing a positive change to some-one’s life through innovation and technology are the jobs I enjoy most of all. Watch this space for a case study on the install in the next months.