Datacenter UPS Heads Home For Off-Grid Power Solution

The news sites seem never to be without stories of Elon Musk and his latest ventures, be they rapid transit tube tubes in partial vacuum, space flight, or even personal not-a-flamethrowers. Famous for electric vehicles, Musks’s Tesla also has a line of solar products and offers the Powerwall home battery power system. These are tantalizing to anyone with solar panels, but the price tag for one isn’t exactly a dream.

[Nathann]’s budget couldn’t stretch to a Powerwall, but he did have access to a hefty ex-datacentre uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and a large quantity of lead-acid cells. From this he built his own off-the-grid power in the cellar of the home. It’s not as elegant as a Powerwall, but it can power the house on moderate usage, so he claims, for up to ten days.

On one level the installation is more of a wiring job than one of high technology, but the logistics of dealing with nearly 100 lead-acid cells are quite taxing. The UPS takes four battery packs, each clocking in at 288 V. The cells are joined with copper straps, and the voltage and current involved is not for the faint-hearted. An accidental short vaporized a screw and a battery terminal; if this were our house we’d put fuses in the middle of the battery packs.

The batteries are stored on wooden pallets atop brick pillars in case the cellar floods. The basement installation now is ready for the addition of solar and wind-based off-grid sources. Maybe your battery power solution will be less hair-raising, but it’s unlikely to be cheaper. Meanwhile this isn’t the first such project we’ve seen, though others usually go for 18650 Li-Ion cells, the use of lead acid remains a viable and economical solution.

A Mobile Terminal For The End Of The World

If civilization goes sideways and you need to survive, what are the bare essentials that should go in your bunker? Food and fresh water, sure. Maybe something to barter with in case things go full on The Postman. That’s all sensible enough, but how’s that stuff going to help you get a LAN party going? If you’re anything like [Jay Doscher], you’ll make sure there’s a ruggedized Raspberry Pi system with a self-contained network with you when the bombs drop.

Or at least, it certainly looks the part. He’s managed to design the entire project so it doesn’t require drilling holes through the Pelican case that serves as the enclosure, meaning it’s about as well sealed up as a piece of electronics can possibly be. The whole system could be fully submerged in water and come out bone dry on the inside, and with no internal moving parts, it should be largely immune to drops and shocks.

But we imagine [Jay] won’t actually need to wait for nuclear winter before he gets some use out of this gorgeous mobile setup. With the Pi’s GPIO broken out to dual military-style panel mount connectors on the front, a real mechanical keyboard, and an integrated five port Ethernet switch, you won’t have any trouble getting legitimate work done with this machine; even if the closest you ever get to a post-apocalyptic hellscape is the garage with the heat off. We especially like the 3D printed front panel with integrated labels, which is a great tip that frankly we don’t see nearly enough of.

This is actually an evolved version of the Raspberry Pi Field Unit (RPFU) that [Jay] built back in 2015. He tells us that he wanted to update the design to demonstrate his personal growth as a hacker and maker over the last few years, and judging by the final product, we think it’s safe to say he’s on the right path.

Power Generation Modules Mix And Match Wind, Water, And Hand Cranks

What’s great about the Power Generation Modules project headed by [Cole B] is the focus on usability and modularity. The project is a system for powering and charging small devices using any number and combination of generator modules: wind turbine, hand-crank, and water turbine so far. Power management and storage is handled by a separate unit that acts as a battery bank to store the output from up to six generators at once. There’s also a separate LED lamp module, designed to be capable of being powered directly from any of the generator modules if needed.

Testing the water turbine module

The hand crank is straightforward in concept, but key to usability was selecting a DC gearmotor with a gear ratio that made cranking by hand both comfortable and sustainable; too weak of a crank and it’s awkward, too hard and it’s tiring. The wind turbine has three compact vanes that turn a central shaft, but testing showed the brushless motor it uses as a generator isn’t a good match for the design; the wind turbine won’t turn well in regular wind conditions. The water turbine prototype showed great success; it consists of an epoxy-glazed, 5 inch diameter 3D printed propeller housed in a section of PVC pipe. The propeller drives a brushless motor which [Cole B] says easily outputs between eight to ten volts when testing in a small stream.

The team has plans for other generators such as solar, but this is a great start to an array of modules that can be used to power and charge small devices while off the grid. We’re happy to see them as a finalist for The Hackaday Prize; they were selected as one of the twenty projects to receive $1000 cash each in the Power Harvesting Challenge. The Human-Computer Interface Challenge is currently underway which seeks innovative ideas about how humans and computers can interface with one another, and twenty of those finalists will also receive $1000 each and be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.

Solar Bulldozer Gets Dirty

As the threat of climate change looms, more and more industries are starting to electrify rather than using traditional fuel sources like gasoline and diesel. It almost all cases, the efficiency gains turn out to be environmentally and economically beneficial. Obviously we have seen more electric cars on the roads, but this trend extends far beyond automobiles to things like lawn equipment, bicycles, boats, and even airplanes. The latest in this trend of electrified machines comes to us from YouTube user [J Mantzel] who has built his own solar-powered bulldozer.

The fact that this bulldozer is completely solar-powered is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The even more impressive part is that this bulldozer was built completely from scratch. The solar panel on the roof charges a set of batteries that drive the motors, and even though the bulldozer is slow it’s incredibly strong for its small size. It’s also possible for it to operate on solar alone if it’s sunny enough, which almost eliminates the need for the batteries entirely. It’s also built out of stainless steel and aluminum, which makes it mostly rust-proof.

This is an impressive build that goes along well with [J Mantzel]’s other projects, most of which center around an off-grid lifestyle. If that’s up your alley, there is a lot of inspiration to be had from his various projects. Be sure to check out the video of his bulldozer below as well. You don’t have to build an off-grid bulldozer to get started in the world of living off-the-grid, though, and it’s easy to start small with just one solar panel and a truck.

Thanks to [Darko] for the tip!

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PassivDom: Mobile Homes For Millenials

In many parts of the world, living in a trailer has gained a social stigma. We’re talking about a rectangular building placed on three wheels and towed to your preferred plot of land. It’s going to take a lot to break that social stigma, but this is a pretty sweet attempt.

PassivDom is an off-grid home. It sidesteps the electrical grid as well as water and sewer service. It’s marketed as utilizing revolutionary breakthrough in wall insulation which they claim makes it very easy to heat and cool. In addition to this self-sustaining angle, it taps into the tiny home movement with a footprint of just 36 m2 (4 m by 9 m; about 118 390 ft2 or 13′ by 30′).

For this to make sense you really need to get the “Autonomous” model, the only one that is designed for “off-grid” living and comes with solar panels and battery storage plus water storage and purification. That’ll set you back 59,900 € (about $63,461 USD) but hey, it does come with “high quality minimalistic furniture” which the best way we can think of to serve Ikea nesting instinct without saying the brand name. Yep, this ticks all the “marketing to millennials” boxes. We’re kind of surprised it’s not doing crowdfunding.

So where’s the hack? Obviously this is a hard sell at 1,664 €/m($538 $163/ft2). A project of this size and scope is well within the purview of a single, motivated hacker, and arguably a weekend project for a well-skilled team from a hackerspace. Tiny Houses started as a build-it yourself so that’s already solved. We’ve seen what it takes for hackers to add solar to their RVs, and experiments in home-built power walls. Water storage and purification is already solved and quite affordable at the home store.

Has anyone built their own off-grid tiny house? If so, let us know what went into it. If not, what are you waiting for?

Off-Grid Travel — Setting Up A Solar System

When you’re living out of a vehicle, or even just traveling out of one, power quickly becomes a big concern. You need it for lights, to charge your various devices, to run your coffee maker and other appliances, and possibly even to store your food if you’ve got an electric refrigerator. You could do what many RV owners do: rely on campgrounds with electrical hookups plus a couple of car batteries to get you from one campground to the next. But, those campgrounds are pricey and often amount to glorified parking lots. Wouldn’t it be better if you had the freedom to camp anywhere, without having to worry about finding somewhere to plug in?

That’s exactly what we’re going to be covering in this article: off-grid power on the road. There are two major methods for doing this: with a portable gas generator, or with solar. Gas generators have long been the preferred method, as they provide a large amount of power reliably. However, they’re also fairly expensive, cumbersome, noisy, and obviously require that you bring along fuel. Luckily, major advances in solar technology over the past decade have made it very practical to use solar energy as your sole source of electricity on the road.

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Working In Peace With An Off-Grid Office Shed

Finding a good work space at home isn’t a trivial task, especially when you’ve got a wife and kid. A lot of us use a spare bedroom, basement, or garage as a space to work on our hobbies (or jobs). But, the lack of true separation from the home can make getting real work done difficult. For many of us, we need to have the mental distance between our living space and our working space in order to actually get stuff done.

This is the problem [Syonyk] had — he needed a quiet place to work that was separated from the rest of his house. To accomplish this, he used a Tuff Shed and set it up to run off-grid. The reason for going off-grid wasn’t purely environmental, it was actually more practical than trying to run power lines from the house. Because of the geology where he lives, burying power lines wasn’t financially feasible.

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