Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

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2tall4economy
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Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Mon Feb 27, 2017 1:25 pm

Looking for advice on where to start; my situation is a bit more complex than the scenarios I've read about so far due to my existing system, so thought I'd start with this post.  

Will caveat up front that I'm not a "green for the sake of green" person, I was trained as an electrical engineer so I like the tech, and I get the long term benefits of going green, but I'm a pragmatic finance oriented guy so I need things to also make financial sense before I proceed.

My situation:
I recently relocated to upstate New York and bought my 15 year old house for a song (about 30% of construction cost) because the house was built at the peak of the last economic cycle and the city and local businesses have been in decline or slow growth mode since.  Homes don't really appreciate in this market regardless of what you do to them so any investment you make is typically gone.  The guy that built my house was very wealthy and was a techie, so my house is large and was built with high end commercial-only (at the time) tech.  Much of that tech has become obsolete or has trickled down into residential applications now.  I've been opportunistically replacing systems as they fail with new and inexpensive tech (swapped out whole-house stereo / CD / DVD / Direct TV entertainment with roku / sonus, swapped plasma TVs with LCDs, swapped out networked thermostats with Nests, etc) to lower operating costs, save energy, and achieve (someday) an iphone controlled / connected home.  

Opportunistic is important because life has "happened" repeatedly such that the longest I've lived in a given domicile over the past 20 years is 3 years (I've been bounced from my homes for work / marriage / kids).  I'm hoping for something much longer this time around (which is why I relocated), but hard to read the tea leaves.  Therefore even though I have a strong interest in investing in my house, I'd like whatever I do to have an ROI of 1 year or less or "zero cash investment + net lower monthly cost" so I don't get burned when life happens again.  

Current electrical system:
15 year old but barely used G75F1S Olympian (Caterpillar) generator set, producing 63 kW from natural gas, has instant-on feature in case of power failure.  Whole house UPS, which is a daisy chained set of Eaton 9170+ units, good for 18kva in the base unit and maybe another 6kva in the attached unit, the second piece which has been unused for a while due to battery failure (and at $500 per battery x 12 batteries I'm not replacing them until I have to).  200, possibly 400 but I'm not brave enough to poke it with an ammeter, amp service - largest residential wire I've ever seen - into two main breaker panels, which chains to 2 more panels in the room with the UPS, which also has the home network, home entertainment center (what's left of it anyway), and the overbuilt commercial grade phone, lighting, and security systems.  

All in my house consumes about 40,000 kwh annually after my tweaks, which is probably about 30% to 50% of what it used to consume.  I've got a goal to bring it down to 20,000 by next year - I've bought the eMonitor software over the weekend to start monitoring exactly where this energy is spent and to cut it back further over the coming months.

Recently I discovered that my backup generator isn't running. Pretty sure it's from disuse (this has happened in the past).  However, since it's a commercial unit and I'm in a smallish town without much industry, the closest repair guy is 2 hours away and charges a few hundred dollars per hour, so I'm in for almost $1,000 before he even starts looking at it.  Couple that with the high cost UPS and the fact I want newer / cheaper tech and don't need that kind of power, and would prefer a more green solution all else being equal, I'm pretty motivated to explore a solar panel + battery, such as powerwall, solution.  

There are a lot of factors which make this a poor financial decision: big house, big KWH requirement, energy prices are very stable for past 10 years and relatively reasonable.  However, I have to believe there must be some potential offsets to explore, either because the house is already wired to work with a generator and batteries, or perhaps I can sell the UPS and generator (still on the market for sale at about ~$50k if you bought them new, so maybe worth $10k - $20k now?) to offset the cost of a solar system.

Where can I start to figure this puzzle out?  Any tips?

I have linked up with the local solar community at the nearby college and will be talking in local installers in 2 weeks, but I want to be armed with knowledge and want to understand what I might be able to do with my existing generator / UPS before I have those meetings.

Thanks!!
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psteinx
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by psteinx » Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:10 pm

I find it hard to reconcile a target of 1 year breakeven, plus a history of <=3 year stays in a given domicile, with a plan to replace one expensive, presumably rarely used house "luxury" with another rough equivalent.

What's the need for a whole house generator/backup system?

If newer, better, cheaper systems can replace what is currently used in the house, how does THAT manufacturer sell its product for ~$50K, and why do you think you can get $10K-$20K out of a resale?

In general, to me this sounds like a tinkering project, and an expensive one at that. The house's builder and/or previous owners evidently took a bath, probably at least partly because of extravagant tech and overbuilding in general. Now you want to upgrade a system that was likely an extravagance to begin with?

That said, I know very little about the specific techs in question. Just thinking that maybe you need to pull back a little for the 40K foot view. If there's a stronger rationale for you needing this system, and/or your finances are so strong that this is essentially play/hobby money for you, then perhaps you should clarify...

TravelGeek
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by TravelGeek » Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:18 pm

When does your power typically go out and for how long?

In my case, I haven't had any long outages, but I suspect it would be in the winter when it is dark, stormy and the solar panels are potentially covered by a foot of snow.

Wellfleet
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Wellfleet » Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:26 pm

I am confused. It sounds like you have two projects, energy conservation AND right sizing the generator?

If so, I would probably focus on energy conservation and then buy the smallest, serviceable backup generator that you need.

If you were trying to combine both, I'd recommend a combined heat and power unit that produces heat and yes electricity. None available in US for residential applications that I am aware of.

That is a huge genset. Would need state environmental permits in my area!

Edited to add, I was recently trying to find independent advice on heating system choices. I talked to a residential energy consultant who was honest and said I had it 95% figured out but maybe that type of professional could help.

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Epsilon Delta
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Epsilon Delta » Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:34 pm

2tall4economy wrote:15 year old but barely used G75F1S Olympian (Caterpillar) generator set, producing 63 kW from natural gas,

:shock:

That's not a whole house backup that's a whole village backup.

If you must have a backup the reasonable way to do it is to put in a 5kW or 10kW generator and prioritize the loads.
The current installation will probably be of no use here, since it's clearly designed on the principle of massive overkill.

mw1739
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by mw1739 » Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:38 pm

Have you gone through the Powerwall sizing tool on Tesla's website? It recommends 5 Powerwalls for a home using more than 70 kWh per day for a cost of nearly $30k - and that is only sized to provide 1 day worth of power to your home. I would repair the existing natural gas generator. Once it's working it should be nearly maintenance free and can provide relatively limitless power in an outage.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by MathWizard » Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:27 pm

Epsilon Delta wrote:
2tall4economy wrote:15 year old but barely used G75F1S Olympian (Caterpillar) generator set, producing 63 kW from natural gas,

:shock:

That's not a whole house backup that's a whole village backup.

If you must have a backup the reasonable way to do it is to put in a 5kW or 10kW generator and prioritize the loads.
The current installation will probably be of no use here, since it's clearly designed on the principle of massive overkill.


I agree.

A Generac 7KW would provide you with everything you would have to have, except maybe
whole house air conditioning, electric stove, electric dryer.
You could cook with a microwave or a backup toaster oven rather than an electric stove.
I assume with NG that you do not have electric heat, which would be another electricity hog.

2tall4economy
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Mon Feb 27, 2017 6:39 pm

psteinx wrote:I find it hard to reconcile a target of 1 year breakeven, plus a history of <=3 year stays in a given domicile, with a plan to replace one expensive, presumably rarely used house "luxury" with another rough equivalent.

What's the need for a whole house generator/backup system?

If newer, better, cheaper systems can replace what is currently used in the house, how does THAT manufacturer sell its product for ~$50K, and why do you think you can get $10K-$20K out of a resale?

In general, to me this sounds like a tinkering project, and an expensive one at that. The house's builder and/or previous owners evidently took a bath, probably at least partly because of extravagant tech and overbuilding in general. Now you want to upgrade a system that was likely an extravagance to begin with?

That said, I know very little about the specific techs in question. Just thinking that maybe you need to pull back a little for the 40K foot view. If there's a stronger rationale for you needing this system, and/or your finances are so strong that this is essentially play/hobby money for you, then perhaps you should clarify...


The simple problem statement is that I'd like to have a backup energy source for power outages, and my choice is repair my way-overbuilt generator, or potentially get rid of it and get some solar + battery out of it. And batteries would also allow me to replace my overbuilt UPS as a side bonus. And that also brings my electricity bill down.

And I'm just explaining the 1 year to demonstrate my rationale for 1 year payback. I actually expect to live here a while, that's why I switch companies (partially).
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2tall4economy
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Mon Feb 27, 2017 7:05 pm

Epsilon Delta wrote:
2tall4economy wrote:15 year old but barely used G75F1S Olympian (Caterpillar) generator set, producing 63 kW from natural gas,

:shock:

That's not a whole house backup that's a whole village backup.

If you must have a backup the reasonable way to do it is to put in a 5kW or 10kW generator and prioritize the loads.
The current installation will probably be of no use here, since it's clearly designed on the principle of massive overkill.


Certainly, though when the house was built it was appropriately sized. Tech is much less thirsty nowadays vs back in the dark ages of 2001.

It's cheaper to just repair what I have vs put new in. Am hoping there is an alternative I can barter toward which gives me something greener and less expensive to operate.
You can do anything you want in life. The rub is that there are consequences.

killjoy2012
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by killjoy2012 » Mon Feb 27, 2017 9:11 pm

OP - It's hard to give you any definitive advice without seeing/inspecting your specific arrangement, but I'll try to talk in generalities.

The genset was probably close to $20k new. Used in very good condition, 15 years old, probably worth somewhere in the $10-12k range in good working order. As you said though, it's currently not running at all, so you could either fix it... or try to sell it to an electrical contractor or commercial machinery resale company as-is for maybe $5-6k. If you were to sell it, you'd also need to figure in the significant cost/effort to disconnect it, package it up, move it (~2500 lbs), etc. You could put those costs on the buyer, but in the end, it's just going to come off your price one way or the other.

The Eaton UPS is a good unit, but in my mind, isn't worth much on the resale market. First, as you said, all of the batteries likely need to be replaced, which if done with OEM units, is probably going to cost as much as the entire unit is worth afterwards. No one is going to give you $6k for a 15 year old UPS unit with new batteries (IMO). Second, the electronics within the UPS have a lifetime too - relays die, etc. If you sold it as-is, I'd guess you might get $1k-1500 for it if it's good condition.

You likely have a 400A service into the house that passes through an automatic transfer switch (for the genset) and lands in 2 identical 200A service panels. You also probably have an additional 1-2 load distribution panels that all of your home's branch circuits home run to. And wired in-between the service panels and load panels is a bypass switch for the UPS. If so, the good news is that you should be able to disconnect & sell both the genset and UPS without needing an electrician to rewire your service entrance and distribution... but that would mean selling them without their associated transfer switch and bypass switch which your buyer may want. Pulling both of those out and paying an electrician to redo the SE and inter-panel wiring is probably north of $1k depending on the details.

Personally, if it were me, a 63KW natural gas genset is killer! Paying a qualified tech $200-400 to come out to diagnose & possibly repair the problem is a no-brainer. Even if it is $1K repair bill, you're still way ahead... and if you still want to sell it, you can now sell it for a respectable amount. If you knew how much the original owner probably paid just for the oversized NG main feed to the house, etc... I wouldn't be selling it! As for the UPS, I'd be less passionate about the decision. My concern would be investing $6k in new batteries only for the electronics to fail shortly thereafter. If you can find cheap/discounted batteries, I'd consider replacing/investing. Otherwise, just disconnect it and sell as-is. Just beware that, depending on how the system was designed, they may have been relying on that UPS to cover the genset-AC transfer switch cycle time (not dropping loads when switching from line AC to genset and back- MBB, etc.).

I can't advise on the solar panel & wall battery solution you're exploring, but I don't see selling one to mostly pay for the other as being in the cards. And personally, I'd rather have the 63KW generator all things being equal. Powerwall batteries fail just like your current UPS ones have, and you're talking $20-30k in batteries there, not $6k.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by ralph124cf » Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:03 am

Most currently sold whole house backup generators have an automatic test mode that turns them on for maybe 15 minutes once a month. You are also supposed to change the oil at least once a year. Spark plugs?

Ralph

whomever
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by whomever » Tue Feb 28, 2017 7:56 am

I'd be curious about what was wrong with the generator. A nat gas generator shouldn't have issues from fuel going bad, etc. Does it not crank (does it have a start battery that needs charging?)? Cranks but doesn't start? Runs but doesn't output power? Some faults - like a valve or switch set wrong - might be DIY fixes. Others might be fixable by a local mechanic - a CAT nat gas motor probably has a lot of commonality with a CAT diesel from a bulldozer.

But just sitting, especially for a nat gas motor, shouldn't result in anything major going wrong.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Tue Feb 28, 2017 8:36 am

Solar and batteries are likely to make a poor substitute for an emergency generator. You'd need enough batteries to cover you through night and long periods of limited solar power due to clouds etc. (that side of Lake Ontario gets some serious ice & snow storms, as a result of cold air from the north smashing into warmer air from the south, with the moisture being picked off the Lake).

A generator of the right size (perhaps 10kw?) with prioritization of load ought to keep you going.

In the disaster scenario of no natural gas you are not going to be able to stay warm enough anyways, probably.

Solar is a separate decision, you have to look at the economics in your state and utility service territory. Does having a big storage battery mitigate costs of using electricity at high cost times? Or allow you to export to the grid at those times? How long would it allow you to run the house for in the lack of grid power (note: a lot of solar systems automatically disconnect themselves if there is a grid failure).

Paybacks on solar, even in favourable states, are typically 7-10 years.

Your right approach is to downsize on power load as much as you possibly can. Then I would get the generator fixed or replace it with a more appropriately sized one.

67 kw is like a brigade command center for the US Army ;-).

Note that the costs of this house will be significant, as you undoubtedly know:

- maintenance increases with square footage (or rather more closely with exterior dimensions and roof space). All those gadgets and gizmos fail too, and some you may need

- property taxes in upstate NY are anything but cheap, and with an aging population & poor economic outlook, are likely to go higher (that's one reason housing prices, outside of commuter range of NYC, seem so reasonable)

I speak from having a family with large English country houses (in the past and some in the present). The things eat money. Just dine on it, 3 meals a day. :annoyed :| :|

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Tue Feb 28, 2017 12:55 pm

killjoy2012 wrote:You likely have a 400A service into the house that passes through an automatic transfer switch (for the genset) and lands in 2 identical 200A service panels. You also probably have an additional 1-2 load distribution panels that all of your home's branch circuits home run to. And wired in-between the service panels and load panels is a bypass switch for the UPS. If so, the good news is that you should be able to disconnect & sell both the genset and UPS without needing an electrician to rewire your service entrance and distribution... but that would mean selling them without their associated transfer switch and bypass switch which your buyer may want. Pulling both of those out and paying an electrician to redo the SE and inter-panel wiring is probably north of $1k depending on the details.

Personally, if it were me, a 63KW natural gas genset is killer! Paying a qualified tech $200-400 to come out to diagnose & possibly repair the problem is a no-brainer. Even if it is $1K repair bill, you're still way ahead... and if you still want to sell it, you can now sell it for a respectable amount. If you knew how much the original owner probably paid just for the oversized NG main feed to the house, etc... I wouldn't be selling it! As for the UPS, I'd be less passionate about the decision. My concern would be investing $6k in new batteries only for the electronics to fail shortly thereafter. If you can find cheap/discounted batteries, I'd consider replacing/investing. Otherwise, just disconnect it and sell as-is. Just beware that, depending on how the system was designed, they may have been relying on that UPS to cover the genset-AC transfer switch cycle time (not dropping loads when switching from line AC to genset and back- MBB, etc.).

I can't advise on the solar panel & wall battery solution you're exploring, but I don't see selling one to mostly pay for the other as being in the cards. And personally, I'd rather have the 63KW generator all things being equal. Powerwall batteries fail just like your current UPS ones have, and you're talking $20-30k in batteries there, not $6k.


:shock: you nailed it. There is a bypass for the UPS and a bypass for the generator. Not sure why the first is needed given how I understood powerwall to work, perhaps it was just an artifact of the tech. But yes, I could theoretically disconnect both with my house non the wiser. Not brave enough to test that theory yet though. If only I could find a repair guy in the area; the closest is 2 hours away and just the drive costs me $1,000. If he doesn't have the part and needs to come back, it's $2,000 exclusive of actual repair and part costs, which is really hard to stomach.

Solid advice on the generator overall though. I think the powerwall is $5.5k for a replacement if the whole thing dies. I'll need more than 1 certainly but I wouldn't expect all of them to fail each year.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:35 pm

2tall4economy wrote:
killjoy2012 wrote:You likely have a 400A service into the house that passes through an automatic transfer switch (for the genset) and lands in 2 identical 200A service panels. You also probably have an additional 1-2 load distribution panels that all of your home's branch circuits home run to. And wired in-between the service panels and load panels is a bypass switch for the UPS. If so, the good news is that you should be able to disconnect & sell both the genset and UPS without needing an electrician to rewire your service entrance and distribution... but that would mean selling them without their associated transfer switch and bypass switch which your buyer may want. Pulling both of those out and paying an electrician to redo the SE and inter-panel wiring is probably north of $1k depending on the details.

Personally, if it were me, a 63KW natural gas genset is killer! Paying a qualified tech $200-400 to come out to diagnose & possibly repair the problem is a no-brainer. Even if it is $1K repair bill, you're still way ahead... and if you still want to sell it, you can now sell it for a respectable amount. If you knew how much the original owner probably paid just for the oversized NG main feed to the house, etc... I wouldn't be selling it! As for the UPS, I'd be less passionate about the decision. My concern would be investing $6k in new batteries only for the electronics to fail shortly thereafter. If you can find cheap/discounted batteries, I'd consider replacing/investing. Otherwise, just disconnect it and sell as-is. Just beware that, depending on how the system was designed, they may have been relying on that UPS to cover the genset-AC transfer switch cycle time (not dropping loads when switching from line AC to genset and back- MBB, etc.).

I can't advise on the solar panel & wall battery solution you're exploring, but I don't see selling one to mostly pay for the other as being in the cards. And personally, I'd rather have the 63KW generator all things being equal. Powerwall batteries fail just like your current UPS ones have, and you're talking $20-30k in batteries there, not $6k.


:shock: you nailed it. There is a bypass for the UPS and a bypass for the generator. Not sure why the first is needed given how I understood powerwall to work, perhaps it was just an artifact of the tech. But yes, I could theoretically disconnect both with my house non the wiser. Not brave enough to test that theory yet though. If only I could find a repair guy in the area; the closest is 2 hours away and just the drive costs me $1,000. If he doesn't have the part and needs to come back, it's $2,000 exclusive of actual repair and part costs, which is really hard to stomach.

Solid advice on the generator overall though. I think the powerwall is $5.5k for a replacement if the whole thing dies. I'll need more than 1 certainly but I wouldn't expect all of them to fail each year.


The $2k is sunk costs. Try to negotiate a time he finds reasonable (e.g. weekend?) and he might give you a discount.

I'd go with finding out what is wrong with the genset. Also, if parts need to come, could they be Fedexed? Uber as courier?

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Tue Feb 28, 2017 2:04 pm

Valuethinker wrote:Note that the costs of this house will be significant, as you undoubtedly know:

- maintenance increases with square footage (or rather more closely with exterior dimensions and roof space). All those gadgets and gizmos fail too, and some you may need

- property taxes in upstate NY are anything but cheap, and with an aging population & poor economic outlook, are likely to go higher (that's one reason housing prices, outside of commuter range of NYC, seem so reasonable)

I speak from having a family with large English country houses (in the past and some in the present). The things eat money. Just dine on it, 3 meals a day. :annoyed :| :|


Yep, that's the pain of being here. But we expect to stay a long while and if we die here then it becomes irrelevant, and if we move it will be because of work so they'll buy our house out and make us whole, which drove our buying decision.

Brief war story - we looked at (what my wife called) a "Pride and Prejudice" house which was an incredible turn of the century mansion / manor house and was amazingly cheap ($500k for 8,000 sq ft, all brick, with 5 acres of iron gated, manicured grounds).

Then we discovered what the infrastructure (poured cement walls swiss-cheesed with renovation drills, no A/C, poor wifi capability, bad wiring, etc) and taxes were (4.5% of market value :moneybag ) and we ran the other way to this current house at "only" 3% of market value taxes and 15 years of time on the clock.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Ged » Tue Feb 28, 2017 2:33 pm

I would be careful of the Powerwall costs. From the time I remember looking at it you can easily end up with $20,000 for a 24 hr backup to a moderately large home.

A natural gas fired genset would easily outperform that.

Furthermore upstate NY is the national capital for cloudy winter days. Even when you do get a sunny day the winter days are short and the sun is low on the horizon in that part of the US. I expect it would give you the worst cost scenario in the United States for solar power except maybe Alaska while on the other hand there is lots of low cost hydro power on the grid in that part of the US.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by David Jay » Tue Feb 28, 2017 3:32 pm

An 11KW gen-set (since you already have the transfer switch) is less than $4000 if you DYI. That is only double the service call.

You could get a brand new gen-set and probably make money on the resale of the CAT powered unit.
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Dontridetheindexdown
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You have a 460 Ford V-8 in that genset, keep it forever!

Post by Dontridetheindexdown » Tue Feb 28, 2017 7:20 pm

You have a 460 Ford V-8 in that genset, keep it forever!

It is capable of supplying 60% of your utility power at full generator load.

At partial load, it does not use any more fuel than a smaller genset.

Also, a gaseous fueled genset can run at low load or partial load forever - it will not "carbon up" or "wet stack" like a liquid fueled engine.

The advantage of the larger unit is mechanical inertia, for both inductive and resistive loads.

Whenever a refrigeration compressor or well pump or electric stove comes on line, you want very much to maintain voltage and frequency.

Failure to do so can result in damage to expensive electric appliances.

Your genset will not bog down when a transient load is applied.

Yes, there are smaller gensets available, they all run at 3600 rpm and have a limited life span.

Your genset runs at 1800 rpm, and has an unlimited lifespan.

Your genset will use the same amount of fuel as a smaller unit when you run it at low load - look at the fuel use curve for your genset!

You have a 400 Amp whole-house transfer switch - that is a wonderful thing.

Regardless of what size genset you use, you can turn on any light in your house when you are on generator power.

That is very important, especially during a power outage.

By all means, get rid of the UPS system.

Battery maintenance and replacement for UPS will eat you alive.

Tablets and laptops have their own, built in UPS.

Everything else can be reset after you switch over to generator power.

I am 1000 miles from you, and I can tell you from here there is nothing seriously wrong with your genset.

You can pm me if you want to discuss this.

For the poster who claimed knowledge of electric power requirements for military units - things have changed since WWII.

These days, we use this much generator power at the platoon or company level (typically several gensets in parallel).

Regiments require at least a megawatt, and brigades require far more.

For the poster who claimed that homes today use less power because of appliance efficiency, things have also changed.

Homes use more power, not less, than they did yesterday.

They use a lot more of those energy efficient appliances, in almost every room - you can look it up if you don't believe me.

Anyway, my advice, for what it's worth, keep the 460 natural gas unit - it's a gem.

As another poster observed, the cost to install it today, including permitting, would be prohibitive, and you already own it free and clear.

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Re: You have a 460 Ford V-8 in that genset, keep it forever!

Post by 2tall4economy » Tue Feb 28, 2017 8:58 pm

Dontridetheindexdown wrote:You have a 460 Ford V-8 in that genset, keep it forever!

It is capable of supplying 60% of your utility power at full generator load.

<tirmmed for brevity>


Yep, Ford V8. Noticed that right away; I was actually not sure what it was when I first saw it as I didn't realize generators used v8s. Great and helpful post. I should go tinker when the weather warms up I suppose. :)

I'm getting Sitesage electric measurement device this week. Maybe I'll figure out why it's such a high KWH house here.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Dontridetheindexdown » Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:34 pm

Among other things, I was also educated in the social sciences, and in policy analysis.

Years ago, we could use education level and income level as essentially equivalent inputs for analysis.

That is, for a given outcome, we could use education or income interchangeably, and the model produced essentially the same result.

These days, we can use electric power consumption as an equivalent input variable.

That is - education, income, and electric power consumption are highly correlated.

I suspect that liquid fuel consumption (including aviation fuel, personal automotive fuel, and package delivery fuel) is also highly correlated with the 3 variables cited above.

However, I am not aware of solid research in that area.

Your electric consumption is hardly anomalous - it is perfectly normal.

As long as you maximize your tax-deferred, tax-exempt, and taxable investments, just relax and enjoy the lifestyle you achieved.

Again, just my opinion, for what it's worth.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Thu Mar 09, 2017 10:46 pm

Small update here:

Bought a Sense and a Smappee, (and a SiteSage before that - but sent it back since they want $1,200 for a weaker product than the other two which cost $300 or so) both of which claim to monitor your main into the house and identify devices.

I get to use them for ~3 weeks but then need to send one or the other back to Amazon and get my money back.

So far I've seen that my home consumes about 20 to 25 kwh per day, or about $2 - $2.50. No idea why my bill is $5,500 vs $700. but then again I haven't seen a weekend consumption yet.

I monitored one of my 4 panels and discovered it consumes ~410 W pretty much always (it's my security and networking panel) and therefore about $350/yr. Found 2 things on that panel I can switch off. Still, $350 out of $5,500 means there's a lot left to find.

My initial reaction is that there is some massive vampire out there which I can't find. Will keep looking.

Also went to a local solar community meeting and met with 3 companies. Waiting for their quotes to go solar and battery vs gen. They are really negative towards whole house batteries. Unexpected...
Last edited by 2tall4economy on Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:12 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Thu Mar 09, 2017 10:47 pm

Dontridetheindexdown wrote:Among other things, I was also educated in the social sciences, and in policy analysis.

Years ago, we could use education level and income level as essentially equivalent inputs for analysis.

That is, for a given outcome, we could use education or income interchangeably, and the model produced essentially the same result.

These days, we can use electric power consumption as an equivalent input variable.

That is - education, income, and electric power consumption are highly correlated.

I suspect that liquid fuel consumption (including aviation fuel, personal automotive fuel, and package delivery fuel) is also highly correlated with the 3 variables cited above.

However, I am not aware of solid research in that area.

Your electric consumption is hardly anomalous - it is perfectly normal.

As long as you maximize your tax-deferred, tax-exempt, and taxable investments, just relax and enjoy the lifestyle you achieved.

Again, just my opinion, for what it's worth.


Love your perspective and background.

...but I'd still prefer to find a way to save $5k / yr and spend it on toys and furniture :)
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by pyld76 » Thu Mar 09, 2017 11:35 pm

1. Find the vampire load.
2. Fix that genset.
3. If you want to be altruistic and green, you could do some solar, I suppose, but in your region you are going to need a ton of PV to push your house even in the summer. It will not be cheap. The battery (powerwall) required will be even less cheap, and you are going to need additional distribution gear to go into that setup. Without net metering (I am not familiar with NY in this regard) the payback time on that is going to be years (I'd guess >10, maybe more).

If you don't want to fix that genset, sell it and get a smaller one. And I'd keep the UPS (albeit perhaps ditching one or more battery strings) for power quality purposes and keeping the loads on it up until the/a generator kicks in (but I'd try to minimize this loadset, because that Eaton unit will last damn near forever but you will spend your life changing the batteries every 3-5 years if you want it to work).

As an aside--the UPS has bypass so you can conduct maintenance on the UPS, presumably while on the generator if you trust it more than street power.

The point made above of fixing the thing and letting the transfer switch do the monthly auto-testing is wise (they go Eaton for the ATS, too?). The cat natgas units will run forever if they are properly exercised and you do the fluid/filter/plug bits when called for.

You may be reaching with the solar/powerwall bit unless you want to spend the kind of money which makes fixing your current setup blush.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:31 am

2tall4economy wrote:S
My initial reaction is that there is some massive vampire out there which I can't find. Will keep looking.

Also went to a local solar community meeting and met with 3 companies. Waiting for their quotes to go solar and battery vs gen. They are really negative towards whole house batteries. Unexpected...


Thank you for the update. Kil-o-Watt meter and try shutting down *everything*? Unplug things one by one and see what is left. You have some crazy vampire (it's the sort of thing a swimming pool pump and heater can do to you) OR the utility is massively overcharging you.

On batteries:

- it's a clear signal the technology is not "ready to roll" on price/ performance grounds. Elon Musk is, as ever, seeing the future and making investors believe the future is *now*.

The only way batteries pay is if you can sell power back to the utility at peak times. The business models and charging structures are not fully established. But as utilities become more dependent on distributed, renewable energy sources, the value of the kwhr at peak times increases, may increase by 10x.

This leads to all kinds of business models of load shifting (non essential power cut down, e.g. stores & businesses could turn off half their lights, or ACs for 30 minutes) and storage (as an alternative to fleets of diesel or natural gas powered combustion engines). Also Combined Heat Power systems (district heating-- works well if you have a big hot water baseload (like a hospital) and hot water storage capability).

But we are not there yet, either in cost per kwhr of storage nor in the business models to make it work.

- my own thought is that hydrogen fuel cells will, in the end, prove to be a more successful route than batteries. However I am not up on the differences in terms of price/ performance, and of course the most efficient way to make hydrogen right now is with natural gas, so it's not clean enough (Coal Gasification with Capture & Storage could be an important route in the future).

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:35 am

2tall4economy wrote:Small update here:

Bought a Sense and a Smappee, (and a SiteSage before that - but sent it back since they want $1,200 for a weaker product than the other two which cost $300 or so) both of which claim to monitor your main into the house and identify devices.

I get to use them for ~3 weeks but then need to send one or the other back to Amazon and get my money back.

So far I've seen that my home consumes about 20 to 25 kwh per day, or about $2 - $2.50. No idea why my bill is $5,500 vs $700. but then again I haven't seen a weekend consumption yet.

I monitored one of my 4 panels and discovered it consumes ~410 W pretty much always (it's my security and networking panel) and therefore about $350/yr. Found 2 things on that panel I can switch off. Still, $350 out of $5,500 means there's a lot left to find.

My initial reaction is that there is some massive vampire out there which I can't find. Will keep looking.

Also went to a local solar community meeting and met with 3 companies. Waiting for their quotes to go solar and battery vs gen. They are really negative towards whole house batteries. Unexpected...


On vampires, usual suspects include:

- alarm & security systems (tick)
- Set Top Boxes (President Bush changed the standards on these, I believe, but nonetheless there are some real hogs out there)
- pool pumps & hot water heaters
- "instant on" anything - eg Plasma Screen TVs (LED screens are newer, and better)
- high wattage incandescent bulbs that happen to be on a lot (e.g. automatically turn on)
- whole house air conditioning that for some reason runs more than 8 weeks a year (normal I suspect in an Upstate NY climate)

- w my closest relative, we know what it is. She hates gas, and so has electric resistance heating (an electric "furnace" that supplies hot water to the rads). Costs about 5x what natural gas would cost, per annum

Otherwise either your electricity meter is broken (quite possible) OR I begin to suspect some kind of electrical fault (but that should trip at the board?).

OR somebody is stealing power off your line *after* the meter?

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by inbox788 » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:03 pm

2tall4economy wrote:The simple problem statement is that I'd like to have a backup energy source for power outages, and my choice is repair my way-overbuilt generator, or potentially get rid of it and get some solar + battery out of it. And batteries would also allow me to replace my overbuilt UPS as a side bonus. And that also brings my electricity bill down.

And I'm just explaining the 1 year to demonstrate my rationale for 1 year payback. I actually expect to live here a while, that's why I switch companies (partially).

I think you use more power in a day than most people do in a month!

My understanding is that solar is a primary power system, not backup, so it's not an either or, but both independent considerations. Sure, having solar and line power sort of provides backup to each other, but either or both can still fail. And your backup generator can fail as well leaving you without any power.

The 63kW generator can output over 500 amps! What is the circuit breaker on your main? Do you have more than one separate main? (garage, alarm, etc.?) Sounds like the backup is designed for continuous use as total replacement. As long as you have enough fuel, you will be very comfortable in the next zombie apocalypse.

How many square foot home? Do you have a pool? Jacuzzi? What are the major power consumers that you know of? Top 3 or 5? (pool, HVAC, electric heaters are usually power hogs). But looks like you have technology upgrades that might be consuming power (servers? and alarm). Temperature controlled rooms? Wine cellar? Panic room? Also, lighting, especially outdoor lighting can add up if it's not energy efficient and left on 24/7 or even running all night long.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by psteinx » Fri Mar 10, 2017 1:20 pm

Kill-a-watt has some utility, but limitations too.

To figure out usage by things that are wired in, not plugged in (i.e. HVAC and other stuff), you may want to locate your overall household utility meter (i.e. the thing the electric company reads), and figure out its scale. Then, shut down basically everything in your house, and turn things back on one by one. There are limitations with this method too - for something where usage is variable throughout the day and year (like HVAC), you won't get precision accuracy. But you should be able to get ballpark estimates of the main electricity users...

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:34 pm

pyld76 wrote:1. Find the vampire load.
2. Fix that genset.
3. If you want to be altruistic and green, you could do some solar, I suppose, but in your region you are going to need a ton of PV to push your house even in the summer. It will not be cheap. The battery (powerwall) required will be even less cheap, and you are going to need additional distribution gear to go into that setup. Without net metering (I am not familiar with NY in this regard) the payback time on that is going to be years (I'd guess >10, maybe more).

If you don't want to fix that genset, sell it and get a smaller one. And I'd keep the UPS (albeit perhaps ditching one or more battery strings) for power quality purposes and keeping the loads on it up until the/a generator kicks in (but I'd try to minimize this loadset, because that Eaton unit will last damn near forever but you will spend your life changing the batteries every 3-5 years if you want it to work).

As an aside--the UPS has bypass so you can conduct maintenance on the UPS, presumably while on the generator if you trust it more than street power.

The point made above of fixing the thing and letting the transfer switch do the monthly auto-testing is wise (they go Eaton for the ATS, too?). The cat natgas units will run forever if they are properly exercised and you do the fluid/filter/plug bits when called for.

You may be reaching with the solar/powerwall bit unless you want to spend the kind of money which makes fixing your current setup blush.


Thanks for your comments. Various things:

Vampire load is really puzzling. I can't imagine what is going on there; based on 3 days and 2 monitoring devices my peak usage is ~4KW for a few minutes per day (at 7am, before anyone is awake, so that will be interesting to track down) and my "steady state" seems to be 1KW to 2KW. That suggests I have a 30,000 KWH / year load somewhere.

What's strange is that I'm attaching to where the main connects with my ATS with my monitor cables, and my main comes in through the ground from the meter. I'm going to try attaching directly to the main output vs the ATS input and also see if I'm still draining power when the main is shut off (or not). There appears to be some sort of big humming box next to the meter (I assume transformer) but it's fully enclosed so not sure what it is, but perhaps that is drawing power before it gets to my house.

As if on queue, my UPS killed 4 more batteries 2 days ago. Maybe it didn't like me flipping the breakers on and off as I explore my usage. But in any event that's another $2000 to keep the UPS running. Getting really close to the amount to just have a whole house battery which I have to believe is better than a UPS backed partial-breaker.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by inbox788 » Fri Mar 10, 2017 3:16 pm

2tall4economy wrote:What's strange is that I'm attaching to where the main connects with my ATS with my monitor cables, and my main comes in through the ground from the meter. I'm going to try attaching directly to the main output vs the ATS input and also see if I'm still draining power when the main is shut off (or not). There appears to be some sort of big humming box next to the meter (I assume transformer) but it's fully enclosed so not sure what it is, but perhaps that is drawing power before it gets to my house.

As if on queue, my UPS killed 4 more batteries 2 days ago. Maybe it didn't like me flipping the breakers on and off as I explore my usage. But in any event that's another $2000 to keep the UPS running. Getting really close to the amount to just have a whole house battery which I have to believe is better than a UPS backed partial-breaker.


How do you heat your hot water? Dry your clothes? Do you have natural gas or propane?

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 4:40 pm

inbox788 wrote:How do you heat your hot water? Dry your clothes? Do you have natural gas or propane?

All natural gas. Cooktop too.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by BanditKing » Fri Mar 10, 2017 4:56 pm

Some kind of phantom draw to the UPS perhaps? Is the neighbor's underground weed farm tapped into your power. That's a LOT of power being unaccounted for....

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by TimeRunner » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:07 pm

Does the meter show power being used when the main breaker is turned off?
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by dratkinson » Fri Mar 10, 2017 5:11 pm

In for the ride.


Vampire loads. From a past topic diagnosing same... add to your list of potential candidates: embedded driveway/sidewalk electric snow-melting system.
See: http://www.google.com/search?q=electric ... elt+system


How to read your utility meter and use it to diagnose power consumption. This method doesn't work well for a quick* look with cycling loads (refrigerator, central heat,...), but it should identify circuits containing always-on vampire loads. (* Will need dedicated branch circuit monitor for longer look diagnostics. A Kill-A-Watt (~$30) can diagnose one 120v <1800w plug-in load at a time.)
See: http://www.howtogeek.com/107854/the-how ... nergy-use/


My vote.
--Keep/fix the generator. Why? If you want/need the electricity backup capability then this comes with a greater guarantee of availability than solar, and the repair cost, though expensive, is less than the cost to install something smaller. (Recall automatic whole-house 20KW 3600RPM air-cooled units on forum are reported to be ~$10-15K. Would much rather have your 1800RPM water-cooled unit. All require some annual maintenance. It's a hands-on techie thing to learn to do the annual maintenance and avoid that cost. Look through the documentation that came with your unit. Or get it from the maintenance tech when he arrives.)
--Bybass UPS to remove that operating cost; reset flashing clocks. (If you don't have the batteries to power it, then you can't rely on it presently.) If foreseen, then consider selling your UPS bits before they become obsolete and not wanted by future homeowners.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 9:55 pm

TimeRunner wrote:Does the meter show power being used when the main breaker is turned off?


I tried that today, much to the chagrin of my family. It moved, albeit VERY slowly. Certainly not 25% slower than before, more like 99.95% slower. Called power company, talked to some entry level clerk that tried to lie her way out of it a few times. That said, root cause is that there is a "spin down" period after power is cut (it was only out for a minute or two).

In any event, I'm convinced the problem exists between the meter and my house or main. Which makes it more baffling. I'm wondering if it's just a load that comes on very rarely and thus I haven't seen it hit my monitors yet.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 10, 2017 11:33 pm

BanditKing wrote:Some kind of phantom draw to the UPS perhaps? Is the neighbor's underground weed farm tapped into your power. That's a LOT of power being unaccounted for....


oooo. that's promising. I'll have to play with that. It's 15 year old tech. Probably not so efficient.

I found the furnace was using an outdated control system today that was redundant to my Nests... saved 150 watts / $120/yr :)

UPS could be one of the largest bad actors. Will see :)
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by BanditKing » Sat Mar 11, 2017 1:10 am

2tall4economy wrote:
BanditKing wrote:Some kind of phantom draw to the UPS perhaps? Is the neighbor's underground weed farm tapped into your power. That's a LOT of power being unaccounted for....


oooo. that's promising. I'll have to play with that. It's 15 year old tech. Probably not so efficient.

UPS could be one of the largest bad actors. Will see :)


If the batteries are dated, the UPS itself could be trying like a dickens to charge it up, and then the batteries discharge almost immediately, causing a tight loop. You should be able to pull the power to the UPS and then see what happens to the spinner or usage meters.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Sat Mar 11, 2017 10:32 am

2tall4economy wrote:
pyld76 wrote:1. Find the vampire load.
2. Fix that genset.
3. If you want to be altruistic and green, you could do some solar, I suppose, but in your region you are going to need a ton of PV to push your house even in the summer. It will not be cheap. The battery (powerwall) required will be even less cheap, and you are going to need additional distribution gear to go into that setup. Without net metering (I am not familiar with NY in this regard) the payback time on that is going to be years (I'd guess >10, maybe more).

If you don't want to fix that genset, sell it and get a smaller one. And I'd keep the UPS (albeit perhaps ditching one or more battery strings) for power quality purposes and keeping the loads on it up until the/a generator kicks in (but I'd try to minimize this loadset, because that Eaton unit will last damn near forever but you will spend your life changing the batteries every 3-5 years if you want it to work).

As an aside--the UPS has bypass so you can conduct maintenance on the UPS, presumably while on the generator if you trust it more than street power.

The point made above of fixing the thing and letting the transfer switch do the monthly auto-testing is wise (they go Eaton for the ATS, too?). The cat natgas units will run forever if they are properly exercised and you do the fluid/filter/plug bits when called for.

You may be reaching with the solar/powerwall bit unless you want to spend the kind of money which makes fixing your current setup blush.


Thanks for your comments. Various things:

Vampire load is really puzzling. I can't imagine what is going on there; based on 3 days and 2 monitoring devices my peak usage is ~4KW for a few minutes per day (at 7am, before anyone is awake, so that will be interesting to track down) and my "steady state" seems to be 1KW to 2KW. That suggests I have a 30,000 KWH / year load somewhere.



So your kid has built a time machine, or a snychrotron atom smasher, and gets up early to run it? ;-).

That would sound like a hot water heater or heating system pump, auxiliary baseboard heating, etc. to me.

OR as someone said, you have ice melting cables. Besides driveways and walkways, such are often in the roof because of ice buildup problems. Or something running an auto defrost?

What's strange is that I'm attaching to where the main connects with my ATS with my monitor cables, and my main comes in through the ground from the meter. I'm going to try attaching directly to the main output vs the ATS input and also see if I'm still draining power when the main is shut off (or not). There appears to be some sort of big humming box next to the meter (I assume transformer) but it's fully enclosed so not sure what it is, but perhaps that is drawing power before it gets to my house.

As if on queue, my UPS killed 4 more batteries 2 days ago. Maybe it didn't like me flipping the breakers on and off as I explore my usage. But in any event that's another $2000 to keep the UPS running. Getting really close to the amount to just have a whole house battery which I have to believe is better than a UPS backed partial-breaker.


UPS sounds like a good suspect.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by pyld76 » Sat Mar 11, 2017 11:50 am

2tall4economy wrote:
BanditKing wrote:Some kind of phantom draw to the UPS perhaps? Is the neighbor's underground weed farm tapped into your power. That's a LOT of power being unaccounted for....


oooo. that's promising. I'll have to play with that. It's 15 year old tech. Probably not so efficient.

I found the furnace was using an outdated control system today that was redundant to my Nests... saved 150 watts / $120/yr :)

UPS could be one of the largest bad actors. Will see :)


Power down the UPS and see. That said, that UPS is probably 92-94%-ish efficient in double-conversion. You aren't going to find many newer UPS more efficient than that in true double-conversion modes. You can get more efficient operation from a modern UPS which runs in "push main power thru a static inverter and prey for a fast switchover" mode (eaton calls this ESS mode, other brands do similar things) but they'd be complete overkill for a house and they aren't cheap (the capital cost, even for a right sized unit, would be prohibitive relative to fixing what you have).

The suggestion of simply bypassing the UPS isn't horrible. You could always protect localized loads in the house with a small UPS....

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Epsilon Delta » Sat Mar 11, 2017 1:44 pm

2tall4economy wrote:
Vampire load is really puzzling. I can't imagine what is going on there; based on 3 days and 2 monitoring devices my peak usage is ~4KW for a few minutes per day (at 7am, before anyone is awake, so that will be interesting to track down) and my "steady state" seems to be 1KW to 2KW. That suggests I have a 30,000 KWH / year load somewhere.


Your utility bills should show the number of kWhrs used (or at least paid for) this should provide a sanity check against the dollars and the day to day meter readings.

30,000 kWhr a year is about 4 kW continuous. If it's intermittent the load is larger. This is not 10,000 usb chargers :twisted: . This is probably a heating device, and if not it's still throwing off a lot of heat. Might be worth getting a thermal camera (some video cameras can detect infra red) and looking for hot spots every so often.

You could get a clamp on logging ammeter. You can buy one for less than $200 that will log current for a couple of days. You might be able to rent one. If you have the skills you could rig something with a PC connected AtoD or oscilloscope for less than $50. Unfortunately these only work on single wires, you can't simply clamp it round romex, but you can probably find somewhere to hook it on the main feed which will tell you when the load is active, and may be able to monitor some circuits in the panel. If you know when the load is active then that tells you when to break out the thermal camera.

A web cam doing a time lapse recording of the meter would be another way to figure out when the load is active.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by dratkinson » Sat Mar 11, 2017 3:52 pm

2tall4economy wrote:
TimeRunner wrote:Does the meter show power being used when the main breaker is turned off?


I tried that today, much to the chagrin of my family. It moved, albeit VERY slowly. Certainly not 25% slower than before, more like 99.95% slower. Called power company, talked to some entry level clerk that tried to lie her way out of it a few times. That said, root cause is that there is a "spin down" period after power is cut (it was only out for a minute or two).

In any event, I'm convinced the problem exists between the meter and my house or main. Which makes it more baffling. I'm wondering if it's just a load that comes on very rarely and thus I haven't seen it hit my monitors yet.


Near instantaneous effect. When I was using my analog utility electric meter to diagnose power consumption, recall the spinner acting almost instantaneously*---no or little spin up/down time required. (* Turn on/off circuit breaker, walk ~25' to utility meter, observe immediate change in spinner.)

Option: daisy chained sub-panels. If your meter is still running after you turned off the main breaker, then suspect you didn't turn off a true main breaker. Why? You could have a situation where you have more than one "main" circuit panel connected after your meter*. (* I've seen this situation before: an old house, main circuit panel couldn't carry new AC load; so to avoid replacing/upgrading main panel ($$$$), a new AC sub-panel ($$$) was added in parallel (daisy chained) to main panel, so both connected back to utility meter. Don't know if this is code for new constructions, but grandfathered for old construction. Look for additional wires in top of your "main" panel (3 wires expected from utility meter + 3 unexpected wires); any unexpected wires would be taking power off meter, bypassing main panel and running to new sub-panel. Find all daisy-chained parallel sub-panel(s).)

Option: multiple sub-panel connections to utility meter. Don't know if this is code now, but suspect it may not be (utility worker was adamant that I have only one set of (3) wires running out of my meter when I rewired for my generator connection). Your humming box (transformer?) beside your utility meter may be a separate connection to the meter and powering another sub-panel, so there will be NO unexplained wires in the top of your "main" panel. Shut off your main panel and UPS; if the box is still humming, then you have another circuit connected to your meter to trace (daisy chain) to a sub-panel. If the circuit it buried underground, then you should have a local "call before you dig" phone number. Someone will come out and help you trace an underground circuit. (It would be nice if you could open the meter enclosure and see how many wires run from it, but it should be sealed so can't be done by you. Maybe the local electric utility could come out and open it for you. Or maybe your local electric utility knows how many circuit panels you (former owners) have tied to their meter.)

Once you shut off all panels, your utility meter spinner should stop almost immediately. Can verify this (zero current flow) with cheap clamp-on ammeter from HD/Lowes. And your humming box should be (almost*) silent. (* If the disconnect is downstream from the transformer, then transformer will still be connected to the meter and drawing some power, so it may still hum a little and utility meter spinner will spin slowly. Maybe electric utility can advise if transformer has an internal homeowner-accessible disconnect between it and utility meter.)

Power consumption between your meter and house (one main panel or multiple sub-panels) will be recorded by your meter. Power consumption before your meter (between electric utility mains and your meter) will not be recorded so is not your worry.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 17, 2017 3:07 pm

Another brief update: oddly both the Sense and Smappee were reading about the same total consumption level, but when I was looking at some individual circuits and devices I couldn't reconcile the numbers. So I took pictures of the meter over the course of a few days and it turns out both devices were only reading ~1/3 of the real load. The Sense because the clamps couldn't close all the way on the main 400a line and the Smappee for some other reason (I suspect it's set to 3 phase incorrectly or somesuch - their tech support is trying to figure out why). So, while disappointing, that means my bogie isn't what I thought, but it's still a bill that should be in the range of $3k to $5k (depending on summer A/C) vs the $6k I've actually been getting.

Had one big surprise and one wakeup call; there is a fume hood over the range which is silent and vents to a spinning fan in the roof. You can't tell if it's on or not. As it turns out though, it consumes 3,000W when it's on, which is 1 out of every 4-5 minutes. It probably also takes heat out of the house and causes the furnace/ac to work harder. So disconnecting that at the breaker is worth it. I'll switch it off and see if anyone notices. The wake up came as I saw my chandeliers in dining and kitchen running real-time on my sense app. All in they are about 1000W when on. Those are going to LED bulbs. They already would be but I don't like the asthetics of the candelabra bulbs with the half-plastic base. I found out now they have the filament style now so problem solved - have them on order to ship next week. Other LED bulb will cut another chunk, and switching off the broken security cameras and related computer is another chunk while not compromising my security system.

So all in maybe 10,000kwh per year savings with guesstimate hours of consumption, or about what I was hoping for.

The next challenge is the appliances; hard to compare the existing ones to what the latest and greatest in that space are doing energy wise. That said, since they're all about 15 years old, and expensive to replace when I don't otherwise have to, I suspect only the two refrigerators run often enough that you'd make up the savings for it to make sense to replace them.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Sat Mar 18, 2017 6:10 am

2tall4economy wrote:
The next challenge is the appliances; hard to compare the existing ones to what the latest and greatest in that space are doing energy wise. That said, since they're all about 15 years old, and expensive to replace when I don't otherwise have to, I suspect only the two refrigerators run often enough that you'd make up the savings for it to make sense to replace them.


If the fridges are 15 years old then there will be a significant saving. Ditto if there are dedicated freezers. At a bet, c 50% less consumption.

Roughly speaking, the average American fridge in 1980 burned 2000 kwhr pa. The 2016 version, a larger fridge, should be about 550 kwhr pa (mine ie 300 kwhr pa, but it's a Bosch and I live in Europe, so we have much smaller fridges). Now US brought in fridge standards in 1992 (in Energy circles this is called the "Art Rosenfeld Effect" after the (recently deceased) physicist who persuaded Governor Jerry Brown of California (in 1980, whatever happened to Jerry Brown? ;-)) to bring in energy efficiency standards rather than license construction of 2 new nuclear power plants.

So post 1992, since which the standards have been gradually tightened, the improvements will be more gradual.

On other domestic appliances it is, indeed, the frequently on ones which matter. Air conditioners, washing machines & dryers, electric water heaters, heat pumps/ HVAC, pool pumps and heaters (notorious power hogs), cable set top boxes, security systems. President Bush signed into law mandated improvements in efficiency, not sure if the Obama Administration added to that.

Unless you have annoying "instant on" or "always on" features (don't they have coffee makers with clocks on them?) then other appliances are unlikely to matter much. Amazing how many of those power vampires there are.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Epsilon Delta » Sat Mar 18, 2017 2:14 pm

Valuethinker wrote:If the fridges are 15 years old then there will be a significant saving. Ditto if there are dedicated freezers. At a bet, c 50% less consumption.

His house has 68kW generator and a 3kW extractor fan. It's likely much of the other equipment is on a similar industrial scale. The normal rules of thumb for consumer equipment may not apply. Often commercial equipment adopts improvements on a different time scale than its consumer counterpart.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Fri Mar 24, 2017 12:07 pm

Another update, potentially final:

Generator: Turns out nobody will buy it anyway since it's too small for the resale guys. Got 1 offer for 20% of what it's worth, 10% of buy-new price, so it is getting repaired. I'm up to $500 in replacement parts (battery and electrical panel) and $800 for labor so far. I was able to find someone willing to work on it but they aren't a "Cat certified" repairer, hence the (somewhat) lower cost since they don't have to drive 2 hours each way. I'm taking a risk going with a non-name brand repair shop but I think it's worth it. Famous last words.

UPS: basically dead / eating batteries feverishly since it actually had to be used as I flipped breakers on and off recently. I'm selling it for $700. I will replace with a whole house battery to cover the genset startup time but will size the battery lower since I have the generator. Due to solar credits, I get to save 30% on the cost of the battery and another $700 from the UPS it's very reasonable to do, cost wise.

Solar: I'm proceeding. The sweet spot based on the incentive structures in new york state is either a $20k system (before credits) which ends up around 7.5KW, or a 25KW system. I'm collecting various quotes to see what the better of the two sizings is from an ROI perspective. Humorously, I need to cut down trees to install it, so by "going green" I'm harming the environment. Economically I save money on day 1 as long as I finance it since the savings more than pays for the PITI. If I stay there without selling the house I break even in ~10 years and if I end up using them until they die I save about 50% of my costs -- assuming electricity prices remain flat. If they go up then I'm even better off.

Fridges: It turns out the two fridges are actually quite reasonable. I knew them to be ~15 year old / original equipment but they are consuming only about 550kwh/yr each based on my readings, which suggests they are in line with what a comparable new fridge on the energy star website would be. Perhaps the previous owner replaced them or they were bought as the top-end most efficient appliances at the time. No savings to be had, unless numbers are skewed significantly by the fact it's winter. They're both inside in heated areas though so I would think the data wouldn't be too polluted.

Electricity monitors: a bit of a bust; I was able to isolate quite a few things but not the real big draw stuff, and not in a way that gives me more knowledge than any run of the mill current transformer at half the cost could. The "pattern recognition" that is touted isn't ready for prime time and is confused by varying draw levels. I would need circuit level monitoring and I have 128 circuits, which only one company out there offers, and that is for ~$2,000 + $1,000 per year. No thanks! If Sense gets better / more capable in the future I might take another look. It's certainly the best of what's out there today.

Lighting: My lighting conversion to LED is a bust too because the house was built with Lutron Homeworks. Which happens to have similar problems as the generator -- nobody near by who can deal with it, way overbuilt which means big bucks to repair, and you can't even "downgrade" to something economical without significant investment in ripping out the old system. Lutron itself needs to have the LED capable dimming feature or the lights buzz like a hornets nest. The only options are to rip out a system in install individual lights which don't connect to the central system (which means I need to wire the home for a number of switches that don't currently exist, at a cost of ~$5k), or I need to update the central system (~$3k+) and all of the associated switches (another $4k+ on top). This would make them "smart"/wireless and save ~$800/yr on electricity but that pay back doesn't make sense. Which is why I'm going the solar route instead. Unless the lutron system breaks, it's there for life per my pocketbook vote.

I can't un-recommend Lutron enough. Stay away. My takeaway from these and other related experiences: never, ever, ever, ever install / repair non-standard or proprietary systems in a home. They will break or become outdated and then it's mega-big ticket to repair and even more to replace.

Taking a final look at dishwasher, washing machine, gas dryer (don't expect to find anything since most of it is newly replaced) and the last big target - the boiler/water heating system. This thing is always on and is a beast - dual boilers dual water tanks and a wall of thermostats and piping. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Good thing I enjoy learning about houses and systems or I'd be very stressed out at this point :)
You can do anything you want in life. The rub is that there are consequences.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by psteinx » Fri Mar 24, 2017 1:04 pm

Thanks for posting the update. Interesting thread in general.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Sat Mar 25, 2017 11:53 am

Thank you very much for taking the time to come back and post.

2tall4economy wrote:Another update, potentially final:

Generator: Turns out nobody will buy it anyway since it's too small for the resale guys. Got 1 offer for 20% of what it's worth, 10% of buy-new price, so it is getting repaired. I'm up to $500 in replacement parts (battery and electrical panel) and $800 for labor so far. I was able to find someone willing to work on it but they aren't a "Cat certified" repairer, hence the (somewhat) lower cost since they don't have to drive 2 hours each way. I'm taking a risk going with a non-name brand repair shop but I think it's worth it. Famous last words.

UPS: basically dead / eating batteries feverishly since it actually had to be used as I flipped breakers on and off recently. I'm selling it for $700. I will replace with a whole house battery to cover the genset startup time but will size the battery lower since I have the generator. Due to solar credits, I get to save 30% on the cost of the battery and another $700 from the UPS it's very reasonable to do, cost wise.

Solar: I'm proceeding. The sweet spot based on the incentive structures in new york state is either a $20k system (before credits) which ends up around 7.5KW, or a 25KW system. I'm collecting various quotes to see what the better of the two sizings is from an ROI perspective. Humorously, I need to cut down trees to install it, so by "going green" I'm harming the environment.


If they are mature trees, in the boreal forest (i.e. the prehistoric band that covers the northern hemisphere from roughly the extent of the last Ice Age to the tree line) then they don't absorb much carbon. And eventually die and release that carbon (unless buried in peat bog).

It really depends what you do with that wood. If you burn it (typical combustion efficiencies 25-30% say; having dried it to 10-15% moisture content) that's not so good, but then if that offsets fuel oil or electricity then that's a pretty big offset and you'd call it pretty even (except for the black carbon soot problem, where the scientific uncertainty re parameters make it less clear-- for example, on snow, that's a pretty bad thing). If it goes into construction, then the carbon is locked up for 100+ years and hooray!

25kw system just sounds so humungous. I am assuming NYS does a net metering system? i.e. credit for surplus power you generate? Ex air conditioning, even your house shouldn't consume more than about 10,000 kwhr pa, and I am reading that system, upstate NY, as maybe generating 20 k kwhr pa?

Lighting: My lighting conversion to LED is a bust too because the house was built with Lutron Homeworks. Which happens to have similar problems as the generator -- nobody near by who can deal with it, way overbuilt which means big bucks to repair, and you can't even "downgrade" to something economical without significant investment in ripping out the old system. Lutron itself needs to have the LED capable dimming feature or the lights buzz like a hornets nest.


I am not familiar with such a system (I am UK based) but you can certainly get LEDs that work with dimmers.

The only options are to rip out a system in install individual lights which don't connect to the
central system (which means I need to wire the home for a number of switches that don't currently exist, at a cost of ~$5k), or I need to update the central system (~$3k+) and all of the associated switches (another $4k+ on top). This would make them "smart"/wireless and save ~$800/yr on electricity but that pay back doesn't make sense. Which is why I'm going the solar route instead. Unless the lutron system breaks, it's there for life per my pocketbook vote.


The payback looks like it makes sense ot me. $800 pa payback, $7k cost? Where do I sign? My logic being that's a better return that I can get on any investment *and* I'd get it back if I sold the house-- because even if the next buyer did not ask about electricity costs (and I assume they would, at New York State power prices) they are going to replace the lighting system-- if it's out of date now, in 10 years it would be even more so.

My logic would be that since it will have to be replaced, sooner rather than later is better, because then I enjoy the benefits (financial and otherwise) in my time in the house.

A caveat is that assumes you have $7k cost sitting around. If one does not, or has to sell investments (and pay capital gains tax) to do it, then it's less clear.

I can't un-recommend Lutron enough. Stay away. My takeaway from these and other related experiences: never, ever, ever, ever install / repair non-standard or proprietary systems in a home. They will break or become outdated and then it's mega-big ticket to repair and even more to replace.


Yes, and also things that go out of date technically quite quickly e.g. particular data cabling standards.

Taking a final look at dishwasher, washing machine, gas dryer (don't expect to find anything since most of it is newly replaced) and the last big target - the boiler/water heating system. This thing is always on and is a beast - dual boilers dual water tanks and a wall of thermostats and piping. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Good thing I enjoy learning about houses and systems or I'd be very stressed out at this point :)


I am not fully understanding your system. Electric hot water but natural gas otherwise? You could go for a Heat Pump hot water system. If the tank is well insulated, that's probably neither necessary nor economic.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by 2tall4economy » Sat Mar 25, 2017 3:18 pm

Valuethinker wrote:Thank you very much for taking the time to come back and post.

25kw system just sounds so humungous. I am assuming NYS does a net metering system? i.e. credit for surplus power you generate? Ex air conditioning, even your house shouldn't consume more than about 10,000 kwhr pa, and I am reading that system, upstate NY, as maybe generating 20 k kwhr pa?


Yes, 100% net metering with overage getting returned as a payment of wholesale. But given last 12 months was 37k usage, and max production of 29k, even with the cost savings I'll have enough consumption to use it all up. I've cut about 5k going circuit by circuit and switching them off. LEDs were supposed to save another few ks. Production in NYS is a factor of about 1,100, or about 28MWH for a 25KW system.

I am not familiar with such a system (I am UK based) but you can certainly get LEDs that work with dimmers.
Yeah, the problem is the dimmers need 3 extra wires on them to communicate with the central CPU that controls the lights (the Lutron Homeworks system). Not at all surprisingly, those 3 wires quadruple the price of a dimmer, and the system is so old you cannot actually buy LED dimmers that work with it. you have to fully upgrade from the 2001 system I have to the 2011 system that is currently out (which I'm cautious about in case it then becomes the old system given their history of 5-6 year product cycles).


The payback looks like it makes sense ot me. $800 pa payback, $7k cost? Where do I sign? My logic being that's a better return that I can get on any investment *and* I'd get it back if I sold the house-- because even if the next buyer did not ask about electricity costs (and I assume they would, at New York State power prices) they are going to replace the lighting system-- if it's out of date now, in 10 years it would be even more so.

Buyers don't ask those types of questions around here; that said, it is probably worth a look at ROI on that as well. The solar ROI was so much better I dismissed the potential to also do this. Plus I don't want to put that much money into my house all at once, in general (emotional, not rational, I know)
A caveat is that assumes you have $7k cost sitting around. If one does not, or has to sell investments (and pay capital gains tax) to do it, then it's less clear.
I have access to interest only financing at 5%, so to the extent this has a higher net return than the stock market, it would make sense to do anyway. Will have to check.



I am not fully understanding your system. Electric hot water but natural gas otherwise? You could go for a Heat Pump hot water system. If the tank is well insulated, that's probably neither necessary nor economic.


No, it's a boiler system nat gas. As far as I can tell the hot water "heaters" are neither gas nor electric, they appear to just be storage from the boilers but they look just like . I understand most boiler homes don't have tanks next to them like mine so it's a bit of a connundrum. I also happen to have what looks like a furnace, but apparently is only an air handler which is somehow generating heat above and beyond the floorboard heating. But at the same time the boiler is the only heat producing system in the house I can see. Odd that there would be two delivery systems. And in the summer the same air handler does the AC. You'd think they would have built it with heat pumps instead.
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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by likegarden » Sat Mar 25, 2017 3:28 pm

I also live in Upstate NY. We rarely have power outages. Recently, a few weeks ago this winter we had a 4 hour outage, but that was no problem. 30 years ago we had a 16 hour outage, but not since then. We have no auxiliary power, because we do not see the need for it. Another system would mean another potential problem. Some of these generators do not start up during their weekly tests I was told. We added a battery powered backup sumppump to our basement. I also do not see the need for solar power, that would add another complexity to my life, another thing to worry about and fix. I am also an engineer.

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Re: Where to start - converting from generator/UPS to more reasonable solar / powerwall?

Post by Valuethinker » Sat Mar 25, 2017 5:53 pm

2tall4economy wrote:
Valuethinker wrote:Thank you very much for taking the time to come back and post.

25kw system just sounds so humungous. I am assuming NYS does a net metering system? i.e. credit for surplus power you generate? Ex air conditioning, even your house shouldn't consume more than about 10,000 kwhr pa, and I am reading that system, upstate NY, as maybe generating 20 k kwhr pa?


Yes, 100% net metering with overage getting returned as a payment of wholesale. But given last 12 months was 37k usage, and max production of 29k, even with the cost savings I'll have enough consumption to use it all up. I've cut about 5k going circuit by circuit and switching them off. LEDs were supposed to save another few ks. Production in NYS is a factor of about 1,100, or about 28MWH for a 25KW system.


Wow. The numbers blow my mind (my house does about 2800-3000 kwhr pa. Mind, our gas consumption is ridiculous for a "warm" climate). On a south facing roof (terrace/ Row house- -Victorian) w. no obstructions we would get about 850-1000 kwhr pa on 1.1 peak kw capacity. It never seemed worth it (some day I am hoping for x2 efficiencies on silicon and then, maybe I shall do it). No AC of course (London, England).

On that basis the big array would make sense.

Maybe your AC is just an enormous energy hog.


I am not familiar with such a system (I am UK based) but you can certainly get LEDs that work with dimmers.
Yeah, the problem is the dimmers need 3 extra wires on them to communicate with the central CPU that controls the lights (the Lutron Homeworks system). Not at all surprisingly, those 3 wires quadruple the price of a dimmer, and the system is so old you cannot actually buy LED dimmers that work with it. you have to fully upgrade from the 2001 system I have to the 2011 system that is currently out (which I'm cautious about in case it then becomes the old system given their history of 5-6 year product cycles).


The payback looks like it makes sense ot me. $800 pa payback, $7k cost? Where do I sign? My logic being that's a better return that I can get on any investment *and* I'd get it back if I sold the house-- because even if the next buyer did not ask about electricity costs (and I assume they would, at New York State power prices) they are going to replace the lighting system-- if it's out of date now, in 10 years it would be even more so.
Buyers don't ask those types of questions around here; that said, it is probably worth a look at ROI on that as well. The solar ROI was so much better I dismissed the potential to also do this. Plus I don't want to put that much money into my house all at once, in general (emotional, not rational, I know)


Save energy before you generate energy is the mantra. I put LED lightbulbs in, mostly, in 2011. They cost about £20 (USD 30 each) then. Spreadsheet model said at my electricity prices, essentially risk free because electricity prices here rise, not fall, it was about a 4-5 year payback. Now, the payback (bulbs at £5.00 would be about 12 months.

It *is* putting money into the house. Given just how much your electricity bills are it amazes me buyers don't check.

A caveat is that assumes you have $7k cost sitting around. If one does not, or has to sell investments (and pay capital gains tax) to do it, then it's less clear.
I have access to interest only financing at 5%, so to the extent this has a higher net return than the stock market, it would make sense to do anyway. Will have to check.


The difference, and it's significant, is that you can sell a stock market investment (although it may be at lower price). This is not a liquid investment. Conversely it's hard to believe it has *no* value to a subsequent owner, that they would not pay for it (even if less than the cost of doing it).


I am not fully understanding your system. Electric hot water but natural gas otherwise? You could go for a Heat Pump hot water system. If the tank is well insulated, that's probably neither necessary nor economic.


No, it's a boiler system nat gas. As far as I can tell the hot water "heaters" are neither gas nor electric, they appear to just be storage from the boilers but they look just like . I understand most boiler homes don't have tanks next to them like mine so it's a bit of a connundrum. I also happen to have what looks like a furnace, but apparently is only an air handler which is somehow generating heat above and beyond the floorboard heating. But at the same time the boiler is the only heat producing system in the house I can see. Odd that there would be two delivery systems. And in the summer the same air handler does the AC. You'd think they would have built it with heat pumps instead.
[/quote]

This is a real episode of Sherlock Holmes: House Detective! ;-).

You'd need a professional to look into this. You might have a British style system aka "indirect". My (gas) boiler heats hot water for the tank next to it (about 55 gal tank) *and* has a separate circuit for hot water rads ("hydronic"). They are not unknown in the USA. A tipoff would be a water pressure meter and valve at some point in the system (if gets too low, system can't run, boiler makes a horrific noise to warn you; too high pressure I think a safety valve trips).

Heat pumps are less common in NE & Midwest. In that Geothermal (Ground Source) are truly rare (a relative of mine put one in rural Ontario, about 50 miles south of Georgian Bay on a ridge, payback within 7 years over propane).

Air Source Heat Pumps tend to decline towards electric bar efficiency (Coefficient of Performance = 1.0) as outdoor temperatures get down towards 10 degrees F. Given the cold snaps in NE & Midwest, and the prevailance of gas heating, they are just not that common.

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