New Mexico Urban Homesteader

Hello, I am A 50 Something, Prepper ;-}; former 60's Flower Child, don't believe in taxpayer subsidized special interest groups (political parties), DO believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (1st 10). Long time Independent & Informed Voter. Lover of the outdoors and firm believer that History Teaches - if only we will listen!

(No longer Urban or in NM. Now Rural in the mountains of Maine.)

This blog was started at the request of some dear friends that wish to become Preppers.

“No man who is not willing to help himself has any right to apply to his friends, or to the gods.”

Demosthenes (384–322 BC, Greek statesman and orator of ancient Athens)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Grid-tied Alternative Energy & Shysterism

So you have invested thousands in some kind of alternative energy source and have been reaping the very small to nothing electric bill; but now the grid is down and you are still suffering the power outage blues.  Well dah!  That is because for some reason, (known only to the powers that be) the rules and regulations regarding independent grid-tied electricity generation think only of the line maintenance people and not about the everyday consumer/citizen.

Which means that when the grid goes down - so does your alternative energy!  In fact due to Federal Safety Regulations all private energy generation, tied to the grid, MUST have a device that shuts down electrical flow when the grid goes down.  This is rightly to protect any grid line workers from being inadvertently electrocuted.  I have no problem with that. 
My problem is with all these utilities and corporations wanting their Mega Bucks, Mega Profits, Mega Quickly, so that they rarely, if ever, tell us that we need at least one other device added to the system in order to have power during a grid outage.  To top it off these shysters then charge us a 700-1000% profit price to get it!!!!  In fact most states do not require the utilities or corporations to tell you about this.  Oh if you ask outright they will, however if you don’t ask, they won’t tell you.

The device that these companies use to shut down any power going to your home and grid is the Service Entrance Disconnect, which is a device that interrupts excessive current and allows for manually or automatically disconnecting your home or business from the electric utility. It is generally a circuit breaker that is either part of your utility meter base, or is part of your main panel. It could also be called your "main breaker". It is required by Article 230 of the National Electrical Code to be as close as possible to the utility meter. This ‘breaker’ is usually combined with the much needed inverter, that converts between electricity types. 

Most Inverters are designed to convert DC electricity generated by alternative sources (solar, wind, micro hydro, micro geothermal) into AC electricity which is what a home needs.
Note: If you have a grid-tied alternative energy system, most utility companies will either give the homeowner a check or a credit on their next electric bill. This discrepancy is the result of different power selling policies employed by various electric companies and various state regulations.  Depending on the electric company that your house is connected to, you can either get a check or a credit.  In either case, the company is obligated to take your excess energy.

On top of this many, if not most, utilities and companies will then charge the homeowner, at installation of the system, for the two-way meter that is needed to determine this credit or monies for the excess electricity that is 'given' to the grid.

Note:  Science has yet to correct the loss of electricity that occurs during AC/DC conversion.  I don’t know what the particular loss figure is, however, the total loss from conversion of AC/DC and transmission (transporting the electricity across the grid) is apx 30%.

So what is this much needed self-reliant device?  The Transfer Switch.

Transfer switches control which power source you are connected to and eliminate the possibility of back-feeding normal power supply.   Now get this:  generator systems that are used for back-up (stand-by) or emergency power require transfer switches.  

If the governments, utilities and alternative energy corporations were honest with their consumer/citizens, these would also be required for ANY grid-tied energy system too; or at least openly offered without shenanigans. 

Transfer Switches are available in a range of amperages and options to meet your particular application, whether you have a 30 amp residential service or a 4,000 amp commercial service such as office building.

There are two types of Transfer Switches:

The Automatic Transfer Switch is the’ brain’ of a generator or alternative energy system – it does the transfer automatically when it detects a loss of power from the grid.  So basically it determines whether you are connected to normal grid-tied power, your alternative power source and or generator power system. 

A Manual Transfer Switch needs us humans to manually flip the switch when the grid goes down and again when power is restored.  Some states have laws against manual transfer switches when coupled with grid-tied alternative electricity systems.

When installing a transfer switch that will supply power to your entire home, the transfer switch needs to be installed between the "Service Entrance Disconnect" and the main distribution panel. If your home utilizes a  main breaker that's part of the main distribution panel, then you'll need to have a "Service Entrance Disconnect" installed, either separately, or as part of a "SERVICE ENTRANCE RATED" transfer switch.

Considering all the obtuse rules and regulations regarding grid-tied alternative energy systems, the easiest cheapest solution is to buy a "Service Entrance Rated" automatic transfer switch.

The National Electrical Code requires that all manual and automatic transfer switches be UL-1008 listed by Underwriters Laboratories and carry the UL-1008 label. This is in annex A of the 2002 National Electrical Code.  If a transfer switch meets this tough safety standard and has been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, it will carry the UL-1008 label. This label will clearly say one of the following:


If you want to run your entire house in case of a power outage and you have a large enough alternative energy system or generator, you need a transfer switch that is the same rating as your main breaker panel. For a home this will normally be either 100 or more likely 200 amps. The transfer switch would be installed between your main breaker (normally at the meter) and your main electrical panel. Some homes have a 400 amp service utilizing two distribution panels, in which case you'll need two 200 amp or one 400 amp Automatic Transfer Switch.
If you want to run only certain loads during a power outage you can install a sub panel off of your main panel and use a 100 amp transfer switch. This is a great idea if you don't have an alternative energy system or generator big enough to run everything. Some Transfer Switches even offer a “series 185” automatic transfer switch, with a built in load center, that saves space and makes installation easy.

FACT:  If you want to use your alternative generated electricity during a grid outage: even if the sun is not shinning, the water is not moving, the wind is not blowing or the steam is not building up to generate electricity, ie: even if these alternative generation sources are not 24/7; then you will need to store excess energy in something – most commonly some sort of battery grid. 

Any alternative energy system or generator, inverter and or transfer switch needs to be installed by a licensed electrician and the installation needs to be in compliance with all local and national codes. This is not a do it yourself job. Please hire a licensed electrician that will do the job right.
Bottom line: Depending on state laws, you may or may NOT have been told that having this alternative energy tied to the grid needs a transfer switch or it will NOT be there for you if the grid goes down and most states DO NOT require the salespeople to tell you this information either.  So be sure to ask about transfer switches and electrical storage options.  Just keep in mind that these companies are out to not only make a profit, but make a huge mega profit off YOU, so please do your research and shop around before you spend thousands.

So research thoroughly before you buy and be sure that if you are going to be utilizing a grid-tied system during a power outage that you have a transfer switch to do so.

For more detailed information on inverters, transfer switches and choices of alternative energy systems read on @

Today is the Tomorrow that you worried about Yesterday

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