Steam, as with other forms of alternate energy has it's realm. Where steam excels above the other common systems, is in an application that requires large quantities of controllable, useable heat.

Good Advice About Steam

Skip Goebel | Sensible Steam Consultants

Steam, as with other forms of alternate energy has it's realm. Where steam excels above the other common systems, is in an application that requires large quantities of controllable, useable heat.

Questions you should ask yourself about steam...

How much wood do I want to cut?
How much money do I want to spend?
What am I going to do with all the heat?
Do I have or wish to have the savvy required to use an unrefined fuel?

.....How much wood do I want to cut?

Most people say "I have plenty of trees.” What they don't realize is the material handling involved in using an unrefined fuel. There is a lot of elbow grease involved in the handling of wood. What you need to realize is that in all practicality, there is just not that much electricity in a stick of wood. In typical steam systems, a small 500 watt genset may consume 20 lbs. of wood an hour while a larger 10kw a.c. powerplant if run constantly could consume a cord of softwood in three days. Now you see why coal and oil can look like viable options! Sure, you can get more by being more efficient, but that is a matter of cost, so.......

.....How much $money$ do I want to spend?

A steam system is going to cost you between $3 to $5/watt. Used equipment is cheaper and of course, the more efficient and automatic it is, the more expensive it is. You have to determine the practicality aspect vs. your capital investment aspect. Oftentimes, a lot of money can be saved by buying separate components such as the engine and boiler and assembling them yourself. This is hard work, but is very self gratifying...not to mention you get a better understanding of your system. Figure a 500 watts system to cost you between $3,000 and $4,000. A 10,000 watt system could cost you $15,000+. This may not be cost effective for you unless you have a use for the main product of steam.......heat.

......What am I going to do with the heat?

Even a 500 watt steam genset will produce 35,000 btu's of useable heat in the steam exhaust. That's a lot of heat and it makes no sense to waste it. This very point is usually the deciding factor between a steam generator and a diesel generator. Now, if you have a use for large amounts of useable and controllable heat, no other form of alternate energy can touch steam. A typical 10,000 watt steam genset can give you up to 1/2 million btu's of controllable heat. In other words, steam will light the chicken farm and process the chickens too. Kiln drying, wood bending, food processing, refining (??!!) and chemical processes all are typical uses for steam heat. With steam, production processes are possible with raw resources. What you can do with the steam depends upon your knowledge and aptitude for mechanical things.......

.....Do you have the savvy to utilize unrefined fuels like wood?

We live in a time where the world is spoiled on the luxuries that refined fuels have to offer. Unfortunately, burning a solid and unrefined fuel requires full time attention. That is why there are refined fuels. Refined fuels allow the energy process to be automatically regulated and controlled, or when it's on it's on and when it's off it's off. Not so with fuels like wood. There is an inherent danger when using a raw fuel and storing the energy such as in a boiler. That is not a problem but, the operator must be educated in the process. It is better still if the operator enjoys it. If you like it, you're into it and you are always finding ways to improve the process. Forget what mom said and remember, "There is no shame in playing with fire.”

GOOD ADVICE

Spend the money on the load first.

When generating electricity, we usually overlook the efficiency of the load we plan operate. In a.c. applications, this load can be dramatically different from a d.c. application. For instance, a person may have an a.c. diesel generator or steam powered a.c. generator and nothing else. They would find that many loads such as fluorescent lights and capacitor motors have huge startup currents. Even though they have 1000 watts of fluorescent lights and a refrigerator (800 watts) and a washing machine with a 1/2 hp motor (1200 watts) and the entertainment center (500 watts) for what seems a total load of 2500 watts; they would find that when the well turns on or the washing machine turns on that their 5000 watt generator is not enough. that is because the electric motors require 3-4 times the normal current to start up. Also, if the cycles get interrupted, the fluorescent light will go into start mode again and double their current. This means that they really need a generator of 10,000 watts to operate a 2500 watt load! The money could be better spent on simple cheap incandescent lights and efficient brush type motors.

A better solution would be to go with d.c. generation. First off, you can store d.c. electricity in batteries which means you can generate the electricity when it is convenient for you and use as needed. Next, you have the options of going with high voltage d.c. (depending upon the load) or low voltage which is safer, and inverting it to a.c. where needed. Today's inverters are inexpensive and bulletproof. Plus, they give cleaner electricity than you can buy from the grid and they are not cycle sensitive. All this means that you have good surge capabilities and you can use efficient appliances, along with the luxury of operating sensitive equipment like a computer without worry.

Sensible Steam does not normally carry items like inverters and batteries. We have found that a person is better off buying these on their own from experts in these fields who can supply adequate support and promise a good price. Inverters normally range from $.30/watt to $1.00/watt. Batteries go for $.10 to .30/watt hour and come in various types that only an expert can determine what best for you.

Remember, that application is the key and there is no "one size fits all” system.

Common Sense...

First of all, any form of alternate energy is going to require various amounts of your time and attention. Buying from the electric company means they do all the material handling of the energy and you simply use it. That suits most folks, but others may have a different agenda. Many people strive to achieve total freedom in their lives. Remember, you are not free until you are self-sufficient. Period.

Since freedom is not free, be prepared to spend money, serious money, on your energy production and of course, be prepared to break a sweat now and then. Generally speaking, the less 'automatic' and more labor intensive your resource handling is, the cheaper it will be. You will have to decide for yourself just how far you want to go and how much you will spend to get there. With all that said, consider now the different forms of resource conversion systems (energy production or generation).

Steam, as with other forms of alternate energy has it's realm. Where steam excels above the other common systems, is in an application that requires large quantities of controllable, useable heat. Common applications include:

* Wood kilns and wood bending
* Food processing and refining, i.e.: cooking, canning, making of vegetable byproducts
* Chemical refining such as the conversion of coal to alcohols, etc...
* Heating of dwellings and commercial buildings

These are just a few ways that a person could actually make quite a profit from a steam system.
All this of course requires also a certain amount of capital investment and this is another area that steam has an edge.

A small steam system of up to 5,000 watts will cost $3-$5/watt. A system of 10-20,000 watts will cost $2-$3/watt. Larger systems are $1 or less per watt. And, good quality, used equipment costs much, much less! Compare that with solar cells ($9/watt) and wind ($2-$4/watt)

Skip Goebel sensiblesteam@aol.com
"Sensible Steam" Consultants


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