Introducing our prototype Community Power Pod, a Do-It-Yourself 1500 watt, 3000Wh portable generator utilizing secondhand battery modules from the Chevy Bolt EV. The pod is solar rechargeable and has quiet, fume-free operation, allowing it to be used almost anywhere! I’ve been helping a team of makers in Portland develop this open source community aid and disaster relief project, aimed at increasing access to this renewable technology for under served populations and those affected by natural disasters or other crises. We are working to build a fleet of these which can be deployed to support community members in need, and with the recent pandemic and wildfires that need is greater than ever. Our generator has been used for weeks now to support COVID-safe outdoor public events, fire relief efforts, and community aid projects.The power pod cost us around $600 to construct– a fraction of the price of commercial alternatives. The team hopes to build more of these ASAP, as well as share our knowledge and resources with groups in other cities so they can replicate and build upon our work elsewhere. However, at the moment we are working to find a new source for our Chevy Bolt battery modules, since the original supplier has sold out. More updates forthcoming once we can figure this out!
Being recently made aware of the program offered by our local utility Portland General Electric, I decided to enroll in Peak Time Rebates and try my hand at saving a few bucks on the next bill (and lightening the load on the grid during some heavy-usage times). A couple opportunities presented themselves in late July, which I partook in, however have yet to see the benefits reflected on my bill (up to $1 per kWhr saved during the event, as per the PGE website).
A day prior to the first event, I received text & email notification of an upcoming Peak Time Event scheduled for 5-8pm July 21st, 2020. I decided to see if I could move my home power usage during the event to zero without any significant fallout. With ample warning, I prepared my various systems for 3hrs+ of offline time, ensuring that battery backed devices were up to the task and that the few non-battery backed devices were moved over to independent power sources. This was fairly easy given that I’ve been creating an overabundance of energy lately but have nowhere to send it (read as – not grid tied). The only large consumers in this category were items like refrigeration, fans, etc.
5pm on the 21st rolls up and I was a little late getting home so didn’t start shedding loads until closer to 6pm. Early in the second hour of the event I had reduced my energy draw to zero, without any adverse effects. This meant shedding the AC, Heat Pump Water Heater, Spa, items like that. Refrigeration was brought onto the independent solar grid for the duration of the event. The meter stopped ‘turning’. Yay!
After 8pm passed, I powered back on the desired devices (AC, fans, water heater, etc) as can be seen in the graph. Temperature gain in the home was notable but not uncomfortable. My house, being built in 1915 has less than ideal forms of insulation in walls and ceiling (if any at all). Fortunately the finished basement remains it’s fairly standard 17-18C; a nice refuge if things get too warm on the main floor. I felt accomplished with the experiment and waited for news as to what my rebate savings would be (typically sent via email/text as well).
Those results never came.
For comparison, the next day (typical high-end of power load for my home and accessories).
I didn’t think much of the event until I started hearing reports that other folks were receiving their rebate information (or that they didn’t reduce enough to qualify). Another peak time event text came through, this time for the 30th of July, so I prepared once again.
This round I was able to start earlier, though still a bit behind schedule due to some visitors. Similar setup, battery backed items were easily shed and the refrigeration moved to my alternative energy source. I made a nice big dent in the power draw during the 3hour window, raising interior temperatures 3-4C but still tolerable for inhabitants. Nearly hitting the zero-power-used mark for the time period, I felt fairly accomplished.
Fast forward to 2nd week of August, and I still haven’t heard the results of my efforts. Nothing on the PGE website about my peak time events being successful (or denied)…just a blank window.
Bummer. Starting to wonder if their system ‘broke’ when it saw the zero and/or too-near-zero values that it flagged it requiring review before applying rebate. Given that the average layperson isn’t familiar with the small loads associated with wall-wart style power packs or smart device draw even when off, I guess I could understand. So I called PGE up.
The associated I talked to (Robert) was understanding and although a bit confused himself, had access to internal FAQ materials that advised him to let me know that zero usage during a time period makes the program assume there was a outage (or something of that sort?) that would render the data ineligible for the PGE Peak Time Rebates program. He kept asking “did you turn off the breaker?” Having not found anything indicating that zero usage would invalidate the rebate option, I was (and continue to be) confused but realize that this person likely won’t have the solution I’m looking for. I asked that if were able to flag my account for review AND also please present more accurate terms and conditions for the program on the website, it would be appreciated. Frustrated, but not going to take it out on a support person, I completed the call and pondered my next move.
I logged into my old Twitter account and searched for Portland General Electric, ready to shine some public light on my experience and see what comes of the effort. With little to loose other than them possibly deciding they don’t want to provide me energy anymore, I figured it was worth a shot.
I was contacted publicly by a representative (Sonja) who explained eloquently:
A bit of back and forth ensued, and the end result was that I was forwarded to Elaine, who was putting my situation in front of an Advisor and they would be contacting me soon. Fingers crossed for some resolution? I’ll update as I find out more.
Update: Pinged them again on Twitter and got a reply later that day:
Even though my meter was indicating data (in some cases zero, some – reduced usage) apparently PGE will flag the period as an ‘outage’ if there is zero kWhr used during any of those hour blocks. This decision is in reply to disclosing that my ‘essential’ home loads were powered alternatively and anything battery backed was effectively ‘shifting’ the draw outside the window, charging batteries after and precisely meeting the goal the outlined for the program.
The summary? If you’re going to save energy, make sure you don’t save too much.
You would need x3 of each and I recommend getting a spare if you aren’t familiar with proper torque and are prone to breaking studs off components. One is a reverse connection of the other (designed 1NxxxxR)
The generator (MEP006A) had a power-off failure recently.
Upon investigating, found that the exciter had received some serious overcurrent (melted the soldered connections on the diodes on the exciter winding) as well as may have fried something inside the excitation module above (big green box).
Need to perform triage and figure out what happened…but hopefully have this back online soon.
Upgrades thus far:
Replaced Primary Fuel Filter with Dual Element Glass (like on John Deere Industrial)
Replaced Secondary Fuel Filter with Single Element Racor Spin-On
Changed Oil Filters
Rebuilt Injection Pump (had bad seals on shaft and rubber coupler…very common)
Replaced bad fuel lines
Cleaned Connections on Fuel Pumps (problem area)
Serviced Cooling System (CAT Long-Life Coolant 50/50)
I am also working on building a tandem axle trailer just for this unit. The axles/rough frame was donated by one of the family friends Tony. Removed the decking (rotten) and narrowed the axles/frame by 1.5ft and shortened it considerably. I purchased new bearing kits, two new drums, four electric brake backing plates, and two new tire/wheel combos. I also purchased some upgraded lighting (LED all around) and trailer connectors/etc. I got all 24V compliant lighting so I can power basic proximity lighting on the generator while it is running on a job-site or parked precariously. It will have a new frame horn (heavy duty) and unless stolen, jacking points on all four corners. I would like to do locking cable/tool boxes to store various associated items.
That is all for now! More updates when I find out what let the smoke out.
Looking a few ex-military generators…I love recycling old stuff!
MEP-006A model…some are trailer mounted, some aren’t. The air-brake requirement for the trailer mounted ones would be a bit challenging since the Unimog (pintle hitch) doesn’t have air-assist brakes. At 5000+ lbs w/ trailer I’d like to be able to stop it 🙂
The alternative is skid mounted units at about 4100-4300lbs. Good for 60kW and turbocharged diesel powered.
Good for events, electricity experiments, or powering that toy in the middle of nowhere 🙂
So, couple weeks ago replaced the starter in the ex-security guard’s Ranger pickup, and fixed some wiring snafu in the engine compartment (was loosing power to ECU/coil pack). The tower is now mine. 🙂
Another score came about after some scrap guys were cutting through conduit with a reciprocating saw and blew the blade off their saw. Since the whole site has been powered down to prevent injury to the scrappers, this came at a bit of a surprise to the guys. Turns out there was two 120VDC battery banks placed throughout the mill to power emergency lighting and signs.
The trade? Disable the battery systems (broke them down to about 30V packs) so that they could safely be moved off the premises…into my waiting hands 🙂 So I scored about 1500-1900lbs in sealed lead acid batteries…basically brand new. And a charger (120VDC out). Sounds like an electric car project in the making!