Small Steps Into Renewable Energy


Inside this Article

Stephen and his array
The author with his power system in heavily wooded, sun-scarce coastal Oregon.
Balance of system
The power wall nears completion.
System batteries
Eight Xantrex 1200-200 sealed, absorbed glass mat batteries­—400 amp-hours (20 KWH) at 48 volts DC.
Stephen and his array
Balance of system
System batteries

I desperately needed electricity for my timber management shop and cabin on my off-grid property on the coast of Oregon. I wanted it simple, but I wanted a normal household, with hot water and basic appliances. I also wanted support for a full range of power tools.

I bought my property in Oregon in the mid-1960s with the thought of preserving a bit of the forests where I grew up. The parcel is deep in a timber reserve, overlooking the Pacific Ocean among steep coastal ridges. I had a great love for this place, where old men told of coming in on the train in 1910 and buying a hundred acres, a barn, and a cow for US$100. Whenever they needed cash, they’d sell off a tree. At that time, several small houses could be built from a single tree. Others would tell of going tuna fishing for a couple of months in the summer and buying a house with the income. We were timber and fishing people, after all.

After growing up on the Oregon Coast, I went away to college to eventually become a research scientist and then a semiretired real estate investor. After 35 years of longing, I returned home to my timber lot. My goal for this property was to create a place where I could get away from the business world and my cell phone, read trashy novels, and watch my trees grow.


Many of us up here in the great Pacific Northwest subscribe to the KISS method—keep it simple, stupid. If you don’t require a thing, why support and repair it? For some of us who grew up in the trades, it is hard to see a difference between the charging systems of a large ocean-going tug or fishing boat and what you might design for electricity at an off-grid home. After years of employment in century-old paper mills and plywood plants, it didn’t seem much to ask to create and manage my own electricity.

I was advised by my local code office that due to the early purchase date of my property, it was grandfathered in for a structure of some kind. I chose to build an agricultural building, putting off thoughts of a dwelling for later. I decided to build a steel shop that could double as a support location for management of the trees and a shelter for sleeping bags and such. I selected a 50- by 32-foot (15 x 10 m), two-story design. Since I had no intention of using this building as a long-term dwelling, it is configured as a huge garage with a loft. I included a septic system to support waste management on the property.


The site is a long way from the grid, and I planned for some time to include a solar-electric system of some sort. But I have a big, well-tooled shop that requires a lot of electricity, and I realized that no matter what sort of system I might design, I would always need a generator here on the rainy Oregon Coast. I bought an 8 KW diesel engine generator from Wrico International of Eugene, Oregon.


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