A Venezuelan’s Guide to Off-Grid Power
by J.G. Martinez D.
My dear fellow preppers:
I have used these last few weeks in my freelance work some ingenuity, in order to accomplish some goals. Therefore, I have come to think a lot about how I could provide a roof for mines, if for some reason, God forbid, our coming back to Venezuela is delayed.
I just saw a website about a businessman refurbishing old bunkers, and another about greenhouses. Living now in a different climate has made me appreciate the need for heating, for instance, and understand how paramount it is for people living in such climates.
Therefore, I have some suggestions that I have compiled and adding some things that I learned firsthand with the Venezuelan collapse as well as what I have learned in engineering school and my former job. Some interesting stuff is in my mind that I will share with you.
Power rationing is getting worse in Venezuela
The lack of power is getting increasingly common in my home country. Those without a good battery pack and solar panels to charge it are going to be powerless. The norm of the rationing now in Venezuela is just like the 4 hours a day of power in Cuba.
Soon, it will be even worse. The lack of maintenance to our dam and hydro power facilities is going to generate a breakdown of the system.
As a side comment, a former functionary of the Chavez era called Nervin Villalobos was Viceminister of Electrical Energy, and he is determined to be the biggest responsible in this crisis. If some of you still believe that we deserved this, perhaps this will change your mind. A thief is a thief, Democrat, Republican, or Communist.
That being said, let´s see what options we have. Fuel is not as available as it was once, neither engine oil. I have explained the reasons and won´t do it again as there is no need.
Here are some options for power without the grid
Therefore, let´s face the different options. Solar, wind or some other if you are lucky enough to live nearby a permanent water stream (which I strongly suggest to use as selection criteria for buying a location). Not very large, as it could be a hazard if rain happens to get out of control. That is another reason why I like the idea of a semi-permanent base like a good diesel RV. I know, I know, there is no fuel for the RV. OK, but you will have to agree that diesel is a good choice, but I won’t come back to that, as the controversy is futile.
I would mount a good freezer, and avoid the microwaves, for obvious reasons (if you don’t see this, check the consumption, as well as your blender wattage). A good quality freezer would hold large amounts of food, and should not drain your batteries too much. Anyway, you have calculated your consumption and planned your budget to procure a battery pack large enough. I would go with basic needs, like water heating, frozen food storage, and cooking.
Why cooking? I will try to find some of the pictures of the rows to buy propane gas for our kitchen, in our now wannabe-communist country. Those are not easy to find, though: National Guard will take to prison to those who take pictures of the rows. Then they usually let people out after paying a ransom and deleting the photos. Induction stove for me, thanks. And scr*w propane mafias. Induction is efficient, and I have always asked myself if with the extremely bright sun we enjoy in my former area about the recharging rate. Using a wind setup, of course, is going to improve our independence.
I would go with an independent small, expandable, but highly reliable lighting systems with just one dedicated battery, and a small charge controller running in a proper solar panel. Warm LEDs, they are cozier and soft than white LEDs.
Being born surrounded by wires, batteries, and all kind of electrical stuff has taught me that it is not wise to make electrical systems more complicated than needed. Just trying to trace a wire malfunction under the summer heat, sweating, stressed because you have food in the freezer that is about to spoil, starving because your stove does not work and you could not cook lunch, it is raining so you can’t cook outside…so please, let’s draw that wiring scheme as easy as we can.
A couple of wires from here to there, over-calculated and thick enough so they don’t overheat and melt, EVER, and another independent circuit for the cooking device of choice. Of course, building a camper from zero will give you many advantages over commercial vehicles.
What I’ll do when we return
I am looking for coming back once things start to go better (they will have to, sooner than later) and the economy improvement is not likely to be from one month to the other.
We are planning some smart investments with the money from our house. We are not going to need it anymore, with the current state of the economy and high crime rates in that area. Oil producer state or not, even the school teachers and most of the professionals have left. There is no a high life standard that once existed, and there is no attractive for us there, as all of our relatives are far away. Our cycle there ended, and we assimilated that already. So the house will be sold.
Renting it out is not an option. With the laws uncle Hugo left as “legacy”, tenants would take it out from our hands if they would want. It has happened before, and I would rather to burn the house to the ground and dance on the ashes before allowing that. Meanwhile, even though trying to sell an RV in Venezuela is not going to be easy at all, it could serve as a temporary base while another permanent setup in our place of choice is being built…if some day we feel like coming back.
Customizing an RV
I took a sheet of paper, draw a rectangular volume, and located a couple of solar panels over it, just to figure where the batteries could go. Depending on the layout of the enclosure (I mention RVs but even a commercial truck with a shell would work too, it depends on what will work for you) the wiring is going to be one side or another.
RVs usually have all of the needed wiring already installed, I know. But that is not going to be a problem for me if I decide to use a different battery/solar/charge control setup just for lighting. It is a matter of finding the electrical diagrams, and use a little imagination and creativity. If you can’t, just ask someone already familiar with electrical wiring. It should not be very difficult. Wiring is robust enough to conduct load from a genset, though.
Batteries are supposed to be in a special place, determined by the manufacturer. Relocating them, I don’t have even a remote clue if that is going to effect inspections or some laws, so do your homework first, please. In my case, I know this won’t happen. What I plan to do is getting batteries as long and flat as possible, to be installed into the bottom of the kitchen cabinets. As a general rule, the wiring running to the stronger power-consumer device must be as short as possible, and those are our induction stove and freezer.
I would go with the calculations (there are lots of online websites that could help you with this) and give them a 50% or 60% over that for the size of the battery bank. Of course that will depend of your available money. What I try to say is, that if 6 batteries provide you with the 120% of your calculated power consumption, then go for them. You will always could buy another couple and take that to 140% and you will be pretty well covered. As a heavy coffee drinker, video game player, and dad, I know we are going to need a lot of electricity.
There is an important parameter to use whenever you select your batteries: internal resistance. Cloudy days won´t let you get 100% from your solar panel. Lead acid batteries can’t hold high amps when charging, neither, available in my area with the sunny tropical weather; that is why I like iron-nickel type ones, and lithium ones are even better. If you are really picky and have the money, there are manufacturers that will customize an arrangement for you, with the Lithium Iron LiFePO4 technology. With money in my hand, I would go that way: light, and extremely powerful without any maintenance required. But not cheap at all. I prefer something that, despite needed maintenance and some supplies, will last long enough to be used by my grandkids.
Finally, protect your system
A good protective glass for solar panels is going to be needed. It is going to increase the weight, perhaps, but protecting your expensive, high-tech solar panel is definitely worthy. I would do a very thorough research on this first! Lowering the efficiency of our setup is not desirable and some glasses could act as filters of the energy solar spectrum we need to catch in our panels, or trapping heat underneath, which is undesirable too.
I tried to keep the technical topics as comprehensible as possible. However, I have collected good material enough for another article, which I will publish as soon it is ready.
Thanks for your reading, your assistance and donations, fellows!
I look forward to your comments.
About the Author
Jose is an upper middle class professional. He is a former worker of the oil state company with a Bachelor’s degree from one of the best national Universities. He has a small 4 members family, plus two cats and a dog. An old but in good shape SUV, a good 150 square meters house in a nice neighborhood, in a small but (formerly) prosperous city with two middle size malls. Jose is a prepper and shares his eyewitness accounts and survival stories from the collapse of his beloved Venezuela. Thanks to your help Jose has gotten his family out of Venezuela. They are currently setting up a new life in another country. paypal.me/JoseM151