I'm in the (long) process of building a house. The house will have solar panels, but it bugs me that I can't be off the electric grid entirely. There's no convenient and economical way to store energy at your own house while the sun is shining. But is that technology imminent?

Some car companies are allegedly coming out with vehicles that operate on compressed air. Here's one.


How hard would it be to convert that compressed air technology to a home generator? My solar cells could compress air during the day and the compressed air engine would produce electricity at night. There would be plenty of waste in the process, I assume, but it sounds feasible to me.

I'd also like to have a house with two elevators that are balanced so that when one goes down, the other is pulled up. And I would only use the elevators for going down, so my weight causes one side to be heavier than the other. To slow the descent, I'd be compressing air into my home air battery. If you need to go up, you use the stairs. It's healthier. I'd have a full-power elevator option for the elderly and handicapped, but everyone else would be an energy producer.

Then I'd put the guest bathroom on the second floor so I gain some electricity every time a guest goes to take a whiz. It wouldn't balance out the water use, but it would make me feel better. And every time my wife or kids asked me where some lost item or other was, I'd say, "I saw it upstairs."

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May 19, 2008
and the awesome part... when they flush upstairs, you can use the flowing water to pump even more compressed air. you will be an energy powerhouse!
May 19, 2008
i wonder if all the trillions of $$$$s that were spent on the Iraq war were spent on alternate energy R&D, how much closer the US would be to been energy self sufficient by now? has anyone every studied that?

May 19, 2008
If I click to "Vote" (thumbs up) on the blog entry itself, the link to comments go away.
May 19, 2008
This might be interesting as well:

May 19, 2008
To be honest I understand the desire to be independent but this is quite bordering on just being childish. And the problem (well not for me) aren't the households anyway - most power consumption comes from industry - the very same industry manufacturing your house "gadgets". So it's interesting idea but far form being "green" in any way.

And personally, I think the power problem is quite as same as money problem. Spending less can be only temporal (and fairly unpleasant) solution - the only thing that you can do to make it better is earning more. We still aren't even on power consumption peak and all the Chines will want to plug their X-Boxes somewhere quite soon as well. Energy savings are just a fad; what we need now is building more nuclear power plants - what we will need in the future is cold fusion, thats about it...
May 19, 2008
There's no question that you could make a functional system-

solar to electricity
electricity to compressed air
compressed air back to electricity

The efficiency may not be stellar, and the cost, presently, might be prohibitive, but the end result is:

Even if you can afford the whole system, can you use it without having to modify everything else in your house? Different fridge, tv, stove, heater, AC, etc? And, if modified, how much of a dent in your lifestyle is all that going to make?

Work that issue out, and I'll come work for your new energy-saving company, as long as you promise not to get bought out by Chevron.
May 19, 2008
Good idea for the elevators - reminds me of the boat lift here in the UK that runs on a lightbulb:


Then again, don't all elevators come with counterweights anyway.
May 19, 2008
Have you looked into systems that convert convert methane from rotting crap into electricity? You'd probably get a lot more energy out of it than your quasi elevators, and you would get to fully exploit energy of your guests.
May 19, 2008
Building a house? Long process? Using plans from a previous post? Solar panels? C'mon, Scott.
You make things too complicated. Just buy a house already built, move in, and tell the wife and kids they will like it. That's what an ex-Marine does.

If your wife or kids ask where some lost item or other was, tell them what my Mom used to tell us.............

Rita Mae...........Mom where is my uniform skirt?

Mom..................Let's see..........last time I wore it, where did I put it? Hmmmmmm.

Then I went and found it myself.

Rita Mae
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May 19, 2008
If you used a more efficent engine for a generator, like the MYT Engine (http://www.angellabsllc.com/), you wouldn't need to generate as much power to run it. This thing can run off of air or biodisel. I am also willing to bet it would run with HHO gas as well, which can be generated on demand with a little water electrolosis. You only need a small current to generate alot of HHO from water. That current can come from a battery that is charged by the MYT Engine generator, or just use solar power to charge the battery.
May 19, 2008
Compressing air generates heat, releasing compressed air absorbs heat. If you use the air to directly power ceiling fans or other low-energy function, there likely wouldn't be much issue. Compress enough air to generate electricity and you might have an issue.

You might consider adding a wind tunnel to your attic. Use big 48" fan blades, and you should get useful energy even when the wind isn't perfect or blowing fast. Generate DC, and chop it to generate variable frequency, constant voltage power, then rectify for DC for your batteries. Or use a series of fans to power multiple-stage compression, to get a useful amount of air compressed to a useful pressure. Consider whether you want your air reservoir in the attic (to help vent excess heat in summer), or under the floor (to use excess heat to warm the house), or each. Perhaps using both tactics, allow switching - compress to one, use/vent the heat, then re-compress to the other reservoir with less compression, and less heat generation.

Be prepared to vend condensed water from your compressed air reservoir. This is considered industrial waste, due to air contaminants and likely contamination with compressor lubricants.

Consider access to all piping. Iron pipes will corrode through in 20 or 50 years, PVC will last a long time except it is porous to air and tends to break under rapid pressure changes (which is why every piece of PVC pipe is printed 'not for use in compressed air systems'. You can see this in many compressed air systems.).

Be careful to get check valves made for air systems. Water type check valves seem to be intended for momentary use, and don't hold air for long. Don't ask me how I know.
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May 19, 2008
Forget about the batteries. If you really want to go off the grid, you should try Geothermal Power. You get the energy from the ground. You need to install a tube that goes in about 10'-20' below your backyard depending of your location. The heat from the ground will be stored in special fluid to power an electricity generator. It works kinda like a reversed version of refrigerator.

I was at an building convention last year and a company says it will cost about $10,000 to install and about $100-150 per year for servicing for a typical 3000 S.F. home in Toronto. The up front cost is high, but you can be completely off the grid. Most of these system pays off in 5 years.
May 19, 2008
I bet the elevators will cost you more in maintenance than they save in energy - and that's not including manufacture and installation.
And have you ever been stuck in an elevator? I have and it was in a busy building but it still took them half an hour to get me out. Imagine you're in the house by yourself, the family away for the weekend. Better put a toilet in there too. And maybe a TV. And a fridge.

It's good see the old adage about fools and money is still true.
May 19, 2008
Two words:
May 19, 2008
It's healthiest to use the stairs all the time.
May 19, 2008
Why stop there?

Add an escalator-generator to your stairs, so your guests walking up take a few extra steps and generate a little extra energy. Just stand on the top step and go down for the same energy-generating gravity-fed system as your elevator.

Put a generator on your toilet so the falling water (or other miscellaneous debris) flushed down will turn a wheel to generate even more electricity. You can put the same type of generator on your downspouts to capture rain energy.

Perhaps you can use a flywheel to capture the energy. If nothing else, think of the headlines if that flywheel somehow got away? Just another way to go down in history.
May 19, 2008
Umm. Why use an elevator at all if you're only going down?
May 19, 2008
There are some companies who are working on this sort of thing.

I recently worked as consultant for these guys: http://www.beaconpower.com/

Their whole company is based on flywheels (oil drum sized carbon fiber cylinders resting on magnetic bearings with a few mils of clearance attached to a PMSM). They start them spinning at 20k rpm during the night when the power is cheapest. When company ABC has massive transient power needs during the day, they dump the back EMF of the spinning mass wheel into whatever.

Kind of like your solar cell idea with timing reversed.

The technology is there... but not quite cost effective for the average home yet.

Then again if you're looking to live off the grid and price is no object, it might be what you're looking for.
May 19, 2008
I get the feeling that you're building a house that people will visit after you're dead as a type of "only in California" type tourist attraction. Like the Winchester house. Except the tour guides for your "historic site" will have to remember things like how you got a "charge" out of making people walk upstairs to go pee or having family members look on the 2nd floor for imagined lost items. After Hearst Castle, next stop is "Dilbert's House of subliminal passive/aggressive fuel efficiency and self esteem." Can't wait! :)
May 19, 2008
You can also run around in a gerbil wheel to get exercise.
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