In 1960 I was employed by The Lear Seigler Corp. in Anaheim Ca. During that period I was involved in the development of a devise now known as a static inverter. This unit utilized electronic circuitry to take direct current, as supplied by a battery, and convert it into alternating current similar to that which one may use to operate household appliances. This was done without moving parts and at efficiencies unheard of in the past. This was before semiconductors had reached the level of sophistication we now take for granted. Nevertheless we were able to develop a product which was practical and useful. I was inspired by the potential of this technology and vowed to put it to my own use at some time in the future.
In the early 80's my wife and I were searching in the Florida Keys for a suitable location to dock our 43 foot sailboat, "Lorelei" and found an island called No Name Key. The water was deep enough to accommodate Lorelei's six foot draft and there was a "for sale" sign on a small lot that was already equipped with a 70 foot cement dock. There were about a dozen houses on the island in spite of the fact that there were no utilities available. After establishing contact with some of the residents we were amazed to find that each household was totally self sufficient. Electrical power was derived from solar panels and water was stored in cisterns filled by directing the drain spouts from the roof into a collecting pipe. Obviously this was our dream island.
Lenore, (my wife) and I spent the next few weeks deciding what type of house we would like to build. Our research lead us to a company that was building pre-fabricated houses for use in the Bahamas. The design was quite unique and specifically tailored to be hurricane resistant. This was achieved by elevating the structure 12 feet above high tide and by making the building six sided. The purpose of this was to minimize the cross section, so that regardless of the wind direction the broadside area was insufficient to dislodge the house from it's foundation. Several of the houses had survived previous hurricanes so we decided to submit the plans to the building department. In a few weeks we had a building permit. We then set out to make tour dream house self sufficient. First we added a 13,000 gallon cistern then 22 solar panels which were to be connected to a bank of golf-cart batteries. The output of this was then connected to a static inverter (somewhat more sophisticated than the one I had built two decades earlier) The house was wired by a local contractor in accordance with local codes and exactly the same as it would have been if connected to the power grid. In addition to the inverter we purchased a used diesel generator which had originally been used aboard a yacht. It could produced 220 volts at 15 kw but had no cooling system. I added a truck radiator and built a small power shed to house it . This served as a source of power while we were building the house and later as a backup for times when the sun did not shine. One small problem turned up when trying to adapt the inverter to the 220 volt house wiring since the inverter only produced 110 volts. only half of the outlets in the house had power. This was corrected by connecting both sides of he 220 together a strategy which produces a short circuit when the system is switched back to 220. I could see that this was going to be difficult to explain to anyone with a non-technical background who might occupy the house in our absence, so a large Potter Brumfield A/C relay with normally closed contacts was placed across the line and the 220A/C excitation coil was connected to the 220 input line. This arrangement, happily removes the short across the 220 volt input automatically whenever the system is connected to any outside 220 volt source.
Golf cart batteries are 6 volts therefore it is necessary to connect two in series to produce the 12 volts necessary to operate the inverter. Ten pairs of batteries were then connected in parallel resulting in a storage capability of 1800 amp hours or in other terms about 21 kw. I find that it is not wise to use more than about half of this capability without recharging since totally discharged batteries have lost much of their life expectancy. Experience has shown us that our household uses about 2 kw. per day on the average. No air conditioning or refrigeration are connected to the system.
The solar panels were placed on the roof and set at an angle approximately equal to our latitude. Over the past 10 years no maintenance has been necessary and no sign of wear or deterioration has been noted. I might also point out that we have paid no utility bills.