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Hybrid Residential Solar and Thermoelectric Power Generation

Posted by Earth Stove on June 16, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,
by Ken Adler, Senior Technical Advisor at the Alliance for Green Heat
Some of you may be wondering about thermoelectric wood stoves and why we decided to include them in the 2018 Wood Stove DesignChallenge, which will be held in November 2018 on the Washington Mall.  Our goal of this competition is to support development and commercialization of a revolutionary thermoelectric wood stove that produces electricity equal to 50 percent or more of the winter time output of a residential solar photovoltaic system. By combining a thermoelectric wood stove and a residential solar PV system and home battery, like the TESLA Powerwall, we can support residential and grid-based distributive power goals, and incentivize greater investment in solar power. 
Specifically, thermoelectric wood stoves can help solve the problem of low winter time solar PV output in northern climates, where useful solar radiation is limited to 2 – 4 hours per day.
While a thermoelectric wood stove may sound revolutionary, the technology behind the stove has been used since the 1980s in oil and gas field operations, where methane gas provides a low-cost source of heat to power the thermoelectric generator. Wood stoves, like waste methane gas, can provide a free source of heat for the thermoelectric generator.
Alphabet Energy Thermoelectric Generator
Thermoelectric generators are like solar panels, however, instead of turning light into electricity they turn heat into electricity. To generate electricity, one side of a thermoelectric module is heated by the wood stove while the other side is cooled with either an air or water-cooled heat sink. For applications above 100-watts, water-cooled heat sinks are the most common approach because of their ability to extract greater amounts of heat from the thermoelectric module.
60-Watt Water Cooled Thermoelectric Generator
In northern climates like New England, Canada and northern Europe, low winter time solar radiation increases the cost and reduces the efficiency of solar PV systems, and the cost-effectiveness of battery storage systems like the Tesla Powerwall.  According to NREL, solar radiation in northern areas like Vermont peaks at 6.0kWh/m2 in June and declines to 1.7kWh/m2 in December. This means that an average 4,000-watt residential solar system will go from producing 571kWh in June to 191kWh in December–a 66% reduction is solar power output.  This project will demonstrate how a thermoelectric wood stove can cost-effectively supplement a solar PV system.
Building on our experience from 3 previous Design Challenges, we will work with wood stove manufacturers, universities and others to build and test 100 to 200-watt thermoelectric wood stoves that could effectively increase by 50% the winter time output of a 4,000-watt residential solar PV system.   

Thermoelectric generators are currently sold as accessories for wood stoves; however, these accessories are limited in size and efficiency. By integrating a thermoelectric generator into a wood stove we can achieve far greater power output, efficiency, and lower cost. For example, a wood stove with a 150 to 200-watt thermoelectric generator operating 20 hours per day could generate 93 to 124kWh of electricity per month, which compares favorably with the December solar PV output of 191kWh in Vermont.

Russian Thermoelectric Wood Stove 
(not certified for sale in the U.S.)
There are several reasons why now is the time to consider thermoelectric wood stoves. First, the price of the thermoelectric modules, which are a component of the TEG, has dropped substantially because they are now being mass produced in China.[1] Second, the EPA’s recent wood stove NSPS regulation is helping to make new wood stoves cleaner and more efficient and, coupled with cordwood testing and automated features, a new generation of cleaner stoves could also generate electricity. Third, thermoelectric wood stoves can produce electricity up to 24 hours per day eliminating load management concerns common with solar and wind power. Lastly, the stoves are powered by local wood supplies, making their fuel low carbon and locally sourced.
The 2018 competition on the Mall will demonstrate the role thermoelectric wood stoves can play in promoting solar power, energy storage systems and biomass energy, while also reducing energy costs, supporting climate change goals, and increasing distributive power.   



[1]The cost of a thermoelectric module has fallen below $ 2 per watt (uninstalled), compared with $ 3.50 per watt for solar panels (installed).

Heated Up!

Thermoelectric Wood Stove, Solar Power, and a Floating Cabin!

Posted by Earth Stove on June 16, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , , ,

Guest blog post, by Margy Lutz

Finally this winter, our thermoelectric wood stove generator is fully operational. Following our test runs, we placed the pump to recycle cold water down in the lake water under the cabin. In winter, it gets about 5 degrees C (41 F). That’s plenty cold for a good differential between the 300 degrees C on the hot side.
Most system owners don’t live in a float cabin four feet with a constant cold water source under the floor. The typical user has to use a recycled liquid (usually including a water/antifreeze mixture) that runs through a radiator for cooling.
In addition, a charge regulator/controller is used to protect the batteries and prevent overcharging. The model that came with our system has lights to let you know the status of the charging process.

Wayne likes to know more about the charge we are getting. He installed an ammeter and a volt meter. The switch in the middle controls the water pump down below the cabin. To maximize the charge to our cabin battery bank, we’ve installed a separate solar panel and two six volt batteries wired in a series to run the pump.

Living off the grid has its challenges, but having an alternative power sources has made our winters much brighter (pun intended). Do you generate power? What are some of the solutions that have worked for you? — Margy

Postscript by Ken Adler, AGH Technical Advisor: 

Congratulations to Wayne and Margy on their thermoelectric wood stove. In a follow-up communication with Wayne, he reported that they are no longer using the system because the thermoelectric modules failed. Wayne doesn’t know why they failed, however, the most common reason for failure is overheating.  The modules can also fail if Bellville washers are not used to allow the module to expand and contract during heating and cooling. Wayne also reports,

Even when I was partially (marginally) operational, I produced less than 2 amps at 12V DC (23 watts) to recharge my cabin battery bank. This would have been enough to put a top-off charge on my cabin batteries (normally recharged via my solar system), particularly valuable in the winter when solar power is minimal and my wood stove is operating nearly 24-7. The primary reason for the low amperage was the need for a 1,8 amp 12V (21.6 watts) water pump to feed the cold side of the modules. In many ways, I reside in the perfect test location for this thermoelectric system, since 

I have a nearly infinite supply of very cold water 4 feet below my wood stove. I live in a floating cabin on Powell Lake BC, and the lake is extremely deep and very cold in all seasons. What an opportunity to serve as a source of cold water through the cooling system! The pump only needed to pump the cold water up 4 feet and then outflow back into the lake. Even with this tremendous advantage, I couldn’t get everything fully operational.

Does this make me a non-believer in thermoelectric from a wood stove? Absolutely not — I still believe this is an important future source of electrical power in my cabin, since even a top-off voltage during the solar-depraved Canadian winter would be worth the price. I’d be one of the first in line if a recreational property thermoelectric system was available, and I’d be quick to try again. Thus, I wish you all of the best with your preparation for the 2018 conference. I’ll be following the results closely.

In an earlier post, Wayne reports that he is using three 25 watt thermoelectric generators for a total rated power of 75 watts of output, however, he’s only getting 23 watts of power for his battery. Part of this is due to his pump, which is drawing almost 22 watts of power. If you are interested in building your own thermoelectric wood stove, there are a few improvements that you may want to consider. First, TEG suppliers (see our resourcespage) now sell more efficient lower wattage pumps. Second, consider starting with a thermoelectric generator rated for 100 to 200-watts. While this is more expensive, if you go with a smaller system much of your power will be consumed by the pumps and/or fans you need to cool the modules. Third, Bellville washers are critical for allowing the modules to expand and contract.

If you are interested in designing a thermoelectric wood stove for our 2018 Wood Stove Design Challenge, please visit our web sitefor more information. For more information on Wayne and Margy’s life on a floating cabin, please visit their blog at Powell River Books Blog.

For an overview of the potential of thermoelectric wood stoves, click here.

Heated Up!