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.
Massachusetts has developed the first wood stove change out program in the country that recognizes the value of automated stoves and stoves that disclose their verified efficiency to consumers. The 2017 program offers Massachusetts residents between $ 500 and $ 3,000 for upgrades, depending on the stove and income level of the family.
The Commonwealth Woodstove Change-Out Program has committed $ 1.8 million in funding for change-outs from 2017 through 2019. The 2017 program represents the sixth round of funding since the program’s launch in 2012. The program has helped more than 1,400 residents swap out their non-EPA certified, inefficient stoves for newer, cleaner models, and approximately 500 of these rebates went to residents earning less than 80 percent of the state median income.
The program is like scores of others across the country, but Massachusetts is the first to give an additional rebate of $ 500 for pellet stoves and $ 250 for wood stoves that are above 65% efficient (actual tested efficiency reported to the EPA). Most manufacturers do not disclose the actual efficiency of their stoves but provide exaggerated, misleading efficiency values on their websites.
The program is run the by Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER). It is also the first program that gives an additional rebate for stoves that have automated features and control the airflow with sensors or other devices, providing a cleaner burn for the consumer.
Most stoves are eligible for a $ 500 – $ 1,250 rebate depending on how clean they are, but four automated stoves qualify for a $ 1,500 rebate, or a $ 2,750 rebate for income-qualified families. Three of the four automated stoves also qualify for an additional $ 250 that have efficiencies above 65% that are verified by the EPA.
The additional rebate for automated stoves may only come to $ 250 or $ 500, but the recognition of this new class of stoves is a significant step for the stove industry. These stoves are more known in Europe, but in the US, the terminology, rationale and classification of automated stoves is still in its infancy.
The Mass program may be a sign of how change-out programs can adapt to changing wood stove technology. Automated stoves help achieve one of the biggest challenges stoves face: how to get stoves to perform as well in the home as they did in the lab. The Mass program explains, “The low emission and high efficiency lab test ratings are more likely to be realized in households because user error is minimized.”
One of the next huge steps for wood stoves is to have them designed and tested with cord wood instead of 2x4s and 4x4s, the fuel they are designed for and tested with today. In the next 2 or 3 years, change-out programs are likely to also start awarding additional rebates for stoves made by manufacturers willing to start designing and testing with cord wood, something that the new EPA stove regulations are making possible.
The EPA requires all stoves to emit 4.5 grams of particulate matter per hour or less, but the Mass program only allows stoves that emit under 3.5 grams. The list of stoves eligible in Mass is 24 pages long and explains their rebate eligibility. The Maine, Maryland, and New York programs also require lower gram per hour limits than the EPA.
The MassCEC does not allow gas stoves to participate in the program because Massachusetts statute prohibits them from providing incentives to fossil fuel use, said Peter McPhee, Renewable Thermal Program Director at the MassCEC.
Non-catalytic stoves: The Mass program is more aggressive than any other change-out program in providing bigger incentives for cleaner wood stoves. They offer $ 500 for non-cat stoves that emit 3 – 3.5 grams per hour, $ 1,000 for stoves from 2 – to less than 3 grams per hour and $ 1,250 for stoves that emit less than 2 grams per hour. Of the 309 non-cat stoves on the market today, 166 are eligible for some level of rebate because they emit 3.5 grams per hour or less.
Catalytic stoves: To be eligible, a catalytic stove must emit 2 grams per hour or less. Of the 67 cat stoves on the market, 27 are under 2 grams and eligible. Catalytic stoves under 2 grams get a $ 1,000 rebate, $ 250 less than a non-cat stove that is under 2 grams.
Pellet stoves: Like catalytic stoves, pellet stoves must emit 2 grams per hour or less, and are eligible for $ 1,250 (plus an additional $ 500 for an efficiency bonus, if they have a verified efficiency.) Of the 115 pellet stoves on the market, 81 are eligible as they emit 2 grams an hour or less. Providing similar rebates for wood and pellet stoves is increasingly rare as most change-out programs give 50 – 100% higher rebates for pellet stoves, compared to wood stoves. Nationally, the median rebate for a wood stove is $ 600 for wood stoves and $ 1,000 for pellet stoves.
Automated stoves: Four stoves qualify as automated under this program: The Quadra Fire Adventure II and Adventure III, the MF Fire Catalyst and the RSF Delta Fusion. All of these stoves break new ground in operating cleanly while drastically reducing the margin of human error, which is considerable. More European or American automated models are likely to come onto the market in coming years.
A number of states are trying to include efficiency in their change-out programs, but Mass is the first to do so. The underlying problem is that before 2015, stoves were not required to disclose their efficiency. Today, only a quarter of wood stoves on the market disclose their actual, verified efficiency. Stoves certified since May 2015 are required to test for and disclose their efficiency. Some companieshave taken the extra step and voluntarily disclosed their actual efficiencies and do not exaggerate their numbers on promotional materials.
If a program only gave rebates to stoves with verified efficiencies, the consumer would only have 125 out of 500 stoves to choose from. So, Mass chose not to make efficiency disclosure a requirement, but gives a $ 250 or $ 500 bonus for stoves that meet a minimum efficiency of at least 65%, well under the average stove efficiency which is around 70%. This will likely drive sales towards manufacturers who disclose their efficiencies and will also educate consumers about the importance of selecting highly efficient wood and pellet stoves. An additional $ 500 is significant. More manufacturers may start to disclose their efficiencies to be eligible for higher rebates as other states begin to recognize efficiency as Mass did.
Of the 38 pellet stoves that disclose actual efficiencies, four are not eligible for the change-out program as they emit more than 2 grams an hour, and 3 are not eligible for the $ 500 efficiency adder as they are less than 65% efficient. This leaves 31 pellet stoves eligible for the $ 250 adder.
Of the 23 catalytic stoves with verified efficiencies, four are not eligible as they exceed 2 grams per hour and one of those four is under 65% efficient, leaving 19 eligible for the $ 500 adder.
Of the 66 non-cat stoves with verified efficiencies, 17 exceed 3.5 grams and are not eligible for the program. Two others are not eligible for the $ 250 adder as they are under 65% efficient. This leaves 37 stoves eligible for the $ 250 efficiency adder.
Residents must have the new stove installed by a Participating Stove Professional who follows the guidelines of the program, which includes ensuring the old, uncertified wood stove is destroyed. There are currently 32 participating stove retailers, four of which are outside of Massachusetts and three of which are chimney sweep businesses. However, MassCEC says that they expect a total of 40 – 50 in coming weeks. They are likely to be NFI or CSIA accredited, but are not requiredto be. Residents are encouraged to find installers who are.
Programs that require residents to work with participating retailers can effectively limit the range of stove models that they can buy. Retailers like to install stoves that they sell, so they can make profit on both the sale and the install. But some eligible stoves available at Home Depot can offer real bargains particularly for lower income families. Some participating retailers or chimney sweeps may install stoves purchased elsewhere by consumers, but some may decline to do so. Many eligible wood and pellet stoves are made by small companies and a few are made by companies that sell direct to consumers. They may have a harder time participating in this change out-program.
The rebate is provided to the participating retailer, not to the homeowner, which is common in change-out programs. This enables the consumer to get the discount immediately at time of payment. Participating retailers must promise not increase the price of stoves or installations for customers using the program. And MassCEC promises to pay the rebate to the Stove Professional within thirty (30) days.
Another notable feature of the MassCEC program is its generous rebate levels for families that are well above the poverty line, but below the median income of Massachusetts families. Families are eligible for the higher rebate amounts if they earn 80% of the median income that is $ 87,000 for a family of four and $ 59,000 for a family of two.
“We wanted to be able to drive benefits towards more people who really need assistance in the up-front capital costs,” said Peter McPhee from MassCEC.
Incomes are much higher in the Boston urban area than in the rest of the more rural state, so a majority of families will be eligible for the higher rebates in more rural areas where demand for wood and pellet heat is highest. In the western Mass county of Berkshire, the median family income is about $ 50,000. Total project costs are estimated to be an average of $ 3,000 to $ 4,300. Income eligible families receive between $ 1,500 and $ 3,000, or 40% to 100% of project costs.
MassCEC has held change-out programs for the past five years and pending funding, may hold more in the coming years. The program has $ 1.8 million in funding for 2017 through 2019. Program managers are not only aware of changing technology in wood stoves but also the changing policy landscape. The EPA’s emission standards are under attack from the Republican right-wing in Congress and the main stove industry association is suing the EPA over them. The MassCEC program manual hints that they will continue with the emission standards developed under the Obama Administration: “Should NSPS requirements be modified in the future, MassCEC will likely retain these future emissions level requirements.”
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