Home Power #42 • August / September 1994
Build Your Own 12 VDCEngine/Generator
©1994 Richard Perez
his small, easy to build,engine/alternator is the answer toa burning RE question. What dowe do when the sun doesn’t shine, thewind doesn’t blow, and the creek driesup? This generator is a backup powersource for times when our RE sourcesdon’t meet our demands. It is optimizedto do only one thing — properlyrecharge batteries on demand.
I have built a dozen versions of this power plant in thelast twenty years — three for myself and others forneighbors. Over the years the design has evolved, butthe purpose remains the same — on-demand batteryrecharging and equalization. A version of this articlefirst appeared in
#2 — our mostrequested out-of-print back issue. Here is a revision ofthis information with an updated regulator design.In the early days (1982–1985), we used this type ofengine setup as a prime mover. It supplied almost all ofthe energy for our system. We only had two PVmodules at the time. As our PV/wind system grew, ourdependence on the engine faded. Now we only use itduring the depths of winter to meet those cloudy, all-night deadline sessions. From this experience welearned that while an engine is still a great energyback-up, it is a miserable prime mover for the system.These units are most effective if used less than 200hours yearly. Using the generator as the primary powerinput will yield 1,000 to 2,000 hours of engine operationyearly — a nightmare of expense, maintenance, andpollution.
Source Capacity and Flexibility for BatteryEqualization
Every RE system should have at least one powersource capable of recharging the batteries at betweenC/10 to C/20 rates of charge. For example, a batterypack of 700 Ampere-hours periodically needs to berecharged at a minimum of 35 Amperes (its C/20 rate).To figure the C/20 rate for your pack, simply divide itscapacity in Ampere-hours by 20. The resulting numberis the C/20 rate in Amperes. The C/20 rate is optimumfor equalizing charges. An equalizing charge is acontrolled overcharge of any already full battery. If yourRE sources are not powerful enough, or flexibleenough, to equalize the battery, then this engine-drivensource can do the job.
Power Source Control
Energy sources which recharge batteries need to becontrolled. If the charging source is not controlled, thenthe batteries may be overcharged or recharged toorapidly. The most common method of control is voltageregulation. This works fine in cars and in batteries withshallow cycle, float service. Voltage regulation alone isnot enough for deeply cycled batteries. They must alsobe current regulated to prevent too rapid recharging.
Voltage regulation only is OK for batteries that are veryshallowly cycled. In shallow cycle service the batteryrefills almost immediately since it has only had a smallamount of its stored energy removed. In deep cycleservice the batteries have had about 80% of theirenergy removed before recharging. If deep cyclebatteries are recharged from a source that is voltageregulated, they will be charged at the total outputcurrent of the source as it struggles to bring thebatteries immediately to the set voltage limit. If thecharging source has say 55 Amperes available, then itwill charge the batteries at this 55 Ampere rate. If thebattery is a 100 Ampere-hour battery, then the C/10rate for this battery is 10 Amperes. The 55 Amperesfrom the source would recharge the 100 Ampere-hourbattery at a rate over five times faster than it should becharged. This will result in premature battery failure,higher operating costs, and much lower systemefficiency.Above: This engine/generator uses a Chrysler 70Ampere alternator.