The purpose of this project is to design and mass-produce kits for a floating tiny house that can sail. It combines high-tech modeling and fabrication and low-tech assembly that can be carried out DIY-style on a riverbank or a beach. This boat is a 3-bedroom with a kitchen, a sauna and a dining room. The deck is big enough to throw dance parties. It can be used as a river boat, a canal boat or even a beach house. Oh, and it's rugged and stable enough to take out on the ocean. Kits will start at around $50k (USD). The design has been tested in simulation and prototype; full-scale production will begin next year.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Electrical system

The primary purpose of QUIDNON is to serve as a floating residence. As such, it has to provide all the usual services that normally involve electricity: refrigeration, lighting, communications and the ability to charge mobile devices (cell phone, tablets, laptops). Where the energy for all this comes from depends on where the boat is. While marinas provide shore power (in North America this is either 30A or 50A 110VAC), this power is unavailable when living at anchor or at a mooring (the two most economical ways to live, since in many places, in Northeastern US especially, marina slip fees can add up to almost as much as renting an apartment on land.

With this in mind, I plan to equip QUIDNON for both marina living and for anchoring out. The elements I intend to use to piece together this system are all proven ones—I have used them all and found that they work and hold up extremely well. They are also all relatively cheap, by virtue of the fact that the word "marine" does not occur in their product descriptions.

When living at the marina, the usual procedure is to plug in a shore power cable and leave the battery charger on all the time. This keeps the batteries topped off all the time and in the fully charged state they last a very long time. Should shore power ever fail (because of a black-out or a transformer blow-out) the batteries provide uninterrupted power. When setting up a boat for marina living, it is very important to replace the stock shore cable plug with a SmartPlug, because the stock plug tends to burst into flames and burn the boat down. This almost happened to me—twice!

When living at a mooring or at anchor, QUIDNON has to generate its own electricity. During the summer months solar panels provide plenty of juice, but during the winter, when there is little sun, and when the solar panels are often covered up by snow, having a wind generator is very helpful. The usual procedure on yachts is to mount the wind generator atop a 10-foot pole, but that really doesn't get it up where the wind is strong, limiting its usefulness. On QUIDNON, there is not even a place to put a 10-foot pole that wouldn't interfere with the sails or the sheets, and so the only place to put wind generators is atop the masts, where there is room for two of them. This configuration is not recommended while sailing out on the ocean: the amount of windage and weight up top would pose a danger. But since the masts are easy to take down and put up, it's quite possible to have two configurations available, one for shoreside living, with two wind generators up top, and another for cruising, with the mastheads taken up with VHF antennae, nav/anchor lights and a wind instrument.


My favorite choice for a wind generator is a Sunforce 44444 which puts out a maximum of 400W (though it hardly ever blows that hard). Previous versions haunted the harbor with an interesting wailing/keening/whispering noise, which scared off seagulls, cormorants and neighbors alike, but the carbon fiber blade design has since been improved, and the latest version is quiet enough to use in a marina.


For solar panels, my current favorite choice is Renegy's 100W polycrystalline panels.


They are manufactured with a strong aluminum frame, and bolt down nicely to aluminum square channel using the supplied brackets, making installation easy. QUIDNON's pilot house roof can accommodate 8 of these, with room to spare:

Then there is the question of where to store all this power. My solution, which I know works well from experience, is to use Trojan T-105 6V 125Ah batteries. I plan to put 8 of them, in 2 banks, in a large, plastic-lined, vented battery box down in the bilge, under the cabin sole.


The two requirements for the battery enclosure are that it must never leak acid into the bilge, and that any hydrogen gas generated while charging is vented overboard (hydrogen is explosive under a wide range of concentrations and its flames are hot and invisible).

With all the sundry pieces added in (charger, charge controller, inverter, shore cable and plug, circuit breakers, wiring and outlets) the budget for the entire electrical system comes in just under $6,000 or 12% of the total budget, which is quite reasonable for a comfortable off/on-grid set-up.

There is one caveat that needs to be made with regard to all electrical/electronic systems, which is that they all work until they don't, and when they stop working there is nothing to be done but replace the component that failed. In this they are quite unlike most other parts of the boat, which can be repaired, finessed, jury-rigged, stitched up, plugged up and so on. All can be said about the reliability of an electrical system is that it works at the moment, but this is no guarantee that it will still be working the next moment, no matter how "reliable" it's supposed to be or how much you paid for it. Thus, there is no way to design anything electrical to last for the life of the boat, and there is nothing to be done about it.

36 comments:

  1. Hi Dmitry

    have you thought about making the wind gens hoistable like the Ferris Windpower ?

    http://www.hamiltonferris.com/products/Wind_Power/WindPower_200_Generator_Systems/50

    looking good

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    1. There are a few problems with this idea.

      1. The pole-mounted version doesn't provide anything better than the Sunforce unit, while the hoisted version requires an empty foretriangle and with a junk rig there isn't one.

      2. Like I said above, of the pieces I chose, "They are also all relatively cheap, by virtue of the fact that the word "marine" does not occur in their product descriptions." This unit runs afoul of that, with an immediate 150% price penalty.

      3. The "Proudly made in teh USA" thing: does it come with a free bumper sticker? Because I don't have a car. I find that the don't tow well. They are too heavy, plus they tend to take on water and sink. Or would I be getting a free drone strike on a wedding party or a funeral procession, or perhaps a free American Sniper attack on a woman and her baby? There is a saying I like better: "If it doesn't say 'Made in China', then it's probably fake." Enough said.

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  2. I did look at the price of those Ferris generators and wondered how the whole electrical system came in on budget at $6k. That can't include the turbines or solar I guess. Loving the daily posts and the Made in China quote.
    Keep it coming

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    1. $6k is for everything: the turbines, the panels, the controller, the inverter, SquareD circuit breaker panel, the Home Depot heavy-duty 100ft extension chords for wiring it up. I did a spreadsheet, and it adds up.

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  3. Nice setup. The boat will be on DC 12 V, 24 V, or 48 V? I would assume 12 V, since everything RV is on 12 V...

    Why 6 V batteries, rather than 12 V? A bit of the Google turns up a slew of comparisons, of course; *seems* like 6V is the way to go (http://www.batteriesnorthwest.com/batteryschool.cfm?TID=20), but I don't know if there has been a true engineering test, or this is anecdotal.

    Someone mentioned a turbine generator that drags in the water to create power; is that an option as well? Unless your are moving around a lot, I can't see it being cost effective; the windmill works if you are stationary or moving.

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    1. 12V. 6V batteries are structurally simpler and last longer. I think there are test results, but I haven't looked, because it's the reason 6V batteries exist, and they do exist.

      The best place to put a water-driven generator is in in the engine well. Once at sea, the outboard can be pulled out and stored on deck, and the generator lowered in its place. It is also useful when parked in a swift tidal stream. For instance, anchored anywhere on Pongo River in N. Florida, or in Ocean City, MD, you see 5+ kt of current pretty much all the time. But it's definitely an add-on feature, as are the wind generators. The solar panels should always be there, and should generally be enough.

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  4. On a related note - thermal storage is currently done in the ballast - I'm wondering if any phase change materials might be suitable for your setup (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phase-change_material) as well.

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    1. Well, the ballast is concrete, and concrete is not a phase change material.

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    2. Of course! You'll probably just sail to warmer climes before it gets very cold, anyway, correct?

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  5. Have you considered Aqion or Nickle Iron (Edison) batteries? More expensive than lead acid up front, but they'll last a lifetime instead of requiring replacement every 5 years.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I've looked into them. I'll consider them again once everyone else starts putting them in their boats. It's best not to try anything exotic. Golf cart batteries are the best there are because they are cheap, safe and readily available everywhere.

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  6. I've been reading from the start. Having zero boating experience (apart from canoeing in my childhood) I'm finding some of your posts a bit 'above my head'. No matter, a quick question - what do you do for washing laundry?

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    1. The classic thing to do on a boat is to take a 5 gallon bucket with a sealable top, put in 2 gallons or so of freshwater & a spoonful or two of detergent, put in a few clothes and secure it to the deck. After a few hours of tidal rocking, dump the soapy water and replace with rinse water. Two hours later hang them on a line till dry.

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    2. Wave action, not tidal rocking. Sorry.

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    3. Go on shore and use a laundromat. When sailing, sail naked.

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  7. Dmitry, in keeping with the "nothing marine" philosophy, have you considered using a gas-powered generator instead of the battery bank? Then you just wire the whole boat for 110V. Generators have become very common and inexpensive, and some are very quiet too. You'd need to run it whenever you wanted to use an electrical appliance, but that might not be very often if you cook with propane. Lighting, laptops, etc. can be powered by their own batteries.

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    1. I know some people who run gensets, but the boat has to be wired for 12V for illumination, pumps, instrumentation and communications anyway, plus a solution that is solid-state (except for the batteries, but they last for years if they aren't cycled) is much better than one with moving parts that burns fuel. Solar panels are required for leaving the boat unattended, so that the batteries stay charged, the bilges stay dry and the anchor light lights up at night. A genset is one of those add-ons for people who are power-hogs.

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    2. I have a question that is the inverse of Kent's. What are the *truly* minimum necessary powered equipment on a live-aboard boat, and are there alternatives that don't require electricity? The point of this exercise is to reduce the size of the battery system, and maybe the charging system. Obviously, the VHF marine transceiver requires electricity, but that alone wouldn't justify a 6 kilowatt-hour battery bank, 800 watts of solar panels and two air turbines. Probably the anchor light needs to be electric, because while other choices exist, they are not efficient and tend to involve a flame, which you might not want lit while you sleep. What about the bilge pump? Is there an alternative to electric power? If not, how much power does a bilge pump actually draw while running, and how long do you *need* it to be able to run? Would you be able to reduce the runtime you were comfortable with if your boat could send your phone a text message whenever the bilge pump has been running too long, as an alarm of sorts while you're away? This could be done with a small programmable controller such as an arduino. You've already stated that the cabin lighting will either be natural or led, and that is a variable load anyway. How much energy does an anchor light consume in, say, 10 hours? How much power does the VHF radio consume in an idle (non-transmitting) state? If your system could be reduced to 400 watts solar, one air turbine and four 6v batteries, would you be able to run the systems?

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  8. Off-topic for this post, but just a caveat to my posts a couple of days back about rocket stoves: Your heat-store concrete will need wrapping comprehensively in insulation, underneath particularly, to stop heat escaping through the keelson to the water. Judging by my boat rocket, this is quite critical. I have and average of five inches of glassfibre underneath my stove, insulating it from the floor plates. You may find that the best tweak is just to have a limited uninsulated surface on the top of the concrete mass only, and everything else hayboxed up completely, two or three inches of glassfibre at least; keeps the heat store hotter longer, and just trickles heat upwards to the cabin sole.

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    1. Hmm... In my case the insulation under the mast step/ballast slab has to take a compressive load... maybe the whole thing is just too much of a complication.

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    2. Standard blue styrofoam, which you would want anyways for it's water resistance, can take an incredible compression load. This is the type of insulation under my house, so it is a normal use to pour concrete on it. You may have to do a bunch of cutting to get it to fit the curve of the hull is the only problem (Dave's Triloboats are much easier to fit it to)

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  9. hey Dmitry I just noticed that they have a mizzen mast mount bracket that would fit the S400, but as you say you would need a car to have somewhere to put the made in the USA bumper sticker, and you would probably need to sell yourself down at the wharf to pay for it because it has one of those pesky marine grade stamps on it. Looks like it would be an easy peasy build though....hmmmm

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    1. The build is not hard no matter what. The pain point with putting a wind generator atop the mast is the amount of fat copper stranded cable it requires. The charge controller is up inside the unit itself, and so if the wires aren't fat the performance suffers a lot.

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    2. One alternative is to increase the control voltage at the turbines, say to 16 volts, then add a dump load controller and dump load, usually a water heater element. Many of the solar charge controllers have a dump load setting, such as the Tristar 60 amp controller. The advantages are that any voltage loss in the wiring from turbine to battery is able to be ignored (within reason) and the settings can be adjusted so that excess solar and wind power gives free hot water. It also gives some redundancy in that if the dump load controller fails, you have the option of re-engaging the original controllers

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  10. Dmitry, have you investigated "edison" batteries, aka Nickel Iron? There seems many advantages, not least the lifespan and ability to refurbish.

    http://www.mpoweruk.com/nickel_iron.htm has some basic info.

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    1. I have. I am not aware of any cruisers or liveaboards out there who have one. And I refuse to be the first.

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    2. At least you've done your research on battery technologies. Most boaters post to a forum and take the crowd response as gospel.

      A few reasons why these are not widely (or publicly) used by others:
      1. Mass. These things are heavy, and a little bulky, for the charge they carry. For lots of boaters who own cruiser/racers, that's a dealbreaker. For you, it's simply called ballast.
      2. "Newer tech is better!" mentality, in spite of a great deal of contrary evidence.
      3. "What? I have to buy a single cell at a time and it's only 1.2v per cell? That's crazy!" mentality. Uh, gee. It's pretty easy math, and it means you can replace individual cells if need be. Try that with your fancy schmancy LiFePo!
      4. Initial cost. Plenty of folks fail to consider long-term maintenance and replacement costs, especially when it comes to batteries. These batteries are pretty spendy at the front and dirt cheap ten years down the road.
      5. Basic confusion over charge cycles and pretty much everything else to do with batteries.

      Personally, I'll be installing NiFe batteries in my boat. I'd much rather have a KOH spill in the battery box than sulphuric acid. I'd also rather have H2 and O2 venting from overcharging batteries than H2S. Also, KOH is less costly when it comes time to replace the electrolyte and is more likely available in the third world.

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    3. Absolutely do not use Ni-fe batteries. They were exensively tested during Phoenix EV races I was part of and have severe thermal problems, among other things.

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  11. I've been using Trojan 8D AGM batteries (12 volt)...safe for the pitch and yawl of boats and do not need to be vented.

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  12. And for refrigeration/freezer...check out the ARB units...very low power consumption, rugged.

    http://store.arbusa.com/Fridges-C11.aspx

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  13. Dmitry, Enjoying the boat project. One question. Forgive me if I missed the answer somewhere. How have you addressed the problem of bottom pounding especially with short wavelength waves. It seems to me this may be the greatest stressor faced by a relatively flat bottomed vessel in an ocean environment. Would love to hear your reasoning/solution. Thanks and best wishes.

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  14. Hi JK,

    I've sailed a few thousand ocean miles in a flat-bottomed boat, and the problem of pounding does not exist. Flat-bottomed, ballasted boats are very tender in the middle and incredibly stiff when heeled over, which means that they are always heeling. Even when running dead downwind, the weight of the boom and sails on one side causes it to heel over, presenting a V to the water. And a V-bottomed hull does not pound. There is always some amount of slapping, but no pounding. Pounding episodes tend to be few and far between, and most of the time they are easily corrected by changing course or trim ever so slightly. With sharpie hulls, which have a stem at the bow, pounding can be greatly reduced by putting the bottom of the stem a few inches below the waterline. On a scow hull, which presents a flat, slanted surface at the bow, this approach isn't possible, but probably isn't necessary, since the V, when heeled over, extends all the way forward.

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  15. Dmitry,Thanks for the detailed reply. I am pleased to have this information as I am a big fan of a shallow draft. Perhaps our paths will cross on the East Coast or in the Caribbean/Bahamas Departing Portsmouth NH in July 2015.We will be aboard S/V Madrigal. A ketch rigged ,clipper bow Brewer 42. Old school, heavy displacement, full keel. Fair winds.

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  16. Regarding Trojan T-105 batteries. Note: I built electric vehicles for 8 years and used every battery out there, and hammered them all. Trojans are the best by far. T-105s are definitely most cost effective, but they also make a T-125 if you want more capacity in same package or T-145 in slightly taller package with same footprint. Similar lifespan for all if I remember correctly. More expensive of course.

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  17. I found that T-105s are most effective. I prefer 6V over 12V because there are fewer cells to a battery, and since a single bad cell invalidates the entire battery, a 6V battery is half as likely to have to be junked at any given point. Also, I prefer more smaller batteries than fewer larger ones, so that if one has to be junked, it's less of a hit. Taller batteries can be a problem because they are more tippy, which can be a problem on a boat.

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