Trends in Technology: Alternative Power

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“KTRB’s nighttime site went live in February 2007. Because the daytime site was still being delayed by Sonoma County, the nighttime site was used 24/7. The transfer switch system was modified to just alternate the two large generators on a daily basis. The system consumed about 4,800 gallons of LPG fuel per week. It ran this way until mid-2010 when both 260kW generators reached the effective end of their lives. Under the original plan the generators should have been good for about 7.5 years before needing rebuild or replacement.

“What does this all mean in dollars? Well, the generators, transfer switches, and fuel system cost about $600,000 to buy and install. Maintenance and fueling over the 3.25 years of operation amounted to about another $1M. Several studies were done to bring PG&E service to the site. Following the most direct route, building on a pole system would cost about $1M. The longer, trenching route for buried cable, following ranch roads would cost about $1.7M.

“Running a 50kW transmitter site utilizing generators as prime power is madness, even if forced by circumstances.”

KTRB eventually abandoned the original nighttime site and now operates from a diplexed site in Hayward, CA. At the risk of over-generalizing, I’m going to say in the majority of circumstances it makes more sense to pay a utility to install power at a remote site instead of using two generators.

Hybrid systems approach. For lower-power applications (low-power transmitter, or repeater site) it can be quite practical to build your own power plant. The “hybrid” approach means that you will not rely on any single source for all of your power needs. Whereas you might base your system on solar photo-voltaic cells (PV), you would likely also have a small generator, or perhaps even a wind turbine, to back up your system. There are practical limits to systems such as this as well. Let’s examine the size of the PV array, and battery array, for a hypothetical system. (This is not meant to be a primer; consult a design engineer that specializes in hybrid systems should you decide to build one.)

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