reply to disconnected
Re: Wood-Fired Steam Engine to Drive Generator? I'm not nearly as pessimistic as you are but have been working over the years to reduce our energy footprint and try to harvest as much as we can directly from our property. We are lucky in that we live in a fairly rural area.
I agree with the principals posted by lutful to reduce consumption, go after the low hanging fruit.
1) Space heating - wood is ideal. We heat with cordwood harvested on our property. Go through about 2-1/2 cords a year.
2) Water heating - wood is ideal in winter and passive solar in summer
3) Clothes drying - not sure what a "dryer hut" is but an old fashioned clothes line works just fine - stuff gets a little stiff and need to watch for bugs.
4) Reducing electricity consumption is more effective then trying to generate power. CFL, LED lighting, turn off stuff you don't need, etc
5) Hand crank water pump
6) A garden can be an effective way to put food on the table.
As has been pointed out if society falls apart, which I personally doubt, generating electricity will be the least of your worries. A better option is to "live below your means" as my neighbor often said to give you flexibility to cope with uncertainty.
reply to tschmidt
Some interesting ideas here, particularly the dessicant dryer..
Yes, wood is great for space heating, with the downside being smoke and soot. I got rid of my wood burner in the beginning of the '80s due to that problem. The defining moment was the morning my boss left work suddenly and I later learned that his house burned to the ground. Cause of fire: wood burning stove. I dismantled mine the next weekend.
Water heating is a challenge in a dynamic northern climate. We don't get much sunlight here due to the trees (it's a problem with cell reception too). Such a system would require a heat exchanger with the outside piping filled with antifreeze. Rather costly to build that.
Here's what I did over the years to reduce electricity consumption:
Stop using my big sound system for background music and bought a small Carver 500W mag field amplifier to power a smaller set of speakers near my editing workstation.
Fixed the well pump drop pipe, which had a hole in it and was causing the pump to run 24/7.
Stopped using 175W merc vapor lights all night long.
Changed ALL lighting to CFL, the more recently, LEDs.
Replace all CRT monitors with LCD and turned the backlight to minimum.
Stopped using my HP LaserJet II all day long. Now use Brother inkjet printer (no fuser lamp burning intermittently all day and night).
There are other things I've economized on, but can't recall all at the moment.
The big drain is the electric stove and dryer. My inlaws cook a lot. They do quite a few loads of wash, too. But those loads are intermittent.
The killer is the render farm downstairs. Two quad core machines with multiple RAID0 arrays and high power GPUs. Kill-A-Watt P3 says 1492 watts drawn from the wall outlet for 2 machines when rendering. About 1100 watts idle. (I could save power by upgrading all the drives to SSD models and get a more modern CPU that can go all the way down to 5% clock speed at idle. My Q6600s step to 66% at idle and they are OC'd to 3.51Ghz.) I have 7 internal drives and 5 external (USB) drives for backup purposes on the editing workstation and slightly fewer on the audio workstation. In the winter, these two machines heat the 1000 sq ft studio downstairs with no help from the main heating system.
I'm nearing completion of an 8-years running house structural renovation. The new structure is super insulated. Each year, my heating oil usage drops significantly, as the area of the house with super insulation increases. When I finished the north wall last summer, the bedrooms stay warm all night. My inlaws' room is about 10° warmer than the rest of the house because they keep the door closed and their 27" LCD TV keeps the room toasty, along with their body heat. Before the renovation, I was using about 1200 gallons of #2 oil every season. Last year I was down to 250 gallons and the house was more comfortable.
I've made improvements to my furnace, too. New oil burner, with Eko-Valve that shuts off immediately when the burner stops, preventing after burn and smoke. Smaller nozzle size, higher pressure, flame retention burner. Installed Flue dampers in both furnace and hot water heater. Installed heat exchanger/reclaimer in furnace flue to vent waste heat into the basement. The last two really made a difference in the comfort level in my shop. These changes also helped save oil. Installed Intellicon HW+ heat manager on the furnace, which also made a huge difference, cutting burner firings in the morning from 3 to just 1 cycle needed to bring house up to daytime temperature.
Computers and audio are my life blood. I've been an avid audiophile since WWII, and would not consider life worth living without it, which is why I'm trying to solve the energy problems. Could have a CAT diesel genset for the brief times when I want to play the audio system at very high volumes, but actually, it's pretty efficient, and will reach 129dB SPL with only 12 watts of output power ("signal present" LED starting to flicker on the two QSC 6kW amplifiers), which the genny has no problem supplying that. We've run our projection system, sound system and computers off the genny just fine. Only drawback is cost of fuel. We've spent months on generator power last year with the many storms we've experienced and outages that lasted weeks, so we're almost used to the idea now. I'd just like a quieter generator system and the possibility of running it from renewable sources.
Since the sound system can be curtailed at our descretion during 'sensitive' times, but the generator runs 24/7 and can be heard from almost a block away, naturally, the generator noise is a problem.
The thing is, I'm not the only one in the house. We're six all together. The inlaws watch TV all the time. My sister in law is the computer generation who live on the internet. My wife is a heavy computer user. I need power to run the test gear in my repair shop. I need power to run the video editing and sound gear in my studio. These are my bread 'n butter applications.
LED lights lend well to DC power. The well pump does not. It's 220' down and is large because back in '66 when I built this place, a forest fire swept through a month before I poured my foundation. So the well is high capacity for fire fighting, as we're in a wooded area. The house is made of Transite (asbestos cement) to retard combustion. Jan 17 marked 47 years living at this location in this house. I'm not going anywhere at my age. This is my retirement home.