The Suburbs Are for Suckers: Off-Grid Power Generation

9/8 at 10:30PM e/p
Hackett is at an abandoned suburban house in the middle of the desert. The house has a $4000 a day electric bill, which Hackett finds completely unacceptable. Rather than paying such outrageous prices, he’s going to make his own power. Hackett takes the house “off the grid” — cutting it off from its electrical power source. Hackett wants to enjoy all the modern conveniences of suburbia, but now he has to generate power on his own. He starts with DC power, making a chemical battery that he hopes will give him enough juice to turn on the TV. When the battery fails to provide the power he needs, he goes to the next level, fashioning a windmill out of PVC pipe, a treadmill motor, and bits of obtanium. When windpower still doesn’t do the job, Hackett discards DC power in favor of the much more powerful alternating current (AC), which powers all appliances that connect into wall sockets; it’s the lifeline of suburbia, and Hackett is desperate for a piece of the suburban dream. Combining an old car engine with the motor from a table saw, Hackett hopes that AC power will give him what he wants most: TV.

New episode on the air (wait- what term does one use for the dissemination of a television show over cable? “Air”? No, it does not go through the air. “Broadcast”? No, it will be cast in a tight, controlled, only-to-cable-customers-who-opted-for-the-package-with-the-Science-Channel way, not in the old-school, available-to-anyone-with-rabbit-ears-on-top-of-a-monochromatic-Zenith kind of way. Drops? Too hip. Goes out? Yeah, that works.)

New episode goes out tomorrow (or today. Depends on when you are reading this. Sigh.)

New episode goes out Thursday, September 8th, 10:30pm Eastern time. Anyway. Here are some photos and video clips of Episode Four. Enjoy:

In this one, I make electricity, using obtainium to create electric power via chemical and mechanical means. This has been an interest of mine for a while- I have sitting in my shop an induction generator made from an old air compressor motor and a lawnmower engine; I have taught workshops in Canadia on converting obtainium (E-Waste: Junked, outmoded printers and scanners- dig into them, and you will find a trove of super-well engineered stepper motors that can generate clean, rectifiable AC, spun by wind turbines made from PVC pipe and soda bottles) into off-grid, low-or-no-cost cell phone chargers; and taught a class at NYU that dealt with generating, storing, and using purpose-generated power. Also, there are prob a half-dozen still-incomplete art pieces that utilize small-scale power generation within twelve feet of me as I type this.

Personally, I think generating electricity from obtainium will be the linchpin of maintaining a nice standard of living while the world around you descends into the chaotic maw of a zombie/religious/political/metaphorical/not-at-all Apocalypse. Even if that never comes to pass, it is good stuff to know.

Your life depends on electricity. It is vital that you know what it is, how it works, and how to make some if all else fails.

I am curious and more than a little anxious, waiting to see how much information made it through the edit and into the 21 minutes of final form.

I trust it will be a good episode (I almost die! A couple of times! ) but if you want a nice little tidbit of interesting information, chew on this:
An amp is 6.241×10^18 electrons, passing a given point per second. The fact that with a little simple math you can figure out how many of the smallest real things in the universe it takes to run your toaster delights me to no end.

5 thoughts on “The Suburbs Are for Suckers: Off-Grid Power Generation

  1. so on the part when you made the fan run by spinning the drill motor, did you just hook the fan directly to the terminals where the battery goes or was there more to it that was edited? and does the electric output depend on how fast you spin it?

    • Hooked the fan directly to the terminals. The faster you spin the higher the voltage, and in the case of the fan, the faster it span. It was a 12v fan, but often small motors will start spinning with a lower voltage, and spin faster with higher voltage until they burn out.

  2. Hackett, I loved this episode…..not just for the scientific ingenuity, but for your refreshingly healthy dose of cynicism about suburbia. I have no affinity for it, and have always been annoyed by the USA’s veneration of it as some kind of utopian dream of perfection. Your show is very entertaining, keep it up.

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