Whilst my Plumbing Plan is far from over I am feeling pretty comfortable with the topic, and so in order to maintain progress across the board, I have decided that today is the day to start looking into power. I originally mentioned that I was not keen about plumbing, but that is nothing to how I feel about electricity and gas. To my surprise, plumbing proved to be far more enjoyable than I anticipated, so here’s hoping these will pan out the same! Again, I made the mistake of diving straight into Tiny-House-relevant material first but I quickly retreated and sought the broader basic facts.
Do remember I am a complete novice, so whilst I have done my best to comprehend these topics, they occupy uncharted territory. If you notice an errors, please don’t hesitate to chime in.
A conventional home in Australia is powered by two energies, electricity and gas.
Electricity is typically used for powering appliances and lighting, Gas for heating and cooking, yet neither are limited to these purposes alone. Gas may also be used to power cooling systems and clothes dryers, and it is very possible to power a home strictly using electricity. Tiny Homes are no different in that they can demand both electricity and gas, but the supply and execution can differ dramatically.
How does electricity travel from a power plant to an on-grid home?
For efficient travel, high voltage electricity is carried from power plants via transmission lines. When it reaches a power substation, the electricity passes through a transformer which ‘steps down’ the voltage. The electricity then travels along distribution wires, before passing through another transformer, reducing the voltage yet again. This electricity is then diverted into a house via a 240-volt wire. (This can be above or below ground).
In order to power a Tiny House with electricity, one can pretty much plug into the mains via a power cord. Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone, and even if it is, some decide against this. Why? Because for a number of Tiny Homebuilders, the appeal is to minimise their environmental footprint, and for the most part, electricity that is supplied via mains is generated by the burning of fossil fuels.
Now, no matter how little you know about electricity you have likely heard the terms Fossil Fuels and Renewable Energies bounced around, but like me, have only a blurry idea of each. Let’s press pause in order to break these down. First however, we should ask:
How is electricity generated?
It turns out electricity can be created three ways.
- The electricity supplied to your home via the mains is powered by Electromagnetic conversion.
- Batteries are powered by a chemical reaction.
- Solar Panels are powered by Solid State Conversion.
For today, I am most curious about Electromagnetic Conversion:
Spinning turbines turn copper wires within a magnetic field forcing movement of electrons, creating electricity.
The business with the magnets and copper coils and with the movement of electrons I will leave for Google to explain. I am more interested in the fuels used to spin the turbines and the two categories that our turbine fuels are split between.
Fossil Fuels are what we have been relying upon for generations to power our lives.
Created over millions of years from decomposing organic matter, fossil fuels are drilled or mined from the earth, in the form of Coal, Oil or Natural Gas. They release carbon dioxide upon burning, meaning they produce greenhouse gases, and are non-renewable. The pros and cons of each form appear to be highly debatable so I won’t be wading into what is best, most efficient or cleanest. The general consensus seems to be that natural gas is the winner, but others raise doubt to this claim.
Renewable Energies are the alternatives beginning to enter the market. They are the ‘environmentally friendly’ solutions being offered to reduce our reliance on Fossil Fuels. They don’t produce greenhouse gases and are constantly being replenished by nature, hence their sustainable branding, however, their reliability is limited by unpredictable weather. Batteries are being developed to store the energy, but there is still a long way to go. (Personally, this sounds like an incredibly interesting area of development.)
The chart below captures the main Renewable Energies currently being offered.
In Victoria, Australia, your mains power will likely be fuelled by coal or natural gas unless you live in an area which is branching into the use of Renewable Energies. For those who are trying to live a ‘greener’ lifestyle, simply plugging into the grid is not the solution they are looking for. That said, they do have the chance to generate their own clean energy which is where solar panels come into play. This is an area I am keenly interested in but will put aside for another day. Side note: Tiny Homes have a very small roof capacity for solar panels, so it’s not uncommon for these systems to be supported by LPG.
Which brings us back to gas.
What is LPG and is it the same as propane?
In Australia, LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) is composed of propane. So yes, propane and LPG are the same thing here in Aus. Although overseas, it is often a mix of propane and butane, and therefore the names are not interchangeable.
What is the difference between Natural Gas and LPG?
LPG is produced from the refinement of oil or is extracted during the natural gas production process. Natural Gas, which is used to power homes, is extracted from the earth and can contain ethane, propane, butane, and pentane. Natural Gas is delivered to homes via pipelines, meaning one can’t simply tap into the Mains gas supply, however, LPG is stored in cylinders, making it portable. This is perfect for tiny homes.
Is LPG a liquid or a gas?
Storing LPG in cylinders places the gas under modest pressure, turning it to liquid. This means more energy can be stored than if it was kept in its gas form. It is needed in the form of gas for use and so when you attach an appliance to a bottle and turn the appliance on, some of the pressure is released, turning it back into a gas vapor.
I will look further into the use of LPG as I investigate water heating, but that my friends, is more than enough information for one day!