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FAQs about Electricity and Aquarium Systems: Energy Consumption/Conservation 

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Hawaiian Solar Aquarium     12/24/14
Aloha from the Big Island! Merry Xmas Eve.
<Wish I was out there with you>
With the house powered by solar I am trying to run as efficient as possible while working on getting my tank more stable, i.e.. LED, low watt pumps and blowers. Chillers and heaters are out. My 100g is subject to a 10+ degree temp swing at times.
<... in what period of time? IF this is in a day, it's too much>

My 20g gall sump is outside and gets direct sunlight.
<Shade, insulate it... Styrofoam sheets are inexpensive, easy to cut and adhere... and weather well>
Although this is helping grow my macro algae I harvested from the ocean, it is probably heating my water as well as cooling with natural wind blowing the surface. The windows behind the display tank are screen and let cool air in at night (69 degrees this AM).
<How mauka are you? This tank may need to be placed elsewhere>
The tank gets direct sunlight at times as well. I haven't noticed this effecting the fish adversely. I just get bubbles sometimes and a little extra algae growth, despite proper PH. Could they just be used to it?
<Maybe... too stressful IMO>
After all the tide pools around here have huge temp swings.
<Yes; but what fishes do you have? MANY are able to swim in/out of these pools via pukas, breaks in the lava>
It's not easy to have coral here in Hawaii, so as long as I stick to my feather dusters, jeweled hermit and manns anemones (abundant here and do well in my tank) should I be fine?
The rest of my population is: Hawaiian green Shrimp pair of Coral Banded, a handful of hermits, a small sea cucumber, sand sifting stars and a couple sea urchins. Fish: Flame Angel, fully grown Lavender Tang, Pebble butterfly, small batfish, for now, a Banggai Cardinal and a small Boxfish. I use cinder in the sump after the return.
<I'd at least mix in some CaCO3 based material here>
Although not ideal, I am forced to place the skimmer in the next chamber, with the macro algae. I'm a little concerned about the cinders being a nitrate factory,
<Not likely, no. Igneous rock is usually quite smooth... doesn't harbor much in the way of bacteria>
but switched the bio balls out when I heard they were so good for surface area. Something must be off since I still am having trouble growing coralline algae.
<Very likely due to the combination of too low alkalinity and Ca, Mg>
I have a consistent lighting cycle now with the lower watt LED lights bar from Current. However is it really the lights that are important, or is it more the balance of cal/mag/alkalinity? I ask because I read lighting is so important yet when I dive and turn over rocks, before I turn them back over I see the coraline is usually on the underside of the rock, away from the light!
<Yes; this is the case around the world>
Mahalo for the advice. Melekalikimaka!
Sky Kubby
<Welcome and you too. Bob Fenner>

Large System Re-evaluation -- 10/19/2009
Hi Guys
<Hey Ian! JustinN here!>
For the last 5 yrs I (and my visitors) have been enjoying my tank.
I have a total 2500l setup (main tank: 2500mmx1200mmx800mm) and trying to house a full reef system. I say trying because I have had various successes with corals, soft and hard. The costs to run this size setup are quite high with food, water, replacing lights, fish and corals etc.
<Absolutely understood -- that's quite the volume of water!>
The government in South Africa however are proving to be my biggest challenge! In many different ways but now I have a serious problem. The cost of electricity has already increased over the last year by 35% and is set to increase a further +-40% per year for the next three years!!!!! This is needed to pay for a couple of power stations which no one seems to know when will be on line. It's the usual story about mismanagement of a national resource but of course it's nobody's fault.
<Ahh yes.>
The electricity cost to run this setup I have is about 60% of my total monthly electricity bill so it is becoming quite an issue. It is already more than the acceptable minimum wage!
Rather than shut down the whole system I am looking to restructure the tank in such a way that these costs can be dramatically reduced and somehow still keep the visual appeal.
<Understood -- lets see what we can do.>
* Do I just go much smaller? Problem is I have this huge purpose built void in the wall to fill so will look a little silly. However I imagine a 700l tank would be manageable in terms of costs.
<I wouldn't -- if power is your main concern, see the next commentary.>
* To maintain the size I imagine I have to remove all the live rock, all the corals so that I can cut right back on the amount of light. At present I have 8x T5 39watt tubes as well as 4x 25watt MHalides which I have just changed down from 400watt MHalides. I imagine and hope fish only do not require anything special? The moment the light is for the Aquarium trade it seems to be 3x the price!!
<Just in Metal Halides, we're already looking at 1600 watts of power draw -- this doesn't include the 312 Watts of T5 lighting. If you are no longer planning on keeping the corals, just remove the Halides from the system...
Even if you kept all the T5's active, you'd still be looking at 1600 watts less draw per hour running. Fish only tanks do not require any kind of special lighting -- the light is purely for aesthetics in these configurations. The same goes for live rock -- you might not get some of the stellar growths off your live rock like you can with full reef lighting, but this does not affect the efficiency/function of the live rock, only the colorful aesthetics.>
* The main electricity thieves are the pumps. How much do I need? At the moment I have 1x .75KW running 24hrs as a main pump for circulation, 1x .75KW running 16hrs a day as the extra wave/turbulence as well as a .45KW running 24hrs on the skimming. Various smaller pumps running all the other bits and pieces.
<This is largely subjective -- you won't need as vigorous of a flow in a fish only tank, but this is all your personal tastes... I wouldn't personally drop the skimmer, but perhaps the wave generation can be dropped?>
* Or do I look at keeping fresh water and try doing something completely different?
<You could -- if you chose to go with a planted tank in this situation, you'd be still looking at a lot of the same costs at the end of the day though.>
Please advise on how best to cut out all these crazy costs and yet still allow me to participate in this wonderful hobby.
<Well Ian, based on your commentary, my thought is for you to move to a fish only tank -- you can easily reduce the overall flow, and definitely reduce the lighting -- the lighting here only needs to be enough to complete your aesthetics, so you can see your livestock and enjoy it. Good luck! -JustinN>

Re: Large System Re-evaluation -- 10/19/2009
Hi Justin
<Hey again!>
Thanks for the advice.
<Glad to provide it>
I have been thinking along those lines, fish only, but wanted to get another opinion. The lighting I understand. What do you recommend regarding the water flow? As you said I could drop the wave generator pump, what could I do about the other pump which at present is pushing out about 20 000 LPH. However the actual volume returned to the tank is less, perhaps half that?
<Hmm... Now I'm a bit confused -- are you performing a balancing act, per se, between the tanks? Pushing water from the display to the sump with one pump, and returning it with a separate pump? I apologize if I'm densely misreading this, but if this is the situation -- this is a configuration destined for problems... There should be an overflow of some sort to accommodate the drainage from the tank, simply by using the reliable powers of gravity, and this outflow is then returned via the sump pump. If you're doing the balancing act here, removing and replacing both mechanically, that alone could be a great savings in power. Unfortunately, as big of a volume as you've got here, I'm not sure there's many solutions for circulation outside of using larger pumps -- traditional powerheads are clearly going to be fruitless, and even the newer propeller-drive style powerheads, like Hydor Koralia's, would likely be relatively weak with this size. There's always the option of slowing down the output from the tank to the sump, and likewise the return to the tank, but I'd say you're in about the optimal range if you're moving 20,000GPH.>
What return volume would you say I need to keep
the tank healthy? Would I have to get rid of my anemones, the clowns will be heartbroken!!!
<They'll find something else to 'host' -- they always do. My black and white Ocellaris has been having a long-term affair with my in-tank Tunze nano skimmer -- just don't tell his day-girl, the frilly mushroom! ;)>
My system also has a 200L refugium, another 100L tank filled with fine sand and of course the sump at 300L.
<Excellent -- hopefully my previous fear here is unfounded...>
How important is the control of Temperature in a fish only? Would they panic if the fluctuation was say between 24-29 deg C? Because then I can cut out my chiller.
<That's a pretty hefty shift in temperature daily -- if you can maintain this to a 1-2 degree max shift, you should be ok... stable is always better though.>
Thanks for your time, much appreciated.
<Glad to provide it! -JustinN>

Information on Energy Savings? 6/1/09
No question here, just a suggestion.
I've been keeping a reef tank for ten years and referring to your site for much of the last several years. A topic of increasing importance to many of us lovers of marine life is energy conservation,
<I'm included!>
and a tank greater than 100 gallons can easily be the largest consumer of electricity in one's home.
Unfortunately, however, I haven't been able to find very much information related to reducing aquarium energy consumption on your site (or anywhere else for that matter).
<There is little, aquarists tend to overlook the power cost of their tanks until the power bill comes.>
There are a dozen or more tricks and modifications that I've slowly come across that together have reduced my 140-gallon tank's consumption fairly dramatically - from >200 kWh/month down to about 100 kWh/month - and with no reduction in light, flow, or temperature control. Even if someone's not concerned with the environment, that's a $200/year savings (at least here in San Diego).
<Easily, yes.>
So, obviously I guess, my suggestion is that an article about aquarium-related energy savings might be useful to your readers. (Are you really asked so few questions asked about it, or am I just missing them?)
<Well, many few actually ask about this, consider it when selecting components.
I myself have penned an article on the subject, it is set to come out in FAMA early 2010 and will hopefully be posted here on WWM afterwards.>
Thanks a lot,
<Thank you, Scott V.>

Electrical Requirements 11/08/08 Greetings! <Hello Joe.> Thanks to all at WWM crew! This is my second question this week so please let me know if I'm hogging too much of the crew's valuable time. <You are...just kidding!> I've been planning and researching as much as possible for my soon to be 75 gallon reef system. I believe that I have the cabinet and weight issues taken care of and am currently researching my electrical needs. My system will have the following electrical requirements: 2x 150 watt halides, 4x 54 watt t5's, 1x 20 watt Vortech Pump, 2x 100 watt heaters, 1x 80 watt Eheim pump, 1x 20 watt pump for skimmer, 1x 32 watt pc on fuge, 100 misc. watts I'm estimating a total of about 1000 watts. I have consulted with my electrician and he has informed me that my house (soon to move in) has a 200 amp breaker box that is equipped with arc faults. The circuit that the aquarium will run off has 20 amps. In your opinion, will these be enough power to safely support the electrical needs of the system? <It will surely support your system as listed. watts/volts=amps. So you have a load of about 9 amps, assuming you are in the US ( it will be even fewer amps at higher voltages). > Thanks for your help! Joe <Welcome, Scott V.>

A Quick Question About Power Consumption For A 170g FOWLR - 07/02/08 Hello All, <<Greetings Kevin>> I'm sure this is answered somewhere on the site, but I'm in a bit of a time crunch and I haven't been able to locate it. <<Okay>> Some quick background - I'm in the process of finishing our basement and have framed out a spot for a 170 gallon fowler tank in one of the walls. <<Neat!>> The electricians are doing all the electric today <<Uh-oh, then this is getting to you late…sorry about that. Most queries are answered the following day (sometimes all the Crew/Bob can do to keep up in the limited time available), unless a question is somehow flagged in the title as requiring immediate attention and catches someone's eye>> and they tossed me a curve ball by asking me how much electricity the various components would use. I was not prepared to answer this and I'm not sure where to start. <<Could be calculated from the labels re…assuming all gear is present and you have a basic understanding of electricity>> I'm planning to have a good size sump/fuge under the tank so I'll have two pumps, a light, heater, possibly a cooler and the lights for the display tank. <<I see>> How much electricity do I need to have to run those items and everything else that I'll need to plug in? <<Even without the high energy lights of a reef tank, I would recommend a "minimum" of two "dedicated 20-amp circuits"…each terminated in a double-duplex GFCI setup>> Everything I've read talks about the GFI outlets and drip loops, but nothing I saw talked about how much juice you need - or would want - if you were starting from scratch. <<Not easily "specified" due to the varieties of size and system type…but a pair of 20-amp circuits should give you enough power even if you decide to go later with a reef tank. Unless you think you will also be "upsizing," in which case I would add an extra circuit while it's easiest to do so>> If someone could shoot me back a guess at the anticipated wattage and amperage needs I would be extremely grateful. I'll keep looking in the interim. Best, Kevin <<Apologies again for the delay…and good luck with your new install. EricR>>

Re: A Quick Question About Power Consumption For A 170g FOWLR - 07/02/08 EricR, <<Hey Kevin>> Thanks for the response. <<Quite welcome>> I called around to some local fish stores and ended up with the 20 amp circuit answer. I think we mathed-out about 1,500 watts of power in the likely components used. So even though the ship for changing it has sailed, I'm glad to know I got the right thing. <<Ah good>> Thanks again - I'm sure I'll have some more questions for you when I start buying equipment in the coming months. <<Cool, I look forward to conspiring with you>> Right now I'm wrestling with glass vs. acrylic <<Mmm, yes…advantages/disadvantages to both. Having had both (my current setup is composed of a 375g acrylic display…)…if money is not a factor, I would go with a "low-iron" glass display…else, for this size tank…I would likely stick with glass, period>> and what type of sump set-up to run under the tank. <<Do read up and come back with some more specific questions re>> Best, Kevin <<Be chatting. Eric Russell>>

Ultimate low power consumption saltwater aquarium Greetings WetWeb crew, I have accepted the challenge of designing my new home to run entirely on solar power at the urging of my wife. <Great! Have seen a marine enthusiast's home here in San Diego that made this investment... some days their electrical meter runs backward! The f/utility pays them back to the extent of their charges!!!> In researching the possibilities I was faced with either giving up my reef-keeping hobby, or finding a way to make it work with a 12 volt DC electric system. I am sharing some of my plans with the hope of getting constructive criticism. <Mmm, there are inverter technologies... to change to 120 V AC>      I currently have a 20 in. deep 37.5 gallon soft coral reef set up. I am planning on running 2 pumps with a sumpless set up. One pump will power a custom H.O.T. protein skimmer of my own design, while the other will provide water movement within the aquarium. I am contemplating using small 12 volt boat bilge pumps to accomplish the above tasks. <These pull/use a BUNCH of amps... do more research here>      Lighting is a bit more tricky however. I was originally considering using power compact lighting, but it is going to use way too much electricity. Instead I have decided to look into using light emitting diodes (LEDs) to light the aquarium. <A "wave of the future"> I have acquired some extremely bright white LEDs for testing. In some initial tests the LEDs seem to be the perfect solution. They produces a very blue color light somewhat similar to 50/50 lighting. They emit almost no noticeable heat, and when aimed through a rippling surface they produce much desirable reflections similar to metal halide. The "bulb" life is estimated around 100,000 hours. I am beginning to wonder why one would light an aquarium with anything else. <Mainly the current challenges of "quality"... Take a look here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/setup/lighting/index.htm> With that said, I am planning on building a lighting hood with an array of 100 super bright white LEDs. If anyone has attempted this before please advise on results. <There are a few folks, companies working on LED's for aquarium use... their data is not public domain> Based on my initial calculations this array should use around 680ma at 12 volts, perfect for use on a 12 volt DC system. I am estimating the light production of this array to be similar to two 55w power compacts, which is what has been lighting my soft coral tank happily for several years. After I build the lighting system I will test it, and write an article based on my findings. <Maybe get a PAR meter... study up re CRI, incandescence... need intensity AND temperature similar to the wild>      With filtration, water movement, and lighting taken care of, I need to focus my attention to temperature control. With recent power outages caused by hurricanes I have been fortunate (or not) to have the opportunity to monitor my aquarium's temperature with no air conditioning or heating running. In the heat of summer for an eight day stretch with no additional heat from lighting, my aquarium maintained a temperature range of 74-78 degrees, coldest at around 4:30 am and hottest around 1:30 pm. <Yes... water is the standard for "heat"...> Normally, I would run a heater to keep it around 78 constant and my central air offsets the heat from my power compacts. My problem is I have not come up with a good method of heating on a 12 volt system. Most aquarium heaters are designed for large amperage high wattage alternating current. I need some suggestions on heating water on 12 volts, safe enough for my aquarium's population. If anyone knows of a good DC submersible water heater please advise. I might just have to have something custom made. <Look into "heat exchangers"... there are means (esp. for large volumes) to "take" heat from/to the air...>      That about wraps up my ideas on solar powered aquariums at the moment. If anyone is interested, I will send updates on my progress. If I have overlooked anything important please advise, also know I am only in the early stages of planning this project. Thanks -Randy <Bob Fenner, who has been involved in such challenges in putting up collecting facilities in out of way places... Start looking into deep cycle (marine) batteries... You're soon to be an investor.>

Re: Ultimate low power consumption saltwater aquarium -suggestion, LEDs Bob, I was reading about this man trying to light his soft coral tank with LED's. There are a few tanks which use them on the nano-reef.com forums! www.nano-reef.com/forums is the address, a simple search is all that is needed here. So far I think the tanks have been running good. Also, I believe there is a step by step in one of the threads, so.... If he needs help wiring them up, It's all there for him. Hope that helps Daniel Babcock. <LEDs are indeed going to "hit the aquarium market" soon... as you had stated, due to low operating costs (electricity, replacement of fixture). They have the intensity (have seen a million candle power unit in operation), and issues of other aspects of light quality are being worked out. Bob Fenner>

Marine system amperage draw estimate About how many amps would it take to run a 90 gallon saltwater fish aquarium? <Likely between 6 and 20... depending on lighting use (low to high... T-5 fluorescents to Metal Halides), heating (acrylic in a well-heated room vs. glass in not), and most importantly pumping mechanisms employed (look for and select better pumps). Bob Fenner>

Electricity Consumption Hello All! My wife has noticed that my electric bill has doubled since starting this hobby.  I am ok with it but am a little concerned because I have not yet put into service my 2 X 150 MH lights.  Here is where my question originates...Can I run my MH for 3 or 4 hours and let two 40 watt actinic lights provide the morning and late afternoon light?  Is the photo period sufficient for soft corals (I don't have any yet)?  I currently have a button polyp, mushroom anemone, a candy cane coral, and a Trachyphyllia. Can I run one for a shorter period while one runs longer?  Or, should I simply use the lights and buck -up about it? <You'll have to buck up and light those metal halides up. Remember, these produce heat, so your heater won't run at all during the day (unless it's REALLY cold where your tank is. I'll bet your heater is 200-300 watts, as are the metal halides. A wash during the day. Your corals need twelve hours of light a day. Lower or higher light levels cannot be equated with shorter or longer photoperiod. Also, should I re-evaluate the pump I am currently using (Aqua-Medic 2500)?  Any insight would be appreciated by my wife and by default myself... Scott from Colorado <I don't know Scott, you don't provide tank volume, size, etc. Reefs require anywhere from 10 to 20 times total volume turnover, if your pump is too much for this, then it is possible to downsize. I would compare power usage for any pumps you consider, and figure how long it would take to pay back the replacement cost using any possible power savings.  Craig>

Aquarium Power Needs Hello Robert, My name is Jim Fischer, and I live in Pa. I have a question about power requirements for a total aquarium setup. My wife and I are going to setup a 55 gal fresh and a 120 gal saltwater (reef) in our basement that I am wiring right now and need to balance the load on the circuits. I'm not going to use anything fancy like metal halides, just C.F. fixtures, but the setups I have in mind will be well equipped. I know this is a vague description, because I'm not sure exactly sure of the hardware I'll be using. I know the 120 gal reef tank will use a considerable amount of watts compared to the 55 gal freshwater tank. Thanks in advance for your advice and keep up the good work. <So...? Watts times amps equal watts... you can divide by 1000 to get kilowatts, multiply this value for all the electrics times your (in California "blended rate") charge for kilowatt hour... and get costs. The ampere rating for the circuits can be had by simply adding up the presumed amp loads as if all the gear were on at the same time... and shoot for a maximum of 60-80 percent of the rating of your breakers... Is this about what you're looking for? There are some other examples of such calculations on WetWebMedia.com, for pond pumps et al... Bob Fenner> Jim Fischer

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