I've got a 3 tiered stand that I made just over a year ago that uses gravity to feed everything (keggles for HLT and BK, cooler with braid for MLT). I've got about 30batches on it and am really pleased with how much more efficient it has made me in my process, but I've gotten way more obsessed with the hobby than I was planning for when I built the stand. I'm in process of adding pumps and going to upgrade it to a HERMS system. I've got another 2 kegs that can can be converted and was thinking of really upgrading the system and trying to get some automation / temperature control.
I would like to add a nice control panel with controllers. The one on http://theelectricbrewery.com/
is bad ass. Right now I use 55,000 BTU jet burners with 20lb propane and a regulator. From reading some posts on the honeywell intermittent valves, I don't think my burners would work.
Going all electric isn't all that appealing due to adding 2 runs of 30A service to my garage and putting a GFI in there for each circuit. I could switch which element is on and just get by with 1 run, but I regularly do multiple batches at the same time and then I'd need a way to heat either the HLT or BK (i.e. mash in the next batch while boiling to cut down on the clean up time vs brew time).
I'm thinking of running 1 circuit to the Garage using 4 conductor wire so it could power the HLT and the control panel equipment, pumps, etc. I'd convert the HLT to electric, add a new keggle mash tun and get rid of my cooler since I'd be able to maintain temp and step mash. For the BK, is there a simple valve I could install with a pilot and use my current burner? Do the ASKO valves just require a constant 120V or 24V signal (i.e. could they be switched on) and then use some type of constant spark device to light the thing? Another pet peeve I have is to get down on the ground to light the burner all the time. I wouldn't be comfortable just using a bbq igniter, it would have to be one that you could hold down and get coninuous spark.
Anyway, I'm brainstorming right now to figure out which way I should go. I figured there are people here who have gone through similar progressions and could provide some insight. Thanks in advance for the help!
Ok, a couple of things for you to consider... To decide whether to go gas or electric, you really just have to as yourself one thing. Do you ever want to go to a brewout. I take my rig on the road a couple of times a year, so that was easy. If you are a stationary brewer - there are lots of advantages to electric, and some drawbacks, as well. I think that electric is safer for automation. You can even put your HLT on a timer and have it come up to temp before you wake up. There are no bottles of propane to buy and lug around, and no danger of CO poisoning. Both setups require ventilation. Yes, you do need to make sure that you protect yourself with sufficient grounding and GFI circuits. Do it once... done...
Besides the non-mobility, the biggest problem I see with electric kettles is all the carmelization. All this is speculative. I don't have an electric kettle - but every picture I see of one has a burnt on layer of caramel. You can easily do a hybrid system (electric for HLT and RIMs) and do a conventional burner for the kettle. I'm with you on the lighting. It's a pain in the ass. I don't think an expensive intermittent pilot is necessary for the kettle. #1, you have to be using low pressure burners (wok) which aren't very adjustable, and #2, once it is ON, it stays on until you are done. You can find those electric (not mechanical) sparkers for your grill that take a small battery and produce a continuous spark the whole time the button is held. That's probably sufficient. You wouldn't want a standing pilot on the BK because #1) you'd have to manaully light it, and #2) the pilots do put out some heat - enough that you don't want to have an empty kettle on top of a pilot burner, and again #3) you don't turn it on an off once it is going. You need to power an ASCO valve the whole time you want it open. For convenience, I have my BK on an ASCO with a switch, and I manually light it with the piezo electric ignitor mentioned above.
Many people I know use PIDs or Rancos for their mash automation (like in theelectricbrewery.com), but I would urge you to consider something like the BrewTroller. It has a lot of functionality built in and can control almost everything or minimal pumps and burners, depending on how much tinkering you want to do. And, it's the same price as two PIDs anyway...