Rant Poem On DIY Solar

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Many Is Enough?

A solar poem.

One two three four five six seven eight

How many solar panels does it take?

Nine and ten and eleven and twelve

Now you’ll have to buy some shelves

Thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen

This is really getting extreme

Seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty

Quick the generator’s empty

 

 

The Rainbow Connection

The solar battery bank can be so confusing.

Five o’clock this afternoon, we get home in overcast weather and I, as usual, check the status of our new solar power system.

To my dismay, the voltage is only showing 11.9. Definitely not any sort of a charge. In fact, that’s about a 40 percent state of charge (SAC) of the batteries. Great big sigh. We thought we had everything up and running smoothly as of the other day; but not so fast.

Unless you have a professional or someone who’s experienced in solar technology do the job for you, be prepared for an onslaught of information in setting up your battery bank.

The battery bank or array is the place where all of that free energy will be stored until you use it. If it isn’t working properly, all of that sunshine is going somewhere besides your refrigerator. Setting it up and diagnosing problems can be overwhelming and confusing.

In my quest for guidance online, I’ve learned that the most talked about and hotly debated subject is the battery bank or array. I think it’s the Achilles Heel of most systems.

There is an overwhelming list of variables to consider and possible issues that may come up such as:

  • How to wire the batteries correctly
  • How many solar panels at how many watts are needed to recharge the bank in a day?
  • How many batteries will you need to meet your power needs?
  • How to calculate your power needs
  • How to equalize the batteries in your array or does your controller do that for you?
  • What type of battery is best and how much of it’s charge can you use to prevent rendering it useless?
  • How to tell if it’s useless (If even one battery is toast, you’ll have to go out and buy another four or eight, or however many all at once because they need to be put into commission at roughly the same time)
  • The energy losses inherent in the system also need to be factored in when either calculating your usage or production of electricity.
john-daines-1104736-unsplash (1)
Photo by John Daines on Unsplash

Try browsing any forum with a question and you’ll most likely discover that for every one asked you’ll find multiple answers from varying personality types such as:

  • The guy with the overly scientific approach who posts mathematical formulas broken down into several categories depending on the type battery, panel, geographical location and whether or not you like peanuts
  • The guy who just slams in a one-liner that “your batteries are dead, done, depleted, sulfated” (death sentence for a battery).

Which answer is right?

Since it appears we aren’t able to maintain a charge once we plug in, our next step is to check the batteries themselves to see if they are only carrying a surface charge. That is a temporary false state of charge that quickly diminishes after either a pull is introduced or it just sits for an hour at which point a second reading reveals a significant drop in voltage.

We’ve had batteries tested at various dealers while still carrying a surface charge and were told the battery was good. Then, upon asking for them to be retested later, they were found to be bad.

A properly working battery bank is crucial to a solar power system. They hold the juice until you need it but they can be complicated. Learn all you can about them and how to take care of them if you want to get the most efficient use of your solar setup.

Where does the rainbow connection come in? An old RV repairman recently barked at me after I asked how him how to do the wiring on a water pump. He snapped “red is red and black is black”. My ass it’s that simple. Electrical wiring might as well be rainbow colored.

 

 

 

Modern Day Pioneers

Simple daily tasks made complicated.

Clean clothes don’t come easily nor does most anything else when you live on raw land.  For everything it’s a process . A lot more of a process than just sticking the clothes into the washer and pushing a button.

Utilities are even more complicated. We have a solar, RV battery 12 volt, and gas generator system. Depends on what you want to do, how much electricity it’s going to take, the time of day, what’s broken, and what you happen to have on hand that day.

Want some coffee? If you’re like us and are out of propane in the dead of winter and need some caffeine, you’ll need either a blow torch or some firewood and fire building skills.

A bath? You want a bath? This is going to take some time. Put the pot on the stove and turn it on high and you’ll have your bath in about an hour. A shower? Maybe, if you can take one in less than five minutes and the generator has gas and the water pipes aren’t frozen. Oh, and if the trailer’s water tank is full enough after dishes.

But you need water for some of these things. That undertaking meant weeks of digging and breaking rock to get to it. We were so lucky to have natural springs on our property. Before the spring, we depended on city water and the neighbors.

All summer we drove our truck to the city water department to fill our 55 gallon drum every third day or so then one day in fall, the standpipe closed for the winter. Our neighbors came to the rescue for a few weeks and let us fill up at their outdoor faucet but it was incredibly laborious. Eventually we built a trench down the hill from our spring  to the hole we dug to act as a holding tank near our trailer. At that point we felt a new sense of independence and accomplishment. Surprisingly, the spring poured forth water all winter in plenty.

We still had to get the water into the trailer which we did by pumping it through a hose and adding a touch of bleach in the process. We used that water for dishes and showers while buying drinking water from the store.

As for the laundry, we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted to load everything up and drive into town to the laundry mat or just do it at the property. More often than not, we did it by hand at home.

If by hand, we’d first have to get the water into a tub or the bathtub, depending on whether or not it’s summer or winter. That involves (or involved as we’ve recently upgraded) using the water pump to move water from the holding tank/hole we dug in the ground. After filling up, we’d pile the clothes in and add the detergent. A clean plunger came in handy for sloshing the mix up. I’d then turn the container over to drain it and fill up again with fresh water for the rinse. The water would still be pretty much black but my standards were pretty low at that time.

For the wringing out, I’d drilled a bunch of holes in one of those Home Depot all purpose buckets and I’d put the clothes in, take my shoes off, and mash grapes; that is, climb on top and mush the water out of the holes with my feet. It worked relatively well. Then for the clothes line we’d strung up between two trees. There the clothes would most likely get rained on.

The clothes would be anything but soft by the time I took them down and into the trailer. They would be completely wrinkled, still stained, and crispy. But hey, they were mostly clean and better than they were before. They would then sit on the couch in our cramped trailer for another week before I grudgingly sorted through them and put them away.

Some things always remain the same whether or not you have a washer and dryer. Folding and hanging clothes and putting them away is death. You avoid it at all costs. I have a pile of laundry that’s been sitting around for a week as I’m typing this.

The shower/bath thing was difficult because the water heater on our original trailer is fucked up. I tried to fix it so many times but we’d have to time it once we activated it and then you’d have to be ready to jump into the shower at exactly 12 minutes in order to catch the window between the water being ice cold still and the water heater boiling over outside. It was almost a skill; timing a shower. The heater is still messed up but we have one that works in the new fifth wheel.

Now let’s get to electrical systems. We’re still tweaking our solar power system and may have already ruined our batteries by depleting them by more than 50 percent but we’re hoping not. We run on solar mainly at night and in the mornings at this point as we just don’t have enough panels to generate what we need. We ordered our third set of solar panels this morning and added a new controller to the existing 8 panels this afternoon. We still need to see how adding the new controller to the mix contributes tomorrow when the sun comes out again. We were running all 8 panels through one controller until we found out it was too small to handle the amps (or watts or volts or something like that).

At this point though, we can’t run our electric refrigerator on solar so we unplug it and try to stay out of the fridge until we start the generator. If it’s plugged in when we plug in the solar, we lose our internet. That’s where the protocol comes in. Many things we do here involve using a set order of tasks we have to follow in order for things to go smoothly.

When the generator goes on, remove the plug from the inverter, turn it off, unplug the fridge, plug in at the generator itself. Then you can do laundry and use the microwave. When that’s reversed, unplug the fridge and replug into the inverter. Make sure the laundry’s done and anything you want to microwave is done. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned off the generator only to realize we wanted to microwave something. We ordered a propane fridge today. Finally.

If the solar has flopped in the middle of the night and you want to use the internet and/or your computer needs juice, turn on the other inverter back by the RV batteries, and plug the modem into that extension cord.

Does this all sound exhausting? It is. Thank God things are improving day by day. I now have a washer/dryer in the fifth wheel along with a shower that works.

And we have hot water for the kitchen now! The repairman came today and turned the temperature dial to cooler. That was the only thing wrong with it!

Done.