so I ran the hard pipe to the 12v solar powered pump and into the water heater. She works but she ain’t pretty…yet! Stay tuned.
Last week I ordered a 3 DVD (4 hour) program on off-grid PV installation and maintenance (I will be doing a review and recommendation soon) and one thing it reminded me of (although I already knew, but was sucessfully ignoring) is the need for disconnects and fuses between my PV array, charge controller, battery bank and inverter(s). What these do is not only allow me to isolate certain parts of the system, but it also provides a barrier of protection in the form of fuses that will blow in case of a large burst of current going through the system, stopping it before it gets anywhere else. So this morning, in 21 degree weather (wanted to do this while the panels were getting no power) I installed the first of my safety upgrades: a disconnect between the PV array and and charge controller.
Since I was mounting the disconnect to a 3.5″ surface I had two holes at the bottom of the box that are typically used for screws when mounting to the side of a house. Using those holes I ran the positive from one panel and the negative from the other (the other + and – I tied together to run the panels in series and double the voltage to my battery bank) through the holes like this
I think it looks great this way, though there is nothing to protect the wire insulation from rubbing against the metal so I will need to rig something up to give it more protection. Inside the box I customized it, taking out the ground bar since I am dealing with DC electricity and that gave me more room to run the thick panel wires to my line lugs. This line runs through two 35 amp fuses to get to the load lugs. I ran a piece of Romex through a piece of Carflex (that I had recycled from a job a while back) and after tying the Romex into the load lugs I ran it with two water tight connection to my battery box. Here is the inside of the disconnect
and here is how it connects to the battery box through the Carflex
and this is how it looks when it’s all closed up
OK, that’s that. Until next time…
So the newest unemployment numbers were positive in that we added almost a quarter million jobs in January and as someone who knows the value of work and of a paycheck I am really happy that so many people once again have that security that is so precious to me and mine. I have to be honest, however, that a “healthy” economy scares me and I will tell you why. Like so many others my family had been interested in the idea of conservation and self sufficiency for quite some time, but had remained neutral in our actions due to a life that was just too damn convenient to make too many changes to. As a result we let the dryer dry our clothes and the hot water heater heat our water and…well, you get the point. It wasn’t until The Great Recession that we started seriously looking at our life and how we effect and are effected by nature and really started questioning the value of relying on an unreliable grid and clever machinery to do all the inconvenient things that have to be done to make a household run smoothly. As a result we have made some changes and have much bigger changes on the way. Changes that make our lives more in tune with our environment and make us much more self sufficient. I feel that many, many others have moved in much the same direction that we have and have made changes that help not only our earth but also the lives of themselves and their children. What I am afraid of is that some of those people that have made these changes have done so because of surplus time or anemic funds and when hiring ramps back up and consumerism once again regains the godlike hold on us we will simply go back to work and forget all about environmentalism and self sufficiency, too comforted by the warm arms of consumerism once again. We will go to work and save and dream of all the things that money can buy, forgetting all the things that money can’t buy. As for me and mine we have made a conscious decision to stay on this ship until it sinks and I just wonder when the water is calm and oh so inviting will you jump ship?
So before I write about the fridge thing I want to report that it rained last night and I got off of work early today and, noticing a full rain barrel and knowing that it is going to rain more this weekend, I cranked up the on demand water heater and took an insanely long shower. It was awesome, but used a ton of energy from my battery bank which shortened my son’s TV time. Sorry dude.
OK, now onto the fridge issue. With our budget we cannot really go off grid and have a fridge anytime soon. I mean really. It would take tons of power to keep that guy running all day and night and we do not have a large solar array or a huge battery bank to store the energy even if we did, so in reality it’s time to break ourselves of the fridge. The plan is that we are going to get a large cooler and keep our milk and meats in it while buying only enough fruits and veggies to last a few days. Now, we have a few advantages: my wife works next to both a farmers market and a supermarket and can get things by walking across a parking lot AND she also works behind a bar that “burns” ice off every night (meaning they take scalding hot water and pour it on the ice to melt it) so we are going to get our hands on that ice and keep our cooler nice and cold. Sound cool? We’ll see. Until next time…
OK, so besides my solar panels I am doing tons of other things to address energy usage and want to mention a few of them here and will be mentioning many more in coming posts.
Probably the most important single thing that I have in my arsenal of energy saving tools is a power monitor. I have mentioned it in a previous post, but want to elaborate on it. A power monitor is basically an analyzer that attaches to your meter and reads how much energy usage you are using and have used since you last reset the display. Upon setup you enter the price you are paying per kWh so it will also tell you how much money you will be paying the bastards since you last reset the display. Here is a pic of the display, which is mounted to my wall just above my thermostat.
*Note that in the pic I am currently using zero kWh…which is the goal. It is showing that I have used 36 kWh since I last reset it, which was about 4 days ago.
If you are intested in this nifty little device you can get it at a great price here but I would also try ebay, as sometimes you find great prices on them there as well.
OK, so now that I can watch my power one of my biggest concerns is heating my house, since it is New Years Eve that I am writing this. Now a few years ago we replaced our electric baseboard heating with a heatpump, but this year I have gone even further by getting a kerosene heater. Why would I get a kerosene heater when I have a heatpump? Well kerosene burns much cleaner than coal, which is the main source of electricity here in NC. Also, robbing the power company of dollars is always a win in my book (even though I am now giving my money to big oil. Oh well, one day I will have a wood burning stove.)
Anyway, here is a pic of the kerosene heater that I bought:
This monster is a 23,000 BTU heater that does a great job heating our 800 sf. condo. If you will notice I have my air return grill behind it so that at night once the living room area is blazing I can kick the blower motor on and circulate the warm air throughout the house. I do turn it off when we go to bed and set the heatpump, but it runs very little. They say that these things produce carbon monoxide and I’m sure that some do, though mine hasn’t produced any yet so I trust it while awake, but once again don’t go to sleep with one of these bad boys running.
The last big change that I have done lately is turning the electric hot water heater off at the breaker box at night and when we all leave for the day. This is not advisable for too long as it makes the breaker weaker the more you use it, so I will be installing a timer but the point is I don’t want water remaining hot when I will not be using it anytime soon. When I wake up in the morning and take a shower the water is still hot from the night before (almost the 120 degrees I have it set for on the water heater thermostat) so it takes a long time for water to lose it’s heat when the hot water heater is off. I, of course, have a blanket on my water heater. Do you?
Until next time…
These are my new 100 watt solar panels. I built the platform out of treated 2X4s and have that bolted to my deck. What is not in the picture is my battery bank (which I had to pull out to mount the platform). In that bank I have two deer cycle marine batteries running through a 10 amp charge controller and off of them I have a 400 watt inverter. Basically off of them I am currently running my TV, VCR, DVD Player, cable box, kitchen lights and charging our kindles and cell phones. Not much, but until I get a large inverter (I am saving up for a 10,000 watt inverter) then it will have to stay small. To be honest because of the lack of sun where I live (which I have bitched about numerous times on this blog) the panels cant really handle much more of a load. Some of the requirements for our next place (we rent but may buy soon) is that the place has, or that we can install, a wood burning stove, that it has propane or natural gas (or that we can run one of those) and that it has plenty of sun. I want a tiny house (700-1000 square feet). I have years of experience in construction and am currently in the HVAC industry so if we can get the land I can make the rest happen very cheap. Anyway, that’s that.
Ok, so my little blog here is mainly due to the fact that I can find very little online that caters to people like me. Oh, what kind of person am I? I’m a guy that hates paying tons of money to power companies knowing that what I am paying for is power that is derived from coal that is derived from blowing the tops off of mountains. I am a guy that wants to be self sufficient and is taking small steps to be more and more so. I am also a guy that has a small family and so most of my money is accounted for. It’s very easy to get all kinds of info on solar panels and alternative energy if you have $40,000 or more to throw down. I do not and maybe you do not but maybe you feel the same way I do and maybe that is why you are reading this. That is why you should be reading this. I am writing this for people like you and me and most of America. This blog will be about my experiments in clean, renewable energy and other ways in which to screw the power companies and slowly pry, finger by finger, that grip that they have on us. Join me?