June 2003 Archives

The big tall new toy

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Spent the day working on a job for a client, but still ran into the back room every hour to check on the wind generator, batteries, and charger. For the first part of the day we had both sun and wind, but as of yet we still don't really know how much power we're getting off the wind generator at any given time. Dad hooked my multimeter up to the DC outputs on the controller box so we can see how many volts we're getting, the high was around 57VDC, and the average, seems to be in the 50VDC range. But it's not just the volts that are important, it's the watts, and both rise and fall according to the wind speed.

We'll learn, and we've got a new metering system coming very soon.

Took the dogs for a nice long walk around the land tonight, beautiful night, not too many bugs, and everything is green green green. 'Course I just walked around looking up at the tower, 'cause it's the cool new toy.

Oh, and I took the camera.

The Tower Part Two: Turbine

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It's up. J.P. flipped the switch at 5:00pm last evening and we started generating power. There wasn't really much wind, so we weren't generating very much power, but it was very gratifying none-the-less. We got a bit more wind later that night and I stood outside for a while, and when it's really spinning you can just barely hear the turbine down at the house. Unfortunately there is no meter of any sort on the wind generator controller box in the house so I have ordered a separate meter to track the wind power.

The cable that runs from the tower to the house has three 2 guage aluminum wires: a positive, negative, and neutral line, each consisting of five strands. The entire cable is about 1" in diameter. Dad and Simon set the spool (of 650') up on blocks so that it could unwind as they pulled. Then the dragged the cable through the bush behind the house, across the little valley, and up the steepest part of the back hill. I helped for the last little bit, then helped pull an extra twenty feet through from the house. Seriously hard work. We had exactly enough wire, barely a foot to spare. When Eric comes to put in the septic bed (next week) he's going to bury the cable.

While Dad and Simon ran the cable, J.P., Jason, and I made some adjustments to the tower. Two of our anchors weren't lined up properly and we needed to add an adjustable turnbuckle to allow us to drop the tower, when the lines are tensioned. By the time we had that done Simon and Dad were back and weall started working on attching the generator, running the wire up the tower, and attaching the junction box at the bottom of the tower.

While we raised the tower, Dad and Simon went back down to the house and started working on the inside wiring. And then the yell came from below: "Turn off the brake!"

Here's the pictures.

The Tower Part One: Erection

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We could not have asked for a better day to raise the tower. 22 degrees, nice breeze, warm sun and clear blue skies. The breeze helped keep the black flies and deer flies away, mostly.

Simon and J.P. from Generation Solar were here to provide the know-how, my father, and myself to help. It took us four trips up the hill with the truck to carry all the pipe and tools. We had seven lengths of schedule 40 pipe (from Turkey, oddly enough), two at 22 feet, five at 18 feet. Five of the pieces were for the tower proper, and two were for the Gin pole. It turned out we had to clear a bunch of brush to make way for the guy wires. You try to be green and you still end up cutting down trees!

It took us from 10am to 5pm to assemble, raise and tension the tower properly. Next week we'll lower the tower and attach the wind generator. Then the real fun begins.

Rather than try and explain the whole process I have annotated the pictures. Enjoy.

No more safety net

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We've got our phone and water (thanks Simon!!) back. The phone line was fixed with a quick underground splice, and Simon fixed the pump by turning it off, and then on again. Which, I would like it noted, Dad and I both did several times over the previous 24 hours, but apparently not with the years of experience, and skill that Simon alone posesses. Now we're coming to terms with having to keep a very close eye on our energy consumption since we don't have a generator to fall back on anymore.

Yesterday was pretty interesting, since it had been cloudy the day before, and yesterday was cloudy and rainy, our battery voltage was dropping slowly as the day wore on. We had friends over and with just the iPod and stereo running we were drawing one or two amps. But for most of the day we were only producing

two amps from the solar panels. By dinner time the battery voltage had dropped down to about 46.5 volts. Our low voltage cut off is at 43 volts, that's when the inverter shuts down to protect the batteries from damage due to excessive discharge. 43 volts is a pretty big buffer zone, and we could probably let it drop down to 40 before we did any damage to the batteries, but while we learn I prefer to play it safe.

We got through the night, and woke to a beautiful sunny day. Right now the batteries are charging at 8 amps and we're up to 50.5 volts of charge (full charge is around 54 volts). We've also done two loads of laundry, which we felt safe doing, since it's supposed to be sunny for the next three days. Since we have no dryer it's all hanging in the gallery to dry. At this time of year our peak electrical production time is between 10:30am and 3:30pm. In that period we seem to hold a steady 8-10 amps depending on haze. Our record so far is 11 amps, but that was on a super cold February day, with a piercingly clear blue sky. In February you only get about four hours of useful sunshine, total, so that peak is pretty short term.

Right now the solar hot water system is also running full tilt, and the return water temperature is 70C (170F). More than hot enough for domestic hot water. We've noticed that the boiler rarely comes on anymore, even though it's still restricted to only operating every other hour. I've set the thermostats down to 15C so the radiant floor system will only come on if it gets fairly chilly.

We've got all of the computers, appliances, and stereo on switched power bars. The problem with all of these devices in an off-grid home is that they present phantom loads of one sort or another. What does that mean? Well many appliances, VCRs, stoves, microwaves, etc, have clocks built into them, these clocks are always on, and always draw a little power. TVs have electronics to keep the picture tube pre-heated, this makes the TV come on quicker when you push the ON button, the same circuitry exists some of my stereo components. Individually these loads are very small, but when you add them all together they are much more significant, they also conspire to keep the inverter out of search mode. When the inverter is on it uses about 10 watts.

But the big surprise for us the the sheer number of things that we own that require chargers. Cordless phone, iPod, digital camera, laptop, cordless tools, cellphone... yikes!! So when we woke up today I plugged in all the chargers to get everything topped up. The benefit to all these devices of course, is that yesterday I could use my computer, and tools without effecting the batteries. The cordless phone though, is a write-off. It doesn't seem to hold any kind of charge, so my original idea of just plugging it in when the phone rings doesn't work. This is a problem because we only have one working corded phone, so when it rings you have to jog to that one phone.

On Friday the insurance adjuster came out with two contractors to look at the damage done by the generator. They're going to replace the soffits, plaster, window, flashing, window bucks, and the portion of the ICF foam that melted, but they are not going to replace the generator (I'm not sure why, I'm going to get that clarified). We will be approaching the manufacturer because the beast is still under warranty, but I just have a feeling that an excuse will be made not to warranty it. We certainly can't afford to buy another right now, so we really will be flying without a net. And you know what? I'm kind of excited at the idea.

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