Saturday, September 10, 2011

1-9 September, 2011 Solar Panels, Farmer's Markets, and Making Do

The last week has gone by quickly it seems.  There's been quite a bit going on but we haven't documented it well with photos.  The garden is winding down now so Susan is harvesting potatoes and other crops.  Our potatoes did very poorly this year.  It's a good thing we have so much dried and canned from previous years.  It was probably a combination of a late, cold and wet spring and a lack of moisture in the summer.  We didn't get our first frost until last week which is really late for us.  Usually we get our first frost around mid-August.  The raspberries are about done and the yellow jackets have arrived in force to finish off the rest of them.  I'm beginning to get my wood cutting gear set up so I can begin cutting firewood next week.  The problem is that the fire danger is high which limits the times I can cut wood.  It's going to be a busy fall.
The cat is at her post making sure the baby chicken stays in the pen.  We bring it into the house at night to protect it from the cold.

Here it's in the pen outside where it can soak up some sun and scratch around like a real chicken.

We got some more finished on Barbara and Victor's cabin.  I put the upstairs window in, closed off the upstairs door and put the new door in the lower floor.  They've been putting up the drywall.  I need to help on the stairs, install the chimey and wood burning stove, shingle the roof and install the soffit and trim boards then our part is finished.  The rest will be up to them.  The chimney support kit arrived yesterday so we can get the wood stove installed next week.

The dog and cat had a chipmunk cornered outside.  It zigged when it should have zagged and the dog ended up with it. 

This was the major project of the week.  Here I'm removing the last solar panel from the tower in preparation of expanding the system.  I backed the truck up to the tower and put a couple of sheets of plywood on the rack for scaffolding.  It worked great except the springs on the truck made things a bit wobbly at times.  It reminded me of working on ship back in my USMC days.

All of the panels are off and it's time to begin measuring and welding.

I've installed the extra framework and am now putting the first solar panel back on.  I'd already assembled the upper frame so I just had to place it and weld it.  I then had to add some bracing on the back.  We went from three, 130 watt panels and one 65 watt panel to four 135 watt panels and three 130 watt panels on this frame.  Our total maximum output is now around 40 amps.  We're using the old 100 watt panel on the camper and I'll put the 65 watt panel on my workshop.

Solar panels are rated kind of odd.  The 135 watt panels only produce 97 watts at 15.5 vollts while the 65 watt panel produces 65 watts at 15.5 volts.  The difference is that the panels are rated maximum watts at maximum volts but in a 12 volt system the voltage must be limited to protect the batteries so you can't utilize all the power produced by the panels.  The maximum voltage of the 65 watt panel is 15.5 volts so it can use all the power it's capable of producing.  The maximum voltage of the 135 watt panels is 18.5 volts so the only way they'll ever produce the whole 135 watts of power is by going to a grid tie system or a different voltage/battery/inverter combination.  It's something to think about if you plan on going to solar power.

The next-to-the-last panel going up.

All seven panels in place and wired.

Note the re-inforcing done to the panel's framework.  I still need to build the bracing to keep the wind from toppling it over.

I use primarily old bed frames from the dump for my steel framework.  Here, while the generator is going, Victor is grinding off rivet heads so we can more easily disassemble the "feet" from the rails.

Because we increased the surface area by installing the two extra panels I decided to add some bracing to the ground to reinforce the main tower against high winds.  We didn't have any cement to anchor the legs so I cut an old propane bottle in half and used the pieces as "feet" for the bottom of the legs.  The idea being that they'd keep the legs from working deeper into the ground from a south or west wind and also function as anchors so that a north wind couldn't pull them out of the ground.  We'll see how it works!

I ran out of daylight before finishing so I covered the holes with plywood and the ladders and covered the mounds of dirt with the wheel barrows (to keep the dog and chickens from digging up the loose dirt).

Finally finished.  I still have more planned for the battery bank and inverters but the tower and panels are up and operational.

Susan rode her bicycle into Eureka for the farmer's market on Wednesday.  It's about twenty miles each way.  All except our three miles is on the pavement over rolling hills.

On the trailer she has her table, chair, table cloth, umbrella and a box with raspberry plants she's selling.  On the bike in her saddle bags she has more stuff including soap, hot-pads, and dried huckleberries.  People showed interest in the box but it's one out of our root cellar that we store potatoes and carrots in.  It wasn't for sale.

Everything you see there (except the youngster!) was carried in 20 miles on her bicycle!

Ah ... car repairs again.  We went to Kalispell to take care of some things and ended up helping one of the kids look for a car.  They bought it so Susan went back the next day to help them with the paperwork, licensing, etc.  Our car broke down  after she got there (the alternator quit working).  So ... she drove their second vehicle home and a couple of days later I went back with her to get our vehicle.  I charged up an extra battery then we charged up the battery in the Cherokee and we drove it home that afternoon.  I was pretty sure the brushes were shot in the alternator so I tapped on the alternator and it started charging again for the drive home.  It quit before we got home but we were close enough to drive in on battery power by then.  I took the alternator apart and our local NAPA store couldn't get just the brushes but they'd sell me a remanufactured alternator for $120.00.  I called the Car Quest parts store in town and they found a set of brushes for $22.00 plus $2.50 in postage.  Susan rode her bicycle back into Eureka to pick them up a couple of days later.  If they'd have been any higher I'd have found a way to solder in a set from another alternator I had laying around.  I'd have had to do some reshaping with a file but probably could have done it.  Anyway, the alternator is back together and charging like a champ ... until something else breaks!

Now since the picture above is a dimmer switch, not an alternator, some further explanations are in order.  The dimmer switch is off my one-ton Dodge pickup I use for hauling firewood.  The headlights haven't worked since I bought it so I finally remembered to check them out.  It was the dimmer switch as I suspected so rather than buy an new one I thought I'd try to fix the old one.  Many times when they go bad the plastice around the terminals is melted away but this one seemed to be in good shape so I thought I'd try to fix it.  The most likely place for problems when disassembling them is the aluminum housing where it's crimped around the plastic terminal insert.  I managed to spread the crimp out without breaking the aluminum and the rest was easy.  You can see in the photo the carboned terminals in the switch. ...

I used a piece of sandpaper to clean them up then put it back together again.

I got lucky again and the aluminum housing held together when I crimped everything back together.  It works great now although I had to clean up one of the terminals in the wiring connector to get a good connection.

When we were in Kalispell we took this picture of a squirrel teasing a dog.  The squirrel would run around the tree then hide when the dog hit the end of it's chain.  The quirrel was having a great time ... don't know if the dog was or not!

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