Lessons learned so far on the Hemlocks solar electric plant (as presently setup)
1. It is working, like making some electricity from sunshine.
2. My intent remains the same, like live better than Abraham Lincoln had it during his youth in Illinois.
3. Direct light, like in a desert is best, but indirect light, like on a typical cloudy day makes some electricity, too; just not as much. The present setup uses more indirect sunlight. Once the sun goes down, of course there is no solar electricity being made. That’s when the battery bank comes into play.
4. And one should clean their solar panels about every three months as things like spring pollen will collect on them and cut down the solar input. Cleaning the solar panels made a perceptible difference in my own observations at the Hemlocks.
5. It took (by my present setups) around three years to fully charge my battery bank. Now to add a perspective, is also took around three years to figure out the best times to collect Tennessee maple sap, too. The sap only runs seasonally is my excuse for the long time. The best time is around late December to early February, depending on the weather. In New England, where most maple syrup still comes from, it is around a month later.
6. The present battery bank consists of six (6) marine type (think boats) and deep cycle batteries, with a bunch of 3 AWG (thick) battery cables to interconnect them all.
7. So I cheated some today, and am using TVA electric power to more quickly boost the battery bank up, and it seems to be working. The charge rate is set on 6 amps right now. The sunshine presently is making 1.3 amps.
8. Using the over and short method, the battery bank will run a 40 watt bulb forever, but a 250 watt chicken house infrared heater bulb will run the present battery bank down in around 10 hours. I’ll try a 100 watt regular bulb next, and see what happens. My intent is to heat the hot house with the bulbs providing the heat. And growing juvenile plants from seeds is another subject, too. And the hair cutting electric shears seem to run for a very long time (like more than any routine haircut time), too. I have used the manual shears in my past, and just prefer to avoid them right now. The tended to “pinch” too much.
9. I don’t think the battery bank will need replacing before around the year of 2020 or so. Most batteries need replacing around every 8 years or so. Now I may have some corrosion problems on my connections, but that is something I can work on just using simple sand paper and an hour or two of time. Now I know what these batteries cost me around 2012 (around $1300 plus the cables (around $250), but what they will cost me in 2020 (assuming I can still get them and the cables will still be OK) is up for grabs in my mind.
10. The directions on the made in China MPPT solar controller (around $125) (any kind of solar controller is a must have) and remote control (another $50) are lacking to me. Now whether that is due to translation problems, or marketing problems, I cannot tell right now. Hence I have to experiment a bunch, and then try figure things out. And being a Marine, I am a slow learner, too.
11. And last, if it sounds like I don’t really know what I am doing, that is probably a reasonable reaction to this report.
12. So right now I would guess this. If you want to go 100% solar for your own power, be prepared to make some lifestyle changes; and move to the desert, assuming you can get water. In the same vein, if you want to live a little better than Abraham Lincoln in his youth time, then the Hemlocks may end up being an OK place.