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 and solar input 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 (conventional wisdom). 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 my time. Now I know what these batteries cost me around 2012 (around $1400 plus the cables (around $300), 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 then, now around $165) (any kind of solar controller is a must have, mostly to protect the batteries) and remote control (another $50 then) 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.
First the objective is pretty simple to me. Mostly it is grow some plants from seeds using a hot house I already have on the side porch on cottage next door. Now one can just go to the local hardware store or nursery these days and get some already growing plants, but this experiment is about just growing plants from seeds. Hence, for example, I don’t have to “heat” this hot house all year long, but will focus on the spring time before I plant whatever I am attempting to grow. The planting date around here is May 15th, by the way.
And I am attempting, in this experiment, to use a simple light bulb to provide both light and some heat during spring nights, too.
So back to the experiment. I used a 40 watt bulb that will run all night, like make light and heat, and it worked OK, to me. So last night I tried a 100 watt yellow bulb, and it worked OK, too. In this case even the battery bank I designed was less than topped off, like in a gas tank for your car, but the 100 watt bulb worked OK, like it ran all night long.
So the next try is to use a 150 watt bulb, and see what happens.
And last a quick review. My 250 watt chicken house heater bulb exhausted my battery bank in around 10 hours (my requirement is 14 hours), so I already know that is a kind of a top limit in my mind. So now how low will I go is the question? The quick answer right now is a 100 watt bulb, but the 150 watt bulb experiment is still coming, and to be announced as to results. Even I don’t know what will happen.
And I earlier tried a “chase the direct sun” method (the area is surrounded by tall trees but there are good direct sun spots on the ground during the day as the sun moves), but whole setup with the Marine deep cycle batteries came to over a 1,000 pounds(+) (450Kg(+)), and that was just too dangerous due to the threat of tipping. Now I could get some more heavy duty extensions cords (I already have 100 feet (31M) of them) and leave the battery bank in one place, but decided against doing that for now. Extension cords, like long distance transmission lines, introduce electrical losses, also. My intent is to best charge the battery bank, and not have extension cord losses. Last, I have two modified sine wave inverters (one primary and one backup) and one sine wave inverter without a backup. So I get some losses from these, also. I figure worse case I may have to get a DC style bulb (like in an RV motor home) for the hot house, but that is another experiment, too.
PS The solar plant is a backup to my micro hydro turbo plant, which makes considerably more electricity these days. That plant is a backup to TVA provided public electric power which is still affordable and pretty reliable. Worse casing TVA power goes down, then for the solar plant, I have adjusted my requirements to keeping my many rechargeable batteries topped off daily (mostly for security type things), and to do a once month electric shear powered haircuts (the manual shears just pinch too much to me). And now, and last, try “Squeeze” (probably by scheduling) heating my hot house in the spring time before planting season.