On The Brink

Our near death experience on the road last night.

We had our first snow yesterday. We were sitting in our truck ready to go to town and there they were; the first few flakes of the year.

Here it comes – Snowmaggedon – and slippery-as-hell roads.

The county and city road clearing crews are, for the most part, prepared but some things you just can’t fix…or can you?

We were headed back from town at about 5:30pm last evening when we started up the main road that goes to our intersection. This section of road is part of a big loop and the side we were traversing was washed out completely about a year and a half ago. We had to go the long way around to get to our turn near the washed-out side.

It seemed like forever before the county cleaned up the mess left by the landslide and finished the repairs. We were so happy! After it was completed, I can’t tell you how many times we turned the wrong way to go the long way to town before we remembered “our side” was now open. The new route saved us about five miles one way.

The road is a fairly steep winding grade up the hillside with a very steep slope dropping off hundreds of feet to the side before ending at a creek. A few months ago, someone stole a vehicle and pushed it over the edge where it careened to the bottom, leaving it smashed in the front, it’s doors wide open. Imagine if someone had been inside?

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Yesterday, we drove up the road slowly and I cringed when I saw the ice ahead. Sure enough, as soon as we hit it, we began to slide.

I covered my eyes and my heart began to pound. My husband continued to maneuver the truck slowly up the grade but we lost traction one more time and started to slide toward the edge. I completely freaked out and just prayed we would stop before we went over.

It seemed like forever after we regained traction and slowly crept up the remaining length of the road to the top.

We’ll never go that way again until spring or until they put guard rails up.

Did I mention – there are no guardrails!

As we topped the hill, my husband pulled over to put the truck into four wheel drive for the trip up our driveway and we noticed another vehicle across the street pulled over with a woman outside of it. My husband told her what had happened then told me she had just had the same experience as us while driving up the hill.

When we got home, I called the city, not understanding it was a county matter. I wanted to warn someone right away of the treacherous condition of the road. Someone was bound to go over the edge sooner or later. I had my husband call 911 too as I was only able to leave a message.

I posted about our experience on Facebook and asked the question “Does anyone else think this road should have a guard rail?”. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The general sentiment was that the people wanted one but the engineer who designed the new road had left enough extra space in the shoulder on the drop-off side to negate the necessity of having a guard rail.

Insane. The so-called shoulder is nothing but a steep slope that is in no way safe to pull over onto under any conditions let alone stop you after you’ve lost control of your vehicle and are sliding towards the edge.

Someone will die on that road.

My son rides the school bus that way and I’m calling the school to warn them and urge them to change the route. In the meantime, we’re going to have to pick him up from school every day and give him a ride home.

I wrote the county an email also. My husband and I will not be going in that direction until something is done. I just hope the county takes this seriously and either closes the road or puts up a guard rail before it’s too late.

If we want to plunge down a slope at breakneck speed, we want to be on a sled.

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s been a couple of months since we bought our solar power system and we’ve noticed a big problem that seems to run across the DIY industry: the kits don’t have a built-in low voltage disconnect (LVD) for the AC part of the set up.

Solar kits run both AC and DC loads. The AC is the one you would use for your home. It’s strong enough to run the big appliances. The DC is stuff you run right off of your batteries like when you go camping.

With batteries, if you deplete them too much, they become damaged and their lifespan is shortened significantly.

Our solar power kit came with charge controllers that have a low voltage disconnect (LVD). It cuts the draw from the batteries at a certain voltage to protect the battery but ours only turns off the DC load – the part we don’t use.

The inverter that came with our solar kit turns off the load at 10.5 volts – way too late.

Because we thought everything was being monitored, our batteries ran well below fifty percent many times. We wonder if they’re ruined.

I bought a generic LVD from another company and installed it but it stopped working, possibly because it couldn’t handle the amount of amps going through it. I was warned that might happen.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. One option we have is to buy an inverter that is programmable but they’re super expensive.  We now have no way to monitor the batteries but we kind of don’t care. I’m tired of messing with this stuff for now. I need a break so we’re back to using the gas generators until everything is running smoothly.

Here’s another thing to be aware of if you live in an RV: when you’re adding up how many watts the various appliances use per hour, don’t forget  you’re charging the RV batteries also.

I had a ball trying to figure out how many watts it takes per hour to charge fifty percent of two batteries. I’d share the formula but I lost the paper with my notes on it.

The solar kits come with a battery thermometer that plugs into the charge controller. The temperature probe gets taped onto the side of the battery to let the charge controller know how much energy to use to charge the battery, depending on whether it’s super cold or hot. They’re not mandatory but they make charging more efficient.

There are a lot of variables that impact the functioning of a solar power system. If one part isn’t running or working well, there goes the whole thing until you track down the problem.

I believe a low voltage disconnect is the most important part by far. Batteries are expensive. Every DIY kid should have one built into the AC part of the system.

I love having solar but the truth is it’s been a huge pain in the but to set up properly.

This poem says it all:  Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

How Many Is Enough?

A solar poem.

One two three four five six seven eight

How many solar panels does it take?

Nine and ten and eleven and twelve

Now you’ll have to buy some shelves

Thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen

This is really getting extreme

Seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty

Quick the generator’s empty

 

 

Good Things To Know About Batteries For Your Solar Power System

Hint: You get half of what you pay for.

It’s five o’clock in the afternoon and as soon as we got home I, as usual, check the status of our new solar power system.

To my dismay, the charge controllers are only showing that the batteries have a 11.9 volt charge or forty percent state of charge (SAC). They should never be discharged below fifty percent.

It appears as if the batteries are either not charging or they are not holding a charge. To find out, we’ll have to test them. It’s also overcast and when there are multiple possible causes, the fun begins.

When we bought the solar power system we learned a lot about deep-cycle batteries (their are other types you can use for solar) including the fact that you’re only supposed to discharge them no lower than fifty-percent. If you do, the battery won’t work as well the next time around and it’ll get worse the more times you over-discharge them.

So basically, when you buy one battery you’re buying one-half of a battery and you only get to use half of the amp hours listed on the label if you don’t want to ruin it.

Plan to buy twice as many batteries as you think you’ll need.

But wait, there’s more.

The batteries are where all of that free energy will be stored until you use it. If it isn’t set up properly, all of that sunshine is going somewhere besides your refrigerator. It’s a good idea to learn a little about them if you’re going solar.

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Setting up a battery array can be confusing and the topic of batteries in general, is hotly debated in the online forums. Some issues you will have to deal with are:

  • How to connect them correctly (there are many different configurations).
  • How many solar panels at how many watts per panel will you need per battery to charge them each day?
  • How many batteries will you need to meet your power needs?
  • How to calculate how much power you’ll need.
  • How to equalize the batteries in your array or does your controller do that for you?
  • What is equalization?
  • What type of battery is best and how much of it’s charge can you use to prevent rendering it useless?
  • How to tell if it’s useless (one bad battery will compromise the performance of the rest)

Try browsing any forum looking for answers and you’ll find certain personality types:

  • The guy with the overly scientific approach who posts mathematical formulas broken down into several categories depending on the type battery, panels, geographical location and whether or not you like peanuts.
  • The guy who gets right to the point; “your batteries are dead, done, depleted, sulfated.”
  • The poor newbie who dared ask a question without all of the information needed for the first guy to apply his scientific formulas.

Another thing we didn’t know about batteries is that they may be bad but appear to be good if you don’t test them the right way. A surface charge is the false reading a bad battery will have right after it’s fully charged – but it’s temporary. Make sure you test a battery at least four hours (preferably twenty-four), after it’s been fully charged in order to get an accurate result.

We’ve had batteries tested at stores that had a surface charge showing they were full that, when tested later, dropped volts – they were bad.

We’ll test our batteries and if they’re good, the problem lies elsewhere in the system.

Learn the basics about batteries before you buy a DIY solar power system. It’ll help you to not ruin them like we may have ours. Not everything is in the instruction manual.

And get a low-voltage-disconnect to protect them from over discharging. HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar