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

 

 

 

 

Solar: Heading For The Promised Land Of Free Energy

Well, free after it pays for itself

We are on the road to the promised land of free energy, although we haven’t arrived yet.

The road has been paved with mistakes and we’ve had to learn a lot about electrical systems in general – something neither me nor my husband had a clue about beforehand.

Installing our solar power system is ongoing because we’ve botched some things and realized what we started off with was inadequate. When we’re finally done, we expect to be totally independent of all sources of energy except for the sun with the occasional use of the gasoline generator.

Starting out, we ordered a four panel package with one charge controller and an inverter but it was inadequate to power even our fifth wheel. We then ordered two sets of four more panels with their own controllers to augment the first. Then we focused on lowering our energy consumption.

We changed out the regular for LED light bulbs and replaced our electric water heater with a gas one. The electric fridge needs to go but propane models are super expensive. The fridge is currently hogging about seventy-five percent of our electricity!

Last week we replaced the 1500 watt inverter with a 3000 watt size after we learned that we were using beyond 1800 running watts (the amount of watts being pulled at any given moment) per hour and that some appliances can temporarily exceed that or “spike” at certain times like when they kick on. Such spikes will cause the inverter to shut down.

When we installed the new inverter and plugged the trailer into it, it would immediately trip and turn off. We’re looking for the cause.

We ordered larger gauge cables for the batteries and found out we were supposed to use the same length cables between each, which we weren’t doing. Apparently, that’s a safety issue so I recommend researching this stuff beforehand or calling the manufacturer to clarify on all aspects of your system.

We also had eight panels running through one controller which is another big no-no.

Today we received our latest four panels making a total of twelve. We spent the entire afternoon setting up a temporary stand for them on some boards, setting the panels up and wiring them in.

Then it didn’t work.

As of this evening, we’re still checking all of the connections with no luck so far. Dark fell so we’ll finish tomorrow.

We bought a small garden shed to keep the batteries and other equipment in, built a bench for the battery array and put up a shelf for the inverter.

Despite the challenges, I’m really excited to get all of this up and running. Independence is right around the corner and I believe we’re on the homestretch.

I see a “light” at the end of the tunnel.

Modern Day Pioneers

Simple daily tasks made complicated.

Clean clothes don’t come easily nor does most anything else when you live on raw land.   Here, there’s no sticking the clothes into the washer and pushing a button.

Utilities are even more complicated. We have a solar power system and a gas generator. Which one we use depends on what we want to do, how much electricity it’s going to take, the time of day, what’s broken, and what we have on hand that day.

Want some coffee? If you’re like us and are out of propane in the dead of winter and need some caffeine, you’ll need either a blow torch or some firewood and fire building skills.

You want a bath? This is going to take some time. Put the pot on the stove and turn it on high and you’ll have your bath in about an hour. A shower? Maybe, if you can take one in less than five minutes and the generator has gas and the water pipes aren’t frozen. Oh, and if the trailer’s water tank is full enough after dishes.

But you need water for some of these things. To get water meant weeks of digging and breaking rock to get to it. We were really lucky to have natural springs on our property. Before that, we depended on city water and the neighbors.

All summer we drove our truck to the city water department to fill our 55 gallon drum every third day or so then one day in fall, the standpipe closed for the winter. Our neighbors came to the rescue for a few weeks and let us fill up at their outdoor faucet but it was incredibly laborious.

Eventually we built a trench down the hill from our spring to the hole we dug to act as a holding tank near our trailer. Surprisingly, the spring produced water all winter in plenty.

We still had to get the water into the trailer which we did by pumping it through a hose and adding a touch of bleach in the process.

As for the laundry, we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted to load everything up and drive into town to the laundry mat or do it at the property. More often than not, we did it by hand at home.

That meant getting the water into a tub or the bathtub, depending on whether it was summer or winter. We used a water pump for that then we’d pile the clothes in and add the detergent. A clean plunger came in handy for sloshing the mix up. I’d then turn the container over to drain it and fill it up again with fresh water for the rinse. The water would still be pretty much black but my standards were pretty low at that time.

For the wringing out, I’d drilled a bunch of holes in one of those Home Depot all purpose buckets and I’d put the clothes in, take my shoes off, and mash grapes; that is, climb on top and mush the water out of the holes with my feet. Then we’d hang the mess of still sopping wet clothes on a line we’d strung up between two trees. There they would most likely get rained on.

The clothes would be stiff and wrinkled by the time I pulled them down and took them into the trailer. But hey, they were mostly clean and better than they were before. They would then sit on the couch in our cramped trailer for another week before I grudgingly sorted them and put them away.

When we were still living in the small trailer, taking a bath or shower was tricky because the hot water heater was broken. I tried to fix it many times with no luck so we’d have to time it once we activated the heater and then you’d have to be ready to jump into the shower at exactly twelve minutes in order to catch the window between the water being ice cold still and the water heater boiling over outside.  The heater is still messed up but we have one that works in the new fifth wheel.

For electricity, we run on solar mainly at night and in the mornings as we don’t have enough panels to generate the power we need. We ordered our third set of solar panels this morning and added a new charge controller to the existing eight this afternoon.

At this point, we can’t run our electric refrigerator on solar so we unplug it and keep the door closed until we start the generator. If it’s plugged in when we plug in the solar, we lose our internet. That’s where the protocol comes in. Many things we do here involve following a set order of tasks to keep things running smoothly.

When the generator goes on, we plug the fridge back in. Then we can do laundry and use the microwave. When that’s reversed, we unplug the fridge and so on. Just be sure the laundry and anything you want to microwave is done. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned off the generator only to realize we wanted to nuke something.

We ordered a propane fridge today – finally.

If the solar has flopped in the middle of the night and you want to use the internet or your computer needs juice, turn on the inverter that’s plugged into the RV batteries and plug the modem into that extension cord.

Does this all sound exhausting? It is.

At least we have hot water for the kitchen now! The repairman came today and turned the temperature dial to cooler. That was the only thing wrong with it! Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

So you see that simple daily tasks are not so simple for us. We went from being fully automated to fully dysfunctional.

Modern day pioneers we ain’t.