Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hi-tech Harvest of the Sun

Anyone who lives in a rural area usually has multiple plans to handle emergencies from extra food and goods to medical supplies and backup power. You never know when things might go "upside-down". 

We've always had a 5000 watt gas generator that would run about 6 hours on 5 gallons of fuel. It was a good solution for short-term power outages but not such a great idea if the power was out for days or longer. Plus it was noisy and smelly.

Like all other technologies, photovoltaic (solar) systems have been getting less expensive while significantly improving in output and simplicity. With the federal credits for installing a system expiring in 2016, we decided this year was the time to start.

We initially contacted several solar contractors only to be handed estimates that were grossly more power than we needed and grossly more expensive than our budget could handle. 

Finally we found a solar consultant who was perfect - Roger. Roger is a retired chemistry professor who spends his retirement years designing and helping regular people build their own PV solar system. In mid-July we started the process and two weeks ago we "flipped the switch" and started producing our own electricity. 

We did the majority of the slave labor and saved Roger's skills for the technical stuff. Actually Don did the majority of the hard work while I worked on the backup to the solar system - four cords of firewood. In the perfect juxtaposition, the brains of the solar system hang on the outside of the woodshed - the old and the new.

Rather than bore you will all the details I'll just share some photos. 

Layout of the solar panel array
Digging the holes
Setting the panel framework
Pouring concrete
Solar panels installed
Building the battery cellar
Battery cellar housing 8 - 6V batteries
Cabinet for power center
Power center with inverter
Woodshed with solar power center on right side
Our system, as configured, produces between 6 and 9 kilowatt hours per day. We designed it (ok, Roger designed it) so that we could double the output by just adding six more panels. Thus far we have the freezer and office running on 100% solar. Over the next few weeks we'll be adding another freezer and the media center - TV, sound system - plus some lights.

It still amazes me that you can produce your own electricity. And it's nice to know that when the power goes out again we'll have a little more comfort than in years past.

Watch for the next edition of Harvesting the Sun - Beekeeping

From Fleur Creek Farm