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Old 03-06-2012, 06:00 PM   #1
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Solar system upgrades

Well, things are looking up for fusor farm these days. I've invested in more solar gear to go from "enough" to "no question there's way more than I need". All I have to do now is get all those panels up into the sky, though they are lashed up electrically in the garden now, and today I found that I could not only charge up the house before noon - I could charge the car, go vote and pay a phone bill, come back, charge the car again while trading, and then go out again...and here I sit on a full charge for house batteries, with some needed for the car - but tomorrow is another day. More here:

http://www.coultersmithing.com/forum...3&p=3577#p3577

This is it, I'm done with this once this job is over - and being as low maintenance as all this is, while I can't say it's free power, it more or less IS free from now on. This stuff will outlive me in almost any scenario.

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Old 03-06-2012, 06:46 PM   #2
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I'm sure you got a lot more sunny days in Virginia than we do over here in Switzerland.
I have a small cabin in the Alps as a holiday retreat and it's pretty difficult to produce electricity with solar panels there (you can't put them on a roof because of pressure from snow during winter). Therefore, I've also installed a small water weel in a creek on the property which is doing well in summer. In Winter it's obviously not working. I also have had some problems making it smelting water proof.
I'm also considering sharing power from a biogas plant which shall be built on the neighboring property of a rancher. I would finance 20% of the plant and get free energy plus funds for the energy I don't use. We have to do some calculations before investing, though.

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Old 03-06-2012, 07:11 PM   #3
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I get, on yearly average, 4.5 hours of equivalent full sun a day. Worse in winter, better in summer. I guess I should get out my globe, but here I have little trouble with *big* snow buildups if the panels are tilted enough - which I guess they would be there? Of course, for really big snow, there has to be room between them and the ground for the snow to land on too. I've had 9" or a foot of snow on mine, no troubles from that so far. You might get lots more where you are.

Water power has been problematic here, due to famine or flood kinds of conditions - during the floods it tends to be full of little branches, leaves and what not, to the point where cleaning out the turbine all the time became too much for me for the power I was getting. And yes, we get freezes too. Putting a filter or grate upstream just means that jams up when we get a wash off - it only moves the problem.

Strangely the water freezing wasn't usually the big problem if the intake was done right - it continues to flow under the ice just fine.

From what I've seen of biogas (I'm assuming manure based?) around here, the main impediment once you get your system down is that you really do have to mind it every day to keep it working. Most who went whole hog on the first go failed, and it seems to have been better (again, around here, a lotta hippies) to get a small prototype going, learn the tricks, then build bigger. But the real trick is not the physical plant and capex - it's the guy who shovels it all in and out...like keeping a culture of yeast or something - you can't take a long vacation from it.
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Old 03-07-2012, 09:14 AM   #4
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The solar panels rock! Why don't you get a couple dozen sticks of Dexion and make a nice rack for those lovely panels?
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Old 03-07-2012, 09:49 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by DCFusor View Post:
From what I've seen of biogas (I'm assuming manure based?) around here, the main impediment once you get your system down is that you really do have to mind it every day to keep it working. Most who went whole hog on the first go failed, and it seems to have been better (again, around here, a lotta hippies) to get a small prototype going, learn the tricks, then build bigger. But the real trick is not the physical plant and capex - it's the guy who shovels it all in and out...like keeping a culture of yeast or something - you can't take a long vacation from it.
Yes, it would be cattle manure based. I wouldn't have to do any maintenance, the rancher's employees would be in charge of that. They have 300 milk cows on the property, both summer and winter.
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Old 03-07-2012, 10:11 AM   #6
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You had me there for a second, I didn't know what dexion was and had to go find out. Neat stuff. In this system, you have to use either aluminum or stainless, as otherwise you set up a cathode/anode corrosion system and it fails fast - even galvanized bolts just disappear in a few months (and I'm far from the ocean).

Since those materials are pretty expensive to buy and ship, what I plan to do is buy a bunch of 2x8 treated wood, SS screw-in studs, and make racks from that. I'll fab a bunch of aluminum angle brackets from 3x3 6061 to hold things to the roof.

The plan is to remove the inter-rack space up there, so they'll fit 6 across, push the ones up there so the lower edges are above the place where the roof gets steep, and add the additional panels on racks going down that steep part (but levered outward at the base some for a better sun angle). I'll then have dual angles - flat on top, more tilted on the front, but all up in the sky out of shadows from the nice oak trees from the south.

I made a little vid, not one of my best, but educational, of the rest of the new stuff in operation charging the car, and youtube says it's only going to take another hour and a half to finish uploading a 5 min video from here (hd), and I'll edit and put it in here when it's ready to roll.
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Old 03-07-2012, 10:20 AM   #7
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Nice. Thanks, DC!
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Old 03-07-2012, 10:48 AM   #8
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how do you plan for violent weather? Like hail or big wind gusts?
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Old 03-07-2012, 11:50 AM   #9
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And here's the rather boring but somewhat informative video on some of the rest of the system. Here I'm showing it charging my Volt, with some adaptiveness to prevent the huge drain from the car running down my house batteries when the sun goes behind a cloud, or it's just too early in the day for full output from things.

I plan to do a full video/pictorial on all this and put it up on my site later, I'll link it here - there are a lot of other parts of the overall system as it "just grew" over the years.


Hail just hasn't been a problem - our top size so far has been about the size of a quarter, and everything solar survived without incident. Wind is another issue, and in fact the one missing panel there was a wind accident. I'd let the bolts get loose (it's not a fun place to work when the weather is nice, or not nice - when it ain't rainin, the roof don't leak, oops), so there was lost motion, and finally only two holding the panel to the rack. A huge microburst during a hurricane "zippered" it right off the roof - I was alerted by the sound of it banging on the side of the house, hanging by the wires (which held, telling you the rack really was the issue and it wasn't that bad). I got to go out in the rain and wind and cut the thing down - it wound up as an aux power supply on a dodge passenger van I've since sold. The dodge electrics were so nasty-inefficient that adding the panel to the roof gave it 2 more mpg!

While I'm planning on adding some more phys shiny here if we get a decent dip (looks like it) - this time in more conventional form, like coins, this points out that there are some other things that hold, or even increase in value pretty darn well - this is electricity for the rest of my life, which has value now and later - as in "you can eat this". When the panels were $7-8 a watt, and the payoff around 30 years, the investment was a bit questionable (electricity from the power co was also cheaper then). But now panels are under $1.50 a watt, and power co power is only going up from here. I'm still glad I did it as finding out that the old stuff still lives helped me get the confidence to spend the additional $10k or so shown here for all this new stuff. And, hey, it's been 30 years anyway, so by any measure, the old stuff did pay off (including time-value of money). In my case, the lack of need for code, thus a building permit, thus the lower tax rate on the "barns" I live in - paid for the original in more like a couple of years...the boonies have some hidden advantages. Don't go and tell everyone, though...
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Old 03-07-2012, 03:02 PM   #10
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Wanted to add something. That little "I've got extra power" setup is going to have more uses than just charging the car when the sun is marginal (today it hit full charge right around 2 pm, with 3 more hours of really good sun left to go).

My partner in fusion crime, Bill Fain, brings me stuff he finds - a human ferret, that guy (this is a compliment Bill - join up here!) - a scrounger extrordinaire (and a PM Bug). One of the things he found and brought was a very nice quartz water distillation rig that draws too much power to normally consider on solar, or that's how it used to be. It needs some circulating water in the condenser, but in testing I've found a way to rig it with a small fountain pump from Lowes, and a 5 gal bucket of scummy water that both does that and provides feed water to the boiler (recirculating a little so it doesn't crud up in there).

Bingo - now I have a source of distilled water. When it comes to power, quantity has a quality all its own. I point this out for you guys who are in the south, perhaps near a lot of otherwise briny and unusable water, but who probably have great solar input.

Not as efficient as one of those sit on the ground passive thingies - but this is real lab-grade distilled water too - certainly enough per day to handle a family's actual needs for drinking and cooking ( I don't use the good stuff for flushing and washing here as is). I'm going to rig a wall rack for it above the wood rack and plug it into the "diversion load" outlet I'm about to wire in, and see how we do with it.

And what's cool is that it's a power input averaging device. When you cut power, it keeps working as long as the boiler is hot...
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Old 03-07-2012, 04:00 PM   #11
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thats a really neat use for a dump load DCF and as you say theres often less water where theres more good sunlight
.
although we will have to agree to differ on how good it is for you to drink distilled water,
certainly in the long term ...............
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Old 03-07-2012, 04:36 PM   #12
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DCF,
Are you aware that there has been an X-Class flare from the sun which is arriving tonight and tomorrow? Depending upon just how far north you are, you may wish to check out a site called Space Weather.com.

I'm just saying......

In addition, what do you think would happen to a pile of solar panels I have in my shed, 19 of them to be exact, which are not connected to anything. Would they get fried? I am thinking about getting the rest of the pieces I need for an emergency electrical system in a grid-down situation or a SHTF scenario. This will include an inverter and charge controller. The batteries I will buy empty and the acid I will buy piecemeal as cash allows. I have three five gallon glass water cooler bottles I intend to store it in and a ten pound block of beeswax for a set of stoppers. Can I store the acid indefinitely? If not, what is the lifetime of it?
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Old 03-08-2012, 08:28 AM   #13
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Yeah, the solar weather has been fun. I have a few interesting toys around here to play with that. One is a 3 axis compass, which currently isn't pointing in the normal direction - these CME's tend to warp earth's field when they hit. Another is a very low frequency "antenna" (actually a high inductance (5H!) air wound coil) to listen to events in the ionosphere, fun sometimes. Most of that stuff never makes it to the ground - the individual particles from the sun aren't that high in energy, it's just that there are a lot of them. You can tell it's happening mainly by the effects on the magnetic field - making the earth's field "shake" makes every piece of wire act like the winding of a generator - which is why power lines sometimes get hurt - they are a huge antenna.

Your panels are safe.

I don't know about having all the parts for a system and then not going ahead and building and using it, but certainly you can. I'd be using the power for things now, myself. You can probably think of something like my water distiller that can run "whenever there's extra" and be useful even if not possible 24/7. Emergency lighting with CCFL or LED lamps is another..

Acid is dirt cheap. Go to any NAPA store and order it in 5 gal chunks. It comes in a bag in a box with a dispenser hose and valve. Keeps forever just like that, unless your cats scratch through the box and bag inside (this has happened here!). Same idea as wine in a box - but a larger box.

I found out how cheap it was (to my surprise) when I needed a crapload to set up an anodizing line. It's only a few bucks/gallon.

Good batteries aren't cheap, though. The Rolls I use cost a pretty penny, but then I got a lot of 'em. I paid about $6k for 24kwh worth...you might not need or want that many. They last 20 years flooded, so no need to keep them dry if you wanted to just go ahead and use your system - just being in a system keeps them at reasonable state of charge and so on, so they don't sulfate and go bad from being wet.

Most people start off with the Dekas on the left in this link. Then they start figuring out what their total cost of ownership is - and the hassle of replacing the shorter lived stuff isn't minor. Then they wind up with Rolls/Surrette on the right. This isn't the only good place that sells this stuff, but it's a handy source of all the data on it online.
http://www.affordable-solar.com/store/solar-batteries

In a pinch, a trick is to get trolling motor (deep cycle) batteries at walmart, they're not too expensive. They can do more peak power per size than the real solar ones,
(more plates, but thinner) and don't live as long (by far), but the price is right. I sometimes hook a few into my system since their peak capacity "stiffness" means they take all the pounding, so the expensive ones don't have to - they are a kind of sacrificial "bypass capacitor" in that use, easy to lift and replace when they go bad.

Do not bother with regular "maintenance proof" car batteries. They are not designed to cycle. Running them flat just one time eats 30-40% of their capacity permanently - they are just dead in 10 full cycles. The calcium alloy they use in the plates, to prevent bubbling while charging goes into solution when you run them down, and that's that.

We in the solar biz are all drooling over the battery tech in the Volt system. We're hoping that will come down in price due to the volume the car guys generate and we'll be able to use them in our systems. GM's the only one using these LiFeP types that have fantastic round trip efficiency and life - the Japanese are still using glorified laptop batteries...
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Old 03-08-2012, 08:39 AM   #14
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That is kick ass! Do you have any pics of your batteries? Just curious.
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Old 03-08-2012, 10:59 AM   #15
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I don't sweat the lack of a couple hundred ppm of calcium carbonate mineral content in distilled water (or rain water for that matter). I also eat food, which makes up for it fine. The biologic threat in unclean water is lots more serious, even if filtered. (and taste and smell are obvious issues). FWIW, soft water does wash the clothes cleaner and fresher - I use collected rainwater for that always. You can see the trash can I use to collect it off the roof in the lower left of the picture above. It goes though a plastic screen on the way in, and there's an overflow hole near the top that lets any floaters get washed away. I actually get more water than I need, averaged over a year, but don't have quite enough storage to handle the dry part of the year - yet. There are about two months where you can't use the water for much - pollen.

When I was stuck with a water source with high TOC (total organic carbon) we tried using various vendor's filtering systems, and boy was that ever an epic fail. Even the carbon/silver filters gunked up with "life" very quickly (despite prefiltering and everything else we tried) and made things worse than unfiltered water by far - and the cost of changing the filters every few days was totally not worth it. It was better to just boil it.

Something huge and sand based that could be backflushed might have helped there - there weren't chunks of stuff in it or anything though - just creek water from a spring 100 yards away (not on my property at that point in time). And of course, the dissolved organic junk wouldn't be taken out either, allowing things to "grow" in any storage after the filter. This junk was basically compost-water from stuff falling into the creek.

I think the distilled vs well water thing is pretty overblown. Calcium's not hard to get in a diet in far larger quantities anyway. The beer alone...

Edit:
Looking on my multivitamin jar, it appears the 250 milligrams of Calcium (as calcium carbonate, also known as lime) these have represent 25% of the RDV - so that number is a gram. At 100 ppm or so calcium in most water, how much would you have to drink to get a significant part of that? That's 100 micrograms per gram (cc) of water, so...10,000 cc's of water - 10 liters! And the water doesn't have the vitamin D you need to absorb the calcium.
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Old 03-08-2012, 11:04 AM   #16
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Batteries and more info here: http://www.coultersmithing.com/forum...=205&mode=view



Original inverters in the same "energy shed" as the batteries. These are all still in service, the new stuff is primarily for charging the car and a couple things around here the like 240v from a real stiff source, like the 50kv power supply for my Fusor, welders. lathes and suchlike. Those inverters really have some peak handling ability, and if you can't run a house on one, something else is wrong.
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:20 AM   #17
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Wow, I imagined there would be a lot more batteries. That's amazing that you can power a house on so little. Obviously, I'm no electrician.
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Old 03-10-2012, 11:32 AM   #18
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How about those expensive nickle iron batteries? I read they can be deeply discharged more than thirty thousand cycles, which makes them the ideal choice for a remote location and for those who wish to go hard core self reliant, as they need no more than electrolyte changes twice a decade or so, and the electrolyte is significantly less dangerous than battery acid, and little or no hydrogen is produced.

I could well have my anecdotal facts wrong, but I read about this stuff a lot, because I have a slew of panels for when the lights go out, and am amassing what I need to get it up in just a few days. I have loads of salvaged Dexion, rolls of bond-breaker tape, rolls of dielectric tape, stainless bolts and I actually have about a hundred bronze bolts, salvaged from the abandoned maintenance shack at the SAEF II, which I demolished at NASA in '08, and took possession of in October of that year. Some of the salvage stuff I have is absolutely nuts! When these facilities are mothballed and kept under air for years at a time, the folks who worked there quickly forget the old mission and move on to the new, which means abandoning anything not certified for flight.

Anyhow, I am bidding a job with not one, but two UPS units. One is 285KvA and the other is 225 Kva. They currently are loaded with top-of-the-line Japan built [Mitsubishi] Nuke grade gel-cell batteries with an expected life of 10 - 15 years. I hope that it is still there when we go to demo the structure.

I would actually like to have a side-bar with DCF on this, as I am quite sure he can use some of the stuff we sell for salvage value, like huge air breakers, 3 phase breakers at 20, 30, 50 and 100A.

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Old 03-10-2012, 10:36 PM   #19
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It might not be obvious that that is more batteries than you can put in a pickup truck, they're real big and heavy. (they fit, but the springs won't take it) I wouldn't mind having more, though. The house is very efficient as these things go. Nothing is heated electrically. There is one freezer, and it's in an unheated space. There's a window AC unit that gets maybe 10 hours a year.

All that is changing with the new panels, but in general the trick is use it while it's coming in - the batteries are just to keep lights and maybe a computer or TV on at night -- all other drain stops with sundown. If you do that, you don't need so much.

Most people would have some adaptation issues with my lifestyle, but if you began having nothing for a long time, it's not so bad...I find it good enough, but I'm not the kind of guy who needs a couple heated showers a day either. It's amazing how little a machine shop uses as well. Yeah, the machines and welders can really pull the power, but they get the jobs done FAST - so in kilowatt hours, it's not that much.

I tried a bunch of nickel-cad batteries (from locomotives). The trouble with them is that they swing very wide in voltage between charged/charging and discharged/discharging such that everything else in the system gets bent about it.
The ones I got were used and failed pretty quick. I hear there are better ones, but..as you say, really expensive. These Rolls ones have a 15 yr guarantee, and I'll probably get more than that out of them, as I treat them really nicely (I learned on cheaper deka l16's and wronked a couple sets learning)

The NiFe (or Cd) electrolyte is potassium and lithium hydroxide and its FAR nastier than regular battery acid - peels the skin right off you, instantly. You run it under oil, else it goes bad in days (absorbs CO2 and becomes carbonate), and it's kind of a trick doing that and keeping oil off the plates, which ruins the battery more or less. So I gave up on them.

Use the stainless bolts ancona, you can use them against the aluminum no problems. Bronze (any copper alloy) isn't going to make you happy in this use.

Big UPS units can use those gel batteries or AGM no problem - because they are designed to almost never cycle. Those types also don't boil out the electrolyte on charging (if you're careful, and they are in these systems) so they're good for something that has to sit for years, work once, then be replaced. They absolutely suck for home use. Till I can get a Volt battery system, the old flooded deep cycle lead acid are still the king.

Actually, there's one other possibility. Vanadium redox batteries - they are basically fuel cells, but you can reuse the fuel in essence, by putting current into the battery, which returns the anolyte and catholyte back to their oxidation states. You basically have 4 fuel tanks - 2 for fresh of each type, and 2 for used of each type. When charging you run the pumps the other way. Pretty simple - carbon plates. Just one catch - the membrane you need has to be made of Nafion, the most expensive plastic ever (DuPont patent, but the stuff is genuinely hard to make). This magic stuff allows protons - but not electrons - through it. That's a heck of a trick, electrochemically speaking. Then all you need is 4 big tanks, the Japanese use huge rubber bladders stuffed under parking garages to do UPS for whole skyscrapers, HVAC and all.
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Old 04-05-2012, 07:29 AM   #20
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it is quite amazing, DCF - I was about to borrow your brains, and ask you about Vanadium redox batteries

Basically, do you have anything to say about their longevity - I know that energy density is not their strongest point, but it is a non-issue for powering a house (and it seems they are getting around the problem for EVs in the lab setup, these clever "ze Germans" here:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases...1012135506.htm

...and suitability, in any hi-tech-collapse scenario? How long these membranes last, and would it be feasible to manufacture them, in a serious SHTF scenario?

SwissAustrian, for your water wheel, you might take a look at:
http://peswiki.com/index.php/Directo...ex_Power_Plant
...patented & tested in Austria, you might be actually better positioned to read about it, since a lot of info is in german. Seems to be having usable output from very little water "head" required, also is harmless to fish & critters and allows them to pass through it, no problem.

It always struck me, that there is so much more kinetic energy in naturally flowing water, than a potential energy created by water "head" in dams, why we do not focus on increasing water speed, and harvest the energy that way? It truly seems to be, that given any problem, human mind latches & fixes on the first most obvious solution that get's things done - even if it is CLEARLY sub-optimal one. And once thing gets grip in the mainstream/marketplace - that's it, it is very hard to get slightly better ideas going - windows of opportunity are everything...

There is an example of such principle somewhere in Austria, on a Danube river - where series of "inlets" are built to increase velocity of the river, and they water speeded up that way hits the turbine blades - and there are studies showing, that this kind of hydroelectric is CUPLE OF TIMES more efficient, given the amount of water flowing, and the water "head" on the river part in question, than brute-force dam approach -and it also have negligible river ecosystem impact (quite unlike dams ). From what I remember, that particular Danube hydroelectric was built long long ago, and never catched mainstream - despite being superior in many ways. Sorry I could not remember many more details.
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