Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why a Typical Home Solar Setup Does Not Work With the Grid Down - And What You Can Do About It

During 2017, I saw a lot of news articles talking about how the Evil Power Companies were being Meanie McMean by not letting people with solar panels use them when the grid was down.  The implication (in many news articles) was that these powerless people with solar panels could use them to power their home while the grid was down, if only the evil power company didn't require that solar not work if the grid was down.  The picture painted was one of power company executives, twisting their mustaches, cackling in the glow of their coal fired furnaces, going on about how if they can't deliver power, nobody shall have any power!

That sentiment (and those similar) is somewhere between "showing extreme ignorance of solar" and "actively misleading," depending on the author's knowledge of solar and how it's typically implemented.


So, of course, I'm going to do better.  Because I can.  And because I'm sick of reading that sort of nonsense on the internet.  You will be too, after understanding the issues.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Property Progress #1

A few weeks back, I started out with my "PIREPS" series of posts - thoughts and photos from random trips I've made via small airplane.

This post starts a somewhat infrequent series of "property updates" - general updates on our property, and some feedback on what has or hasn't worked particularly well for us.  Some ideas have worked wonderfully, some... haven't.  It's hard to find anyone else who documents similar projects online, and I'd like to help fix that where I can.


Curious as to how the trash trailer is working?  How about what I'm doing with that ancient tractor I own?  Well, I answer all that, and more!  Read on!


Saturday, May 5, 2018

So, you wanna go off grid...

"I want to go off grid with solar and batteries!"

I hear this, or some variant, increasingly often.  It seems to be a more and more popular concept, especially after some of the recent events in which people were left without power for long periods of time.  And, quite often, I assume the people asking are genuinely interested in what they see as the benefits of off grid power.  They're just not familiar with enough details to really have an understanding of what they're asking, or what it asks of them.

This post is my humble attempt to put a lot of information in one spot, such that I can link people to it when they ask about off grid power.  There are quite valid reasons for off grid power, but it's not as easy or as simple as people tend to think.  And it's certainly not as cheap as people assume it will be.


I've been dealing with a pure off grid office for nearly 2 years now.  While I don't (yet) have a house capable of sustained off grid use, I do live within my energy budget in my office every day I'm out there (which occasionally involves generator use), and I get to deal with a lot of the quirks of off grid power.  So, if you're interested in the pros and cons, keep on reading!


Saturday, April 28, 2018

PIREPs #1

Or "Pilot Reports."  Number one.  Because this is the first of them on this blog.


Flying.  It's awesome.  I do it.  I'm finally able to do more of it.  Keep reading for more!


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Off Grid System Design Considerations and Battery Types

People are regularly surprised that my solar powered office is driven by a moderately sized bank of lead acid batteries instead of a fancy modern lithium bank.  I mean, I do work on lithium batteries regularly, and I could certainly build myself a large lithium bank at fairly minimal cost (compared to purchasing one, if I were willing to do that much spot welding).  But, in a deck box behind my office, I have a boring set of 8 Trojan T-105RE batteries in a 48V/225Ah (10.8kWh) bank.  Why?


Quite a few reasons - which I'm about to dive into!  Read on!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the Art of Repair: Re-Capacitoring an Old Mainboard

One of the misconceptions about electronics is that if there are no moving parts, the system should last forever.  This is closer to true than not, but one really common item that does wear out on many systems are capacitors.  Electrolytic capacitors are the usual problem, but, fear not!  You can repair them easily and at home!  Beyond just repairing a mainboard, this week is a bit of a discussion on the art of repair, and why you should get good at it.


Get out your soldering iron and join me!


Saturday, April 7, 2018

Off Grid/RV Lead Acid Maintenance, Charging, and Failure Modes

It's 2018, and if you need power storage, there's a great range of battery options out there.  You've got your bog standard flooded lead acid, AGM lead acid, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), and of course the newer lithium ion chemistries (Tesla's PowerWall being the most well known here).

And, if you're building a system yourself, especially if it's off grid, it's incredibly likely that you're using flooded lead acid, because they're cheap, work well enough, and you can get them in most towns.  They're also quite reliable and can be quite long lived (15+ years) if maintained properly!


But: If you have an off grid lead acid battery system, it only stays cheap if you keep the batteries in good shape and don't kill them in a few years - and a lot of off grid systems end up killing the batteries in a hurry.  This either leads to an early battery pack replacement, or an awful lot of generator use - both of which are expensive, and generally at odds with the ideals of an off grid power system.

I've spent quite a while reading about lead acid from the view of, "How do they fail, and how do I maintain my battery bank to get the longest life out of it?"  I've learned a lot, and also learned that it's really hard to find good information on failure modes!  I've dug through more than one PhD thesis to get information about some particular failure mode.  This is a long post (over 11,000 words), with a lot of information, and I won't apologize for that.  I've tried to explain the concepts as I go into them, with a target audience of people who have large off grid battery banks.  If you want something shorter, maybe check YouTube?

However, if you want to learn how to run a lead acid battery bank for maximum longevity (for your off grid power system or your RV), and to understand what's going on in your battery bank, read on!