Activities this week focused on the off grid solar electricity systems here. Sometimes, you just need a little bit more energy – especially over winter.
You’d think that a shop selling high technology solar electric equipment would be like walking into a mad scientist’s workshop where there are all sorts of unexplained high technology looking items hanging around, perhaps a few computer displays providing readouts for who knows what. However, the shop that I have been frequenting for a few years now is actually run by a bunch of lovely hippies – who are all very helpful! The hippies look like they’ve spent the weekend blockading forest roads from miners and loggers or possibly they were just in an inner city park fire twirling and playing the bongo drums. However, they really know their solar stuff and are pleasant to deal with.
This week, I’ve installed three new solar panels.
Solar electricity is great, however, I am not connected to the electricity grid and have no desire to rely on a fossil fuel powered generator. Therefore, I have to be able to reliably produce enough solar electricity from the panels under the very worst weather conditions. These worst conditions are usually found in the depths of winter. If the system itself does not produce enough solar electricity, it simply shuts down. The shutdown occurs to protect the batteries which would otherwise be permanently damaged if they were completely depleted.
Plus, it would be hard to explain to my partner why the hair drier – not to mention the lights - don’t work on a cold winter’s morning!
The first new panel was installed on the shed for the very small 12V (V refers to Volt) off grid solar electric system which powers the shed. A new 200W (W refers to Watts) solar panel replaced the existing much smaller 80W solar panel because the system simply did not produce enough solar energy during winter and the battery was starting to run low. The reason that it was running low was that my usage of electricity had exceeded the generation from the small solar panel. The original 80W solar panel will be re-used on the new shed once it has been constructed.
I’ll include details in this blog about how an off grid solar electric system works when I get around to that project later in the year. It is good to have a small solar power system because one can run: lights; pump; grinder/sharpener; air compressor; and even a radio from it. Good stuff.
|The new solar panel for the small off grid system which powers this shed is on the very left hand side. The remaining panels are connected to the much larger household off grid electric system.|
The other two new 190W solar panels were a “nice to have thing” for the households existing 24V off grid solar electric system. This much larger off grid system easily sailed through winter, however, it is always nice to have a little bit more generation potential just in case weather conditions deteriorate. As an interesting aside, during really cloudy days, a solar panel will only produce about 10% of its rated output. Also during winter the sun is much lower in the sky which means that the solar panels rarely produce their maximum output.
Reading peoples Internet fantasy proposals for somehow powering future Industrial society to the level of current household expectations using solar power always makes me laugh. Summer, maybe. Autumn and spring, yeah well, not so much. Winter would be very unlikely. Still it would be nice if they tried.
The free standing mount for the two new solar panels were made using scrap steel. All up it took about two full days of construction to construct and install the mount and both new solar panels. Working with steel is hard work as there is a lot of cutting and drilling. Steel is a very unforgiving material if you make an error. Someone once told me: “measure 5 times and cut once” and it was very good advice.
|The two new solar panels were installed next to some existing free standing solar panels.|
It hasn’t all been about solar this week though. I’ve also commenced construction of the fence for the new blackberry bed. The blackberries are thornless varieties (Chester and Waldo) which taste amazing. The area has to be fenced otherwise the local wallaby strips all of the leaves and fruit whilst possibly also breaking the canes. So far, two posts have been cemented into the ground with hopefully more going into the ground this week – weather permitting.
|Two posts for the new fenced blackberry bed. Note Kangaroo above the pallet in the picture.|
As an interesting aside in the photo there is a Kangaroo and although it is quite hard to see in the photo, she has a joey in her pouch. It is easy to spot the joeys because when mum leans over to eat some of the herbage, the joey sticks its head out of the pouch and takes a nibble too. Prior to this the joey consumes milk but once you can spot them, they will start to spend more and more time out of the pouch.
On the fruit front, I’m including a close up photo of some of the citrus trees here because winter and spring are the time here for fresh citrus fruit. The trees are prolific producers and if you can grow citrus in your area, I thoroughly recommend it. I have consumed and given away many dozens of these fruit already this year.
|Citrus trees during winter July 2014.|
Over the past week, I’ve also been thinking about how to describe the rainwater collection systems here. It occurred to me that it is simply too hard to describe in words, so the best way to talk about how the system works is to show a video of a small rainwater collection system which is in the chicken enclosure. The system in the house is very similar in principle only much bigger. The main difference between this system and the household system is the inclusion of a pump so that you can move water uphill, but in most other respects, it is the exact same system. I hope you enjoy the video and please feel free to ask questions. I’ll show the house water system next week and then introduce the farm plan.
The temperature outside here at about 9pm is 7.1 degrees Celsius (44.8 F) and so far this year there has been 505.4mm (19.8 inches) of rainfall which is up from last week’s total of 495.4mm (19.5 inches).