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Juice

The Front Yard

The Front Yard

I am late coming to solar power. Shame on me. As much as we have been off grid over the years, I shoulda done better. I was trying to think the last time I plugged into a pedestal and I am thinking it was maybe August of 2011?

The Princess Palace is not set up as well for offgrid boondocking as the Old Girl.  No big battery bank, no onboard generator; there had best be an umbilical close by if you are hangin’ in the Palace.  Since I have been thinking alot of late about what would happen if we went to Plan B, I took a hard look at the Palace’s capabilities.   There is a cheesy cheapo WFCO converter/charger under the fridge and one new 12 volt battery 34 feet forward of that on the tongue of the trailer. They sure didn’t run 4 AWG wires between the battery and the charger.  I have room for a second battery up there if I wish.   I thought about upgrading the charger and the battery bank and adding an inverter and monitoring gauges and all that like I had on the Old Girl.  It ain’t worth it.

There is not an inch of usable space where I could add batteries and an inverter and enough stuff to make it reasonably useful.  Even if I threw a wad of money at it, the outcome would not be stellar quality.  Gotta come up with something else.

I am a bitch about my batteries – mainly because a dead battery is bad juju out in the backside of nowhere.  I learned along time ago to leave the cheap hoodrat batteries on the shelf at Wal-mart.   I have an Optima RedTop Starting Battery in the ‘Burb. Miss K has a Duralast Gold battery in PACO.  When you spend this kind of money on batteries it is just plain silly to murder them by neglect. You know what our most borrowed item is?  Jumper cables.  Sometimes I even have to include the big ass Suburban as the donor vehicle. This whole scenario is tough on batteries.  The vehicles may sit inactive for weeks with the stuff like clocks and radios and door lockers draining the battery bit by inexorable bit.  Anytime you drain a battery down to the low side of 12 volts you are absolutely killing it.  Batteries are just too EXPENSIVE and too IMPORTANT to abuse like that.  I have the BatteryMINDer Model 1500 Charger/Maintainer/Desulfator hooked up to the big ass Suburban right now.  Last week it was hooked up to Miss K’s PACO car for a spell. One of the important features of this BatteryMinder is temperature compensation. When it is 110 degrees outside you can’t be charging on a battery willy nilly. So if you have a boat or a motorcycle or a big ass Suburban settin’ in the puckerbrush, you need this little dealio.  S’posed to extend the battery life 4X.  Just sayin’……..

BatteryMinder SCC180

BatteryMinder SCC180

When I made the South Dallas round trip a few weeks back, I yanked the two 12 volt batteries off the Green Monster because I just figured they needed some tendin’ to.  I checked ’em in to the Battery Hospital when I got back and they were worser off than I imagined.  I topped ’em up with distilled water and tsked tsked when I saw how sulphated up the plates were.  One of them would not hold a charge atall.  I hooked them up to the Black & Decker Smart Battery Charger and sent them both through a desulphation cycle – twice.  Both of them recovered nicely and they went to live in the DTB next to the 100 aH Interstate AGM wheelchair batteries I salvaged from the Old Girl.

So we get back to the solar deal I mentioned at the opening before I veered off into the battery murderer rant.  I have 4 surplus 12v batteries sitting in the back of the DTB right now and I wanted to hook them up for maintenance.  Being as how I decided not to upgrade the electricals on the Princess Palace I figured setting up a solar maintainer for the surplus batteries would be a perfect way for me to get my feet wet on the solar deal.  The first purchase was the BatteryMINDer 12 Volt Solar Charger-Controller with Desulfator. It is the only solar charger with a desulfator AND temperature compensation.  It will charge up to 4 12v batteries at a time and take up to 180 watts of solar input. The only thing that put me off was the prominent American Flag on the package along with this notation ‘An American Company’ .  This item was made In China.  This brand of disingenuous marketing pisses me right off.

Next up I needed some juice to feed that charger.  Let me tell ya folks  — separating the fly shit from the pepper is tough going when you start shopping solar panels.  You can find solar panels for less than a dollar a watt if you look and I was sorely tempted to go the cheap route.  I studied these cheap(er) panels that were mainly assembled in places where they don’t speak English and they played to mixed reviews.  Quality control issues,  real world output less than stated, cheesy cables and connectors and shoddy shipping packages seemed to be the norm.  Since I have to factor the Bad UPS Lady into my online buying equation I kept looking for other options.

Renogy  100 watt monochrystalline solar panel

Renogy 100 watt monochrystalline solar panel

I ended up with a RENOGY 100 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel and I am happy. Amazon reviews indicated quality control was top shelf, packaging was wonderful and output levels met or exceeded stated specs.  This particular panel is American made.  It survived the Bad UPS Lady as well.  Since I am not just down the street from the Solar Panel Get-It store I tried to figure out what else I would need to get this little deal up and running. I ordered a set of Renogy Solar Panel Mounting Z Brackets, some MC4 Male/ Female Solar Panel Cable Connectors and 12 feet of HQRP Pair Solar Array Cables with MC4 Connectors.  Yep, that oughta ’bout do it.

It really didn’t take long to figure out how to hook all this stuff up even though none of it came with instructions.  It was pretty cool when I plugged that last connector in and the BatteryMinder lit up.  I connected the two AGM batteries together and will connect all 4 when I get the battery lugs to make up the necessary cables.  I connected the Fluke Multimeter up to the cables and showed 21.85 volts and 8.7 amps coming out of the Renogy panel even though it was still early morning and the sun was nowhere near its’ zenith.  I call that pretty danged good.

 

 

Enough to make an OCD person crazy

Enough to make an OCD person crazy

All that remains now is to straighten up the mess and come up with some sort of PVC frame to replace the 2×4 and bungee cord rig that is in place securing the Renogy panel to the DTB now.

UPDATE:  A coupla weeks back I wrote a piece on replacing my old camp chair.  I glowingly endorsed my new ALPS Gorilla Chair and made it a point to say it had a lifetime warranty.  Well, my buddy Ron who is the honcho over at Hitchitch.com sent me a polite email and called BS on that lifetime warranty that I touted so highly.  Since Ron has most likely forgotten more than I will ever know about this RV stuff, I took him serious and pulled up the fine print for myself.  Sure enough, he nailed it.  They don’t warranty the material for UV deterioration.  Hmmmphh!  South Texas UV will rot kevlar.  So why don’t they say ‘We warranty the frame lifetime but your on your own for the settin’ down fabric.’  As a matter of fact, the ALPS website goes to great whiny lengths to explain why they feel justified by saying the fabric is outside the warranty.  Christ on a Cracker!  A camp chair without a seat is nothing but a place to hang clothes to dry.   Thanks Ron– I do appreciate you.  If y’all want about a bazillion RV blogs and  links to explore, go visit his place.  It is a wealth of current and well maintained information and has been for years.

 

 

End Note: Some Kind of Wonderful  by Grand Funk Railroad from Greatest Hits: Grand Funk Railroad (24 bit digitally remastered). Hell fire, this sounded just FINE on an analog 8 track!  Dig that bass line.

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17 comments to Juice

  • Maybe you could make up a drawing of how to hook up 4 batteries to one solar panel and that minder doohicky for us electricity morons. I know you have to do it a certain way or they blow up while you’re leaning over them and turn your face into Silly Putty.

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    • Andrew

      + to +; – to -. All the batteries need to be the same size and condition. I put one lead of the charger on the closest + terminal and the other lead on the farthest – terminal. I am hoping 100 watts is enough to juice up all 4 batteries.

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  • joel

    Well done, Andy.

    Two months in, we’ve generated 1.2 MWh on our roof. We don’t get nearly as much sun as you.

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    • Andrew

      You are doing grid-tie, right Joel? No battery bank, just feeding it back into the lines?

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      • joel

        Yes. What we don’t use on-site, Ameren buys from us (at below-market rates, of course).

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    • David

      Hey Joel,

      Could you share your set up? Would make an interesting reader submission.

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      • joel

        Hi David,

        I do that in the next day or so. Got a couple of urgent writing tasks ahead of this one.

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      • joel

        We have 22 Renesola 260 watt modules, connected to 22 Enphase Energy M215 microinverters.

        Ameren installed the 2-way meter. If you need to know the make, I can go out back and copy the info when it is daylight.

        Let me know if you need to know anything else.

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        • David

          Thank you.

          What is the payback time?

          Our neighbors installed an on demand whole house water heater and the payback time was greater than the likely life of the unit or how long they are likely to live there.

          With the solar AC you have the added benefit of powering at least part of your house when the lights are out.

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          • joel

            Payback time depends mostly on prevailing rates, which fluctuate by time of day (highest in the day in the summer) and time of year (higher in the summer). Also, we can’t know if rates will go up over the next several years, though my bet is that they will.

            With all those caveats, I estimate we should break even in 7-9 years. Sooner, if rates rise significantly. I’m 58 and my wife is 57. I reckon we’ll still be living here in 9 years. Even if we move, solar panels should enhance the resale value of the house, so if we leave before break-even on our usage, we would likely make up the difference on sale.

            Of course, the economics of this is favorable in our case because Ameren paid half the cost of the panels and installation, and we get an addition 30% federal tax rebate on the balance. I wouldn’t have done this without this massive subsidy.

            We just got our electric bill for September. $57. We have a 2100 square foot house.

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      • joel

        More details on the panels here:

        http://www.renvu.com/ReneSola-156-Series-Polycrystalline-260W-Solar-Module-JC260M-24-Bb

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  • By the way, since you got the Princess Palace, you’re required by law to change the name of your blog.

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    • Andrew

      I will when you do as well. TFG is a misnomer these days, right?

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      • Not really. My uncle the country doctor tells me that the fat boys usually pull through the cancer treatment better than the skinny ones, so I need to keep pounding the calories. I said, “OK.” We’ll sweat the cholesterol numbers at some point in the future.

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  • I just installed 2 Renogy 250 watt panels on my 5th wheel……man am I impressed with the quality.
    Also I called their tech dept. twice with questions about my installation using a competitors inverter…they took the time to go through my whole set up, got me all set up and taught me about the difference between series vs. parallel panel set up.

    They also sent me new cables free of charge when I ordered the wrong cables……can’t say enough good about Renogy.

    You can check out my solar installation at http://www.papas-travels.blogspot.com

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  • Doug Rich

    You probably have all this figured out but I thought that I would pass along this resource for off grid living and battery charging. http://handybobsolar.wordpress.com/
    This is recommended by the folks at hitchitch RV.

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