Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Road to Solar, Chapter 4

So in the past couple of week...I think a week, though it seems like much longer...I've received a few more packages in the mail!  It feels like Christmas all over again!

So let's take a look at few items.

The above photo was from a couple of shipments.  The pair of items in the upper left come from Mouser Electronics.  This is a combiner block and a weatherproof box to house it.  Solar panel wires will go into one end of it to be combined into a pair of heavy wires coming out.  Those wires go to the next item to the upper right, which came from We Go Solar.  That is a Morningstar Tristar MPPT 45-amp charge controller.  This device takes the power from the charge controller and uses it to charge the batteries connected to the system.  Morningstar makes 30-amp and 60-amp charge controllers in this series but the 45-amp unit is sized closer to what I'm expecting from the panels I plan to install.

The bottom of the photo shows a Bogart Engineering TM-2030 monitor and shunt.  In the system I plan to install, all the negative cables will be attached to the shunt and the monitor as well.  It then measures the current going into and out of the batteries and allows the user to track performance of the system.  One can select a number of different things to display: amps in, amps out, battery voltage or percent of charge.  This monitor will be very handy!

And as Columbo says, oh, just one more thing...(for today)...

This is the last link in the chain of my solar system, a GoPower 1500-watt pure sine wave inverter, ordered from Amazon.  It will take the 12-volt power from the batteries and convert it to regular household AC power.  While a number of items in an RV are 12-volt powered, such as the water pump and lights, some of the items we prefer to bring to our seasonal site, such as the TV and satellite receiver, require 120-volt power.  This GoPower inverter, like the charge controller, is sized for our needs.  One can buy bigger or smaller inverters as well.  I chose it after a lot of research, including seeing some videos of the internal parts on YouTube, where it appeared to use some heavy-duty materials inside.

In a couple of days Carla and I plan to head into Regina and visit SaskBattery.  They have a sale this weekend that includes 220 amp-hour 6V batteries and 235-watt solar panels.  That's the last of the major parts I need for this system.  Hopefully I can do a write-up on those items next week!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

The Road to Solar, Chapter 3

Well, the wind is howling outside today, and the windchill is close to -30C.  It's a good time to think about camping, right?

Anyway, yesterday I received my first package of items for our solar project.  Exciting stuff!

It doesn't look like much, does it?  But it's all important as this is all safety equipment.  So let's tour around the photo...

In the upper left is a 300 amp T-type fuse and it's block.  This massive fuse is a fast-blow type that will be on the positive line between the batteries and inverter.  It's physically big to take the massive current from the four batteries and to hook up the (likely) 2/0 welding cable I'll be using on that line.  The posts are 3/8" on the block.

Upper right is a 175 amp ANL fuse.  It's a little smaller and will be located on the positive line between the panels and the charge controller.  There is less current and smaller lines here, and not as much need for fast-blow capability.  The posts on this block are 5/16".

On the lower left is a 50 amp resettable circuit breaker.  This will go on the positive line between the charge controller and the batteries.  The posts on here are 1/4".

Lastly, on the lower right is a battery switch.  In this case it will actually be used between the solar panels and the charge controller to shut off power if I need to service something in the system.

All of these items are Blue Sea Systems products and I purchased them from Marine Outfitters of Kingston, ON.  They have an awesome electrical section on their website with almost any product one needs for something like this.

I don't need much more for hardware.   I have a power distribution block on the way from Mouser Electronics to combine the wires from the panels.  I may yet need to get a power distribution post for all the positive connections to meet in the circuit.  Of course, I'll also need a bunch of cable and wire.  I'll sort that out when I get all the big items and can lay them out to plan lengths.

So, it's starting to come together!

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Road to Solar, Chapter 2

Good evening!  This blog post is going to be an attempt to detail the more technical information regarding our choices in attempting to set up a solar system.

So once we decided we were going to try to run some kind of solar system in Bison Hollow campground, we thought about what was out there for products.  We saw a 140-watt portable panel and a 1000-watt inverter in the Canadian Tire flyer.  Reading the reviews on their web site didn't really give me a lot of confidence in the products so I kept doing more research.  I'm sure glad I did!

The first web site I read, and maybe the most eye-opening, was HandyBob's Blog.  Bob, along with his wife and dog, live in their RV full-time and live almost completely without plugging in.  He installed his own solar system, and seems to do custom installs as a side business.  He's learned a lot a long the way, and developed some strong opinions about the industry.  But even if one doesn't necessarily agree with his commentary, it gave me a lot to think about and definitely helped me develop the system I'm working on putting together now.

What we did next was to find out how much energy we might use in a day.  What devices and appliances would be be running and for how long?  Most of them have labels with power consumption data, so we would check that and estimate time of usage.  A few items we looked online for information if we couldn't find it locally.  For example, while an RV refridgerator can run on propane, the front panel that controls it runs on 12V power.  Our fridge manual didn't have that sort of info in it.  By the way, it's still a bit of a power-hog even when running on propane!  The goal of all this is to come up with a total number of amp-hours consumed in a day.  This will determine the size of the battery bank and how many watts of solar panel we will need to recharge them.  Morning coffee, lighting, phone charging, we thought of it all.

So the number we came up with was just under 100 amp-hours, so we're using 100 as our base number.  Now that is just average daily use and doesn't take into account higher-power items we might have used occasionally, such as a slow-cooker or electric frying pan.  We knew from the start Carla's 1875-watt hair dryer would be out of the question.  Same with running air conditioning.  That would be a generator-only item.  But with some reading, I learned that we don't want to use our batteries any more than 50% discharge, as that's hard on them, and if we allow for some heavier usage now and then we decided to go for a 440 amp-hour battery bank.  It's a funny-looking number but it's because we're going to purchase four 6-volt golf-cart deep-cycle batteries and the most common type comes in 220ah size.  Two batteries will be wired in series to get 12-volts, and then those pairs will be wired in parallel to double the amp-hours.

The panel question took some thought as well.  12-volt panels (32 cell) or 24-volt panels (60-cell)?  Monocrystaline or polycrystaline?  This decision was connected directly to the choice of charge controller as well, so I'll talk about both items here.  There are two different technologies used in charge controllers.  Some use an older technology called Pulse-width modulation, or PWM.  The other kind is Maximum power point tracking, or MPPT.  PWM can only use the lower-voltage panels as they can't make use of the extra voltage or the 60-cell panels.  They would be fine in a small system, but for what we want to do, we figured the MPPT controller would be more effective as the 60-cell mono panels with an MPPT controller can supply more voltage earlier in the day and in low-light conditions enabling use to get charged up faster.  On the one hand, these panels are cheaper per watt than the smaller panels, but MPPT controllers are more expensive.    This is where more math came into the decision.  How long would it take to replace the 100 amps with a certain wattage of panel?  I'm looking at installing about 470-watts (2x235) so 470 watts divided about 12.2 volts in a discharged battery gives a amperage of 38.5.   That's what the charge controller would be putting out.  That means a less expensive 30-amp controller would not be optimum.   Something to consider.  Anyway, at that rate, we're charged up in three hours easily, keeping in mind that's a theoretical number as it will change with sun angle.  But I think it's safe to say this amount of panel would be adequate.  I'd expect to be charged by early afternoon and maintain full charge until evening.

So what have we actually chosen for equipment?  For panels and batteries we're waiting to attend a sale at SaskBattery later in March.  They have batteries for 99$ each and the panels for $250.  We'll probably purchase there as those two items would have killer shipping prices if we bought elsewhere online.  For a charge controller I chose a Morningstar Tristar 45-amp charge controller.  This will take the charge from the panels and then adjust it as needed to charge the batteries.   It's a very highly regarded controller.   For an inverter I've chosen Go Power 1500-watt Pure Sine Wave inverter to take the 12V power and convert it to house power.  I watched a YouTube video regarding this inverter and really liked how well it appeared to be built inside.  Big heat sink and heavy cabling.  Finally I also purchased Bogart Engineering Battery Monitor.  This is another highly rated product and an important part of the system as it's essential to know what's going into and out of the batteries.

Tomorrow I'll write a bit about the rest of the system.   The big parts of the system don't work to well without the little bits like switches, fuses and wires!  I got a shipment in the mail today with some of that so I'll show you some of it, too.

By the way, if anyone has any questions, don't hesitate to ask.  I haven't really provided all the sites and equipment I studied to get to this point.  I'd rather not overwhelm the reader right away!  But if anyone is interested I'll do what I can to help.

The Road to Solar Power, Chapter 1

Good morning!  And so here it is, the main reason I've revived our old blog!  Really, I probably could have written about other things before now but this is a topic perhaps a little more helpful for others.  So here it is!

This whole story gets started with our plan to book a seasonal campsite at Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park.  SaskParks takes applications in January and then holds a draw in each provincial park in early February to assign the sites.  We had a powered site in 2016 and assumed we would do the same this year.  Much to our surprise, Saskatchewan Landing park decided they would not offer powered sites in 2017!  They had removed Nighthawk campground from the seasonal draw, and only offered sites in Bison Hollow, the unpowered campground.

So...what to do?  Carla and I weigh the options.  Unpowered seasonal camping fees are $1100.  That covers camping from the May long weekend through to the end of September.  Another option would be to apply to another park with powered seasonal camping.  Powered seasonal fees are $2100.  The third option is paying the full daily rate for powered camping.  That is $30 per night.  We quickly dismissed going elsewhere.  We love the Landing and we have a lot of friends that camp there too.  And it didn't take long to dismiss paying the nightly rate as that would either quickly approach $4000 for the full summer, or we would have to cut back a lot on our camping experience.   Bison Hollow, here we come!

To be honest, it wasn't a super-hard decision.  Carla has a coworker friend who has camped in Bison Hollow before and loved that part of the park.  It is close to the water of Lake Diefenbaker, and not far from the main beach and playground area.  Our site last year was nice but somewhat far from most of the fun areas.  So we got our application in and started planning how we would manage unpowered camping!

Our first ever application for seasonal camping was last year, and we got extremely lucky being first drawn and got our first choice of sites.  Our luck held this year, too, and we got our second choice of sites.  We're headed to site #2 this year!  It's going to have some nice morning sunshine, late afternoon shade, and it's close to washrooms and a water source.
SaskParks photo of Bison Hollow #2.  This is an older photo.  The firepit has been upgraded to the culvert style.  Lake on the left, washrooms and water source in back to right.

Anyway, that's Chapter 1 of the story, kind of how we got here.  My next post will be more technical, and go into detail of our solar power plans!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Not Dead Yet

Well, I'm not sure I expected to be bringing this blog back from it's near-death experience.  But I realised it was so terribly out-dated, and we have something of an experiment or adventure in the works so I thought this might be a better place to write about it.  So a few minor changes here and there and the old blog is new again.

The old family photo that was up there to the right was from about 2009.  The boys have grown up so much since then, so a new photo was a requirement.  As you can tell, they are fine young men in the cadet program in Swift Current, SK.  Mitchell is a member of 605 Tarry Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron.  Matthew and Michael are members of 128 Prairie Schooner Navy League Cadet Corp.  And myself, David, I'm an officer with the Navy League as well!  Carla is a very tolerant and understanding cadet mom! 

The new name of this blog, The Road Most Travelled, comes directly from our cadet life.  A lot of miles are put on our vehicles travelling to cadet events.  We parade Wednesday nights, from the beginning of September into early June, but we also participate in extra training and fundraising activities on the majority of weekends as well.  Oh, did I mention it's a 50 minute drive to Swift Current?  So those miles pile up quick!

Anyway, I'll keep this short for now.  I just wanted to kick this thing back to life!  More to follow I hope!