Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Camping Season Has Begun!

So we're through the May long weekend and we survived!  The weather wasn't always the best but we managed to have plenty of fun.

We arrived on Thursday, May 18, as the park allows in seasonal campers the day before official opening to spread out the load a bit.  After check-in we headed to our site, #2 in Bison Hollow (the unpowered campground at Sask Landing).  It took a bit of time to get level, but eventually we were set up.  In the photo below you can see the view from our site (before the wind screens went up).  We're very close to Lake Diefenbaker!  It's a beautiful site, very close to water supply and bathrooms, too.

There were a few steps to get the solar system setup again.  Due to how it's arranged, it meant removing the batteries from the box, unloading and placing the box, then replacing the batteries.  With each battery weighing more than 60 pounds, the box is too heavy to lift with four batteries in it.  But once that task was done, it was just a matter of running the cables out to their various locations for reattachment.  That would be the inverter ground wire, 12-volt lines, RV AC power cable, and of course the panel lines.

Of course the weather can never be perfect on our first weekend camping and it wasn't long before we had to set up our wind screens.  We're more sheltered from wind from the west and northwest, but we ended up with strong winds from the south and southwest this time, so you can see those screens in place in the photo above.

But other than the wind, we love our site!  As you saw above, it has a beautiful view, is so close to the water for the kids to play on the beach or to carry our kayaks down for some paddling.  And it's also very nicely shaded to protect both us and our trailer from summer heat!  Although we have plenty of solar power, it's not enough for running the air conditioner so I'm hoping we can have enough shade to avoid running a generator.

All that shade did present somewhat of a problem for our solar panels.  After the first day I realised I had to move them further ahead of the trailer.  When I first set them into place, they were in a perfect position, for that time of about 1:30pm!  What I didn't realise was that both earlier and later, two trees shaded them a lot.  Our charge rate can be cut in half with the shading we had. I ended up moving them forward of the trailer another few feet.  We still encounter some shading, but not nearly as much.  It's not usually too much trouble to be fully charged by noon if we get a sunny day.

We're not pushing the system very hard.  It's running the freezer full time powering the console on the fridge which is using propane for cooling.  Other incidentals are charging phones and laptops, a decorative light with a CFL bulb (the green light hanging over the site) in the evenings and running the 19" TV and DVD player one night.  We've run the microwave for a minute one day to defrost hotdog buns, and Carla has used her hair dryer a couple of times.  And a couple of cold mornings (one night close to 0C/32F!) had us run the furnace.  It's all working great!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Running On Solar Power

In my last post I described activating our solar system.  Since then we've been testing it in the yard.  How has it been going?  Pretty good I'd say!  Sure, it's running the simple things.  The clock radio is on, the radio works and the LED interior lights are shining!  But that's not really putting a load on the batteries and inverter.  So what have we tried?

The first item we turned on was the small apartment freezer.  This is a four drawer unit, and with a family of five we appreciate having that extra freezer space in the trailer!

This freezer, a Danby model, pulls five to six amps of energy while running.  Obviously it will run more often when it's hot out.  On cool days we've seen it take about 5% of battery overnight (when the panels aren't providing charge) and as much as 10% when it's very warm (a 29C day).

One day we decided to cook supper using solar power!  Carla put together a slow cooker recipe with chicken breasts in a mushroom sauce and alongside she cooked some rice in an electric rice steamer.

We didn't run them at the same time.  When the slow cooker was done Carla shut it off and turned on the rice steamer.  It was a sunny day so we had plenty of energy coming in to run the cookers, using about 8-10 amps of power, but with all the sun, by the time we ate, the batteries were only down to about 96%.  And it was back to 100% a bit later!

We enjoyed a delicious supper under the awning outside!

Today we gave the ice maker a try.  It's an Igloo branded machine, medium sized, and holds about 2.3 quarts of water.  When we first plugged it in, it hit 30 amps on startup but settled down to about 9 amps when running.  We let it run for a couple of hours and it used 2% of the battery capacity.  This was evening and very cloudy and raining a bit so we weren't getting any more charge at the time, but the results were good.

And here's the solid results...

We made enough to fill two medium freezer ziploc bags to store in the freezer. Great for using in the margarita machine!

Further testing will be coming up this week, such as the fridge.  It will run on propane but the control panel runs on 12-volt power.  I might try it on the inverter, just to see what will happen.  

It's great fun to watch the energy put to use, then be replenished by the sun!  We roll out to Saskatchewan Landing Provincial Park in 11 days, when the system is put to work for real!