I find it amazing how the mention of Solar, bring a glazed look to so many faces. We have been using the sun to our advantage for ever, no maybe not photovoltaic panels but direct sunlight to dry food like sun dried tomatoes, by a farmer to dry cut hay to allow storage in a barn to feed cattle in none growing seasons, and the double header your clothes line that uses sun and the wind to dry clothes without electricity or gas wow…no wonder the puzzled sceptical looks…I totally understand…NOT.
And don’t get me started on photosynthesis that voodoo that allows plant life to try to clean up all the air pollution that we are creating. Now I’m not a tree hugger or anything even close, I love my creature comforts as much as the next guy but I also see the spiraling cost of electricity and have thought for some time with the technology today we should be more self sufficient, so solar, wind, building technologies all come onto play, we have watched our government here in Ontario jump on the green wagon to produce power by wind and solar to the total upset of the economy, skyrocketing prices because they had no idea what they were doing, the thought was good the execution was beyond my definition of stupid and you all know my tolerance level for stupid!
Here is what should have happened, they should have allowed individuals to supplement their needs with low cost loans, removing the tax on solar and wind devises, and encouraged private investment to send power to the grid. Instead of contracting the production to huge corporations and promising huge returns, driving the price of electricity to stupid levels…this all happening in a province that had a surplus of power, coal fired polluting generators had all been shut down so nuclear, hydro, and natural gas were the sources and our pricing was reasonable. Now the beautiful Niagara region is covered with wind turbines to produce power for the power pig we all call Toronto, but we couldn’t build the turbines there because it was not pleasing to the eye and most of the votes come from the area so park the turbines all over the province and add more and more power lines…this is why politicians only worry about getting elected and staying there and the hell-with what it does to the economy. Yah I know that was one of those rants that I have mentioned before…lol
Where was I, oh yes solar…I know the glazed look again…but I believe if everyone just had a little solar in their life it would be so much better, make it as small as some solar powers lamps in your yard, and branch out from there. As you know we are full time RVer’s so we have multiple options as to our way of life, we can not be plugged in and living in the dark in other words not using any electricity at all, or we can be plugged in with ability to do almost everything you can in you home or there are multiple stages in between, but all those stages in between require you to have stored power or the ability to produce power or some combination there of. But they all require having a power storage system or as it’s called a battery or a battery bank if it is multiple batteries! Batteries have been around for ever they come in-all forms but the most common is a lead and acid based battery, reasonably inexpensive, fairy reliable, but need more care than most of us understand…any lead based battery wants to be fully charged all the time, every lead battery looses power just sitting, discharge rates vary by manufacture but all discharge with time, unlike your phone battery that can be left at 80% charged for an extended time, lead acid doesn’t like that it’s not at 100% all the time, which works fine in our cars, we start them the alternator charges the batteries and as long as we drive them far enough all is well, here in lies the problem as full timers we don’t start our coach and drive it every day, in fact we can sit for months at a time, so if we are going to use our batteries or not they need to be kept fully charged.
So easy if we are plugged into shore power either our inverter or our converter/charger does this for us and is able to keep them at 100% oh yah. But if we are not plugged in how do we accomplish this? It’s simple just run our generator and charge them back up, not just that easy, you see lead acid batteries like to be fully charged but they resist taking that charge. So our inverter or charger has three different stages of charging “BULK” “ABSORPTION ” and “FLOAT ” and each has a different voltage rating to accomplish the task, each battery manufacturer sets out exact parameters to reach fully charged as quickly as possible, and while most battery chargers use preset general rates a generator will do this given enough time but fuel, noise, and time constraints usually see the battery being left short of 100%. And the problem is we just don’t know we are failing our batteries, because we don’t measure full or empty, we may have a series of lights that are red, yellow or green but is green 85% 90% or 100%? I know let’s check the voltage so what voltage is 100% the manufacturer will give you a number but it is with no surface charge, I know what the hell is a surface charge? That is the residual voltage from a charger, we charge your 12 volt battery at some where between 14 thru 15.5 volts so when the charger is removed a certain amount of that voltage remains for up to 30 minutes. Now my AGM batteries are fully charged at 12.8 volts and at 50% have a 12.0 volt reading so a little tough to get real accurate picture, so how and heck do we know if we are at 100%?
The most accurate way to know is to have a battery monitoring system, and it will track how much power you take from the battery and how much you put back. It is done by putting a shunt between the battery and the load so every thing going and coming is measure, amp/hrs out and amp/hrs in. The monitor is loaded with your battery bank data total amp/hour rating, it then acts as a fuel gauge for your battery either telling you a percentage of charge or in amp/hrs where the battery is. Now you may be asking your self why this long winded explanation, rant and all…well it’s a simple answer I learned it the hard way, three months into our full timing life, I had pretty much destroyed our house batteries, and why because I did not understand the importance of the 100% charged, I did not have a battery monitoring system, just those stupid lights. So we were not getting our batteries fully charged, day after day an hour of generator now and then and the light would go green but we were definitely not fully charged. So after a week or so of boondocking in the Quartzsite area of Arizona our AGM batteries were not in a happy place at all in fact they were starting a small revolution that included setting off the detector in the bedroom because the voltage was below 11.8 volts, now just take a second to imagine a smoke detector blasting at five o’clock in the morning, cats scattering, and Laurie and myself scrambling to make it stop, and imagine our neighbours as we fire the generator before six in the morning but at this point it was everyone for themselves, and a us or them situation developed…lol
Ok here is were my solar education started, along with a quick course of voltage drops, amperage, and amp hours. You see we had a pair of panels on the coach when we bought it and it would always show the batteries were charged in fact we had a second system and a second controller and a third panel…time to figure out what the hell is going on and the sooner the better.
So the single panel a small two foot square panel that was attached to the solar controller in the bedroom was attached to the house batteries, the panel was not producing any thing so there was no benefit to any battery system, the second two panel system was connected to the chassis batteries, which while nice to have them topped off had no benefit to our needs at the time. So I switched the the two panel system to the house batteries but because of the long run of wire too the controller the voltage drop in the system was shutting it down before giving any benefit at all. This is when I purchased the Zamp solar suitcase and became a Solar believer…we were able to push more that a 100 amp/hours of power back in to the house batteries everyday by just chasing the sun a little, and even better by using the generator early in the day to do some of the bulk charge work the suitcase and the controller were able handle the absorption to get the batteries back to 100% charged. And this is how a Solar nut was born, I am working on a solar series of blogs that will explain what we have done and what we are planning to do but this blog was needed as I have been asked a lot of questions recently regarding batteries and solar so I just felt it necessary to touch on the subject.