Saturday, April 24, 2010

Living on Solar Power

It's a bit soon to be writing about this, since we've only had our system up (and only 2/5 of the system is up now) for three days. But, here's what I've gleaned so far.

The sunlight begins to peak over the horizon at around 5am here. With those first glimmers of light, the solar panels begin to collect energy. There's not much energy at that time of day, but after a few moments enough is collected for the controllers to kick in, and try to begin collecting information from the solar panels. The controllers keep track of how much energy has been collected, and how much has been sent along to the batteries. I believe they do other things as well, but so far my only interaction with the controllers has been in relation to their job as energy meters. Apparently, the amount of energy the controllers need (to run their own activities) quickly uses up all of the energy the panels have collected from the tiny bit of sunlight, and the controllers turn themselves off again.

We have two controllers running, so far. Each is connected to 4 solar panels. Eventually, with the equipment we have currently purchased, we will have four controllers each connected to 5 panels.

So, at dawn, the controllers start turning on and off. They do this with an audible "click." At first, the clicks from the two controllers come every few seconds. This wakes us up in the morning, sometime between 5 and 5:15. Gradually, as the panels are able to collect greater amounts of power more quickly, the clicks come further and further apart, until eventually there are no more clicks - the controllers are running steadily. This morning, which is especially sunny, the clicks ended at around 5:45. At their peak of "clickiness," however, the sound of the controllers turning on and off is very much reminiscent of the sound of a toddler discovering that he can climb onto something and reach a light switch - on, off, on, off, on, off . . .

Depending on the sunniness of the day, we start our peak solar collection hours around 8:30 or so. At that time, we make sure and do the things which use lots of energy, like washing laundry, vacuuming (with the shop vac), etc. We have good power, depending on the weather, until around 3 or 3:30pm. Then the sun is too far over for the rays to reach our panels well, and we gradually collect less and less power until dark.

One of the things we'd like to implement is an earlier rising time in the morning, and an earlier bedtime at night. This would reduce the use of battery power for lighting. We currently require the family to be up and going (although still eating breakfast is acceptable) by 7am. We're thinking of gradually pushing that to 6am. We already go to bed around 9:30 most nights, so we won't need to push that much, unless we're all feeling too tired to get up at the earlier rising time.

I've got to go now - the chickens and bunny haven't been fed, and there's lots more to do after that! ;-D


Anonymous said...

Will they eventually "save" power for you, so that you will have similar energy available day or night? I am in awe you guys!

Jane Mc

Trish said...

Hey Jane! We will need to upgrade our batteries to get to a better level of energy in the non-sunlight hours. Allen is researching this now - I believe we'll be upgrading to some sort of forklift battery - but this might not happen for quite a long while.

Currently, we have enough power in our batteries, after a sunny day, to get us through the dark hours if we are careful of our usage. When the weather isn't sunny, we know we'll have to fall back on using the generator to charge the batteries. But, that's why we have it! ;-D