How to Build Small, Quick, and Dirty Solar Power

Well, not so dirty – solar power is actually considered a “clean, green” power. I was just referring to how quickly I managed to get it online and supplying us with power.

This morning was not nearly as cold as the past three. I actually regretted wearing my sweat suit all night. I was uncomfortably warm, although it did offer a little protection from the sandflies that were tormenting me as I fell asleep. I noticed that Donna has out my old bug protection kit, which does include a mosquito net designed to drape over a bed, so perhaps we can give that a try tonight and see if it is helpful.

Kenny, perhaps instinctively, always retracts deep under his covers and leaves no flesh exposed when he falls asleep, so he doesn’t act as bug fodder as a matter of course.

As an aside, tonight is sauna night, so I’m going to type up this blog post between steam sessions. I’m already dripping with steam and sweat from my first go, but I dried my hands carefully so as to protect the keyboard. There is dooner vetter brewing here, big dark clouds are rolling in, it should be interesting in the yurts tonight, but it’s not so cool now that I can’t sit outside for a time, and the sauna has a nice bench and porch to relax on.

Back to the day though.

This morning we used the tractor and trailer to haul our final loads from my in-laws, through the bush, to our yurts. It went uneventfully, and while the specter of rain hung over our heads, it held off until after everything was at least on our porch.

I managed to haul in my batteries on the wagon, and placed them inside an inexpensive bin from the now nearly-defunct Zeller’s chain of stores.

I had purchased two, deep-cycle six volt batteries, each rated for about 210 amp-hours. I wired them in series (positive terminal on one, to negative on the other), and ended up with twelve volts, still at 210 amp-hours. The rain began, so I retreated inside for lunch, and attached the terminals to my Motomaster 3Kw modified sine wave inverter. I chose a modified sine wave inverter because I felt that I needed to stay on budget, and I wasn’t planning on plugging in any deal-breaking electronics.

The iPad can be charged via USB, and this inverter had a built-in USB port. It remains to be seen if it feeds enough power to actually charge the iPad. I know it can do Donna’s iPod, so I’m hopeful at the moment. I’ll try to let you know when I actually charge up this device.

After lunch there was a break in the rain, so I drilled some holes under the handles of the tub, keeping the batteries reasonably weather-safe, but still well ventilated. I then got a similar bin, although this one was hinged, and put the inverter in there. Ran the wires between the two, hooked up positive to positive, negative to negative, and, after some exciting sparks, pressed the inverter power button – success! 12.6 volts, and my little multi-cell battery charger began charging some spare D batteries for our lantern.

I also tested my Ryobi One+ charger, which also worked (so far) to charge my Ryobi Lithium batteries – that’s a real handy thing – now my cordless tools are still available to me.

As I said, I finally plugged in Donna’s iPod to the USB port, and it began charging, so I’m hopeful that the iPad will also get enough amperage to charge too. It is sometimes hit or miss with USB.

Then the rain began again, so I sat in the yurt and wired up my charge controller, in anticipation of getting the solar panel attached, and some power coming into my system, instead of just drawing out.

As I worked, Donna suddenly remarked that water was running in on the floor at the coupling. I headed outside and did an impromptu installation of our eave’s trough. It was tricky, and not helped at all by Donna yelling out the location of more leaks from inside the yurt, as water gushed off the roof and straight down my sleeves, which I conveniently held aloft so that it ran past my armpits, finally pooling at my waistband. Gore-Tex is not always the miracle it’s made out to be, at least when you don’t cinch shut your wrist straps.

Adjusting the doors outward off the floor alleviated the rest of the leaks, and I will screw them into place next chance I get.

The rain diminished yet again, so I rushed outside and, with yet another small plastic tub, hooked the charge controller to the batteries. Now we were really close! The charge controller reported that my batteries were low, which isn’t surprising, as they haven’t really been charged up yet, and had been subjected to a (small) load for awhile, so I’m not going to panic right now.

This took us close to the end of the afternoon. The rain came back, I closed up everything, and tackled my backlog of paperwork. I suppose part of me is a Hermes Conrad – a born bureaucrat. I get great satisfaction from organizing and filing stacks of paperwork. Especially when I can shred or recycle it. I guess that makes me also a partial minimalist too?

We broke for a mouth-watering roast that Mummu had prepared in the slow cooker and allowed us to share with her.

After dishes, the rain let up YET AGAIN! So I grabbed my solar panel, attached it to the leads from the charge controller, cut one set of leads off so I could re-attach them again, this time with some heat shrink tubing that I had forgotten (to make my connections weathertight).

Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for a sunny day to see if I can generate some juice! Next up will be trying to see if I can convert our chest freezer into a chest refrigerator. Possible in theory, but we’ll see how it is in practise.

I hear far off thunder, and it’s time for my last round of steam, and then a shave.

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