Due to the energy shortage, Serenity Valley remains dark and deserted. The power plant, erm, 1kW generator, is still at a mechanic’s in Redding for repairs. The reason du jour is “waiting for parts” which I guess hints at potential progress over yesterday’s “our mechanic called in sick”. In any case, pages are flying off the calendar, and I need to get to Serenity Valley. And I want power, damn it.
As all critical energy crises demand, the Serenity Valley Department of Energy launched an independent investigation into this current outage. As the independent investigator on the case, I would like to share with you a portion of the preliminary report, that covers the evolution of our electrical system.
- The origin of our electrical problems can be traced all the way back to the planning stage. In a report published on the 15th of August, the Department of Planning recommended the acquisition of a single Honeywell 1000i generator to fulfill our electrical needs. This recommendation was flawed for a number of reasons, the least of which was the fact that our electrical system was designed by our less-than-knowledgeable colleagues at the Department of Planning. The primary flaws in their recommendation are as follows:
- Firstly, the report stated that the recommended charge controller would “replenish a day’s usage in 2-3 hours”. This assertion clearly ignored the fact that charge controllers significantly reduce the charge current as the battery’s charge level increases, and thus, the charge time is not as simple as dividing the amp-hours used by the charge controller’s maximum charge current (e.g. 80aH / 40 amps). This oversight is significant because generators are not suitable for producing small amounts of current for prolonged periods; solar panels are much better for that.
- Secondly, the report recommended the use of a single electricity generating device to fulfill all of our electrical needs. It does not take a rocket scientist, or even an electrician, to realize that depending on a single device for such a critical piece of infrastructure would leave us dangerously vulnerable to prolonged outages.
- Thirdly, the Department of Planning, perhaps under pressure from the Department of Finance (understandably so, given our current budget crisis), recommended the acquisition of a Honeywell generator of questionable repute, as opposed to the more reputable, albeit costly, equivalent manufactured by Honda. The author of this report would like to point out that this decision exemplifies futile cost-cutting measures that, not only turn out to be more costly, but also leads to crises such as the one we currently experience, as we will see shortly.
- Many of these issues became apparent during our week-long trials at the Black Rock City Testing Grounds. The generator broke down after only 5 or 6 hours of usage, over 3 days. We then switched to our emergency back-up power aboard the Ryomobile, but that power source was also quickly depleted, likely causing permanent damage to that battery.
- In the aftermath of the disastrous trials, the Planning Department hastily revised its recommendation, urging for the immediate acquisition of solar panels to augment and back-up our (still unavailable) generator. Under time-pressure, the Planning Department recommended the immediate purchase of a 60 Watt solar array, available from a Costco warehouse located some 200 miles away. At roughly $5/Watt, this was a costly acquisition. From other sources, solar panels would have cost almost half as much, but the delays would have been unacceptable under the circumstances.
- In order to compensate for the loss of the generator, another ill advised plan was arranged. The plan called for a low cost inverter hooked up to the Ryomobile’s battery, which then provided power to our 105aH battery through the charge controller. This plan failed spectacularly, likely because the charge controller requires clean power, and not questionable power provided by a modified sine-wave inverter of questionable quality.
- With our generator still out of commission, our latest plan, currently being implemented, is to purchase yet another deep-cycle battery, and charging it by connecting it to the Ryomobile’s battery in parallel, while running the engine. This method of charging can harm the battery, however, the supplier of said battery (Costco) has a free-replacement policy on batteries returned within a year, thus making potential damages acceptable. While on the topic of batteries, the author of this report would also like to point out another ill advised acquisition. The AGM battery originally purchased at a cost of nearly $300, despite being state of the art and certified for military use, was over-spec’d for use on Serenity Valley. A deep cycle battery at a third of the cost from Costco would have been adequate, especially when considering the free-replacement policy.
On final count, the current electrical system has cost roughly $1170 dollars (AGM 105 aH battery – $300, generator – $400, charge controller – $100, 60 Watt solar array – $300, 85aH Costco battery – $70). For less than that, I could’ve instead purchased three 130 Watts solar panels (about $850), a 115 aH Costco battery ($90) and a 30 Amp solar charge controller ($160). In addition to being slightly cheaper, the latter option would’ve been cleaner, and with no moving parts, also more reliable. Another lesson learned.
I just got a Harbor Freight solar kit as a Black Friday buy. Normally about 225, I picked it up for 160. Rated at 45 watts, and with lots of extras it’s a pretty good deal. I pared it with a sealed costco deep cycle marine battery rated at 105Ah, for about $70.
Since it is still sealed, it’s good for internal useage, and the only true limitation is a these batteries are only good for about 30 amp draw at a time.
The controller it came with is simple, with a simple voltage based overcharge and undercharge protection, but it also provides genuine automotive style 12V jack and fuse protection, all of which I treat as a free bonus, saving me about $20 to make my own power panel. It’s no substitute for a MPPT charge controller, but I’m only running one room out of a small house, so I’m not stressed about it either.
It’s currently powering a cell phone charger, a Asus 1000HA laptop, and will soon be powering a beagleboard based home server, a string of led lights for some ambiant light, and a 12V CFL for a tasklight. It came with a pair of 12V CFLs, but at only 5 watts, and a horrid cold blue industrial color, they’re just not enough to be useful.