Saturday, October 22, 2016

Solar Shed: Part 14: Backup Power

I've just finished three posts about how I mounted my solar panels for my solar powered office (panel mounts revision 1, panel mounts revision 2, east facing morning panels).  I've got 2850W of solar panels hung for an office that can run, in a pinch, on just over 200W.  But winter days are short, winter days can be dark, and winter can have inversion layers out here that lead to a month of clouds in a bad year.

So now, after all the solar panel discussion, it's time to talk about my backup generator - a key part of a balanced breakfast solar powered office.  Really, they're needed for any off grid system.

My generator is a rebrand of a knockoff of a Honda inverter generator - and it works great!  Read on to see how this hooks into the rest of my system.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Solar Shed: Part 13: Morning Panels

It's the middle of October.  I've been working in my solar powered office full time since July, and so far, all is good out there.  I have plenty of power (so much, in fact, that I'm running Folding@Home and BOINC on sunny days), and even on cloudy days I've been OK so far.  The temperature in the office remains entirely comfortable, and this is, quite literally, the best office environment I've ever had.

But, winter is coming, and power is much like a Spuddie - enough just isn't enough.  I've got 8 panels hung (two strings of 4, as documented here and here), but I ordered 10 panels.  The remaining 2 panels are gathering impressive amounts of dust in my other shed (it lacks a door, and is sitting on some rather uneven ground under where the chains broke through the roof, so it seems to concentrate dust).

Nearly every single morning, as I'm walking out to my office, I see this beautiful east-facing wall, soaking up the sun.  It's full of sun long before my main panels are producing much (while my battery bank is lowest), and it's just a beautiful empty canvas, begging for something useful.

I set out to do something useful with that wall.  Bolting solar panels to the wall made sense to gather that wonderful morning sun - but I figured I could do more.  Winter is what concerns me as far as power goes, and winter sun is low and south.  Being able to swing those panels to face south would be nice.  Southwest would be a nice touch too, should I need it to continue generating power in the winter evenings.

My office being my office and me being me, you can guess that I built such a panel holder!

These panels are normally docked for morning production, but can swing all the way around to face southwest for my "manual tracker" approach to gathering more winter sun.

That's the "What and Why" - for the "How," keep reading!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Solar Shed: Part 12: Panel Mounts Revision 2

If you were looking forward to this post last week - sorry about that!  I ran across such utter and complete nonsense that I felt the need to offer my opinions on it.  Anyway, back to my solar panels and wooden mounts.

The first generation panel mounts I built for my solar powered office weren't amazing.  They're incredibly stout, and should last through any windstorm we get, but they're simply too heavy.  It's nearly impossible to swing them solo, and they were a nightmare to build and assemble.

Based on what I learned, I drafted a different set of plans for my second generation panel mounts.  Something lower, lighter, and better balanced.  Something that looks an awful lot like this:

Why?  And how?  Read on!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

SolPad: Number Free Nonsense

SolPad.  It's an Energy Experience.  It's a website with zero useful information.  It's a high production quality video.  And what I can find, it's so fact free that it makes makes Jeremy Clarkson look like a fountain of factual information.

And, it's solar.  It's battery.  It's home automation.  It talks to you.  It's a WiFi Hotspot.  It's launching in the "second half of 2017."  And, based on what I can see, it looks suspiciously like a huge load of crap.  So I'm going to offer an overview of it, as well as my thoughts and opinions, based on the available information.

There are two major products covered in the video (and two minor ones).  The first is "SolPad Home" - which seems like a standard rooftop solar panel with integrated microinverter, but also with a battery.

The second is SolPad Mobile.  This is your portable solar energy generator/grid tie energy generator/compass/WiFi hotspot/emergency light/friend.  It comes complete with a "transport mechanism" - that thing, extended out the top.

I'll be going through both, based on the very limited information I can find on their website and in their video.


Keep reading!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Solar Shed: Part 11: Panel Mounts Revision 1

It's time for a few more posts about my Tuff Shed to Office conversion.  This post and the three following will focus on the details of my solar panel mounts and backup power systems, highlighting what I did, and what I wouldn't do in the future.

All of this started with a stack of 10 solar panels delivered on a pallet.  Which, of course, I didn't bother to take a picture of.  My panels are the SolarWorld SunModule 285W panels (details in my main post about the power system). 

Now, a stack of 10 solar panels on a pallet is a pretty cool thing to have, but it's not a particularly useful thing without a bit more work.  Solar panels are like lizards.  They are happiest lying out in the direct sun, just soaking up the photons.  I needed something to take my panels off the pallet and let them soak up the sun, so I could extract their high energy electrons to run my computers and air conditioner.

So I built such a thing!  This is revision 1 of my panel mounts.  It's a terrible design, for reasons I'll go into later, but it does indeed work.

Read on for the details!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

HexBright Flashlight Battery Teardown and Replacement

The HexBright flashlight, from 2011, is an interesting little device.  It's a flashlight with an embedded Arduino for control, so you can reprogram it to do whatever you want.  Which, being a flashlight, mostly involves turning the light on and off and changing the brightness.

In 2016, it's abandonware.  The creator has left a nice little note saying, essentially, "So long and thanks for all the fish."  It lives on in a weird state - what was claimed to be an "open source flashlight" is left without that much information available, a half-finished community wiki, and... that's about it. 

One problem is that the design of the battery holder is very, very touchy.  The flashlight fits the provided battery like a very tight glove, but protected 18650s vary in length by more than a little bit, and it's nearly impossible to find one that specifies the exact length accurately.  Of course there are no HexBright replacements available.

And, sadly, my battery died after a few months of sitting in a box when I moved.  I suspect I'm not the only one with this problem.

So I set out to replace the battery, succeeded in two different ways, and am sharing them with the world!

Read on if this is at all relevant to you.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

DeWalt 20V Max 3.0Ah Battery Pack Teardown & Analysis

It's been a little bit since I've torn apart a new battery pack!  The last new-to-me pack I pulled apart was a 26v BionX battery (which, I'd add, I rebuilt to nearly twice the stock capacity by filling all the space with cells).  And I've got this cute little DeWalt 20V MAX battery pack (model DCB200, 3.0Ah)  that's just not behaving right.  It would charge, but then only show one LED on the status bar.  I got it for $6 at a pawn shop when I asked for defective batteries.

Well, I've got a dead battery on my bench - that means that it's time to tear it apart!

And you know you want to see what's inside!

Read on for an awful lot of photos inside this solidly built battery pack.