2017: A Solar Odyssey

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Train Wreck
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2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Tue Apr 11, 2017 10:52 pm

Hello All!

An introduction: the camp I belong to has used the same generator since 2006, which finally gave up the ghost this year after many hours of service, both on and off playa. Several years ago we started adding some solar to supplement our power needs and subsequently reduce the amount of gas we needed to bring.

Some things that we found we liked about the solar in comparison to a gasoline generator:
-No refueling
-Very little on-playa maintenance
-Set up and forget

... though not everything is perfect:
-Solar takes up more space to transport
-Good deep cycle batteries are HEAVY
-Cost to power ratio isn't as good as with a generator

After having the generator fail, I weighed the pros and cons and decided that solar is the best option for us going forward. This post is an introduction to what will hopefully be a thread documenting my solar journey. Please feel free to ask questions or comment along the way!

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Train Wreck
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Wed Apr 12, 2017 12:45 am

I've picked up a charge controller already, a 40A MPPT unit from epsolar, mainly because it has a decent readout and allows for user-defined charge settings. Research indicated that MPPT really outshined PWM in cooler weather, though the readout and user-defined charge settings was worth the extra cost for me.

I haven't exactly settled on a battery, though I am seriously looking at some 6V flooded deep cycle golf car batteries. I need roughly 225Ah; any suggestions are appreciated.

More to come as I make progress.

legionvr6
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by legionvr6 » Fri Jun 16, 2017 3:26 pm

BIG FAN OF THIS!!!! I made my first solar geni for Symbioses last year with just some old 34ah batteries salvaged out of a UPS to test out my understanding of the solar and it worked out almost perfect. Now I run a 74ah deep cycle in a battery box with the charge controler Velcro taped into place on the inside of the lid and a water resistant SAE plug on the outside. inverter bolted to the outside of the lid with the power cables running in through an opening. Makes for a very simple and easy to set up little geni with a 50W panel. This simple setup kept my phone, portable battery banks and a 110v fan running without issue at LIB. Also have other members at camp and neighbors charging off it.

You may deal with more weight but not having the sound of a gas geni running is priceless

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Train Wreck
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Fri Jun 16, 2017 6:59 pm

I agree- not having to listen to a gas generator, even one as quiet as a Honda, is really nice :)

So some progress has recently been made: we picked up a couple of 12V 105Ah AGM batteries and plan on wiring them up in parallel to get a total of 210Ah at 12V. I also managed to find some panels identical to the ones I got several years ago, so we'll have four 100W panels in series in our array.

The big question I have is how many Watt-hours can I expect to collect per day. While I have brought solar setups up there in past years, I haven't paid much attention to how much power was being generated.

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by legionvr6 » Sat Jun 17, 2017 4:45 pm

This is my first time going to the Playa so I'm expecting to produce less power then I normally produce since I'll need to bring down my panel at night (don't want to chance a dust storm while out or asleep) and during heavy wind durning the day. We're planning a 3x100W panel array connected to 3 batteries in parallel for our larger setup. Hoping we can run an AC for a few hours of day napping hahahaha

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Wed Jun 21, 2017 5:26 am

Yesterday we set up the solar equipment and did a test run for the first time. Fortunately, everything seemed to work fine-- the output was sufficient (even at sea level, with the panels lying flat on the ground). We had a 200W resistive load, plus a laptop and a speaker system plugged in to a 600W pure sine wave inverter to simulate our draw on-playa.

The box is coming along nicely; we just need to mount everything and install the ventilation fans. One question that still persists is how we are going to move this behemoth... each battery weighs 70lbs and the box weighs about 60lbs with all the other equipment in it, so we're looking at about a 200lb lift. We're considering two options: 1) remove the batteries before moving the box, 2)Make rungs out of steel strapping, attach them to the frame of the box, and use them to slide steel pipes in as handles (think arc of the covenant).

Pics:
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Train Wreck
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Wed Jun 21, 2017 5:31 am

legionvr6 wrote:This is my first time going to the Playa so I'm expecting to produce less power then I normally produce since I'll need to bring down my panel at night (don't want to chance a dust storm while out or asleep) and during heavy wind durning the day. We're planning a 3x100W panel array connected to 3 batteries in parallel for our larger setup. Hoping we can run an AC for a few hours of day napping hahahaha
How do you plan on setting up your panels? In my experience, they can stand up to a pretty rough playa beating, just make sure to anchor them well. I've left them on the ground (though that leads to playa dust build up), as well as strapping them to the roof rack of a large van. The roof rack approach was better seeing as the panels didn't accumulate as much dust, though it was a pain in the ass to clean them off when the time came.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the productivity of solar up in the desert. Just make sure to keep the panels clean(ish).

You may want to consider making a swamp cooler- you'll get way more run time out of that compared to an AC unit, though you do need to bring water for it. I recommend checking out figjam's post if you haven't already.

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by FlyingMonkey » Wed Jun 21, 2017 8:07 am

Train Wreck wrote:
legionvr6 wrote:This is my first time going to the Playa so I'm expecting to produce less power then I normally produce since I'll need to bring down my panel at night (don't want to chance a dust storm while out or asleep) and during heavy wind durning the day. We're planning a 3x100W panel array connected to 3 batteries in parallel for our larger setup. Hoping we can run an AC for a few hours of day napping hahahaha
How do you plan on setting up your panels? In my experience, they can stand up to a pretty rough playa beating, just make sure to anchor them well. I've left them on the ground (though that leads to playa dust build up), as well as strapping them to the roof rack of a large van. The roof rack approach was better seeing as the panels didn't accumulate as much dust, though it was a pain in the ass to clean them off when the time came.

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with the productivity of solar up in the desert. Just make sure to keep the panels clean(ish).

You may want to consider making a swamp cooler- you'll get way more run time out of that compared to an AC unit, though you do need to bring water for it. I recommend checking out figjam's post if you haven't already.
In 2015 I took 2 x 100W panels with 2 deep cycle batteries, charge controller & a decent inverter. I calculated the optimal panel angle for the Playa given the time of year & made a stand out of plywood & 2x4's. I set the panels/stand on my then empty trailer & pointed it South. If I was around I would rotate the trailer to face the sun a couple times throughout the day. This seemed to work well & I always had a good output from the panels to charge controller. I wiped the dust off of them occasionally but surprisingly didn't notice a huge difference dusty or clean. I was only measuring voltage so maybe more current was flowing but it wasn't critical for my needs.

Since the panels & stand were pretty heavy the wind didn't affect it (2015 had some strong winds) which was one of my big concerns with an open ended wedge. The wedge had enough space under it to put a bin with all the electronics. Unfortunately my bin got pretty hot and I had not included any ventilation for the equipment. I ended up taking the cover partially off to save the equipment from frying but that introduced a lot of dust.

My set-up was kind of last minute and has room for improvement. Given more time I would have made it out of metal & maybe made the angle adjustable but it worked well. I was thinking of making a stand that could also protect the panels during shipping. Since it was mounted on my trailer it was out of the way of stumbling hippies. I didn't realize how heavy the panels were until I got them and that (& wind load) is something to consider when mounting them anywhere above ground. Have a plan to provide your electronics "dust free" cooling air.

I would say be sure they are mounted to something stable to keep them from moving in a strong wind and get them above ground to avoid people tripping or falling on them. If you can, have a way of moving them to track the sun and dust them off as needed but don't obsess over that.

Enjoy your clean & quiet power :-)
In your wildest dreams you can not imagine the marvelous SURPRISES that await YOU.

legionvr6
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by legionvr6 » Wed Jun 21, 2017 9:55 am

Thank you both for the input. The AC unit is for a trailer studio apartment on the playa dream a friend has so we really want to get that to happen. I'm almost done with my dual fan figjam cooler that will be ran off my single battery solar geni with 50W panel.

Nice to know that panels seem to survive the winds. I may try to attach my 50W semi flex to the frame of our structure on a south facing section. I've also attached a photo of my little geni in case anyone was wondering what the finished product looked like. Super compact
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some seeing eye
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by some seeing eye » Wed Jun 21, 2017 10:18 am

Train Wreck wrote: The big question I have is how many Watt-hours can I expect to collect per day. While I have brought solar setups up there in past years, I haven't paid much attention to how much power was being generated.
There are solar insolation tables, maps and software. They have adjustments for latitude, date-month, panel angle and some include weather. They translate peak noon (if faced to longitude - true, not magnetic, South) Watts to Watt hours collected over the day. I did a quick lookup, and I think the BRC is 4.5 of peak Watts, but I did not double check that reference.

And thanks for the photos.

On playa, the Alternative Energy Zone camp is great place to meet solar enthusiasts and they offer tours, including the "Solar Death Ray" parabolic thermal concentrator. It appears that Snow Koan Solar will be back this year and they are experts on large commercial solar. I think they bring 30kW in their main array.
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by desiredlogin » Wed Jun 21, 2017 5:24 pm

Hi Some Seeing Eye, thanks for that info. Can I just confirm I understand what this means. If I have a 100W panel, I can expect to produce 450Wh/day in BRC?

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by some seeing eye » Wed Jun 21, 2017 6:14 pm

desiredlogin wrote:Hi Some Seeing Eye, thanks for that info. Can I just confirm I understand what this means. If I have a 100W panel, I can expect to produce 450Wh/day in BRC?
Yes. I got that number from https://www.emarineinc.com/Sizing-Your- ... lar-System.

There would be more detailed data for August-September for, say Reno from other sources. The multiplier is probably a little higher than 4.5 for Summer.

The length of the day, the elevation of the sun and the amount of atmosphere the light has to go through varies throughout the year and by location. The standard method is to orient the panel to South at an angle of 58 degrees from vertical for August in say Reno. If you put them on your roof and don't adjust them month by month you would use an average or a most expensive electricity month calculated angle.
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by FlyingMonkey » Thu Jun 22, 2017 10:32 pm

some seeing eye wrote:
Train Wreck wrote:
On playa, the Alternative Energy Zone camp is great place to meet solar enthusiasts and they offer tours, including the "Solar Death Ray" parabolic thermal concentrator. It appears that Snow Koan Solar will be back this year and they are experts on large commercial solar. I think they bring 30kW in their main array.
I did the tour in 2015 & it was time well spent. Those folks have it down to an art. Lots of great systems in use there.

Highly recommend going on the tour :D
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Sat Jun 24, 2017 5:50 am

We made some progress yesterday, mostly on the box.

A little about the construction... the box is 2' square, framed in 2x2s and clad on the sides with 1/4" hardwood ply, and the bottom is 1" ply. All joints are glued and screwed for maximum strength (and pleasure?). The two vents are forced air heater intake registers. Most of the materials we didn't have were picked up from the despot and various auto parts stores for roughly $80. The charge controller was about $225, 600W run / 1200W peak inverter $130ish, and the batteries were nearing $300 each. Reverend Billy save me from my shoppin!

The ribbing at the bottom of the box is there to spread out the weight of the battery across the bottom, as well as to provide additional rigidity:
Image


Pictured here is the solar charge controller (left, gray box with heat fins), inverter (blue box on right), and one of the batteries fitted in the box to test the fit. We also started on the lid, though didn't finish as we ran out of 2x2s:
Image


All we have left to do is finish the lid, wire everything up with properly sized fuses, and design/install the cooling system. We plan on using 120mm (4") 12v PC fans and low MERV furnace filters, though we aren't entirely sure how we'll mount them; we've been percolating on the idea of installing the filters behind the registers and then securing it with a sheet of construction mesh. That way the mesh will serve as retention for the filter and a place for us to anchor the fans.

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by some seeing eye » Sat Jun 24, 2017 12:27 pm

You might bring a multimeter with a thermocouple temperature probe to test temps in and around your box on the playa. They aren't expensive. If you want to measure currents, you could build in some current shunts on the DC side which you would read off in volts. Some panel - charge controllers have meter displays too. The panel - charge controller and inverter can benefit from being mounted to an aluminum heat sink - surplus or just bent from sheet aluminum. A lot of Chinese electronics run hot and the cooler you keep them the longer the life.

Another cool playa tool would be a no contact thermometer with a laser sight.

To move the beast, you could rig some loops of nylon webbing up the sides and crossing across the 1" bottom ply. I would also strongly suggest some tiedowns/brackets for the batteries to avoid tipping. I almost crashed my van once. The side G forces tore the battery loose and spilled the acidic electrolyte into the engine compartment.
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Sat Jun 24, 2017 12:46 pm

Thanks for the suggestions, some seeing eye.

I've already got a decent multimeter- good idea about the thermocouple. I wish I had the scratch for one of those fancy no contact infrared thermometers...

As far as things running hot are concerned, we were thinking of mounting a 4" fan directly on top of the heat fins of the charge controller in addition to the ventilation fans on the heater registers. Also thinking of doing the same for the inverter, even if it already has a thermally controlled cooling fan.

We were thinking of using some ratchet straps over the tops of the batteries to prevent them from toppling during transit. Fortunately, these are AGM batteries, so we shouldn't have to worry about spills-- I just don't want two 70lb deep cycles flying around.

I found a pretty slick panel meter on cramazon that shows voltage, current, and cumulative kWh. Along with the meter that I got for the PV controller, I should get a pretty good picture of our energy usage and production.

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by EGAZ » Sat Jun 24, 2017 12:59 pm

For down and dirty these actually work. They are not a Fluke, but they are not $200 either.
2nd time better than the first. And the first was pretty Freakin' Great!
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Sat Jun 24, 2017 8:32 pm

One of those would probably be perfect for a one time use out on the playa to make sure nothing is severely overheating. $28 for peace of mind? Sold.

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by FlyingMonkey » Mon Jun 26, 2017 11:40 am

EGAZ wrote:For down and dirty these actually work. They are not a Fluke, but they are not $200 either.

Sure those are <$30 but I'll walk out of the store with $100 worth of stuff that I don't currently need but couldn't resist buying.
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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by EGAZ » Mon Jun 26, 2017 11:54 am

Really?!?!? I never do that..... No, Really I don't.....



Ok, yea, I do...... :oops:
2nd time better than the first. And the first was pretty Freakin' Great!
I am Camp2. - A solo camp - Stop by and say Hey!, 8) Gotta beer?

If you are another Solo Burner & very 'Radically Self Reliant' - Maybe we can 'Do What We Do!' :P

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by Train Wreck » Wed Jun 28, 2017 2:44 pm

We got the lid situated the other day:

Image

Image

The only question that remains is how to set up the ventilation fans. I want positive air pressure in the box, though I also want the intake filter to do as good a job as possible. We have a FPR4 and a FPR7 filter; not sure which to put on the intake and which to put on the outlet. If I put the FPR7 filter on the intake I'll get better filtration, though that may limit the amount of air going in the box. If I put the FPR4 filter on the intake I'll get the airflow I want at the detriment of filtration. Thoughts?

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Re: 2017: A Solar Odyssey

Post by BBadger » Wed Jun 28, 2017 6:53 pm

If possible, whenever I want to cool something and keep out the dust I like to mount the device to a metal exterior wall with a large heatsink on the exterior so that the interior device conducts its heat to the outside where it'll just waft away, all while keeping the interior completely sealed. I don't know whether you can do the same, but it might help you avoid or reduce the amount of air needed to cool the interior.
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