Off-grid Power

Tweaking The Hydro Weir

I recently made a tiny modification (with a huge impact) to the hydro weir/sluice to address the imperfect alignment of the sluice and the capturing basin to which the penstock is attached via a shower drain fitting.  I was losing a lot of the weir flow because of that mis-alignment which caused a lot of the water to wick back underneath the sluice when the creek flow was a little reduced.  The clue to the need for this improvement was the noticeable belching of the water jet at the turbine nozzle a thousand feet downhill, indicating the system was sucking in some air.   Normally the turbine is nearly inaudible from the rocking chair on the front porch of the cabin, but the system breaking wind was clearly audible.

With a piece of copper flashing I bent a liner for the sluice so that the complete channel of water would be directed onto the screen on top of the capturing basin rather than to the closest edge, which was causing the water loss for the system.  I had intended to place the capturing basin directly under the end of the original sluice but there was a boulder in that precise spot, preventing me from getting the basin at exactly the right height (by about 1/2″ inch!).  This was a minor thing but the improvement was noticeable immediately.

I’m thinking about making a new capturing basin as this one might not be deep enough,  Given the weight of the 22 cubic feet of water in the penstock and the siphon function resulting from that 1400 lbs. of water, the flow of the system exhibited an intermittent air incursion into the flow, noticeable as a momentary gurgle at the turbine.

A new capturing tub needs to have the water level a couple inches higher than currently relative to the penstock intake.  I might accomplish this easily by simply making a new tub with the shower drain fitting right at the bottom of the tub, or at least as low as I can get it, so the water level would be adequate for minimizing the vortex sucking in air.  The space does not allow for a deeper setting for the tub as I mentioned earlier, but I also might make a wooden collection box so that it can be longer and lower in the water at the penstock intake.

Stay tuned.

Major Improvement to the Hydroelectric System

A couple weeks ago we had a (literal) gully washer of a storm that dumped several inches of rain in the holler in just a few hours at most (local reports are ~5 inches in five hours, we were in Maryland at the time).  The evidence of the wall of water flowing down the gully was impressive; walking up the creek I could see disturbances six or eight feet(!) above the normal water height.  Sure enough, that much water flowing down the gully wreaked havoc on my hydro system, tearing apart both my dam and the water line itself without permanent damage as the line is designed to come apart, and the rock dam was just a pile of rocks combined with an EPDM membrane.  The dam was completely breached and needed rebuilding.  I decided to take the opportunity of the re-build to install some improvements I have been contemplating since last year.

When I first installed the system many years ago I built a coffer dam a couple hundred feet further up the hill but eventually abandoned that section of pipeline as it was a maintenance nightmare for not many more feet worth of “head” (the height of the waterfall from intake to hydroturbine).  But, my original design for the actual intake configuration worked exceedingly well.  The ten-inch tube was large enough to avoid blockage except in the most extreme conditions, and the screened capturing basin was situated such that the water was wicked down into the tub and the debris washed right on by.

When I relocated the intake to a narrower passage down the creek I changed the intake configuration which worked well enough, but still not as good as the original one.  This one was a screened submerged pipe which had the tendency to clog, requiring a trek a quarter mile up the hill to clean off.  I took advantage of this latest repair episode to make a new intake more similar to the first one which as virtually maintenance-free with (hopefully) nary a clogged nozzle at the business end.

The new unit was a snap to make as I built and installed a “weir” intake, basically a pressure-treated board with a notch and short sluice to steer the water into a screened tub, with the penstock (the pipeline) hooked up to a capturing tub via a shower drain fitting.  Rather than going to the boatload of effort necessary to make the weir water-tight I simply attached a sheet of EPDM rubber to the weir and draped it into the channel I scooped above the dam.  The membrane-lined basin now captures and steers almost 100% of the water to where I want it to go.

To reduce(?) the risk of further storm damage I filled the new basin with rocks, hopefully it will steer any flood-like waters above the weir.  If not, I’ll just track down all the parts downstream and reassemble them.  It only took a couple hours for this assembly.

This was the really easy part of the day’s work.  As I reassembled the penstock descending down the hill I learned that there was a mud impaction somewhere in the line.  Finding the blockage and removing that took way more time than rebuilding the dam,  But finally it was done and the hydroturbine was humming along.

I’m even contemplating putting some electrical heat tape on the nozzle/plumbing at the bottom next to the turbine to see if I can extend the working season for the system.

Let It Flow! a/k/a “Delightfully Bewildered”

With the mild winter behind us it was time to reconnect and rev up the hydroelectric turbine and reconnect the drinking water line to the barn.

Woo Hoo!  We ended the winter with plenty of firewood, more than half-again as much as we used.  I’m looking forward to increasing that reserve even more by next winter.

I walked the water line last week and checked it out, making repairs as needed to two places where trees had fallen on it.  This was the least damage it’s had over winter.  I also took some time to re-route some sections of the line to straighten it out a bit more.  Even emptied of water a hundred feet of 2″ Schedule 40 PVC pipe is heavy and awkward.  Especially when you have to move several of these.  My shoulders are barking at me in several languages today.  The process is exhausting mostly because the footing is so treacherous in and along side the creek I have to be at maximum attention to avoid slipping and falling.  Which I did.

Late afternoon Saturday I connected all the penstock sections and opened the gate valve to the hyro-turbine and it went “whoosh!”  The subsystem electronics booted themselves and the electrons were flowing.  I guess it is time to set to work on designing the new downstream cross-flow turbine.

I had planned to take advantage of the next warm and sunny day to make one final attempt to troubleshoot the solar controller, the solar sub-system had been limping along for the past four months for no discernable reason.  But much to my bewildered delight I noticed that the solar sub-system charge controller was working perfectly when I checked the powerhouse at the end of this afternoon.   All by itself.

I’m not saying it was Divine Providence, but I’m not not saying it either.

Update From The Department of Redundancy Department

As they say in the world of supply logistics, “Three is two, two is one, and one is none.”

The great thing about providing all your own power for a facility is that you get to provide all your own power.  The bad thing about providing all your own power for a facility is that you get to provide all your own power.  Thus you are enjoying the fruits of your own power plant or you are tending to the power plant.  That is why I have redundancy built in to my system.  For example, in the winter when I decommission and drain the water line to the hydroturbine I can fall back on my solar panels, which usually suffice.  And if it is a particularly cloudy stretch of days I can fire up the 6kw gas generator.

But sometimes even that is not enough.

Recently I did some routine maintenance to the system requiring me to take the solar panels off-line.  It was nothing exotic, I was just cleaning the battery terminals for the storage batteries.  When I brought everything back on-line the solar system simply refused to work properly.  Grrr. If it had been performing at zero efficiency I would know one thing.  If it performed at half efficiency, I would know another.  But those stinkers are only performing at about 10%, which has me and the engineers scratching our heads.  I need to undertake  thorough troubleshooting session once the weather warms a bit.

So, I fired up the generator and sent the juice up the hill.  But friends, when the temps are in the teens, pull-starting an 11HP motor can be a challenge.  Under those conditions pull-starting a big motor can result in pulling a muscle in your abdomen.  Which happened.  Grr, grr.

Still for three weeks I relied on my generator, but that has its own problems too.  A typical generator provides “dirty” power meaning that the current is pulsing and so too do the lights. The eye can get used to that, but the video camera cannot.  Thus we had to cancel a long-scheduled video session, no small thing since Chris now has a full time job, a new/old house, and a baby on the way.  We have not been able to schedule the make-up session, and I really need to get the Gragg chair video finished.  Grr, grr, grr.

In semi-desperation I undertook another upgrade/redundancy to the system and have yet another in the works for this summer.  I hired the electricians who have worked with me in the past to come about two weeks ago and wire in a 50A 220v circuit from the cabin to the control shed, so now I have the option of sending ~11kw of clean juice up the hill if needed.

This summer I will build a second hydroturbine about 100 feet downstream from the current Pelton wheel micro-turbine, but this one will be a cross-flow turbine with an open hopper penstock so it will not need to be decommissioned in the winter.  I’ve got the perfect location for the sluice and hopper where it will capture 100% of the water flow with about  a five-foot drop and will begin work on them as soon as the weather is more congenial and I get caught up on my projects in the studio.

I am currently four-is-three and will soon be five-is-four…

Stay tuned.

 

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

Combating Ignorance (My Own)

A couple months ago I had a “crisis”(?) with the power system for the barn.  I made it through most of the winter just fine, invariably shutting down the system on my way down for supper and turning it back on in the morning to save the power that would have kept the system up overnight.  Suddenly the power accrual fell off the cliff and I really got concerned.  A day that should have been inputting 300-400 watts into the system was instead producing 70, or 50, or even 20.  Since I had a generator wired into the system last year I was not at risk of being without power while working but the dysfunction was not insignificant despite the fact that I seemingly had enough power to work in the shop all day.

I trouble shot every aspect of the system I knew, even getting so desperate as to READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL (even my pal BillR who is an EE and MS Robotics guy says the system product information is almost impenetrable).  In desperation I corresponded with Rich, the EE who sold me the system, and BillR, who installed the solar components.  They too were scratching their heads about the situation.

Then at about the same time they both had a suggestion: make sure the Dump Load switch is turned on.   The Dump Load is a resistance coil to “dump” any excess electrons once the batteries were charged to full capacity to prevent them from being damaged by over-charging.

Yup, that was the ticket.  Apparently during one of the evening shut-downs I absent-mindedly (or at least inadvertently) threw the Dump Load switch to “off” and left it there.  The Dump Load switch is right next to the switches for the inverters.  With the Dump Load off the system would literally only accept the trickle necessary to keep the batteries topped off.  So, when I saw the system first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, where no meaningful consumption was ongoing, the system had told itself to choke off any wattage input from the solar panels to protect the batteries.  During the day when I was using electricity the system would have shown an input equal to my usage but I would not have seen that.

In the moments following my turning the Dump Load back on I literally let out a whoop as the input went from 20 watts to almost a kilowatt because throwing that switch told the system to go full bore.

So I didn’t really have any kind of crisis, other than the one in my own mind due to the fact that I did not understand fully the intricacies of the power system, even after all these years.

Good thing ignorance is curable.

Winter Trompe L’oeil

As someone who has struggled with diminishing eye functions for over 50 years, I continually grow in appreciation of the irreducible complexity of the eyeball and its operating system.  That has been driven home in the grimness of winter in the mountains as my power system for the barn is dependent on solar panels with the hydro system mothballed for the season.  Some days now are brilliantly sunny, but many more are overcast.  While I notice the difference between sunny days and cloudy days, my eye fools me into thinking that all the overcast days are basically the same.

The controls for the power system is under no such illusion.  On some overcast days the output of the solar panels might be close to 200 watts.  Other days of heavier overcast are more like 50 watts.  Yet my eye and brain working together fool me into not even noticing the difference in utilitarian functionality.  The solar panels capture a measurable number of photons, turning them into countable electrons to feed the system.

I still check the system performance faithfully as it affects my power use during the days in the barn.  If the output is near 200 watts I can proceed in the shop with few restrictions.  If it is 50, I have to be very mindful and almost count every watt.  In addition, I shut the system down completely every evening as keeping it powered up uses watts I do not need to consume.

The days are getting longer, and even though we are expecting near-zero temps later this week I look forward to the time in 10-12 weeks when I can reactivate the hydro system and not be so mindful of the numbers of watts coming from the sun.

All of this reminds me of the research into diminishing visual acuity as we age, as our eye membranes as fluids become increasingly oxidized and less functional (transparent), our brains work to fill in the gaps such that other than on trips to the ophthalmologist we hardly even notice.

Amazing things, these meat machines we reside in.

Black Swan Event Final(?) Report

Hmmm, two posts sans images in one week.

I’m not sure where exactly I left this tale of my formerly dysfunctional hybrid power system for the barn, but following the replacement of the solar controller guts by the manufacturer after they found ants had shorted out the main circuit board, the reconditioned unit was returned to me.  As we were about to leave town for several days I hurriedly installed it to give it a test drive.

It would not even turn on.  I stewed about that for several days.

On our return after traveling I reached out to the manufacturer’s support tekkies and related the situation, with resolute firmness and precise language.  After a brief silence from them they sent me a shipping label and I sent the unit to them.  Again.

Two weeks later it arrived back with the cryptic note that a disconnected fitting had been connected.  So much for the assertion that the unit had been previously tested, don’t you think?

Again we were on the cusp of leaving town for a few days, but at dusk I installed the newly re-repaired unit.  At least this time it turned on!  There was great joy in Mudville.  That it would not perform any controller function was not especially disconcerting since the evening was fast approaching and the unit normally puts itself to sleep for the night once the photon levels get lower than net operating power.

Assuming that the system would wake up with the morning sunshine I left everything status quo and left town.

Big mistake, but then you know what assuming does.

On our return three days later I discovered that not only was the solar system not turned on and functioning well, the entire system had shut down because the batteries had been drained to the point where, well, the system turns itself off in order to protect the batteries from harm.  Now, this is not a cluster of AA batteries.  These are four monster huge batteries, each weighing about 150 pounds.  Something was amiss.

Side note – when the troubles first began I tested the circuit from the solar panels to the control input terminals and noted the voltage.  It was fine (~100 volts at solar noon on a clear day).  In the follow up testing I was finding voltage variations not unusual for solar systems given that the voltage output varies with the intensity of the sunlight.   Just keep that in mind for future reference.

I contacted the tech weasels again, and spoke to them with increased fervor.  I was given a series of diagnostic exercises which I executed while I insisted the tekkie remained on the line, waiting for me to walk to the system, make the test and return from the power house fifty yards away.  Zilch, zero, nada.  The unit would not perform its functions even though it powered itself up.  The input voltage numbers were a bit low (~60), but certainly enough to jolt the system to action.  But it was not responding no matter what the tekkie told me to try.

“Would you like to return it to us for an further evaluation?” I was asked.

“What I want is for you to send me a unit that actually works,” I replied.

After a few minutes on hold I was told that a new unit was being sent to replace the old one.  It arrived a week later, smack dab in the middle of the ripple molding soiree (we had been using the hydro power and gas generator for that).  Anxiously I installed the unit at high noon on a brilliant sunny day, checking and double checking my wiring connections.  I threw the switches in anticipation of, something.

The unit turned on but refused to perform its function.

To say I was disappointed is to gloss over my mindset.  I took a couple hours to gather my thoughts, called the engineer who had helped design and install the system, dismantled the breaker box and re-took the circuit readings.  But something weird was happening with the readings.  They varied wildly and continued to drop regardless of the sun shine.  40 volts.  32 volts.  26 volts.  50 volts.  20 volts.  48 volts.  24 volts.  39 volts. 22 volts.

Second side note – the buried cable from the solar panel array to the power house was a type specifically certified for direct burial, no conduit required.

Third side note — when digging the trench for the cable with a rented trencher, the trencher broke in less than a minute due to the rocky soil.

With my friend Brint’s help we took some cable and bypassed the buried cable to connect the solar array bus on the side of the cabin directly to the power controller.

It read ~90-100 volts.

Something, somehow, the circuit had been breached, and through trial and error we determined that it was somewhere in the 75-foot buried section, not in the open cable that was suspended underneath the bridge over the creek.  We grafted in the new cable to replace the buried cable, this time enclosing all of it entirely in conduit sealed from the fuse bus to the power house.  This will be buried as time and weather permit.  The new circuit worked perfectly and at solar noon the next day the panels were cranking out over 1300 watts, pretty astounding given that it was September and the theoretical capacity rating for the panel array is 1410 watts.

So now I have a fully functioning doubly redundant power system for the barn; hydro turbine, solar panels, and gas generator.  As a friend once quipped, “The problem with being your own power company is that you are your own power company.”  Every part of it  must be maintained and attended to, but through it all my appreciation for the aggregate utility grid is immense.  Although this has been a supremely frustrating episode I find that my understanding of every part of my system has been enhanced immeasurably.

Last side note — in retrospective contemplations we have arrived at the un-provable conclusion that somewhere in the original underground cable a sharp rock had encountered the cable and through essentially micro-seismic vibrations had eventually breached the sheath of that cable.  Not enough to cut the circuit entirely, but enough to ground it, the amount of the grounding discharge probably dependent on temperature and soil moisture.  As I said that is un-provable but does explain a lot; varying voltage, draining the battery bank, failure to wake up, etc.

Black Swan Update – Solar

As we last left our adventure the solar system control module had been declared to have some as-yet undefinable hardware failure and the unit was returned to the manufacturer for repair.  They diagnosed the problem as ants getting inside the unit and shorting out the main circuit board.  I authorized replacement of the damaged component and two weeks later the unit arrived back here.  I was about to leave for a couple weeks worth of travel but quickly reinstalled the unit just to see the system working again.

It did not.

the original installation in 2011

I double checked and confirmed I had wired in the system exactly as it had been done originally and even had the detailed photo to work from.  I spent many, many hours corresponding with the EE who designed the systems and the different EE who helped me install it.  I spent many hours on hold with the tech line and was eventually told with metaphysical certitude that the system could not have been working uneventfully for seven years because the original wiring scheme could not, would not, and did not work according to their engineers.  I sent them the installation photos and asked them to explain how the system had been working fine for all these years if this wiring schematic was as wrong as they said.  I was told that it had never been working given the wiring diagram and photos they saw.  Apparently I have been the direct recipient of a Divine miracle.

When I asked them again to explain my harvesting electrons with this system for seven years they basically hung up on me.

Then I was traveling.  On my return I made the wiring changes that the manufacturer said were necessary for the unit to function.

It still did not work.

After more hours of painstaking troubleshooting on the charge controller wiring circuits, checking everything from the solar panels through the in-line fuses, the underground cable, the system master controls all the way to the buried copper grounding rod with a meter several times to make sure all the circuits were functioning as required, the unit would not power up.  Again I corresponded and spoke at length with the EE who installed this unit and who directed my efforts (he gave me many very specific tasks to check the current between point A and point B, etc.) and in the end we were mystified.

Once again I called the manufacturer’s tech line, and after very little conversation with me but much discussion at their end they decided that my unit had not been repaired properly.  I was told it was probably something simple like forgetting to plug in the ribbon to the display module.  This makes no sense to me unless the fan is also hooked up to the same display module ribbon as NOTHING happened whenever I diverted power to the unit.  Before this episode, even when the unit would not “wake up,” whenever I threw the breaker for the unit there would be a brief burst of fan activity in the load dump function, but this time, nothing.  I remained bewildered as I had been assured the reconditioned unit had undergone two hours of testing, but how could they test it for two hours in this condition?

Whatever the case they sent me a new shipping label and I returned it to them.  Now I wait again.

Ugh.

Black Swan Update – 3 is 2…

With all the disruption of two robust independent electricity producing systems going belly-up at the same time I decided to add another producer into the mix, is essence to modify the “two is one and one is none” rubric for logistical planners into “three is two, two is one, and one is none.”  In the absence of the hydro and solar electron hamsters I relied on my gas powered generators and a bunch of extension cords.

I decided to contact the local electrician to see if he could wire the generator into the service panel of the barn, and he suggested instead wiring it into the power system at the bottom of the hill, alongside the electrons provided by the hydro and solar units.  I got a quote, smacked my forehead and said, “Of course!”, and authorized the work.  Plus, since there was already a buried cable from the powerhouse to the cabin, could he perhaps also wire that into the system?  Sure, he sez.

The day came when he and his son, also an electrician, arrived to do the work.  The first step was to clear the work area, which translates into “ripping off the raggedy shelter over the electronics closet.”  I’d been wanting to do this anyhow in order to build a more proper enclosure for all these components so this was the time.

In no time flat they were abuzz with work, installing a new sub-service panel to provide for vastly improved current distribution.

After a bit of time they separated so one was completing the sub-service box to serve as a new router for the electricity and the other was making the modifications to the service panel inside the cabin, alowing it to be powered by the same auxiliary system.

By lunchtime they were finished and I test drove the system in all its iterations available at the time: inverter/battery bank power to the house or barn, gas generator power to the house or barn.

Brilliant!

I spent a couple days making more proper housings for the system electronics and the generator and this chapter was complete.