Batteries are the heart of sustainable power for your home. Without proper battery maintenance, you will have system failures. When you live off-grid, you are the power company, water company and communications provider. The great news is that if there is a power outage in the nearby city, we would never know it. The bad news is that if we have a power outage, it is our responsibility to fix it.
That is a small price to pay to have electricity from the sun, wind or fueled generator. Once you learn the system, maintain it properly, it becomes second nature and you can have your own reliable mini power company on your small scale farm and home.
As a U.S. Navy submariner, I have had great experience with electrical power generation and maintenance. Since we were completely reliant upon our own power systems, we became very focused on maintenance and operation.
Our most recent experience
We have moved into a house that had been “shut down” over six months. The wind and solar power system was in need of maintenance. The diesel and gas powered generators did not work. There is no electrical power lines or phone lines available where we now live.
As the modular home has no wood stove or fireplace, we are reliant upon electricity and propane for heat.
My first step was to learn this system and make it work for us.
The system consists of:
– 2 solar arrays with eight panels on each array.
– 16 deep cycle Interstate workaholic batteries
– Trace Engineering PC250 Circuit panel
– Trace Engineering Power Conversion Center
– Tri Star Solar Controller TS-45
– 500 watt wind generator
Then we added our own back-up generators
The solar panels only work when there is sun. The wind generator needs wind to produce power. On cloudy, windless days we need to supplement the charging of the batteries with a generator. We added two generators for backup. In living a sustainable life, redundancy and backup systems are essential to live abundantly.
We added these two generators:
– 5,500-watt gas-powered generator
– surplus military hospital diesel generator
As for the batteries and the inverter/charger system, they are located in an outdoor building about 30 yards from the house. It was in need of some repairs also. The door to the battery and inverter building had been tore off its hinges by the wild donkeys. It is cold, so there is a chance for the batteries to freeze. Freezing batteries is not a good thing.
We cleaned up the inside of the building and filled the batteries with distilled water. Three of the batteries had no water over the lead plate. One battery had a frozen cell.
Attempt to revive the dead batteries
After adding distilled water to the batteries, we charged the batteries for a few days with the solar panels, as well as used the generators while running the well pump. The attempt at reviving the dead batteries failed, and we had to add three new batteries.
This is the process we used to restore the battery banks to operating efficiency:
– Tested all of the batteries using a hydrometer.
– Made a diagram of all of the batteries, cells and the wiring in the battery box.
– Wrote the hydrometer reading for each battery cell on the diagram.
– We discovered that we had to replace a minimum of three batteries.
– Called Interstate Battery tech department to verify our plan for battery replacement.
– We verified that we should place the three new batteries in one bank of 24 volts (four batteries at 6 volts each in series).
– We removed the three “bad” batteries from the system.
– We then placed the best battery left in series with the three new batteries.
– After cleaning the battery box and the batteries, the other three rows of four batteries were all of equal charge and were placed back together.
– We cleaned all the wire connections using a wire wheel (brush) on a battery-operated drill.
– Now that the batteries, terminals and wires were clean and shiny, we connected all four banks of batteries back together in parallel.
– We then double checked our wiring (it is in the manual we have, as well as the diagram we created) to ensure we had it together correctly.
– We closed the circuit breaker on each solar panel, turned the inverter panel on, and everything worked great! We now had a full charge showing on the panel.
– We started our backup generator to ensure that it would work properly. The generator only supplies 15 amps of charge. The inverter has to be set to that rating. If not set properly, the inverter will overload the generator, shutting it down.
– Then we did the final clean up and placed the insulation over the battery box, ensuring that the vents for the battery box were still clear of obstructions.
After studying this solar power system, I discovered a few items that would make maintenance and operations more efficient. Which makes it easier.
Some of the changes that I recommend for a system are as follows:
– Place the inverter controls in the house rather than in a remote building. It is no fun to go outside to discover why you no longer have electricity and what to do to fix it. Especially at 30 degrees below zero.
– The battery banks should also be in the house in a special room constructed to protect the batteries and the home.
– Ventilation of the batteries and protection from freezing is important. Build the battery bank room to proper specifications for longevity of your investment.
– When you purchase your solar panels, spend the extra money for panels that automatically adjust to the angle and movement of the sun. (The panels follow the sun similar to how a sunflower follows the sun.)
We now have more than enough power for the night. Thanks to Dale, our friend and neighbor, we were done in less than three hours.
Now that the battery bank is working properly again, our attention can turn to managing our power.
Managing power usage
We made a list of how many amps the different appliances and equipment use during operation. Believe me, when it is cold outside you want to have power for your heater.
These are our top two energy drains:
– Well pump, 19 amps at start up
– Forced air propane furnace, 8 amps
These are just two items, the rest of the items are usually just 1 amp or less.
Having a complete system can be costly. However, it can cost you more by not building a system to meet all of your needs.
http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5877552_solar-panel-systems-work.html is a link to help you understand the very basics of how a solar panel system works.
You can research and find solutions in your local area as well as online. We offer consulting and perform research for those of you who do not have the time or may just want a bit of help.
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