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That is what has become of this blog. Mothballed.

Please continue to read some of the achieved posts. If you have questions, please ask. I should be able to respond in a timely fashion.


Or should I say, hand cranked swiss army knife of radios. I have been wanting to replace an old cheap hand crank radio that broke a few years back. I think it only lasted a few months. Since it had a solar panel on the top I would just set it in a sunny window and it would stay charged. But I think the sun degraded the plastic. I need a good, high quality version of what I had in the past. I started looking around, I came across the Freeplay Company.

“The Clockwork Radio”, as the device was first known, was proposed as a means of halting the spread of Aids in Africa through better education. Traditional radio, although widespread, relied on an electrical supply or the availability of disposable batteries – both of which were in short supply across the continent.

The idea for the radio was born to serve the needs of developing countries. Durable, no batteries and functional. That is exactly what I want! I am always willing to pay good money for good products. I have decided on this model. It has AM/FM/Weather Radio, hand crank of course, and solar panel on top. Don’t forget the LED flash light!

At normal volume, the EyeMax will play for approximately an hour per 1-minute wind, and can be wound more at any time for as much play time as you want.

I think this will also make a great tool for camping!

My wife does not like the downstairs toilet anymore. I think it would be a great time to upgrade the most use potty in the house. I want the best flushing with the least amount of water. I have heard about pressure assisted flushing toilets, so I started looking into it. Sloan Flushmate is the leader in pressure assisted flushing. (For all I know they have patent protection.) They have great videos on their site so you can see how is works.

The most inexpensive model I found that uses only 1GPF is the Glacier Bay1.0 GPF Pressure Assisted All-In-One Toilet. It is $200 at but I will have to wait for free shipping. I can wait, it not like the current one is broken. One thing I did find while searching was that it could shred toilet paper. I don’t think I will have this problem because we don’t use single ply paper. (You have to use single ply if you have a septic system.)

I only have to wait for free shipping and I will purchase it. Until then I will just have to waste 0.6 Gallons every time we flush. ;-(

Why, you ask? First I think solar is great! But you can’t generate solar power very well in the middle of winter very well. Even on the sunniest winter day. (This is fully true, some arrays have the best output in the very cold sun) I purchased it because I am concerned about a big snow storm knocking out power for a few days. In my current house of nine years we have never gone more than eight hours without power. I think we are due for a longer outage. If that were to happen the food in the refrigerator would go bad. I know I have blogged in the past about a solar generators. But this application is for more than 12 hours.

I purchased it online for $100 with shipping. You can get them a little cheaper but I like the analog voltmeter and the 12 VDC charger. Started on the second pull. I first pull was not a very good one. I ran it for three hours to break it in. I needed a small load during break in and I was making dinner in the slow cooker. There you have it. The perfect 300 Watt load. It is a 2 stroke, but it does not smoke like most two strokes. It is a fifty state legal model. The peak power is 1000 Watts, 8.3 amps. This should run everything I need but not all at once. Just remember, almost all off-grid homes have a backup generator.

Here is what I am thinking of doing. I want to add a small electric tank water heater to the outlet of my large hot water heat pump. This would allow me to turn the heat pump down to, say, 100 degrees and then the small tank would only have to heat the water up a small amount. This would cut down on tank losses and then the heat pump would not have to heat 80 gallons up to 125 degrees, it would run more efficient. I am looking at a 12 gallon little guy to attach to the 80 gallon big daddy.

Right now my 80 gallon tank is set at 125+ degrees. My usage is way up to 6 kW hours a day. If I reduced it to 100 degrees the saving would be about 40%. I will have to guess tank losses would be maybe 5% reduced. Maybe more, I don’t know for sure. For easy of numbers I will assume 3kW hours are saved. But how much will the little guy use?

With a 1500 Watt heating element I can heat 30 gallons of water up by 20 degrees in one hour. My shower head flows about 2 GPM. Of that 1.5 GPM is hot water. If I use 10 gallons from the little water heater that only gives me a 7 minute shower before I start to reduce my shower temp. (Mixing 125 degree water with 60 degree cold, darn anti-scald valve!) But, I could turn the little tank up to 145 degrees. Then I am up to… only 10 minutes.

Maybe I just need to look at the problem. The shower, I bet I could get one of those tankless under the sink models. Since the wife is the one complaining, not liking that word but that is what it is, I have to do something. I wonder if they make a 120V tankless for under the sink? Yes, set the heat pump at 110 degrees and the shower at 120. Then I could get rid of that useless hot water circulator pump. I will have to investigate further.

That is what they are saying. Personally, I don’t think so but it is hard to find evidence either way. What is a Reverse Cycle Chiller (RCS)?  The product is mainly sold by one vendor, Aqua Products. From what I have gathered, it is a heat pump that is used to heat and cool a water storage tank. This storage tank acts as a buffer so that the heat pump is filling the demand of the water storage tank and not the house thermostat. It is like two separate systems, the heat pump fills the water storage tank with energy and the house takes is away. The biggest advantage to a RCC is that the heat pump is sized to the heating load and not the cooling load. With the water storage tank as a buffer this ensures the heat pump won’t short cycle in the summer.

I was interested in a Heating Fuel Comparison Calculator. This link is for a US federal government spread sheet comparing the different cost of different heating sources. i modified it for the costs that I am likely to pay. The big ones being NG costs and electricity costs. I used 3.8 for Geothermal, water furnace, and 9.7 HSPF for a york heat pump.) Currently, I spend about $19 per million BTU for Natural Gas. For geothermal I would spend $8. For a heat pump I would spend $10. For the 80 million BTUs I used last year it would be, $1520, $640, and $800 respectively.

Now here is the interesting dilemma. If you use the “adjusted HSPF” at the bottom of the spreadsheet you should be using a HSPF of 6.3. This is because the auxiliary heating will be used during the coldest parts of winter. The RCS does not need to use the auxiliary heating nearly as much. How much? I don’t know. But I would guess the RCS would be running the vast majority of the time. If  conventional heat pump auxiliary heating runs for 200 hours a season, then a RCS auxiliary heating would run maybe 30 hours a season. (This is a wild guess but I am thinking of my location and how cold it gets on a regular basis.  Single digits only a few times a year.) If you use the HSPF of 6.3 you get almost $16 a million BTU and 80 million BTU cost you $1280. That would be $480 more than before. I will estimate $900.That is only $300 more a year then a geothermal system. And Geothermal has its own unique design aspects.

Since the RCS is designed for Heating, I have no doubt that it will be able to cool the house during the hottest days of summer. (My current unit has a hard time keeping up.) Additional, I want to have a dual zone system with two separate air handlers. This would be much easier pumping hot or cold water instead of multiple refrigerant lines. As with all of my new and crazy ideas, I have to find someone close to me that does this kind of thing. I need to make a few emails and see what I can dig up. The savings of almost $600 a year make it a very good use of my time. Did I forget to mention that I would save on my cooling too. The SEER rating is 18, my current AC unit is 10.

This has got to be the coolest thing I have seen in a long time. I remember terracycle from a few years ago. They were getting sued by Scotts Miracle-Grow for the colors of there packaging.

Now they have moved into reuse. From drink pouch backpacks to candy wrapper holiday bows. The best thing is that you get paid to send in items for reuse. Well, you don’t get paid but local school do or other charities.

I am not going to go into all the details. Terracycle does a great job with that. All I am going to say is find a brigade and start saving your “trash”.

I say real because I foolishly thought I could make one with real high end stuff. When I say “High End” you should read High Power requirements. I also wanted it to do too much. What the plan is now;

1. DVR functions.

2. Network data storage.

None of the other functions I had envisioned. (Original thought about a Green DVR. Did I say a week or two. I should have said a few months.)

What I built. I just used the green computer I made earlier. It uses about 50 Watts now. But the key thing is that it only runs for about 8 hours a day and not 24 hours. In the end it is very easy to do. The DVR software I have will bring the computer out of standby to start a recording. I then have it go back into standby after 10 minutes.

I have Wake-on-LAN enabled to allow for remote computers to access shows and any data. If you do any research on “Wake-on-LAN” I am not using the “Magic Packet” since I have a switch only traffic that needs to go to the DVR makes it. If the DVR is in standby, then it wakes up and starts working. So far everything works as it should. I do need to run the Kill-a-watt for longer then a day to get more accurate numbers. But I am below the target of 500 Watts.

I know that this all seems at bit much for an alternative energy focused blog but I feel that computer’s account for a significant portion of my monthly energy bill. Just how much? The old DVR used 90 Watts.

24 hours x 0.090 kilowatts = 2.16 kilowatts

The new one uses 50 Watts for only 8 hours.

8 hours x 0.050 kilowatts + 16 hours x 0.005 kilowatts = 0.480 kilowatts.

The savings is about 1.68 kilowatts per day. Almost 50 kW hours a month. (8% of my total monthly. Don’t forget I have an office PC, netbook, and my wife’s Laptop.)

So if I used the Green PC for the DVR what am I using for my office computer then. Don’t worry, in all the creating of the DVR I made a desktop computer that uses even less. The only reason I did not use it for the DVR is that it does not have enough processing power.

One of the biggest variables in the power output of your solar array, besides positioning, is temperature. Let us look at the SMA America Sizing Tool. The input variables would be SB 5000US,  Evergreen Solar ES-B-195-fa2, and Irradiance of 1000W/m2. I will use my Zip Code 46142. You can use your location if you like. Temperature, -22 F and 104 F. Then click “Get Sizes”, then “Predicted Output”.

If you look at the 20 panels data points for the inverter output. -22F is equal to 4090 Watts 104F is equal to 2812 Watts. The difference is 1278 Watts!!!

Now lets look at something more typical. 23F is equal to 3633 Watts 86F is equal to 2994 Watts. The difference is 637 Watts!!! With a temperature difference of 63F. The wattage difference is over 15% of the total array wattage. The specification that you want to pay attention to is called, Module Temperature Coefficient of Power (PKpmp), in this example, -0.49%. As the temperature goes down, the power goes up. Standard Test Condition for temperature is 77F.

The benefit of the increased array output at cold temperatures is that they occur in Winter. With Winter, comes a decrease in solar insolation. A a really cold day you could potentially have a higher peak output then you would in the summer.

A good thing to note, Kaneka make a panel that only has a Coefficient of Power -0.20%. At the aforementioned temperature extremes, the wattage difference is only 609 Watts as compared to the 1278 Watts. Over time, that can make a big difference.

What is the “edge-of-cloud effect” and how can it cause a solar array issues?

What is it? Well, just as the cloud begins to cover the sun or when the sun is emerging from behind a cloud, there is a sudden burst of energy that produces more power than normal. This is caused by light refraction. Refraction can concentrate the sunlight while the edge of the shadow passes by. The result is a boost in module voltage output. On a day with bright blue skies and fair weather cumulus clouds, the effect is quite noticeable.

So how can you account for this increase in output. Common practice is to add 20% to 25% to the amperage rating of the solar controller. But many controllers today are the MPPT type. They track the arrays Maximum Power Point on its IV curve. As the edge of clouds start causing over-irradiatance. The MPP voltage starts to rise, so too, does the current. The MPPT controller then adjusts the voltage up to correct for this effect.

Take for example a Sunny Boy 5000 Watt grid-tie inverter. The lower the voltage of the array the better the efficiency. Of course the design of an array depends on the solar panels but you should never design around the highest voltage under standard conditions. In this case 480 VDC. Me, I would design around 350VDC to 400VDC under normal operating conditions. This would allow for the MPP to move around where it wants to.

Basically, solar controller can handle brief overages of current, but not voltage. The edge-of-cloud effect is only going to be a problem when it is very cold outside and passing clouds. You can use this sizing tool for SMA Sunny Boy Products. Also, solar panels have a Voc (open circuit) and a Vmp (max power). for a 12VDC panel Vmp may actually be 17VDC and Voc around 21VDC. Since the edge-of-cloud effect normally occurs when the inverter or controller is running you already have some extra wiggle room.

(I guess you could have a rolling black during the day and have your grid-tie inverter shut-off. But then you would also have to have record cold temperatures. But then it would be winter and you would have less transmitted light because it has to travel though more atmosphere at an oblique angle. Plus you would have to have perfectly clean panels. As you can see, not likely to happen any time soon.)