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Letters to Home Power

Letters to Home Power

We Print 'em Unedited. Selected & Entered by Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

Light in the Forest

Hi HP Crew, Thanks again for your wonderful magazine! AE is now! I've been living with Kyocera solar power and a Honda generator as backup for 7 years now. I use the generator only a few times a year. When I use the generator it's usually to see if it still works. Have to run it every once in a while to keep it happy. Here's something campers may be interested in. I tried something different this last summer while on a camp trip to a remote part of Sequoia National Park. I brought along my PowerStar 200 inverter, 100' extension cord and a Panasonic 18 watt Electronic Light Capsule mounted in a portable housing. The housing has a clip that can attach to anything 1 1/2" or smaller. I plugged the PowerStar into my cigarette lighter, ran the cord into camp, clipped the lamp on a branch over the cooking table and turned it on. It takes a little while for the capsule to warm up (2 to 5 min). It was in the low 30s. After it warmed up we had more light then we've ever had in a remote camp. It was great! Everyone loved it! Cooking in this good light was much easier than using hand held, white gas or propane lights. We ran the light for about 4 hours the first night and 5 the second. I was a little worried about being able to start my truck in the morning. No problem! The truck battery still had lots of power. I will be using this set up from now on. It adds a whole other dimension to night life in camp. Enclosed is a photo of capsule and housing. Note the capsule actually touches the plastic housing. This is not a problem. The capsule puts out little heat.

Here is my renewal for another 2 years. Keep up the good work with HP! Sincerely, Rick Nieme, POB 13152, Coyote, CA 95013

Great idea, Rick. Brings back memories of cooking RiceARoni on a Coleman camp stove while holding a candle with one hand, to see what I was doing. What an improvement. It would be handy to keep in the car for an emergency light too. - Kathleen

Exhorting Exides

Dear Richard, I appreciate your advice re. the Exide battery problems. These batteries, now over 8 years old, appear to me to be going out. Even a heavy charge with my generator - 50 amps or so, will no longer bring the

Above: Rick Niemi's solar camp light. Photo by Rick Niemi.

voltage up to 28 Volts. After a fair amount of charging, I can get them to about 27.5 Volts - but they do a lot of heavy gassing in the process. (I can recall when they would hit 30 volts with no problem). If I get them to 27.5 volts and remove the charger, they will drop back to 26 volts immediately. A load of even 10 amps or so, at this stage, will drop the voltage to about 25.2. At this small discharge rate (remember these are 750 AH batteries) the voltage will drop to about 24 within an hour or so. Further discharge and the voltage will drop to about 23.8. At this 23.8 level, if the charge is resumed then the voltage will IMMEDIATELY jump to 26.5 or thereabouts. Remove the charging source and once again the voltage will drop back to around 24.8 or 25 volts. However, if I allow the wind turbine or the solar array to charge the batteries while they are being discharged, then this float condition will allow a voltage of between 25 to 26 volts - depending on whether the charge current exceeds the load or not. When the wind is strong, you can see the battery voltage 'follow' the wind peaks - up as the wind gusts and back down if the wind falls off. In other words it appears to me that the batteries are responding rapidly to charge and discharge loads and not really taking any of the charge and holding it. Again, let us say that there is a strong wind, 40 amps or so, and this continues for a couple of hours. A couple of kilowatt hours are pumped into the batteries, the batteries are just not taking this power -because if you try to draw out even half of what is supposed to have gone in, it just isn't there.

Also, if we get a dead still night, with no charge going into the batteries, I would run out of power half way through the night. Although the load would only average about 300 watts or so on the inverter. I won't bore you with more because it seems to me that all the elements of a sick battery are here.

But more alarming, even to attain 27 volts with a heavy charge going in, the gassing is tremendous (Does a battery gas more as it ages?). This gassing has caused explosion of the Hydrocaps, splitting of the battery tops and, in one case the four corners of the battery split from the top down to a length of about 5 inches! And electrolyte all over the place is not pleasant!

This long epistle is no longer for the purpose of getting your advice on what to do! But merely in the hope that some of my experiences with these batteries might be of help to you should you experience some similar problem in the future. Incidentally, these Exide 750 AH batteries are very poorly made. Both the tops and sides, particularly the sides are made of extremely thin material. Paper thin it seems. The cells themselves, if not strapped into a close fitting plastic framework, could never take any kind of stress. One would have thought that this size of cell which is about 6 inches square, 29 inches high and weighs over 100 lbs., would have been in a rugged case of similar material and construction as for an automobile battery. And I paid well over 4000 dollars for the set (24V).

Anyway, after some consideration, I have purchased 12 ex-telephone cells from Northwest Energy. In the hope that these 2000 AH cells will allow me to demand a very shallow discharge trough - something like 20% while at the same time giving me sufficient capacity within the parameters of the 'gentle' discharge cycle. In actual fact, with the wind and sun, on an average day, producing somewhere around 12 KWH per day, the batteries should be virtually on float 90% of the time.

Hope I have not bored you too much! I really must get a Xmtr fired up on 20 Meters so that we could arrange a QSO some day!

P.S. The freight charges (Truck to Miami) SHIP to here from Miami, amounted to more than 1/2 of the cost of the batteries themselves - I sure hope they are good! Best Regards, Frank Delisle, Carib Aviation Ltd., POB 318, St. John's, Antigua, West Indies.

Hello, Frank. Yes lead-acid cells gas at lower voltage when they age. I don't really know why, but we've noticed this as have many others. Keep us posted on the cells from Northwest Energy. - Richard

Solar Sailor

People - Yes, we sailors do know our solar. To me, sailboats and boat-livers have pioneered actual solar use, from power to hot water to propulsion. We are aware of the great advantages possible by using the sublime forces of the wind, tides and currents, and the sun. Each boat is its own little world and must budget power accordingly. There's no "jump start" at sea. I would be happy to write for you concerning marine uses of solar power. Really this should be a regular feature in every issue.

I spend half the year in Florida building and using solar systems and the balance in Maine at a Solar engineering commune that helps poor woods people get power. In Maine, folks don't have to get off the grid, as they never could afford to get ON it.

The point is that I am aware of what is happening with solar applications in boats and homes.

On boats we use techniques and take them for granted while they remain experimental for home use. Cruising boats are a great test bed, sailors communicate a lot between themselves and products "shake out" quickly in this harsh environment.

Look to the boats for the cutting edge. Thanx, Russell X. Braen, 1124 Ave C, Riviera Beach, FL 33404

We are getting more mail from our readers afloat all the time. If you would like to submit an article, read 'Writing for Home Power' in Issue #24, page 84 for guidelines. We'll be happy to consider your article for publication, Russell. A great deal of our information comes from readers who are do-ers, like yourself. - Kathleen

Hot Ideas

Dear Home Power Magazine: Enclosed please find a check for $10.00 to renew my subscription. I read every issue cover-to-cover several times. My girlfriend sighed as she handed me the latest issue fresh from the mailbox and made some comment about losing me again to Home Power for a couple days.

I would like to be able to tell you that I am basking in PV created light from my 12 panel Kyocera array atop two Zomeworks trackers which have helped to cool the drink I just took out of my Sunfrost fridge. But, alas, here in the recession-plagued Northeast the mortgage and health insurance don't leave many excess dollars. But, still I have come up with a couple of insanely simple ways to conserve and reduce grid use. When the weather allows, my morning shower is solar heated via the GARDEN HOSE. I have roughly 100 feet of green and red garden hose laid out in the back yard with a spray head on the end and I put the end of it through the bathroom window when I am ready for my shower.

The 100 feet of hose gives just enough water for a warm if conservative shower. It just starts to get cool at the end. Another 50 to 100 feet of hose would be just right. Recovery time in full sun is amazingly fast - about 20-25 minutes - and that is with lengths of green hose and red hose. There were a couple of days in mid summer when the water coming out of the hose was too hot to use. If you use black hose you'll need to be creative and hook it up to a mixing valve to mix in cold water or you'll fry for sure. Black hose and a mixer would also allow for a shorter length of hose. At laundry time, I run the hose through the basement bulkhead door and use the warm water for the washing machine. The present length of hose only allows for about half of the water necessary for a load. Here, black hose would be greatly beneficial.

I recommend using high-quality hose, not the cheap plastic stuff. Sears sells hose of varying quality. Their best hose comes with a lifetime warranty but they caution the user not to leave it in the sun. Who uses garden hose in the shade, anyway? The life of the hose will be lengthened if the user remembers to turn off the supply valve after use. More than once I have come home to find aneurisms in the hose where heat and constant pressure found a weakness in the hose. The only other caveat is to move the hose around in the yard every couple days if you value the appearance of your lawn (assuming of course that you have one). Failure to do so will leave tracks of yellowed grass across your yard.

In the winter, when I must resort to the Aquastar 125 tankless propane-fired heater, I utilize the essence of simplicity in grey-water heat extraction to recover the heat in the shower water. I close the drain and let the water build up in the tub. I leave the water there for a few hours until it has given up its heat to the air and then let it drain out. Why waste all that heat to the sewer or septic tank?

The only two drawbacks here are: 1) grey-water around your ankles (rinse it off if it bothers you) and 2) Much more frequent need to clean the tub (I need the exercise anyway and I use cold water to do the cleaning).

Just think how much energy would be saved if everyone did this. In larger households showers can be staggered to allow time for the water of the preceding shower to give up its heat. Thanks for a great cutting-edge magazine! Thomas J. Brandolini, 17 Rowell Rd., East Kingston, NH 03827 • 603-642-4263

Tom, if we could get everyone to do the right thing the world would be a lot different place. We all must do what we can when we can. You have certainly given us easy, viable ways to conserve heat and energy as related to water in the home. Keep up the good work. - Kathleen

Protect Your Potential

Hi Richard: First let me wish you and Karen a very happy, safe Christmas and New Year season. I met you both in Amherst at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair (in both 1990 and 1991). I have long been a reader of your publication - back when it was a free magazine.

Thank you for your very informative article "Careers in Renewable Energy" (issue #26). I read your article with great interest, as I found many parallels between the Renewable Energy business and my small business of Architecture Design and on site land use planning.

We specialize in passive solar design - good cents energy efficient homes and super insulated homes mainly.

Like the Renewable Energy industry in your article, we too are in our infancy and we too find it very hard to generate a continuing client flow (as well as cash flow) over time or to build a business on repeat clients. Advertising seems to be the key to this problem, but with poor cash flow its hard to maintain an effective advertising campaign over an extended period of time.

Yes, I am still struggling and yes, I am still learning from my mistakes, but I do believe I could help others in their infancy. Other than the obvious and necessary trappings of starting a new business I have found the following issues and items to be very important in the operation of my small architecture design and planning business.

1. Define your business services - Let the client know (in writing) what he or she is paying for, and more importantly what he or she is not paying for.

2. Protect your drawings and design work - never relinquish or surrender your master drawing sheets. I have found some home builders (my clients) will use my work as stock or off the shelf drawings and will use them over and over again with no just compensation to you for your work or design services.

On each and every sheet of your drawings place your copyright protection clause and point this clause out to your client before the start of construction.

The clause I use on my drawings reads as follows: 1) When you as our client request and purchase the services of Contemporary Designs, we grant to you, our client, the right to use all Service documents and

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