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BZ Products Model MPPT250

250 watt 25 amp Maximum Power Point Solar Control

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BZ Products, Inc.

644-2490 • www.bzproducts.net[email protected] 7914 Gravois, St. Louis, MO 63123, USA

Up the Creek

Down the Canyon by Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze

Living next to water, you come to know its voices. My husband Bob-O and I used to live next to a river where the song was continuous—it only changed its tune with the increased roar of winter and spring. The last 18 years we have lived next to a seasonal creek, dependent upon its flow for the majority of wintertime power production for our off-grid home.

We live close enough to the creek that we can hear it—when it's running, that is. In the winter, when the mountain at the head of our canyon sheds storm rains or snowmelt, the creek can be big with rushing, brown water—what old miner Teddy Snyderman used to call a "toad strangler." We've had to pull our hydro-electric plant out of the rushing water, and wait for the level and ferocity to recede. We've lost sections of pipe and connections to the creek's storm-driven hydraulic force.

On the flip side of the year, the creek usually dries up. Some seep pools might remain, but not in most years. In the autumn, when the trees lining the creek start to turn orange and yellow, the seep pools get larger. As the trees lose their leaves, the creek starts to flow again, whether we've had rain or not.

Having been anxiously listening for the creek, I rejoice when I first step out on the porch and hear the trickle of running water. I even mark it on the calendar. Along with first rain, first snow, first frost, and such, the calendar also keeps record of how much gasoline we put through our backup generator—only 2.5 gallons since January 2008. If we were able to hold to that through December, it would be a personal best.

Closing Down

Fall is when our RE power production dwindles. As the days get shorter, our PV array has less time to collect the sun's rays in our small canyon. The weather turns cold with gray skies, but it does not rain and there is not yet enough flow in the creek, so the hydro plant is dormant. Without the sun's warmth to stimulate the thermal flywheel produced by a cold mountain at the head of our canyon and a warm lake 12 miles down-creek, the wind no longer blows steadily every day, and the wind generator's blades are still.

Each year we try to dial back our energy consumption to reduce our fossil fuel use as much as possible, without draining our battery bank too much—so we keep an eye on the creek. As soon as possible, we start the hydro unit with the smallest single nozzle we have. Soon after we hear the creek's first melody, we pick the nozzle, fill the pipe, and begin the at-least daily (often, more) walk up the creek to clean the falling leaves off the hydro intake.

This is not a difficult chore. We use a leaf rake to gather the floating leaves, and sweep them off and past the intake pipe. This year, I made a leaf catcher out of a length of used foam pipe insulation and some old scavenged rope. I strung the rope through the insulation and tied it off to trees on either side of the creek. The foam tube floats at the top of the intake pool and holds back the majority of the leaves. It's easy to clean behind the leaf catcher while cleaning the intake, and my invention appears to be quite effective. Once all the leaves have fallen, I'll remove it.

Bump Up, Pare Down

This year, Bob-O took down an old tracker with four Mitsubishi 120-watt PV modules on it and put up a brand new tracker with four Evergreen 190s on it. This increased our production by 280 watts, bringing our total PV power capacity to 2,110 W.

Still, when the skies turn gray and the wind is only intermittent, we cannot count on PV energy and the wind passive solar gain, and roof-mounted PV modules or SHW collectors would not work well.

Underneath the wood siding, the only insulation (if you could call it that) was a thin layer of Firtex—a stiff, feltlike, woodfiber material. We removed that and filled the opened walls with fiberglass batts of R-13 insulation, then put the Firtex back into position and covered the whole shebang with a vapor barrier.

The siding we chose was Hardie panels, a cement composite siding with faux wood grain in 4- by 8-foot sheets. Coated with a couple of layers of sage-

"In the winter, when the mountain at the head of our canyon sheds storm rains or snowmelt, the creek can be big with rushing, brown water—what old miner Teddy Snyderman used to call a 'toad strangler.'"

turbine for steady power, so we go into a determined conservation mode. When they're not needed, all wall-cube power supplies are unplugged. We limit our appliance and television use. I do all the dishes by hand. We turn on the LED task lights at our desks, while the rest of the house uses compact fluorescents. We always use the timeworn and proven method of one person, one light. If we are in a room at night, the light is on. If we leave that room, we turn off that light and turn on the one in the room we are going to be in. While this may seem overly obvious, it's surprising how much the power savings can add up. Using all these measures and turning off one of our stacked inverters cuts our overnight power consumption by two-thirds.

Sisyphus, A Screw, Two Washers

In our seemingly never-ending quest to make our ex-cattle ranch cabin more efficient in every way, we recently removed the wood siding on the northwest and southwest sides. Our house is not positioned to the cardinal points; rather it is oriented to the creek's path, so it's not well suited for green paint, it looks great. And we are already noticing the back bedrooms are warmer in the cold weather. The other two sides of the house have some peculiar issues we were not ready to tackle just yet. Soon, though, soon.

Bob-O has always said, "If you don't own a home, you just might have a few coins in your pocket, but if you own a home, your pocket has a screw, two washers, a piece of string or wire, and some plumber's tape." It's like we live in the house of Sisyphus, ever toiling, but never finishing our task.

Despite this, I have to say that there is a very real satisfaction in making our house more efficient. We continue to hone our home and our lives, not only to the betterment of both, but also the Earth.

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Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze (kathleen. [email protected]) is using a WWII wool blanket to make a traditional capote at her off-grid home in northernmost California. ^

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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