Friday, April 22, 2011

Facing the obvious

I've learned in recent years, and especially in the last one, that most of my problems (indeed, most of almost everyone's problems) are caused by failing to face the obvious.

Facing the obvious is a surprisingly un-obvious thing to do. Maybe because it's scary, maybe because it doesn't fit preconceived notions, maybe because it has implications that are unpleasant, or merely just unexpected.

But I now find it fun to face the obvious, because it almost always means finding solutions. And solutions make life better. So I'm motivated.

It has been very liberating to face the obvious fact that I needed to find work that paid better than what I had been doing. I did, and life is better.

Today, I faced another obvious fact: my solar electrical system-- the one on which I spent a tremendous amount of money, is crucially important to my survival and my livelihood, and has basically been keeping me alive for 4 years-- is completely wrong.

I have 400Ah of battery. I have a solar panel array that produces 215W of power in blazing sunlight at noon in summertime at lower latitudes (and a lot less here, at all other times, and none at night). At 12v, that's 17A, best case. The panels also go through a controller that can only push out 15A, max. Realistically, in winter it's maybe 5-10 amps for a couple hours a day. I have a nice plug-in 110V charger that can put out 75A at a go, but I don't have much opportunity to plug it in.

So, I don't really even have to do the math on this. The solar charger is totally unable to charge these batteries enough to keep them from sulfating (i.e., getting destroyed). It just doesn't put out enough amps. And I wasn't able to plug in to the 110V charger often enough to compensate for that.

This has been going on for years. I ran a laptop computer and LCD monitor for a year which used up way too many amps. Then I fixed that by getting a netbook, but I went years without really ever fully charging the batteries up from the year they were undercharged. Then I ran a 4A refrigerator for most of this past summer and fall. I didn't even hook the 110V 75A charger up until last fall, and I haven't been able to use it much at all. I now run a refrigerator off of this system, and even though it uses only 10Ah a day, that's still a lot of strain on an already-weakened battery. Finally, this winter has been exceptionally dark and rainy, and again I didn't use the 110V charger much. The bleak truth is that I have probably already destroyed my very expensive batteries-- because they were too big for the system.

In fact, the batteries were so huge, that it's taken years for them to degrade to the point where I can even notice they're degraded. But they are, and it's time to face it.

That's not very fun. But facing it is. I screwed up; it happens. I built the system before I understood what I was doing, and it shows.

Now that I know this, I can buy new batteries, and they should be about 1/2 the capacity I have now-- or 1/4 the capacity if I'm just going to charge them off of solar. That'll be a lot cheaper, and it will free up a lot of storage space (and GVWR weight).

Or, I could put in a large battery bank like I have now, but then I'd have to plug in more often. Or I can do some combination thereof: have a small bank to run just off of solar, and thrash that one every day, but keep a large one too that I plug in to keep charged-- just for emergencies--, and switch between them as needed.

I also can do nothing for a while too. This isn't really urgent, and I can probably limp along with these ruined batteries for as long as a year, maybe more. I can just keep an eye on the voltages.

But information is power. And the kind of information that comes from facing the obvious, is, I think, the most powerful kind.

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