Thursday, January 31, 2013

Remote Monitoring

Just started getting the remote monitoring set up on one of our PV installations, using Apollo electronics and monitoring. The information is really useful. Here is just one of the parameters:

The graph below shows the battery bank voltage from 12 am onward. You can see the solar input jump up at 9 AM, then the battery bank does an absorption charge, and then finally a float charge.

I love the way the alternative energy technology gets better every day.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


We just received a shipment of Suntech modules. We will take these to the site and unpack them tomorrow.

They look really well packaged. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our Homestead

Here is a picture of our spread from the left: our home, our shed often containing solar panels, chicken coop, shop, and our future animal barn.

This past November marked the completion of our third year living in the Chihuahuan Desert, and we couldn't be prouder of everything we have accomplished. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Seriously, I have been to ski slopes with less snow on them


The birds are all OK, a little frosty and bedraggled, though. We boiled some sugar-water to thaw the drinkers, which they appreciated.

Driving was surreal, but we had plenty of traction in Big Red, which has two new tires and 4WD. The visibility is almost nil, so I'm hoping that folks aren't driving around today.

We're really glad we drained the water system yesterday, because everything could have frozen. Temperature is still below freezing, but thankfully the breeze is pretty calm.

Ski Terlingua

You really could 'Ski Terlingua' today! At least, in our neck of the desert you can.  We got over five inches of gorgeous powder last night. This is the most snow we have ever seen out here, and it is amazing.  Naia is loving it, and Wrinkles won't go anywhere near it.

And we turned our satellite telephone off to conserve power, by the way. You'll be able to call us when the sun comes back out (which looks like tomorrow)!

We opted to spend the night at Cafe Colando yesterday evening, and it is a good thing, too. Having a house on stilts is great most of the time, but when there is bad winter weather those stairs are deadly! Now we are headed over there  in the 4WD pickup to check on the birds. I'm sure the Buttercups are miserable, but the Brahmas are probably fine. They are hardy in all sorts of conditions, whereas the Buttercups prefer mild weather.

Will report their status soon. Over and out.   ;)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Snow Day

Can't even see the Christmas Mountains today.
A very gray day here in Terlingua, with thick snow clouds weighing heavily around us.  It is always exciting to get snow in the desert, since it only happens once or twice each year. If the sun comes out, the snow will not melt, but sublimate, meaning it skips the liquid phase and go straight to water vapor because of the incredible dryness of the desert.

But there is no sign of the sun and little hope it will show itself at all today (check out our local forecast here).  Bad news for photovoltaics, but if we are conservative with our power, our battery reserves can last for days.

When we began studying photovoltaics back in New York, the standard was to design the systems with enough reserve to supply at least a week of power with no input.  This means everything has to be oversized, not just the battery bank but the array size that pumps in the juice, and therefore all the components that handle the current as well.  This is one of the main reasons that solar power is so much more expensive in cold, cloudy New York State.
2008 NREL insolation map of US
Here in the American Southwest, we get some of the strongest insolation in the nation, and very few cloudy days.  This allows us to size systems smaller, usually preparing for a maximum of three days without sun. But sometimes, even here in the Chihuahuan Desert, we exceed our reserves and have to have a backup plan.  So once in a blue moon, we have to run a generator to keep our batteries charged. It is so important to keep the batteries above 50% charged, or else we risk damaging the batteries, which are the most expensive and weakest link in the system.

In the future, we hope to use a renewable fuel like biodiesel or woodgas to power the generator.  But right now we don't have a diesel genny, and the woodgas apparatus is too big and cumbersome to run alongside our house on the hill (moreover, the desert sun has really taken a toll on the plastic components!).

But so far, so good. We haven't used all our power yet, and we plan on being very careful with what we have got until the sun comes back out.