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Saturday, December 24, 2011

The WWII Stinkbug Invasion

This September a friend and I had the opportunity to travel to Virginia and provide overnight security for Airfest 2011 at Culpeper Airport in Virginia ( Next week we'll be getting back to  more technology. In fact, we'll be looking at better battery technology available today and in the not too distant future. Including Lithium Phosphate (LiFePO3) Any way, on to the show!

The Sea Harrier
Culpeper Virginia seemed like a great short trip. Leave Thursday morning, arrive Thursday evening and camp on the ramp amidst 40 or so WWII aircraft with some modern jets thrown in. Not to mention Culpeper Airport is the home of the only privately owned and flown Harrier Jump jet in the world!

So far, so good. Believe it or not, it was a pretty uneventful trip down, a leaky airbag gauge forced me to add air on one side every 15 minutes or so, but OK nothing is perfect!

The Trip took way less time than planned. That is, until we were supposedly 26 minutes out, according to the GPS.  This rural area approach road was so packed it took 2 HOURS. I have no idea why. When we finally reached the final 2 mile uncongested stretch there was no indication what had caused the snarl. Ah well...

The Aero Cruiser in its' first spot, all alone.
So we got there a bit later than I would have liked. After checking in with the organizers and figuring out where to park (and then re-park!) we settled in just as everyone was leaving. Turns out we were to be the only two folks at the airport overnight. Cool! We made a semi-gourmet dinner with sliced flank steak, fresh various colored peppers, tomatoes, onions and freshly made tortillas.

We wandered around the airport admiring the aircraft and making sure no one was doing anything nefarious. In the dark. Alone. Very Cool! Got a bit cold at around 4AM so I fired up the furnace, and all was warm and cozy.

Early AM brewed some coffee and made some scrambled eggs with leftover veggies and cheddar cheese (Extra Sharp, of course!) Watched the sunrise with a fresh cup of brewed coffee, very pleasant.
Airport Diagram

That’s when things started to go a bit south. We were told we had to move to another location on the airport. OK. Off we went. Parked and went back to the Airshow. Watched some amazing aerobatics, saw some great formation flights and were amazed at just how loud a Harrier is hovering at full throttle. End of the day came far too quickly. 

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug
We trekked back to the remote spot where we were parked, out by the older hangars and were stopped dead in our tracks. Almost one whole side of the RV was covered in Stink Bugs. No matter how hard we tried to get them off, more reinforcements arrived from the adjacent forested area.

As we prepped for travel we found many of them had made it past the spinning blades of the roof vent fans set on exhaust and we had to evict them. The ones that didn't make it through were insect paste. Nasty, very nasty.

Finally, we were off, with Passenger Pete on "Bug Patrol" finding and eliminating as many as he could on the run. We arrived at Cabella's in Hamburg, PA at about 7PM. Now it was a mad scramble to remove the vents and purge the invaders with extreme prejudice. After about an hour of combat we had them at bay. Little had we known that Virginia was experiencing an epidemic of these critters. It was in the newspapers when we arrived at home, on the TV and radio. These little nuisances aren't really dangerous. They fly, but not well. They don't really sting. If you crush one it could let off a stink that will be unpleasant at best. I catch them in a paper towel or suck them up with a 12V wet/dry vac and then dump them outside. Far away from the RV.

I'm sure some of them still lurk in the nooks and crannies of the RV, hibernating until the warm weather prods them to action.

We'll be ready.

Rich "The Wanderman"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 6

It's been a long road, but we made it! For those of you who haven't been slogging through this new fangled Solar charging install, I recommend you take a peek at the first 5(!) parts of this series. There are convenient links at the bottom of this article.

As you can see, no evidence of the solar panels from the ground!
Now that everything is working and I've had a few months to test out the system in the wild, so to speak. I learned quite a few lessons. Mostly that some behavioral modifications will be needed to get the most out of any Solar charging system. It would be nice if you could get lots for nothing. Alas..this is not the case. When you use power, it has to come from someplace. In our case it's either the sun or the batteries or a combination of both. The trick is making sure you have enough power when you need it. Let's take a look at a major power hog, the microwave. This great device is a fantastic time and effort saver for an RV. If you have a shore power hookup and/or run your generator all the time when you use it, there is no need to think about WHEN you turn it on.

Microwace/Convection Oven
GOTCHA! If you use an inverter to take your precious DC power and turn it into AC power for your microwave it uses a serious amount of juice. Take the average 1000W microwave. That 1000W at 120V which is around 8.3 Amps draw. Of course we now have to convert to 12V so times 10 equals 83.3Amps! (Really it's more because of losses and such) That's a lot to ask of 1 or 2 batteries for any length of time. So now what? Well, if you have fully charged batteries and your Solar charging system is working you should be able to offset the draw a good bit. If you are generating 25 Amps and are drawing 83.3 Amps, your batteries only have to fill the gap (58.3 Amps) and this has to happen for a short time. I mean, how long do you normally run a a microwave? 2-7 minutes? I wouldn't cook a Roast or anything, but for reheating food, or frozen dinners, go for it. You will use some battery power, but then (as long as you have sun) the panels will put it back in.

Dash Mounted Energy Monitor
The Trick is to use high load devices after your batteries are charged and you have daylight left over. Yes, you can cheat a bit and use it when the batteries are around 80% without too much trouble. Here's where a change in behavior will help you out. I wake up in the morning (sometimes early!) and want (need?) some coffee. At this point your batteries have gotten you all the way through the night (maybe using the furnace, another big draw item) without any charging from the sun. Now you want these tired guys to supply a lot of power? Naaahhhh. Let 'em rest, start charging and recuperate. Use the stove, go to a convenience store, have iced coffee or, better yet, get up later! A few hours of sunlight and you should be in a better position to run a higher draw item with ease.

Later on, as a secondary project to this, I have been looking into adding a "diversion load" capability. The MPPT controller will support this and it seems like a good idea. What is it you may ask? It's just the ability for the controller to DIVERT amps to another use after the batteries are charged ore when there is excess available. I was thinking of adding a 12V heating element to the water heater and using it to slowly bring the water up to temperature. Well, maybe.....if anyone has an idea for a use of power after the batteries are finished charging, let me know. I was also going to use a passive solar water heater on the roof. Not very big, but it would just feed water into the water heater after it is heated by the sun. Not electrically, just a black heat absorbing flat-ish bag affixed to the roof. I'd need a small pump to get water up to it, but gravity would bring it down to the hot water heater tank.....maybe next season!

Now for the big question.

How much did all this actually end up costing?

Good question. The panels were around $1980.00 Shipped via DHL from China. The MPPT 45AMP controller was around $450.00 Shipped from California, heavy cable and wire was another $300.00 from various sources. We used 5 tubes of 3M 760 adhesive at $12.00 per tube for $60.00. I had the inverter already, but it would be close to $450.00. Fuses and Fuse Holders were $50.00 all together and the remote monitoring for the Controller was $150.00. Since I already had an Energy Monitoring System, I didn't need to buy another, but if you did, figure on another $300.00 including the shunt. The grand total???


...Seems like a lot of money. Prices have come down a bit, so this could be done for around $2600.00 or so in today's' pricing. Less if you already have any of the pieces installed. Included was the Shipping from China at $500.00, so if you use an alternative method it could be brought down as well.

Remember, I did all the engineering and installation for this project, so there was no labor charges. (Well, Passenger Pete did want some food in exchange for labor so I guess I could figure that in.)

I would do it again in an instant. The whole system weighs less than a single large conventional panel, including all the pieces and parts. It puts out more than I need Watts-wise and fit on what real estate my tiny roof had available. As it is, I haven't run my generator at all last season (except to exercise it) and am enjoying the peace and quiet (not to mention fuel savings!) that this Solar Charging system brings. I highly recommend it!

Periodically, I will be updating the this system to make it more user friendly and transparent. Next will likely be Lithium Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. I'll be writing an article all abut my research into them and whether it's going to be doable.

Stay tuned to this space for more technical project information as well as some lighter-side moments as I go...

Down The Road...

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 5 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Better Solar Charging Mouse Trap.PART 5

Welcome back! Now that we have things more or less hooked up it's time to get some power to the batteries and run our stuff without melting everything!

Old Inverter Installation.
Since the Solar Charge Controller is designed to charge our house (and chassis) batteries we need to get the juice to flow to them. This is where the biggest wires will be found. If the max output of the charge controller is 45 AMPS then you should size the wires for at least 20% more than that to be safe and efficient. I COULD have done that and been pretty much done at this point. But Noooooo! I had to try and be slick and add an Inverter to the mix. Inverters are nifty. They take your DC batteries output and turn it into good old fashioned house AC. No generator needed. Of course, it won't run EVERYTHING,  all the time. And forget the A/C, not going to happen on your typical 2-4 house battery setup. At least not for very long! Originally, I had the inverter wired up on a piece of wood directly to the battery. I did have a big switch and a "catastrophe" fuse protecting it. I believed I was a genius since I had managed to wire the inverter to power all the outlets along the passenger side of the coach and setup my AC fuse panel to work this out. The 1800W Inverter that I have also has an AC transfer switch in it. Simply, it allows AC power to flow through it to my passenger side outlets when I am on shore power or the generator.

I'm an idiot. This works, but has a lot of issues. Number one being I had no idea how much power I was using! If I didn't switch off the inverter I would kill the batteries. D'OH! Back to the drawing board. I wanted it to work essentially the same way, but have my energy monitor keep track of its power use. I also wanted a more compact installation.
MPPT Charge Controller (L) - Inverter (R)

Here's what I came up with. works!
It was a bit counter-intuitive. The controller's NEGATIVE is wired to the INVERTER negative then on through the SHUNT. This let's me monitor it's power use AND the power generated by the Solar Panels/Controller. Like a "Y" splice in a hose. I know...makes no sense....but's that how it works. The POSITIVE from the controller is wired into a heavy On/Off switch then on to ANOTHER Switch then straight to the HOUSE BATTERY compartment through a large Catastrophe  "T" fuse in a water resistant holder then on to the POSITIVE post. The POSITIVE from the INVERTER is wired to the SECOND switch. The trick was making sure EVERY load on the battery bank would go through the SHUNT and be measured by the Energy Monitor. Then, for safety every thing that uses power should have it's wiring protected by a separate fuse. All of this was very confusing when I first began to figure it all out. Eventually, I got my head around it. You will too, I promise. If you get stuck, drop me a line...I can help.
Click To Enlarge. Shunt is on the Right.
Charge Controller Display/Inverter Remote

To Monitor all of this gear I installed the optional remote control for the charge controller below the remote control for the inverter. The other white box in the picture is for the satellite dish. It tells the elevation so you can aim the dish. The small Black box is the inverter remote. it reads out voltage of the battery and allows the inverter to be put into standby. I have the Energy Monitor Display mounted into the front dash area. It was already installed when I purchased the RV and would be a HUGE P.I.T.A. to relocate!

In the final Part of this article (Part 6!) I will go over the costs, operating the system, the ups and downs of battery charging from Solar and what you can expect. It's been a long ride, but the benefits certainly outweigh the hassle! Hopefully, this series will have helped out a bit.

Be Seeing You...Down the Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"

Read Part 6 of this series.
Read Part 4 of this series.
Read Part 3 of this series.
Read Part 2 of this series.
Read Part 1 of this series.