Coping: Planning Our 2017 Solar Profile

Almost 9 years ago when I installed the grid – interactive solar system here at Uretopia Ranch, I knew this day would come. It is time for us to begin considering what to do about our battery system.

As you may know, we used flooded lead-acid batteries of the conventional sort. Battery type selection is always a trade-off. Recycling path is well-established, too.

The use of conventional flooded acid batteries (golf cart batteries at 6 V each) is not the latest and greatest chemistry. However, it is very inexpensive when you consider the ultimate cost – per – watt and that is something I am keenly interested in.

No matter how much effort is put into maintenance of flooded cells, they do require much more attention than alternative technologies in return for their lower cost per watt of energy storage.

Several times per year I go out to our power center and attend the batteries needs. This includes adding distilled water to the cells as needed, they eat a lot more water in summer time, as well as conducting periodic equalizing of the cells.

Unfortunately, they are only good for so many charge and discharge cycles, and when they experience an extremely deep cycle – we’ve had several – their service life is shortened every time. Nine years is effective end of life.

At the moment I am making phone calls to price 16 of the 220 amp hour 6V golf cart batteries. The good news is that I have cores to exchange, but the bad news is that nothing is free. The price of lead acid technology has not come down, appreciably. They also don’t deliver anymore.

16 Golf Cart Batteries weigh a fair amount, too.

There is a rule of thumb in the battery industry that suggests given two competing batteries, each claiming similar capacity, you should simply weigh them and go with the heavier of the two. The theory is that the heavier battery will contain more lead and thus will have better deep cycle and longer life characteristics. But that’s not always true. Initial cost was around $3,000 in 2008.

Some of the alternative batteries that I’m looking at this year include sweeper batteries. These are the batteries, typically 24 V, which can be utilized in floor sweepers and pallet jack type equipment. It’s a mixed bag in that some of these come in cheaper on a cost – per – watt basis, but they more than make up for the cost reductions with their much heavier weight that makes them a real pain in the keister to install. 500 pound batteries are much more troublesome than 65 – 70 pound batteries.

If our temporary reader (Jon) was still around, I would ask him if those dandy 14 kWh Tesla home battery units were adaptable to 24 or 48 V solar panel array inputs. And if they continue to operate with no grid. And what’s their cost per watt on a purchase basis, since we don’t do debt around here. Freedom means paying no interest, to my mind.

Not that I am completely sold on Tesla’s concept, but it is meritorious on several accounts because it gives a lot of energy storage. That’s without knowing price, however.

The recent trends in solar are toward higher voltage panels. When I was first doing Marine electronic installations back in the 1990s, including on my own offshore sailboat, everything was living in the 12 V world. Trace was about the only outfit doing higher voltages (48 for their R.E. installations).

Our company made amp-hour and integrating kilowatt-hour instrumentation and the majority of our clients were 12 V to 16 V (Nicad) operators.

When our skill set was called upon to instrument the National HEV Challenge, run by Argonne National laboratory, we accomplished the necessary instrumentation by using a pre-scaler to effectively drop high battery pack voltages (usually around 120 V (down to the 12 V range where we could get our arms around. 1:10 ratios were easily worked up.

Today, both in solar panels and in electric peripherals (including engines and lighting) there is a trend to use higher voltages. You’re seeing some of the results of the trend in the appearance of LED lighting products in the big box stores like Lowe’s hardware.

The cost of 1 W of energy back in 2008 was much more expensive than it is now. However, price was not such a major concern for me and I didn’t mind paying more than two dollars per watt not including shipping.

Today it would be absurd to pay that much for that little power.

But several things were driving me back then, not the least of which was knowing that we would at some point hit a real estate bubble peak and from there the economy would begin a major decline. As a matter of fact, that did happen in 2009, and at the peak of the economic uncertainty back then our operating expense for our ranch in the East Texas Outback was virtually zero if necessary.

I will let you know how this thought process works out and what we decide to do. But there is no question that the price of adding solar to a home has come down substantially.

That said, I am not a fan of just any solar system that requires the grid in order to operate.

There is just too much information about the vulnerability of the power grid that suggests someone who is true to the ideals of prepping would design, build, or buy a system dependent on vulnerable infrastructure.

That’s why our system interoperates with the grid, but does not depend on the grid for either startup or continuing operations. And we have protected our system extensively using transient voltage suppressors available from www.mouser.com to ensure relatively high odds of continuing operation.

In our back pocket, of course, is our collection of wire nuts and a couple of spare charge controllers of the older PWM type. These are not nearly as efficient as the new maximum power power tracking point (MPPT) charge controllers, and you can think of these old styles (In the Faraday can) as being akin to vibrators. They simply make and break a connection with the solar panels to the battery bank so many times per second with the “on time” proportionate to charge voltage settings.

There’s a fair bit about this in our Peoplenomics library, including articles from back in the 2008. One of which I recall was titled Robust Home Power. That’s what we’re after, and that’s what we’re continuing to pursue.

Happy to pay taxes?

Oh yes! Please let me pay my property taxes in Anderson County, Texas. Again.

I went down to the courthouse annex on Wednesday and wrote them out a check for (are you ready for this?) $685.58

That is pretty damn inexpensive for a year’s worth of property tax on 28.8 acres more or less, a 28-60 double-wide with add-ons, a 40 x 40 shop building with mother-in-law quarters which we call a guest house as well as a small 12 x 12 outbuilding that houses stores, and a freezer.

This compares with some of the professional holdup artists in government which are charging on the order of $7000 per year some places for a home that doesn’t have nearly as much living space or utility value.

The downside is, as you probably know that our roads out here are not quite perfect. But since the county commissioners saw the light and installed a fresh coat of oil sand on our single track country road coming to the property, it hasn’t been too bad. Not good enough to get Elaine a new car, though. Besides I’ll leave that for highrollers who can afford $88,000 Tesla 90 D’s.

I got the need for speed out of my blood with the Porsche 930 and here more recently with the old airplane.

This is not to say it’s not a good idea, to have such style and profile in road gear; it just is a different allocation of resource than I’m happy with at the moment.

Pole Saw for Christmas – yay!

I decided a worthy goal for 2017 for me would be to turn our property into something that looks like a state park and yet still qualifies as a tree farm. How can I do this?

One of the easiest ways to take scruffy looking property and spiff it up a good bit is to use a process that land managers refer to as “limbing up”.

You go out into the woods and you see trees with low-lying branches and in late winter you go around and cut them off. Everything up to about 10 or 12 feet off the ground.

Picked up yet another Black & Decker 20V Lithium Ion powered tool: $120 at Amazon.

Then you take the scruffy stuff on the ground, and burn it in multiple burn piles in the area you’re working so that the nutrients go back into the soil.

Then you go through and do selective planting of lower growing material such as shade grass and the next thing you know you’ve got a piece of property that looks like a state park.

Fire-up the green house in the middle of January. With that heating mat for sprouting of our early plantings like the tomatoes and so forth and I figured this should be a pretty nice year, both aesthetically and in terms of nutrition here in the woods.

If you have two homes, like some people we know, we hope you use at least one of them to make a more sustainable getaway.

Friends of ours in Arizona, for example, just picked up a home in the mountains so they can escape from the heat down in the Phoenix area. I expect they’ll be doing a lot of greenhouse work as well.

I don’t have a green thumb but gosh does it help if I tell you I have green eyes?

Write when you get rich,

george@ure.net.

Comments

Coping: Planning Our 2017 Solar Profile — 20 Comments

  1. You could consider NiFe batteries – and if these people had gotten their act together you could be building your own. http://opensourceecology.org/wiki/Nickel-Iron_Battery These are supposed to be good for 100+ years….

    Over at cryptogon.com http://www.cryptogon.com/?p=49815 and they mention the SunnyBoy brand is working with Tesla in Germany.

    And it took me a bit to find the battery that was mentioned over at cryptogon – but because I love here is the info for you Mr. Ure. http://aquionenergy.com/homeowners/aspen-home-battery-storage/ (and the post that I remember reading that sent me on the search just for you Mr. Ure. http://www.cryptogon.com/?p=46028 )

    Oh and Dear Jon – remember to read the archives of sites. That’s where this all came from.

  2. Hi George,

    What you call “limbing up” in Texas is what we here call “fuel reduction”, and some folks can get a grant from the forest service to do that on their own land. In my case, the paperwork’s more bother than just doing it.

    Regarding batteries, a high quality set of L-16’s might be a better deal than a package battery such as forklift. The forklifts are generally 24V or 36V, and are a true PIA if a cell goes bad. At least with an L-16 array, you can drag a battery out and either repair or replace it. You can sling it in the back of the pickup without needing a tractor, and trust me, your tractor will tip with some forklift batteries. Yes, they can pack a wallop, but they are also steel cased and steel corrodes. I’d avoid the exotic stuff other than finding a used battery pack from a Prius just to play with. Yes, Edison cells are great for what they are, but you want to make it work and get back to your adult beverage, not spend a lifetime on infrastructure.

  3. George,
    It is hard to compete cost wise with flooded lead acid batteries even withe the Tesla batteries gradualy becoming available. I would recommend Trojan L-16RE the 375amp version. They are about twice the weight of the Trojan 105s and a little less output than two of the 105s (golf cart batteries. I buy them from Soligent (A wholesale Solar distributor), and they are about $300 each plus shipping and tax.
    If you got 9 years out of some golf cart batteries, you did really well, although they were likely mostly in float service. It is next to impossible to get accurate information on cycle life for the Teslas or other lithium Ion batteries that is really honest as to how many KW you will get before they die.
    The cost per KW for the Teslas is about 3 times the Tojans, but if used in real like off grid instead of back up and float service, They, according to their specs, should be slightly more economical. If used for float/backup service, they will still be much more expensive.
    I have about 13KW of grid tied panels on my all electric house on ten acres in crusaded southern California, with well, and 24hr 12×14 cold room for food storage. I DO HAVE a battery inverter, 120/240, and Midnite Solar and Outback charge controllers and long with necessary hardware to make a one day change to off grid from grid tied when the grid goes down for an extended time as it will likely do in the future.
    I sell grid tied systems for better than half my annual income as a general contractor, and I also do totally off grid systems also.

  4. George check out the Power Store in Alvarado TX. Jon.Mcgill @ ThePowerStore is a good source of Info. Jon sells Aquion Energy S30-0080 Aqueous Hyrid Ion battery stacks. 3000 cycles, 48 volts, no lead acid. These batteries did not exist when I installed my Ourback GS8048 Hybrid invertor and 8.6 Kw system in 2014. Alvarado is withing driving distance of your place.
    Red Dog

  5. Instead of burning the lopped branches consider hugelkultur – build a berm of piled wood and cover with soil. You can plant directly into the berm. Brilliant moisture retention so ideal for dry climates.
    Burning will sterilise that patch of soil and yield very little in the way of nutrients.

  6. “The use of conventional flooded acid batteries (golf cart batteries at 6 V each) is not the latest and greatest chemistry. However, it is very inexpensive when you consider the ultimate cost – per – watt and that is something I am keenly interested in.”

    I use to use golf cart batteries. I would have to change them every couple of years. then I discovered forklift batteries.. they are more durable and last longer. and relatively cheap.. the other thing is batteries used for hybrid cars..
    http://www.ebay.com/itm/TOYOTA-PRIUS-HYBRID-BATTERY-04-09-18-MONTH-WARRANTY-699-/302166753156?fits=Model%3APrius&hash=item465a8abf84:g:7WUAAOSwr2RYKPLB&vxp=mtr

    for me it simply amazes me that people haven’t realized that solar energy will pay for itself is self contained.. by fall of next year I will have twelve KW.. it started out with two kw to show the kids that this is the wave of the future.. what got me to buy more is how reasonable the price is.. the tax credits and that the first bank paid for themselves in half the time.

    • Here on the OR coast we almost never see the sun in the winter and even the rest of the year it is questionable. Solar energy will do nothing but cost you a lot of extra here. Solar is no energy solution for the long term in many places. Got any better ideas??

      • Solar is no good in OR

        Why does anyone live there then with no green plants? I mean, if there is no sunlight then there has to be no green plants – right?

  7. I haven’t left yet George. The Powerwall is extremely affordable. Spending on what one needs for instance, the 7 kWh model will cost $3.000 and the 10 kWh model will cost $3,500. Up to 9 Powerwalls can be connected together to increase total storage capacity to a total of 63 kWh or 90 kWh (depending on model).

    My system is designed for me to be 100% energy dependent. I have two 14 kWh Powerwall batteries in both homes and combined with my solar panels, allows me to never tap into the grid, although I do sell the excess back to the utilities after my batteries re-charge. The cost is $11,000. Installation and supporting hardware starts at $1,600
    So, my total cost per household was $12,600. But, I am an early adopter and once Teslas Gigafactory is at 100% capacity, You will see costs decrease dramatically

    • The 10 kWh wall was cancelled. The new version 2 wall is 14 kWh in one box. No reason to look at the gen 1 anymore due to the gen 2 supposedly having an onboard inverter. They do not sell direct to a homeowner, only through installers.

      Good choice for George now is forklift batteries or some Chinese LiFEPO4 if his converter works with Li-Ion cells and has voltage cutoffs.

  8. That Expat loves to pee on your parade. I wonder if he isn’t as happy as he could be, so far away…I mean, isn’t the ‘America way’ also to take your FRNs to another country and buy your country property to put your boots up on?

  9. George, have you looked at Edison Cells (NiFe batteries)? While pricey and bulky, their life span is measured in decades not years and are very tolerant of abuse. They are used in mining and railroads.
    Looked at solar and numbers didn’t work out here in central Kentucky due to average cloud coverage. I have several old 1-cyl diesels and some day want to play with wood gas generators to fuel them driving generator/alternator configurations as I have a 13 acre mixed hardwood woodlot. Trees are one thing I am not short of.
    James Johnson, ex-nuke

  10. George,
    I have a HUP Solar One 1375ah 24 volt battery as my storage with a single point water service system.
    Still going strong after 12 years.
    Its a single battery so no series or parallel configurations to consider

  11. Just recently I had a casual conversation with a tesla owner. He claimed a 8 hour charge time at 220 volts 9000 watts to bring his car back up to full power. he was excited about teslas photo voltaic roof shingles and battery wall.

  12. George,
    I have a HUP Solar One 1375AH 24 volt battery as my storage. With the automatic servicing system its an ease to maintain. Still going strong after 12 years

  13. I’m with you on the choice of property and taxes. Years ago my [now ex-] husband wanted to build in Peoria, and was pondering $80,000 for an acre with all kinds of building requirements attached to it. I vetoed that idea, and found a local house with 29 acres (mostly woods), a horse-riding arena (whose building had burned down), several garages, two kitchens, and a ballroom-sized living room for about the same price. If memory serves, the taxes were about $1200. New construction is heavily taxed in my little county, to the point where my friend who owns a house construction business AND a lumberyard told me he cannot afford to build for himself, due to taxes. And Habitat for Humanity has the resources to build 3 houses in the county, but cannot because no one can afford the taxes on new construction.
    Since building an alternative energy extravaganza WAS my life plan until finding this out, once the weather goes above freezing, I intend to go to the county assessor on a fact-finding mission.

  14. Check out the LiFePo batteries at https://www.bioennopower.com/ (up to 2,000 cycles!)

    The advantages of our batteries have are as such:

    Lower weight
    Increased capacity
    Enhanced power delivery
    Expedited efficiency
    Longer lifetime than other Lithium Ion batteries
    Better power density
    Constant and stable discharge voltage
    Increased battery safety due to thermal and chemical stability
    Low environmental impact due to usage of Phosphate rather than Cobalt
    Higher current/peak power ratings
    Greater calendar life

    I have four 24 V 20 A batteries. They work well and each includes a Battery Management System to prevent over charging and over discharge.

  15. It’s the America way. Move to the country, make it look like a city park, sit on the deck, put your boots up on the rail, and say, “God I love this country life!”