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 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,

Dear Gold Bugs: Sorry to be Right (Again)
FOMC decision: Hike!