For the first time in my life, I’m actually studying manuals. It’s a weird feeling. When power was plentiful, I remember just taking anything I got and plugging it straight in. To be honest before I had to figure out my own power, I don’t believe I’ve ever read a manual cover to cover. So, what have I learned?
Well, the major problem I’ve been dealing with has been solved, kind of. Apparently, the system in the RV has what’s known as charge controllers. The power the solar panels make is run through the batteries then is run through an inverter to a standard 120V AC for the outlets in the RVs. Before the power gets to the batteries, they pass through a charge controller. These will disconnect the batteries from the power source when, one, there is too much power generated, or two, the batteries are full.
The models for the RVs only put out electricity at 120V. However, I learned from one of the old books on residential wiring I got from Book Hoarders that standard houses run on 240V. That introduces some new problems. I went into my basement and took the front panel off my breaker box. In theory there shouldn’t be any power going to it, but that doesn’t stop me from being very delicate. It takes me a moment but I’m able to parse out what everything is. I’m a little surprised with myself, I didn’t think I had learned that much. After pulling out the top breakers I notice that there are two metal buses (that’s what the book calls them) that run on either side of the box, but each slot is on the opposite bus from the one next to it. Since some appliances use 240V and some 120V a double breaker can be installed to “combine” the two buses which should be 120V individually. Sounded dubious to me, but the book says it’s true. My panel was labeled since I moved in. It looks like the big breakers are linked to my oven, my heater, and my dryer. It would be really nice to have those things back but I’m not sure if I can. Now I can calculate how much power I need to generate.
So, here’s my problem. Do I try to make two banks of batteries and windmills and run them through the two busses, or do I try my luck with one of the big boxes from the homes with solar panels. I decided I wanted to try one of the big boxes. I’ve been examining them for a while and if what I think is true, they’re kind of an all in one box.
There are three houses I know of with Solar panels. The panels are wired to the control box which is wired to a battery bank and the house’s breaker box. The back isn’t marked well but that was only a problem till I broke out the sharpie, and I drew a picture, then wrote detailed instructions on what went were. I’ve been trying to make this work for too long to fail now. The master box has a small display on the front that gives me a lot of information. Like how much power it’s getting, how much power is in the batteries, and how long the system can expect to run.
The first thing I did was move the box to my own attic. It was a long, drawn-out process. The box isn’t really that heavy but I’m taking no chances. I drove it over very slowly. Made sure it was anchored to the floor of my attic, and double checked my labels. Ruth told me I was being too nervous.
The second step took a lot of calculations. I cleared a corner of my basement to build a battery bank. Half of the batteries I stole from the other houses that were set up for solar. The rest I took from the scrapped cars I have parked a few streets away. I spent two days setting up and testing batteries to make sure they were all good. I had to salvage a lot of wire from the cars as well. When I was done, I had stacked shelves of different batteries ready for a charge.
Now for the hardest part, building my windfarm. I eventually hope to bring the solar panels too but right now they are a little too heavy for me to carry alone. I spent a day pulling the alternators out of as many cars as I could. I’ve learned a lot from my prototype. One of those things is I suck at weather proofing. My prototype is rusted and crusted from constant exposer to the snow, rain, and sun. I devised kind of an elegant solution to the problem. I acquired and modified some mail boxes to house the alternators. I even got some water sealant to seal the holes I have to make. They look a little more professional even though they are covered in house numbers and are all different colors and materials.
The next step is setting the bases. I have about twenty windmills at the moment, building bases for them all would take a while. Ruth told me to try putting them on top of the neighbors houses to save time. She’s been watching me work as she plants some seedlings in the new gardens.
I don’t like heights. I chose to be a computer programmer in no small part because it meant I would never have to climb anything. I constructed a stand I could put a windmill on. Ruth told me I had to be careful and seal any holes I make since we store stuff in these houses and one day we might need to house other people. I spend a day putting on the first and running the wire back to the house.
Now for the moment of truth. Hooking everything up. The first thing I had to do was disconnect my house from the old power lines and run those cables to the master box. Then I could run cables down the same mast for the batteries. That was my plan. I was sweating bullets as I disconnected the powerlines from the mast. I know there’s no power but part of me still says “what if it cuts back on?”. I had to climb down the ladder after each disconnection and take a moment to breath.
After hooking it up to the box a new challenge appeared. Running cables down the mast turned out to not be an option. Big wires do not like to share space. It looks like they should fit, but they don’t. I had to spend a whole day attaching a second mast to the first. Even then the wires didn’t want to go easily. I had to drop a rope down first, then use that to pull the wires through. It took a few hours but eventually there were wires going everywhere I needed. I spent the next day hooking everything up.
I made sure to install a switch on the windmill so I could turn it off at the source if I needed. After hooking everything up I steadied myself with a few deep breaths and flipped the switch. Then I waited for the explosion. With everything still standing a few minutes later I went to the attic to check the boxes display. The windmill was feeding a steady supply of power to the box. It wasn’t much but it was charging my battery bank. My hart leapt at the thought that my plan had worked. I went to the basement. I had turned off all the breakers before I started. I wanted to see if it was really working. I flipped the switch for the living room. Ruth was waiting upstairs when I arrived. I flipped the switch for the light and to my complete shock, it came on. It flickered weakly and started to dim almost as fast but it came on. Ruth cheered for me and congratulated me on making it work. I wasn’t done.
I spent the next few days setting up the other windmills. I put up one each morning and checked the progress on the box’s display. I would let it run all day while I helped Ruth plant cabbage and onions. One evening I went to check the display and it told me the batteries were at 50% charge. I had already installed seven windmills so I was surprised. I took a chance and flipped some breakers. I asked Ruth to help me and we turned on all the lights in the house. To my complete amazement they not only stayed on, they didn’t flicker or dim after a few minutes. After an hour the batteries had dropped to 48%. I now had real progress. I was almost leaping with joy, but I still wasn’t done.
It took the rest of the week and a lot of wire but I eventually got fifteen windmills up and running, keeping my others for spares incase the some break or need work. I then watched the display. Now was the real test. I sat down in front of the display as it showed the batteries at 95%. I was determined to see if it would shut off at 100. Right now, everything was replaceable, though I would be really unhappy about it. I told Ruth to run the lights and use the kitchen if she wanted. The count rose regardless.
I stayed in the attic for 3 hours watching the percentage go from 95 to 99. My heart was pounding as I watched the charge indicator. Would it shut off? Would it spark and fry like so many other things I had tried? Would it catch fire? I could feel my eyes drying out from my refusal to blink. I didn’t want to miss anything.
The display shifted to 100% and a small disconnect icon came on to show it wasn’t accepting any more power. I watched it for a few seconds and let out a dry laugh. I rushed outside to check the windmills. They were still turning gently. I ran back inside and climbed into the attic. The display still showed 100%. I ran to the basement and flipped on all the breakers hearing all my appliances turn back on then rushed back to the attic. Still at 100%. I finally allowed myself to cheer. I had made it happen, we finally had power.
By the time I made it downstairs Ruth was already in the kitchen putting the correct times on the oven and microwave. I asked her to use the kitchen to make dinner. I helped as much as I could but kept running around to check on the set up. By the time the meal was ready I was exhausted. It was finally dark outside, but for the first time in half a year it was light inside.
March 30, 2021