Tag Archives: solar power

My Solar System

Sunday evening at 6:20 pm, it’s just now completely dark and the little read-out screen in the back bedroom closet says 91.  That’s percentage charge in our solar batteries solely from the sun.

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I walk back into the kitchen to report the number to the Bearded One, who records the time and number in our Solar Book of Knowledge (we have other Books of Knowledge), a small lime-green notebook in which we collect these numbers for further study. We record these numbers all day, sometimes every half hour.

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It has to do with learning how to protect the batteries from ever going below 75%.

“Check,” he says. He’s just come inside after his full day of transplanting pineapples,

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stripped off all his clothes on the lanai, and is now sprawled naked in front of the fan in the living room. It’s just the two of us here.

We haven’t had a sunny day since the solar system became operational last Thursday. A foot of rain over the weekend. It’s beyond humid. My posture along with everything else is limp.

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We barely got the percentage up to 94, which is where we need to get it each day, either by free sunshine or expensive propane-powered generator. It’s all new stuff to us. I’m ready to be completely charged by the sun.

My swimming buddy NeNe has been off-island, too, and I miss her and our swimming. I’ve been cleaning and baking and getting the house ready for our younger daughter, the Nurse, who is coming in two weeks. She came two months ago and we talked and swam and she hung out with her brother down at Kalani and took a yoga class. This time she’s bringing another exhausted hard-working nurse with her,

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and I hope the sun is shining for them. Rain or shine – two totally different approaches to paradise.

The Bearded One gets up to take a shower and I head in to the kitchen to heat burritos and rice.

I’ve decided the girls (girls? they are ICU nurses!) should have the den area, not the back bedroom where the solar read-out is. The den’s a nicer room, has a better finished floor, and I’ll buy some colorful sarongs for the walls. They’ll need reading lamps, too. Everything is revolving around the kids – a whole ‘nother solar system.

“I want everything to be perfect for them,” I say to the Bearded One when he steps out of the shower.

“Me, too,” he says, and I think of his role as stepdad these 18 years. He’s very good at it. As he puts it, he knows his place — he sees the glass ceiling and embraces it.

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“You do what you can,” he’s said on other occasions. “It’s a good gig if you can get it.”

The phone rings. It’s 8pm. “Who could be calling at this hour?” I breathe a whiff of worry until I answer and hear our oldest daughter’s, “Hiiiiii!” And then, “I’m fine, is this too late?”

My internal battery charges as we talk. She has negotiated a break from her job and if it’s okay here, she’d like to come visit, arriving a day before her sister leaves and staying until just before Thanksgiving. Our son will be here, too.

“So all three of you kids will be here for a whole day!?” I shriek. The Bearded One is listening and smiles wide.

The planets have aligned. The sun is warming us now. Our solar reading soars.

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First Light

“Come look here.” Tom grins and walks over to the lamp on the kitchen counter. It’s late afternoon and he has been working hard here all day. He reaches for the lamp plug and leans over the counter to one of the new virgin outlets he’s installed over the past weeks to electrify this old off-grid hippy house.

“Is this IT!?” I say, and then run out onto the lanai to call the Bearded One. “Electricity!” I holler, and the Bearded One leaves the site of Moby Dick (the downed cedar he’s making into a jungle gym for little kids) –

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and all the hugelkultur beds (dirt atop rotting tree limbs) –

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he’s constructing from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Iselle’s debris to witness the birth of the first electricity to travel through our new wiring.

Snap. The dining room is bathed in light.

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The dark tongue and groove wood of the room glows. But the most amazing thing is the silence. No generator is on. Silent light. This electricity is from four bright-green solar batteries under the house which cost about $500 each and come charged. They will last 15-20 years if we take care of them well, not letting their charge get below 75% and adding distilled water to them monthly.

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“IT WORKS!” Tom says. We clap and hug and decide to celebrate the moment sitting around the vintage wooden card table I bought at a garage sale last week for $15 —

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and drink Coke (the Bearded One), Mountain Dew (Tom) and potable water (me) and bask in the color and the quiet.

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Tom sat here earlier on this long hot and humid day with his computer, studying electrical connection diagrams. Now he sits back and stares off into space. Sweat streams down our faces.  It’s the tropics.

A breeze rustles the palm leaves outside and then fingers its way through the screens and across the room. “The trades are coming back,” Tom says and the Bearded One and I both pray he’s right. In the six months we’ve lived here, we’ve experienced the first direct hit hurricane in 150 years, a volcanic eruption and lava flow slowly descending Kilauea toward our closest town, and the hottest, muggiest September since the 1940s.

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Tom tells us he’ll be back tomorrow to hook up the big new propane generator, which will fill the four bright-green solar batteries on rainy days.

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Our nine solar panels are installed on the roof, but not hooked up yet. A needed part was shipped Fed Ex priority, but ended up on a barge for 4 weeks, so we’re living on batteries (juiced up with a big generator an hour or so a day) without solar panels.

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This is okay. The Bearded One and I are saturated with new information at each increment of this path. Now it’s learning to nurture batteries for a long life.

Tom packs up his tools and by the time he says good-bye, it’s close to 6pm and getting dark. The Bearded One and I sit down again and are discussing how batteries and fancy electric cables are now a fact of life and that he must get another propane tank since we have another mouth to feed (generator), when there is a loud knock on the door. The Bearded One hops up. It’s Tom.  He charged his computer in his truck all day, and then ended up staying longer than he thought.

He just stands in the doorway for a long moment, looking mildly flummoxed but still grinning as he asks, “Got any jumper cables?”

 

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Watts Up?

We are steeped in all things solar as the new system and the rewiring of the house near completion simultaneously. I have been getting lessons in electricity.

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Our 5-gallon water cooler is supposed to be able to help me get it.

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I walk over to the cooler in the corner of the kitchen, slip my plastic glass under the spigot and poke the release button with my thumb. Water gushes into my glass because I filled the cooler this morning. When the level in the cooler is low, the water pressure out the spigot is low, too.

Still, I’m startled by the power, recognize instantly there is some principal of electricity here that the Bearded One was trying to decipher just last night, but I really didn’t get it. He walks by as I fill my glass.

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“Pretty good amps,” I say as the glass fills in seconds.

“No…” he says, smiling sweetly at my effort. “The amperage is the same as it was before you filled the cooler.  Amps are the spigot.”

I’m going to understand this, I say to myself. Even if it’s just that Amps are the spigot.

Back in August, our contractor friend Tom, in a thoughtful, poetic moment after working on the solar system all day, tried to explain electrical terms – Volts, Watts, and Amps — to the Bearded One and me. He sat back in his chair on the lanai and said, “Electricity flows like water.”

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The Bearded One sipped his Coke and said, “We’re making electricity fountains.”

Tom said, “Wattage equals current. Voltage equals how fast the water is moving.” Then he smiled, thought a second and added, “Amperage is how narrow the channel is.”

“Oooo,” I said and raced inside for my notebook. I had to write it down, it was so beautiful. Perhaps, some day, I would understand electrical language, I remember thinking. Not yet.

Then last night I was looking at ceiling fans on line trying to find the ones Tom mentioned that used only 14 watts. Fans can be real energy suckers.

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There was only one that did this – Aeratron – and all the rest were much much higher, 58 watts and up. I showed this to the Bearded One.

While he was studying the Aeratron description, I ran upstairs to get my notebook. I glanced out the window to the southwest where, at midnight last night, I could see the glow from the slow-moving lava flow 8 miles away lighting up the low clouds like a football stadium.

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Anyway, I found the water analogy in my notebook and ran back to recite.

“That’s a really good way to put it,” he said.  “But Voltage and Wattage still confuse me.”  He looks a moment at my written notes.

“Amps are the spigot,” he says. “The spigot didn’t change.”

“No, it’s the same spigot.”  I begin to sip.

“It’s just the tube size. The spigot. How much the system can carry.”

“I understand,” I say, and I do. “Amps are the spigot. But the water pressure increased, so is that more watts or volts?”

“The increased water in the cooler is Volts,” he says. “Volts are electrical potential. And Watts are just a combination of volts and amps!”

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I stare hard at him. “Amps are the spigot. Volts are gallons of water in the cooler. And Watts are how hard it comes out, as a result of the first two things.”

“Yes,” he says. “There’s also Resistance, how much the system itself is altering the flow, and that’s measured in Ohms.  Guess that’s the Zen part of electricity.”

I close my eyes, say “OMMMMM” Buddha-style and back out of the room, completely forgetting my nice full glass of water.

Clothesline Love

“Have you been sniffing stuff again?” he asks.

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It’s time to do laundry, and I have just announced this fact to the Bearded One, who manages to get absolutely filthy each and every day here. He’s been cleaning up Tropical Storm Iselle debris for three weeks, and has turned the project into rehabbing gardens and tending to the new bananas. Neat stacks of twigs, sticks, and branches dot the landscape now.

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“Of course I’ve been sniffing stuff,” I say. I sniff everything, it’s what I do. “You are out of T-shirts. We’re gonna have to do the laundry.”

He pauses and stares across the landscape.  His banana patch is taking off. “Tomorrow.”

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This is an offer of an actual plan, something he is loath to make, so I pounce. “Done.”

Until then, I will wash out my favorite top and lightweight cotton cropped pants and his favorite soft old underwear and hang them on our new clothesline. Which he rigged between two palms out front between the gate and the house.

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Our “simple” off-grid life is still pretty complicated at this point. The solar panels are installed but not yet hooked up to the inverter nor to the battery nor to wires in the house. So we use a small generator to run the water pump (toilet, sink, and shower water from the catchment tank), computer, printer, and fans. The fridge, stove and hot water heater are propane, and will stay propane. The big solar system generator is also propane. But our small generator is ethanol-free gas.

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Each week we haul in some combination of propane, gas, and drinking water, and will continue to even after we have the solar running.

Right now I’ve got to start the little generator so I can wash out the favorite clothes and get them on the line. It’s sunny and windy today, the perfect combination.

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I walk around the side of the house to the utility area where the new catchment tank sits. The bank of 4 solar batteries is still covered by plywood protecting them from Iselle. That’s also roughly where the Bearded One is pondering space for a movable washer and dryer.  On big dollies.

I head under the house and duck walk to the where the little red generator sits on its pallet.  I greet it, check its vitals (are the shims in place that tilt it just the way it likes?), turn the switch to On, plant my left foot on its side and pull the rope. Starts right up. Always a noisy relief.

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Lightweight clothes wash and wring out easily, but it’s still a lot of work. At least I have running water with the generator on. Clothes washers, in my opinion, are the best invention of mankind.

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I’d also like a dryer. Some days are just too wet and humid to dry anything, and I could run a dryer off the big generator. But I could also live without it. Lots of families do. Dryers take a lot of electricity, solar or otherwise generated.

Clotheslines are all over Hawaii. Colorful layers, odd combinations of people’s stuff, the overlap and flap of lives. I love our clothesline. So does the Bearded One. He comes over to help me hang the little tub of clothes. He kisses me from behind as I pin up my tissue thin orange top.

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I laugh and turn around and sniff his neck, a nice long snuffling sniff — he smells wonderful — then I kiss him back.  Laying it on the line.