Solar adventures

So, earlier in the year, when COVID was just starting to ramp up and also when coincidentally I was in the midst of about as manic as I let myself get these days, I – in perhaps a moment of unreasonable paranoia – decided I wanted a backup generator. Except, I wanted a backup generator that would actually be useful if social unrest or other issues resulted in gasoline being difficult to get. (Not that many gas stations have backup generators, so even just a city-wide blackout could the cause this, and we’ve certainly had our share of blackouts since moving to this house, including one !5-day! outage)

So, I did what seemed the most reasonable thing to me at the time, which was buy a bunch of solar panels, some lead acid batteries, and a couple of big inverters.

It has been working pretty well – my basement’s been running off it since March, I think, and I haven’t run out of power yet – however, at the moment the panels are just lying in the front yard. If my math is correct, this is only giving me 30% of the power i’d get if they were on a two axis tracker.

So, I’ve been slowly working through various designs to try to figure out how I want to do tracking with them. I’d like to do something cheap-ish and DIY, and I’m fine with the east/west axis being manual but I want the RA axis to be automatic. I was pondering something like a drawbridge with a winch, but lately I’m again favoring the idea of using a couple of large bearings (I like the idea of using wheel bearings and wheel hubs from a car for some reason) and a gear motor. But it may change designs again. I’ve been suffering from a certain extent of laziness surrounding it. Some of my problem is that I am not really that great at using 3D modelling software – I really need to sit down and learn, but I’m not really sure which software I want to use. I am increasingly thinking I need to buy a desktop application for this as I tried using several different web based solutions and all of them had serious performance issues. I do not think 3D modelling is really something that’s well suited to being a web app, especially in the post-flash world. Of course, maybe part of the problem is just my lack of 3D modelling skill..

Anyway, winter is coming, so I should probably put a little more effort into this. It’s easy to generate enough power to run your basement in the summer in Seattle.. we have very long sunny days. The winter, with it’s very short, cloudy days, is likely to be a good deal more challenging.

One thing that is very sasisfying about having thrown together a solar array – beyond that it worked on the first try and I was able to easily set up a raspberry pi to track energy in and out of various things – is that I can use it to charge my EV. Whatever wars we get up to over oil are therefore that much less my fault. It’s possibly the most effective protest of the US war machine I’ve ever come up with.

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