Going Solar?

Going Solar?

The first thing you will notice is that there is no noise.

You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly they can be set up. And with no noise, smell or flammable liquids a solar generator can be set up almost anywhere!

And if not for the optional solar panels most people at your event will not even know you are using a generator at all!

The key to my solar generators is their 12 Volt, “deep cycle” AGM batteries.

One of the neatest things about using batteries is that they can be set up and used anytime, anywhere and theoretically can be sized to do just about anything.

Anything? … Well … Almost anything … Fairbanks is pretty small as far as cities go!

Between 2003 and 2015 Fairbanks Alaska held the record for the world’s largest rechargeable battery!

The Golden Valley Electric Association’s BESS (Battery Energy Storage System) is essentially a 27 megawatt UPS system for the Fairbanks area!

http://www.gvea.com/energy/bess

It is still going strong … They just lost the tittle in 2015 … People have started catching on and have been making bigger ones!

The Sendai Substation Lithium Ion 40 megawatt Battery in northern Japan came on line in 2015 and more recently Tesla’s 100 megawatt Horndale Energy Reserve in South Australia went live in 2019.

These batteries are huge … About the size of a football field!

My 12 volt AGM Battery system / Solar Generators are quite a bit smaller … My largest system, a modular 3,800 amp hour system is roughly the equivalent of a 25 KVA generator and takes up about 1/2 of a 14′ box truck … My smallest, a 276 amp hour system, was small enough to fit in the back of a Honda Element to power a mobile video projection system.

Three of my smaller solar generators

Portable and perfect for a lot of small events and festivals!

GO SOLAR!

What Happened To The Sound

What happened to the sound?

I guess it got improved … Or something like that!

I do not think I am the only person wondering about this, but I may be the only sound guy who is.

Guitar players have been suporting a cottage industry of boutique tube amp makers for years, almost since the day Leo Fender sold his company to CBS back in 1965 (The Mesa Boogie company was formed in 1971, and I suspect the idea for the company started shortly after the tinkering began)

Guitar players have had it easy … Lots of choices!

Sound guys … Not so much … There does not seem to be a cottage industry of boutique sound systems to choose from.

So what did happen to the sound?

My best guess would be that business happened.

Folks who knew little or nothing about sound and music, but plenty about business took over, and to be fair, they have come up with some pretty neat things!

Large format sound systems are available today to safely and economically bring your sound to 1,000 to 99,000 of your closest friends (Coachella Music Festival, Indio, California). Small format sound systems, perfect for the GB or wedding gig, that won’t break the bank or your back. Decent gear is even finding it’s way into the local school’s AV closet for the annual play or dance recital. Easy to set up and use but somehow not quite what used to be called “High Fidelity”.

Loud enough and good enough most of the time, but perhaps not all of the time?

Sherman! Set the way back machine …

In the 1920’s the early sound inventors saw the need In the new “talkies” at the movie theaters for what eventually became that small self powered loudspeaker in the AV closet … A more reliable, louder and better sounding sound system

The next generation of audio engineers, some still wearing the trademark white lab technician’s coat started to tweak and tinker, improving the sound to the point where the term High Fidelity came into existence.

High Fidelity, defined by Merriam Webster.com as: “The reproduction of an effect (such as sound or an image) that is very faithful to the original”, (first used in 1938).

One of those early speaker designs, the Klipsch Corner Horn (patented in 1946) sounded so good that it is still in production today. Paul Wilbur Klipsch’s brain child still holds it’s own when paired with the proper amplifier. I’ve only heard them thru an old Macintosh tube amp, but I remember the pleasure of that first listening and have added them to my bucket list.

If you are not familiar, go find a pair and give them a listen. You may not be able to help smiling when you hear any of your favorite music played thru them.

They are big, unwieldy and if they did not sound so amazing would probably qualify as ugly!

Fair warning though … They are not cheap!

So … Just what is good sound?

That is a loaded question!

An easier question to answer would what is bad sound … Far fewer arguments!

Feedback … Distortion … Too loud … Not loud enough … Too shrill … Too bass heavy … Cannot hear someone / something … Are all prime examples of bad sound.

It occurred to me years ago that there might not be a correct answer to the first question … Bad sounds on the other hand are pretty obvious … Unaminously agreed upon by sound engineers, musicians and audience members alike.

So … I set about trying to get rid of as many of those “bad” sounds as possible, hoping that I might be left with something approaching the right answer to that first question.

Does the technique work? I’m happy to say yes … At least for me!

Will business “adopt” it?

I do not think so … You would have a hard time making more money selling less!

With the invention of the “talkies” a whole new industry was born

Things kept improving to a point where no-one was making a terrible sounding sound system.

The “high water mark” in my opinion was around the peak of the class A/B amplifier series designs. Plenty of power, wonderfully reliable and aside from a few tube purists, no complaints about the sound were heard!

Unfortunately this was not good for business.

Once you sold someone one of those amplifiers it was going to be a pretty long time before they were going to need to replace it!

Business was going to need to sell something if it was going to survive.

Taking advantage of the two weakest points of the “then” state of the art amplifiers (price and weight) by the horns as it were, a new series of lightweight amplifiers started being developed.

The class D amplifier was “born” and “business” was saved!

Well, the business of making and selling sound systems was saved.
I am not sure the actual sound business needed saving. We did get a lot of really neat, lightweight gear to use, but lost something in the High Fidelity department along the way. Things just did not seem to sound the same … Loud began to hurt … And what happened to the low end?

But no worries, the class D amplifiers are very handy at adapting. Readily interfacing with the new digital processing that is continually being developed, something that has done a great job of helping get things to sound better. But, aside from in some glossy magazine advertisements, I am not hearing anyone using the term “High Fidelity” to describe things … just yet.

I think perhaps I have some Missouri in my DNA.

When new gear came along I would give it a try.

If it was better than what I was currently using I would take out my check book and make the switch!

If not, tried and true was going to keep me going.

I bought one of the “new” Carver PM 1.5 amplifiers when they first came out and was really looking forward to the concept of 1,500 watts of power in that smaller 21 pound package.

I brought it back to the store in less than a week to see what was wrong with it … My Yamaha 2100 saved the day that first show when I was not getting enough low end out of my subs at the local frat house. I needed to swap out the new 1,500 watt amp with my spare, 120 watt per channel “old school” amp.

The dealer was very helpful. He pulled another PM 1.5 out of the box and fired it up in the show room and it seemed loud enough thru a full range speaker, but when we tried running just lows thru it, almost nothing, even with all those cool LED meters blinking red!

We both agreed that perhaps driving subs was not the proper place in a sound system for those particular 1,500 watts of power.

The dealer was happy to take the PM 1.5 back and sell me the CROWN Microtech 1000 that kept me happy until I discovered the Macro tech 2400 … Which kept me pretty happy until someone introduced me to the love of my low end life, the Macrotech 5000 VZ.

That was a long time ago, but the love affair, like my carefully maintained 5000 VZ’s, is still going strong!

I have tried out the I-Tech 10,000’s and find that I prefer the sound of the older, heavier, less powerful VZ’s. It seems to me that the 5000’s are the right “tool” for the job. For now, when I have the capability of “tying in” to get the four 30 amp circuits needed to keep me and my four Macrotech 5000 VZ’s happy, I’ll do it!… The smiles in the audience or out on the dance floor make lugging all that weight and cable around worth it.

So what next?

The business of the sound business is still driving things forward, towards what someday may again be called high fidelity.

I suspect and hope someone will develop a hybrid technology that takes advantage of what we “knew” 30 years ago and all of the DSP we have available today to get beyond the limitations of both the new and old “schools”.

My check book is ready!

Something to smile about.

I am incredibly near sighted … And have been so, as far as I know, all of my life.
Oddly … This was not discovered until I was in the second grade!

The human body is very resourceful and will try to adjust to make up for any challenges it encounters. In my case, with my vision being somewhat less than perfect, my hearing seems to have jumped into overdrive. The amazing thing to me is that this adjustment was not noticed until I was seven. Life was just normal!

Getting eyeglasses was huge. Wearing glasses sucked! Tickled the nose … Hurt the ears, but, oh the sights! … Trees had leaves! Facial expressions were a new phenomenon to me and television suddenly got a lot more interesting … At least until the novelty wore off!

It has taken several decades to realize that not everyone heard the world the same way I did. When 20/20 vision was handed to me as a little kid I did not immediately stop using the hearing skills I had developed. 

What skills you might ask?

Well … Have you ever been to the beach on a hot summer day?

 
It is a wonderful way to get away from the heat, and if it were not for all the other people trying to do the same thing, finding a place to set up the family blanket and beach supplies would be pretty easy.

Imagine yourself there … The sound of the waves crashing along the shore and the gulls overhead. Go down to the water and close your eyes … Now, add the noise of all those people. Not being able to see more than a couple of feet in front of you is going to make getting back to that blanket a bit more of a challenge.

My solution to the problem, that I did not know existed, was to just run up and down the beach yelling “mom!”. When I heard her I would know where she was … Blanket, cooler and sun tan lotion … and I would go … Normal!

Aside from being a very nearsighted and loud kid, it seems that I was incredibly skinny. All knees and elbows as it were, and if I have understood my mom correctly, with my ribs sticking out!

When she heard me she did not immediately yell back. She was afraid people would know who was responsible for starving this poor child, When I ran by she would answer loud enough for me to hear her, but not much more.

Echo locating? 

Hmmm … Apparently I was more than just “blind as a bat” … And perhaps things were not quite so normal after all.

Fortunately I wound up falling into a profession where my “ears” would be an asset. For the last thirty plus years I have been working in the entertainment industry as an audio engineer … A sound guy … And being able to pick sounds out in a crowd has been incredibly handy!

I love sounds … All sounds … Even that “teeth on the chalkboard” screech of a sound … I still cringe … But I do love it!

It has been a lot of fun learning how sound behaves, finding ways, tools and tricks for making things louder, occasionally a lot louder! More often then not, most people are not aware of what things coming off the stage I have made louder. 

To me the ultimate goal is making it louder without it sounding louder …creating the illusion that there is no amplification at all. Surprisingly, it turns out that it can still be loud without the audience minding that it is loud.

The right microphone used in a certain way with a high fidelity sound system can leave the audience wondering if there is a sound system there at all.

Now close your eyes again … This time the noise and mayhem of the beach is replaced by something you might not expect … You are at a concert and an artist is on stage … And you hear them, not the sound system.

If you are like me … You may find yourself smiling.

An Argument for Analog?

An Argument for Analog … 

Why Not! 

Technology has been screaming along in the audio world … Taking full advantage of materials and manufacturing techniques undreamed of when I first started turning knobs … Producing amazing microphones and lighter and lighter loudspeaker systems … And heading in directions I could not have imagined. 

The amount of control available these days is mind boggling! I have tried a few of the digital mixing boards and been impressed with the sound quality and some (but not all) of the bells and whistles available to the modern sound engineer … The clarity is amazing … Leaving me sometimes wondering what is missing!

Neat stuff … But I have decided to not make that Great Leap Forward …. I will continue to do what I have been doing all these years … Listening … And then turning knobs … 
Sometimes lots of knobs!

The amount of brain power I seem to use in listening seems to take full advantage of what the old brain is capable of these days … I am beginning to suspect it does a lot more than I had been aware of. The variables involved in the physics of a musical performance can be approaching the infinite … With different types of sounds coming from different places at different times … And then bouncing around the room to complicate things even more … Talk about mind boggling!

I am currently working on the Boston production of the Urban Nutcracker with a rather straight ahead control system.

The mixing board is a small format analog desk where I am using fifteen input channels to run the show. 

The mixer is “driving” a monaural speaker system and two monitor zones. To do that I have access to 482 knobs and switches on the mixer … And perhaps another 300 or so on the outboard processing rack.

In today’s world it is a bit of a luxury having direct access to all of their functions any time I would like to change something and I find not having to spend time looking for / getting to a particular function invaluable.

There seems to be a perfect time and place for a digital mixing console … I do not get to work on those types of events.

My world seems full of the less than perfect … A lot of unknowns with the occasional surprise being thrown at me during a performance … Analog rules in those situations.

The time spent getting to a particular control page on a digital mixing console to react to the changes happening on stage can be excruciating … And there can be a lot of changes happening on stage!

Being able to efficiently change different things with each hand quickly and fluidly would be a futuristic luxury in the digital world … I have had the tools to do just that for the last 35 years or so … And I am having a hard time finding reasons to give them up.

That said … I do love being able to take an I-Pad out on stage during sound check to fine tune monitor mixes … But sound checks are not always possible … And time … Well … In my world there is never enough! 

Someday there may be a hybrid technology … But until then … If I am going to need to do something quickly … 
                       ANALOG PLEASE!!!

The Truck!

Ah yes … The truck.

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First outing with the new array.

A 1995 Mitsubishi Fuso FH100, and I, the original owner,

What a machine!

The FH100 was a left over model the local dealer “found” sitting on a dock in Florida waiting for something to do … And did I have something for it to do!

I had had the pleasure of working with John Minnehan and his company “the Ultimate Video show” bringing a high tech video night club to lots of college campuses that were … Let’s just say … Off the beaten path!

Lots of miles … Lots of heavy gear … And lots of hours listening to some of the hottest dance music the 90’s had to offer … I am still in recovery!

But the truck was amazing at it. With a GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) of over 17,000 pounds and weighing in at under 9,000 pounds empty the amount of gear it could handle was beyond belief … It surprised a lot of weigh station officials over the years … The sad look that would cross the faces of the DOT guys as they opened the door and read the GVW tag was always priceless!

But I digress …

The truck seems to have been built for my solar project. With it’s small size and super heavy duty frame, brakes, suspension and cargo restraining system moving a bunch of batteries around with the truck was going to be the easy part.

I wanted to find a better way to solar recharge the batteries between shows, and with business picking up I started looking up. With 120 square feet of flat roof on the truck, adding solar panels to the “attic” seemed like a good idea. If I could find a way to permanently mount an array on the truck I was going to save a lot of time and trouble moving batteries around.

I wanted to have the panels “rail mounted” flat above the box of the truck … With the rail system designed to protect the panels and any low hanging tree branches from each other!

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The rail mounting system

I was curious as to how well the panels would work laying flat … (Instead of being angled at the sun) … But was pretty certain after 2013’s experiment that I would be able to recharge the batteries … I was just not sure how much the process would speed up, or how much power I would get … Never mind what, if anything was going to happen on those short winter days with the sun low on the horizon.

Time would tell.

While the truck was being worked on I went through and rebuilt the charging station I had made for the project back in 2013, tidying things up a bit, adding a web monitor and a wireless router to connect the rig to my I-phone and maybe someday even the world!image

I think I’ll need to rent a teenager to get that far … Any leads on finding one would be greatly appreciated!

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The new array! Four Sun Tech 235 watt panels.

I got the truck back from the shop with the four solar panels installed on July 3, 2015 and spent the next two days adding the electronics and cabling … Personally drilling two holes in the truck roof for the “glands” that the cables were going to run through seemed really wrong … But the glands, and the silicone sealant that were used have kept everything nice and dry.

The next day I got up before sunrise and made it down to the truck as the sun was clearing the trees on the horizon and found I had already harvested .194 kWh of power … Before the sun had even hit the panels!

 

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Rise and shine … Time to get to work!

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“Old Guy” taking a “screen shot”, 7/6/2015

The readings I took from the web monitor at the end of the day showed that the charger went into “float” stage around noon … With a total harvest for the day of 1.41 kWh of power … I was not really sure what that meant … But I was impressed!

As I sit here on a Sunday morning in late January, with six months of learning “under my belt” I am still impressed!

As for the short days of winter … Yesterday, a sunny January 30, 2016 the Sirus Solar DS-201 web monitor showed I had put 143.7 amp hours of power back into my 12 volt battery bank … 1.72 kWh of power … Not bad for four 235 watt solar panels laying flat on a winter day in New England … Not bad at all!

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Screen shot from 1/30/2016

One of those days.

It looked like it was going to be one of those days.

The morning walk around the block seemed to hint of it. A little mist rising from the stones … And more noise than one would expect from the neighborhood.

To chance it?

Why not! A quick step over the curb and the deed was done.

Where to? I never can tell anymore. Things change so quickly it makes my head spin! But a walk to the east is always nice as the sun does its morning yawn … Greeting yet another day … As if today was just another day!

Crossing Amsterdam and seeing the church again brought back memories … It had been so long since I had been inside … Perhaps a detour should be made … Though when you’re not sure where you are heading … Is it really a detour?

In the October sun the stone seemed both warm and cold … The place had that quality about it. Always at odds with itself it would seem … Perhaps that’s why I liked it!

Up the steps and thru the side door … Not wanting to be seen … Almost!

I never felt comfortable with the front entrance … Leaving through the great doors … No problem … But entering?

Never!

Some things are just not done.they

The stone of the place has a way of isolating things, yet somehow keeping them connected … Through the stone. The sun and the warmth in summer never seemed to be able to get in … Though it tried as the colors from the stained glass chased each other across the walls and floor. The city too seemed kept out … It was always easy to forget it was waiting on the other side of those walls. But sounds snuck in and meandered about the place … A siren coming or going … Or it’s echo …it was hard to tell … Barely noticed and then gone. 
Like so many other things!

Perhaps it was … just one of those days.

You only get 365 you see … One of each. To be spent as you wish … But only once … And then … Well … No one knows.

I still have most of mine … So today did not feel like squandering … But I did not want to waste it.

Around the cathedral a few more times … chasing echoes I suppose … and then back to the sun and what was left of life.

Copyright Greg Hanawalt 10/21/2014

Watch me build a new battery / inverter box!

I thought it would be fun to have you tag along as I put together my fourth battery / inverter system.

My current battery rigs work incredibly well … But are too heavy to get in and out of my truck with two people.

I’m hoping that a smaller, modular approach will work. The idea of having a box of batteries that could be used by itself for smaller events … But could also be plugged into a larger system for larger events is very intriguing.

I had an old amp rack sitting around that I decided to try out as a battery system. It was a well made case that I had the good luck of not being able to sell on e-bay … And with this year’s Dance for World Community adding another stage to power I decided to give it a try.

The case turned out to be an almost perfect fit for four group 31 AGM batteries … A total of about 5 kWh of power if I’m doing the math correctly … I only plan on using about half of that in an attempt to keep the batteries working in top shape for as long as possible.

The case was made of 1/2″ luan plywood with some sort of plastic laminate covering, all held together with very heavy duty aluminum extrusion … It was built like a tank!

My biggest question … Would the case be able to handle all that weight?

The case did make it a lot easier to wire up the batteries and inverter. The removeable front and rear covers were now going to be the top and bottom, with the main body of the rack becoming the walls of the battery pack.

Four Group 31 AGM batteries installed on back cover of amp rack

Four Group 31 AGM batteries installed on back cover of amp rack

The former rear cover had a nice set of casters mounted on a Baltic birch caster plate … And with the addition of a 3/4″ birch “sub floor”, a layer of KYDEX and another 3/4″ “collar” around the batteries it looked like a good place to start.

The next step was to figure out how best to wire the batteries to the inverter.

A circuit breaker and fuse are added to keep things safe and a metering system is added to keep an eye on how the batteries are doing.

Wiring layout for the new battery / inverter box

Wiring layout for the new battery / inverter box

Here I have the two panels I will be using with the buss bars, fuse holder, shunt and circuit breaker mounted on them. Adhesive backed shrink tubing will be added over the crimped on lugs for safety … and to help protect the wire from corrosion.

I am using 00 marine grade wire for the interconnecting all the parts and I will be using #2 marine grade wire to connect the 12 volt batteries to the bus bars.

It is very important to use the right size wire when working with low voltage DC. The general rule of thumb is to use the largest, shortest wire you can … Otherwise the resistance in the wire will rob you of too much power.

I am already thinking of swapping out the #2 cable for #1 … We’ll see!

Eventually I will be adding a 350 amp ANDERSON SB connector to the pack (to connect multiple packs together) and have included an “extra” set of buss bars to make it easier to do when the time comes.

The AGM batteries I am using are supposed to be safe to mount in any position … And I suspect someday someone will tip this case on end to get it off of it’s wheels. I’m curious to see how the spacers hold up under that!

I've added spacers between the batteries to hopefully keep everything in place should someone ever tries to test the

I’ve added spacers between the batteries to hopefully keep everything in place should someone ever tries to test the “mount in any position” feature of the AGM batteries!

A top “deck” will be mounted on the two power panels for the inverter, battery meter and the ANDERSON SB connectors.

A little paint and it’s time for the “final” assembly.

Wiring of the

Wiring of the “positive” side off the battery bank

I like the modular approach of this system a lot … Making changes as I learn will be a lot easier … In theory!

Having this kind of access to all of the connectors was wonderful … You should have seen (heard?) me trying to wire my previous rigs!

Almost done ... Just need to add the cover and a fan!

Almost done … Just need to add the cover and a fan!

Shrink tubing added … Circuit breaker and fuses installed … Notice the “trap door” for getting at them … as well as the 175 amp ANDERSON SB connector for plugging into my chargers.

With the cover closed up and the fan on the system has been working wonderfully.  The next step will be to add the 350 amp  connector and assemble a larger inverter / power distribution system.

A great project for this winter … Will keep you posted!

Ready to go to work! Trimetric 2035 battery meter on the top left ...

Ready to go to work! Trimetric 2035 battery meter on the top left, “Kill-A-Watt meter to it’s right and 1,100 watt sine wave inverter and the connector for plugging into my  60 amp solar charge controller below.

No time to lose.

Solar powered 9 volt batteryThe project had been working out nicely … But what to do with it?

The technical side of the project was going to be a pretty simple evolution … Make the systems more efficient, easier to move around / recharge and capable of handling larger / longer events.

Getting a small array of solar panels permanently mounted on my truck was added to my “to do list” … But the truck was going to need some work before attempting that project … Two weeks after the end of the 2013 Elma Lewis concert series the injector pump on my 1995 Mitsubishi FH decided it had had enough … An expensive “operation” for an eighteen year old patient approaching the 300,000 mile mark! … More stuff to figure out!

Letting people know about the project was going to be a little more interesting.

Facebook, Twitter and Blogs are all new enough that my laptop’s spell check questions their existence! … And I’m a lot older than my laptop!

Help was going to be needed!

Clara Rhee … One of the tech’s I hire to help out with some of my events has a degree in comparative media studies from MIT …and she was willing to try to explain a bit about web sites, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, You Tube … by then my head was spinning. This was something I was not going to be able to adapt to in a day or two!

So a plan was put together for getting a web site and perhaps a You Tube video (or three) to start to letting the rest of the world know about the project.

Lots to learn and no time to lose. I was not going to get any younger … And things showed no signs of slowing down so that I could catch up!

Help came, as it sometimes does, rather unexpectedly.

I broke my collar bone trying to … Well, it’s a long story … Let’s just say that I have never been accused of being graceful!

I’ve had more than my share of broken bones … The collar bone bringing my total up to 14 … my least favorite to date, by a large margin … Without even having a cast to sign!

There is not much you can do when you break your collar bone. In the early stages of recovery even sneezing is to be avoided if at all possible!

So … With my right arm tied up for the next four to six weeks I started this blog and began catching up with all sorts of things “technical” …. Something that I had been putting off … For way too long … There really was no time to lose!

2013

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2013 was looking to be pretty exciting with the St. Patricks Day parade and the Easter sunrise service working so well … Though I was a little behind schedule with my plans to get meters installed and upgrading the wiring on all of the battery systems.

The rest of the parts had arrived … Finding time to install them was another story.

More shows, putting another battery system together and getting the meters installed in three of the systems kept me very busy through June … And I was starting to get some data that seemed to make a lot more sense … But I still had lots to learn.

One of the battery banks with the TRIMETRIC 2025 battery meter installed.

One of the battery banks with the TRIMETRIC 2025 battery meter installed.

I was planning on using the 2013 Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park series to test how feasible the project really was. I had hoped to solar recharge all of the batteries between the weekly shows this year … And had ordered an MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) solar charge controller to do it with … After doing a little math it seemed like my three 120 watt solar panels would be able to capture enough sunlight to recharge all the batteries during the week … Even allowing for a 50% operating efficiency … Something I hoped would be a conservative estimate … Especially with rain and clouds being a fairly common occurrence here in the Boston area.

My initial plan of setting up the solar panels and batteries on site for the series turned out to be a little naive … I had to scramble a little to get a “Plan C” up and running … My truck would be parked from Wednesday night until Monday afternoon and with a little help and a couple of tall ladders the solar “array” would be strapped to the top of my truck, the charge controller hooked up… And … Time would tell.

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PS … It worked great!