Monthly Archives: August 2014

January, 2013 … and the Flu!

January, 2013, a book to read, some questions to answer … And the flu!

“Armed” with my trusty old iBook G4 and the second last dial up internet connection on the planet …  it was time to try “Googling”again!

(I really hope I am not that last person still on “dial up”)

It turns out there is some very good information out there … Mostly hidden in between some small scale items used to charge your cell phone or iPod … and some amazing systems even I find too incredibly good to be true … But perhaps … I’m still learning here!

Searching for solar power will overwhelm you … Narrowing the search down a bit to solar powered sound will get you a lot of neat things to play your iPod on, an interesting sound art project … And if you look far enough you will find …

Some nice photos of a couple of portable solar power systems being used at events … But I was not able to find out more.

A lot more searching, will get you to the North Texas Renewable Energy Group’s “Solar Shuttle” … A very impressive silent portable power generator … That happens to be solar powered … Wow!

They keep redesigning their web site … So you may have to look a bit.

This morning (8/25/2014) I found it in the “member projects” page under “The Solar Shuttle solar trailer” link.

Make sure you check out the link to the “PDF photo journal”

Wonderful stuff to find, but no help with finding any answers to my questions.

… Until Steve Gagnon sent me a link to Handy Bob Solar!

Thank you Steve! … And Bob!

Bob has been “boondocking” … living off the grid … for years … And had to try a lot of things to get a solar power system to work on his RV.

Check out his blog … But start a fresh pot of coffee and get comfortable first … He has a lot to share with anyone willing to take the time. And if you are interested in off grid solar power … find the time. What “Handy Bob” has to say is worth it!

A lot of why someone boondocks gets lost as soon as you start up a generator … The peace and quiet of the wide open spaces is easily overwhelmed by even the quietest of internal combustion engines.

Bob seems to have his feet firmly on the ground of common sense … And what he was running into trying to set up a working solar power rig for his RV did not seem to follow what his common sense was telling him … It should work … The question was why didn’t it.

Backwards from my questions by about 180 degrees … It shouldn’t work … So why is it?

My problem was that I was overestimating what was going on … Leaving me with extra power at the end of the day … In the RV world … It seems that underestimating what was going on was leaving a lot of people with not enough power at the end of the day.

I have the easier problem to solve.

I have learned a lot … And will continue to learn  from Bob and the other folks out there who have taken the time (and spent the money) figuring out how to make off grid solar work.

Thank you all for sharing!

Now to put some of those lessons to work!

When in doubt … “Google” it!

I obviously needed to learn more about things … But how?

When in doubt … “Google it”!

Hmmmm …. Well … It was worth a try!

I’m not very tech savey … (Said as I sit here writing a blog on an I-pad!)

Getting around on the internet and finding what I was looking for has been a hit or miss proposition for me.

And having a smart phone that does not like me does not help things

… But I digress ….

My first attempts at learning about solar power and batteries on the web did not get me very far.

However … The folks at Boats and Motors sold me a wonderful book about how an electrical system works on a small boat!

The 12 Volt Bible by Miner Brotherton and revised by Edwin Sherman, full of lots of great information about DC power and batteries … And the occasional mathematical formula for us math fans out there (out there … A pretty good way to describe …)

Originally written in 1985 and revised in 2003 … It turned out to be a great place to start.

The boating world is a really good place to find both hardware and information … It is one of those places where being a little wrong can get you into a lot of trouble. The kind of reliability needed in the boating world is what I wanted / needed for this project.

In the entertainment world … failure is not an option!

The help I received from Boats and Motors and West Marine was wonderful … they were very happy to share what they knew and if they did not know, would try to find out … And if they were not able to come up with an answer, would apologize for not being able to help!

I really like these folks!

So lots of questions and a book to read for when things with the “day job” slowed down.

I had a busy fall into New Years season ahead of me and nine months until my next booked solar powered gig … So I “moth balled” everything … With a somewhat regular schedule of “top off” recharging to keep the batteries from an early death (I did get far enough into the 12 Volt Bible to learn that much).

Made it through the year … With what had become a wonderful tradition of ending the old year mixing the Concert for Peace at St. John the Divine in New York … And the quiet drive back the next day.

If you ever get the chance to … Go!  … It is an amazing event!

2012 had been a good year … Some amazing shows …  It was great to be involved with the Urban Nutcracker again … and everything about the solar project had been a lot of fun … My dad and I working, almost non stop to be ready for that first solar powered Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park “gig” … a 2:00 in the morning close encounter with a skunk kept things interesting!

I was truly amazed at what the batteries were able to do.

At a street fair in Andover I  “caught” one of the crew from the main stage down on his hands and knees looking to see if I had a power cord coming up from the manhole cover I had “parked” one of the battery boxes on top of.

Apparently I was not the only one being amazed!

11 events running over 42 hours … without running out of power … I was able to record 19.03 kWh of power used … It took a while to realize this was going to work and I should be taking notes … I missed three of the early shows.

Photos would have been nice too!

In any case … January was looking promising for figuring things out … A couple of quiet weeks … and the flu.

OK … What next?

The 2012 Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park series ended four weeks later with a crowd of people dancing in a warm rain to Ray Greene and his band.

It was a wonderful way to end to the concert series … With the heavy rain waiting until we were packing up the truck … Mother Nature’s own sigh of relief it would seem!

The buzz that had showed up in the self powered monitor went away with an upgrade to a sine wave inverter … it turned out that a very slight buzz was audible when some of my gear was plugged into either of the modified sine wave inverters that I had started the project with … A very quiet humm or buzz I had thought was “normal” when using a high gain sound system … Plugging any of the “offending” pieces of gear into the new sine wave inverter silenced them! … At least while running off of the battery power.

Plugging into a standard wall outlet …even a dedicated electrical “tie in” at some of the larger venues I work would get a noise of some sort … At times almost inaudible … But there if you really listened for it. Hmmmm… (Well buzzzzzzz actually!) …

Something else to think about!

Aside from that buzz the systems worked amazingly well … The “To good to be true” kind of amazingly well … With run times between 4.5 and 6 hours per day … And never coming close to using up the battery reserves … At least according to the inverter’s built in meters.

I had been powering what I thought was a decent amount of gear, about 6,0000 watts of loudspeakers and amplifiers, a mixing board, some processing equipment, all the band’s instruments and amplifiers … And after the first show … Even their cell phones! (I had been a little worried at the start and had not been willing to take those kinds of chances!)

So what next?

2012 was going to be my second year of providing one of the sound systems for the Reading Street Faire … A wonderful day of local bands playing to the home town crowd on a gorgeous Indian Summer day in early September.

(I have a few clients that would love to learn that weather secret!)

The town supplies a gasoline generator for the event and I supply a couple hundred feet of power cord, some cable ramps and a couple of carpet runners to get the generator as far away from the stage and audience as possible.

This year I set the batteries up at the stage and had the DPW folks leave their generator … Just in case.

My idea was to run my batteries dry … If I could!

I brought in the same PA I had used for the event in 2011, a much larger sound system than the one I had used for the Elma Lewis series in Franklin Park.

A 12,000 watt sound system … Two pairs of three way concert speakers, two pairs of subwoofers, six stage monitors … plus all the band’s amplifiers, pedal boards … even an electric keyboard or two … Rock and Roll stuff!

As a bonus … the Master of Ceremonies / DJ wanted to set up his system too!

Perfect … This should drain the batteries in no time!

Well … I thought it would!

About three o’clock in the afternoon the DPW guys asked if we were going to need the generator … And with the inverter’s meters all showing 90 – 100% full … I let them take it … They had a longer day going than I did … And I was not going to need it by the end of the event.

Even with all that gear running for 6 hours the battery meters still showed full … This was just not making any sense … with the kill a watt meters recording a little over 5 kWh of power used … Without putting much of a “dent” in the battery reserve!

My intuition was starting to tell me not to believe the inverter battery meters.

I needed to find out what was going on … Before running out of “juice” somewhere!

Hmmm … I wonder if AAA would give me a jump start!

2012 Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park.

It had been a bit of a rush to put the new battery bank and inverter system together.

With no time to add solar panels for the much larger system, a plan “B” was going to be needed for recharging the new battery bank.

Christine from the Franklin Park Coalition came to the rescue!

She made a couple of phone calls and a place was found in the Franklin Park Zoo maintenance yard where the battery boxes could be parked between shows to plug into the grid and recharge each week. Not exactly solar powered … But we would not be needing a generator for the series!

Everything was ready … Well at least everything seemed ready …

The morning of July 10, 2012 started off nicely … sunny and warm.

A local community group had agreed to provide the sound system for the morning events and everything was sounding great … But when a third self powered speaker for the stage was added, it buzzed … a lot.

The poor stage monitor was not even close to happy.

After checking the cables to see if a bad connection was causing the noise,  running a power cord to the new battery / inverter system to see if that might help … and watching the clock tick as show time got closer and closer … I pulled an amp and speaker from my truck, set them up and turned them on … The silence was golden!

Something about that self powered speaker did not like the battery / inverter power.

The rest of the morning show went smoothly, with the smaller solar powered system running for a little over two hours, using .23 kWh of power  (according to the “kill a watt” meter), with the inverter’s battery meter still showing “full”!

And … aside from the buzz … a success!

The evening show, with one of my sound systems, started out fine.

I had hired Clara Rhee to mix the show so I could keep an eye on the battery systems for their “shake down cruise”. No hums or buzzes showed up in the sound system or on any of the band’s gear,  but the battery powered LED lights that had been rented for the series were not going to be able to compete with the evening sun as it set.

As the concert progressed the meters on the 1,250 watt inverter powering the PA started to blink yellow on some of the louder parts. … The meters on the 2,000 watt inverter powering the stage seemed fine …. So I warned Clara, and in between songs (with fingers and toes crossed) I unplugged the amplifier powering the six stage monitors from the smaller rig and plugged it into the larger rig …

No sparks, smoke or buzzes … or blinking yellow lights.

I don’t think anyone noticed … though someone may have wondered what the huge sigh of relief coming from back stage was for!

Did I mention that batteries are very heavy!

The two battery / inverter systems used to power the 2012 Elma Lewis Playhouse in the Park concert series. The smaller system was recharged each week using two 120 watt solar panels.

The concert ended as scheduled … 3 hours and forty five minutes after we had turned everything on for sound check … Using a total of 3.49 kWh of power between the two systems …. Most of that coming from the smaller system powering the PA.

My assumptions about how much power would be needed for the PA and the stage were way off base … But nothing that could not be fixed by just swapping power sources and loads … The morning’s buzz had me a little more concerned … It looked like I would be visiting the electronic supply store again in the morning!