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Failure … At last!

Well … It took some doing … But it finally happened.

The power went out!

I had been pushing things, trying to find the limits … So in a way it was what I was looking for … 

But somehow not what I had been hoping for.

Three different events … Three different scenarios … Three different sets of gear … But the end result the same. 

The power went out.
 

Notice how much a solar power outage looks like a utility power outage!

 

One of the failures was pretty simple to figure out, easy to duplicate and explain mathematically.
It turns out if you ask for too much power from an inverter it will shut down … Not unlike what happens when you ask for more than 20 amps of power out of a standard 20 amp wall outlet.

Apparently running my mixing board, an audio processing rack, a couple of wireless systems , a keyboard set up, a bass amplifier, two guitar amplifiers and three QSC MX1500a power amplifiers on stage with the Houston Bernard band for an outdoor festival was asking too much of my 2000 watt sine wave inverter …

Looking back I probably should not have been so surprised!

The only real question for me now was why it had not happened sooner.

A decent inverter will actually produce more power than the wattage it is rated for … For a while. My inverters are capable of handling up to twice their rated output for very short periods of time (a couple of seconds) … Plenty of time to handle the surge current required to turn on some electrical equipment … Easily handling my 1 & 1/2 horsepower compressor for hours on end.

The compressor needs a 20 amp circuit to run … At home it would pop the glass fuse when I forgot and tried plugging it into the 15 amp outlet in the garage … The required fix used to be running a heavy duty 100′ extension cable to the basement to find a 20 amp circuit. These days I just plug the compressor into one of the 2000 watt inverters in the truck with no muss, no fuss … No extension cords required!

The other two failures I have not been able to duplicate … Or been able to explain mathematically … I am beginning to suspect that a loose connection on the 12 volt DC line may have been the “culprit” … I will keep you posted.

Now to figure out the best way to keep the power from going out!
  

This should help … 4,400 watts now … expandable to 8,800 watts! (time to start adding to my 2,000 pounds of batteries).

  

 

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

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!

… Not just the loud parts!

The 2014 Pet Rock Festival … Second stage “tech world”

The generator had the day off ... The system ran for 5 hours and 15 minutes, used 1.7 kWh of power ... Only using 24% of the 550 amp hour battery!

The generator had the day off … The system ran for 5 hours and 15 minutes, produced 1.7 kWh of power … And only used 24% of the 550 amp hour battery!

When you replace the “traditional” gasoline or diesel generator with battery power some really neat things happen.

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

And with no generator running in the background there are no exhaust fumes, no heat or extra cans of fuel to worry about. That means the batteries can be placed almost anywhere, eliminating the need for the long extension cords, cable ramps, tape … and the time normally involved with getting power where you need it!

Great seats!  ... They probably do not know they are sitting next to the "generator"!

Great seats! … They probably do not know they are sitting next to the “generator”!

With a properly sized battery system … there is no need to refuel … No flammable liquids … or downtime.

The batteries can be set up and used anytime, anywhere and theoretically can be sized to do almost anything.

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

Fairbanks, Alaska has the world’s largest rechargeable battery (according to Wikipedia as of 6/17/14).

From the Golden Valley Electrical Association web site …

“Completed in December of 2003, the BESS (Battery Energy Storage System) can provide 27 megawatts of power for 15 minutes in the event of a generation or transmission related power outage.”

“The BESS responded to 60 events in 2013 … Preventing a total of 310,492 member outages … That’s an average of over 5,000 customers per outage!”

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

Their battery system was sized for the job … And from what I have read … Does the job very well.

My 12 volt systems are quite a bit smaller … My largest, a 1050 amp hour system is roughly the equivalent of a 6,000 – 8,000 watt generator … My smallest, a 276 amp hour system is roughly the equivalent of a 1,500 – 2,000 watt generator.

Perfect for a lot of small events and festivals!

When you use a battery system, power is removed from the batteries only as it is needed, with the rest of the stored power staying in the batteries … To be used as it is needed.

With a generator, electricity is produced at a constant rate and you use what you need … With any extra power /electricity from the generator being wasted.

With a battery system the louder things need to be … the faster the power is removed from the batteries … The loudest “peaks” of a performance draw the most power …  The spaces in between those peaks draw a lot less power from the batteries … With the quiet parts in between the notes drawing almost nothing at all … extending the running time of the system for the event.

Music with a wide dynamic range gets a double benefit when switching to a solar charged battery power source … Aside from being “clean and green” … The overall dynamic range is greatly improved by removing the “noise floor” created by even the quietest of generators.

You will be pleasantly surprised to hear even the quietest sections of the performance … Not just the loud parts!

Enjoying the sounds of the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble in beautiful Franklin Park, 6/24/2012

Enjoying the sounds of the Boston Pops Brass Ensemble in beautiful Franklin Park, 6/24/2012

Easter Sunrise Service, Castle Island, Boston.

In the mean time …

Easter sunrise service on Castle Island in South Boston …Wow!

The view to the east is amazing. I am not going to try to describe it, but it is worth getting up early for … At least once!

I had been providing the sound system for the event for a couple of years and had really enjoyed setting up the sound gear in the dark and watching the new day arrive.

Easter morning view from Castle Island

The airplanes are not landing at Logan airport across the harbor at 4:00 in the morning and you can actually hear the harbor, the sound of the waves hitting the shore, some large ships going by … Add the flash of light from Boston Light and the slightest hint of change out on the horizon … It is very nice!

This year I had asked my contact with the Castle Island Association if I could try powering the event with one of my solar powered battery rigs and he said yes!

Normally … By the time most of the people arrive for the Church service the generator is already running with its constant drone covering up everything but the “red eye” flights coming in and the occasional overhead sea gull.

This year the first sound breaking the harbor “soundtrack” was the “Good Morning” from the priest celebrating the Mass … I’m sorry if it startled anyone!

The system ran for 2.5 hours and used .35 kWh of power … a tiny amount by any standard. Basically the “idling” current draw from having the four wireless microphones,  mix rack and amplifier on … With no background noise to compete with, the overall sound level did not need much power to cover the audience standing an an area almost the size of a football field.

The small “solar system” I brought to power the event was about the same size and weight as the generator that I helped off load from the park rangers utility tractor in previous years. Something else to think about … Eventually!

But back to rewiring …

The battery systems had worked wonderfully at powering the events so far. But I had unknowingly been getting a little help from good old fashioned “dumb luck”.

If this project was to get out of the tinkering stage I wanted to do it without needing that help.

Adding the battery meters was going to provide some very useful information, adding fuses was going to keep everything and everyone safe … and spending a little “quality time” with my coffee pot and calculator was going to get the systems performing as well as they could … For a long long time!

To find out how long you will have to check back later … Hopefully much later!

In working with 12 volt DC power it is very important to size everything for what you are trying to do … In my case … Powering all the equipment needed for an outdoor concert.

Sizing the wire used and laying out the equipment so that as little power as possible is lost to resistance in the wiring of the system … Ideally keeping the loss between the batteries and the inverter to less than 1%

To do that I needed to use the largest, shortest wires possible.

Using a voltage drop calculator like the one found in  “rapidtables.com”  you can see what size wire you will need to use. For this part of the project I used short (18″) #2 cables to go from each of the batteries to a pair of insulated buss bars, and total of about 8′ of #2/0 cable to get from the buss bars, through a circuit breaker, fuse and shunt to the inverter and back again.

If I’m doing my math correctly I am only losing .1463 volts (1.17%) to voltage drop with a 200 amp, 12.5 volt DC load … A little more power than what you could get from a standard household 20 amp circuit.

It sounds like an awfully small amount of loss to get excited about, until you realize almost everything in a 12 volt system will shut down when the voltage drops below 10.5 volts. Losing .1463 volts from 12 volts does not seem like much … But if you only get to “play” with the 2.4 volts between 12.9 volts (a full battery “at rest”) and the 10.5 volt “shut off point” … Losing that .1463 volts means I would lose between 5 and 8% of my total power at full current … And if I wanted to keep the batteries alive as long as possible I do not want to discharge them fully … I could be losing over 10% of my power … to wire!

Yikes!

I am hoping to give you a little “photo” tour of how I wired one of the systems in my next post.

Luck of the “Irish”!

In the mean time … The show must go on … The rewiring project was going to have to wait.

3/17/2013 … If you live in Boston that date can only mean one thing …

The South Boston St. Patricks Day Parade … Where being Irish is not really required!

I got a call from Mike Majorowski wondering if my battery system would be able to power a float for his band in the parade.

Hmmmmm…..

To see if it could be done I set him up with a couple of “Kill-A-Watt meters to use at his next gig to see how much power they would need … While I started to worry about the weather. Rumor has it that batteries do not like the cold!

With the readings he got from the “Kill-A-Watt meters It looked like my smaller battery system would do the job … At least if the weather co-operated and we got that perfect 77 degree day the batteries were rated for (this is Boston … and I’ve shoveled snow in May!)

I explained my “concerns” to Mike and we decided to try the parade using my larger system … At the smaller system’s price.

We had a beautiful sunny day for the parade … If you don’t mind a little cold wind … We started sound check at 10:00 am at 28 degrees And got all the way up to a “balmy” 37 degrees somewhere along the parade route!

Five hours of run time, 1.83 kWh of power used … We even got a nice “Cool!” From the Boston Police Truck team inspecting all the floats when they asked where we were getting our power from … apparently we did not need a special permit for using a generator on the float … Cool indeed!

At the end of the day the inverter battery meters still showed 90 – 100% full … It would have been nice to have the new meters installed … The parts had arrived … the extra time needed to install them was still on back order!

It was my first event moving the battery boxes around by myself and one thing was certain … Those battery boxes are heavy … Very heavy!

The larger battery system with the Trimetric 2025 meters installed

The larger battery system with the Trimetric 2025 meters installed

The larger system consists of a pair of “Site Safe” tool boxes with each box weighing in at about 500 pounds! … So “portable” is a relative term!

Moving them from the truck to a loading dock, or in this case … To the back of the “roll off” tow truck that was used for the float was pretty easy … Pushing them up the ramp to my truck? … Not so much!

Moving them around was going to take three or four people … Or a lift gate on the back of the truck … I will need to figure that one out later …

My to do list keeps growing!

Back to the drawing board!

Oh well … It turns out almost everything I did on my first attempt at going solar was wrong.

Wrong wire sizes, wrong lengths, wrong assumptions about how a bank of batteries should be wired … All of which made for a lot of possible failures.

Overestimating how much power I would actually be using … And more than a little good luck keeping any of those failures from happening!

So … Back to the drawing board …

The first “order of business” was to get a real metering system installed … It was time to find out what was really going on with the batteries.

I needed a “gas gauge” I could trust.

The Trimetric meters from Bogart Engineering are highly recommended by a lot of folks. … I decided to try the 2025 RV model for the project.

The 2025 is a very neat device that keeps track of the power in Amps  going in to and out of the batteries … A quick look will tell you the voltage. Press a button and you will see how much power is going into or out of the batteries. Press the button again and the meter will tell you the batteries are 87% full (… Or 18% full … It might be time to start thinking about worrying … Soon!).

In any case … More information than I could have hoped for!

The folks from Bogart Engineering have designed the meters to do a lot more … But those three things were going to answer a lot of my questions … And keep me out of trouble … For a little while at least!

Adding the meters to my “rigs” was going to take some rewiring … and some math … More on that later.

Since I was going to have to get in and do some rewiring to install the meters it made sense to go in and fix as many of my wiring mistakes as possible … My good luck was only going to get me so far!

If  you’ve been following along since the beginning you may remember my first big battery powered show having some yellow “warning” LEDs flashing on one of the inverters. The band had not gotten any louder … But something had changed … It took over a year to figure out what had happened … the power in the batteries was not getting to the inverter.

Resistance was “robbing” the system of power.

The wire I was using was too small and too long for the current that was trying to get from the batteries to the inverter … Causing a voltage drop … Causing the inverter to “ask for more power from the batteries … Causing the resistance to go up …causing more voltage drop … Causing …

It was a good thing I pulled the amplifier from one inverter and plugged it into the other inverter when I did … Or that show might have been the last!

My common sense approach was not helping at all … Luck … On the other hand … Was!

When using batteries to power something you do not want to waste anything. Leaving a 60 watt light bulb on overnight will “eat up” a lot of your battery reserve. It can be done … You just need more batteries … And solar panels to make it happen.

A little common sense would tell you … If you do not need it … Turn it off!

Common sense probably won’t tell you how much power will be wasted by using the wrong wire. Too small or too long of a wire could waste as much power as that 60 watt light bulb.

When using DC power a good “rule of thumb” is always use the largest, shortest wire you can.

So … I bought a bunch of larger wire to replace the stuff I had started the project with, ordered some meters, shunts, heavy duty buss bars, fuse blocks, fuses, lugs, heat shrink tubing … and my new favorite tool … A hand held crimper capable of hand crimping up to # 4/0 cable!

I wanted my systems to perform as well as they could … The solar powered equivalent of a finely tuned sports car as it were.

I’m afraid I’m going to be  seeing lots of 4/0 in the near future …