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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).

  

 

To Believe … Or Not To Believe …

 Curiosity is a strange thing … Mildly enjoyable at its best … Devastating at its worst.

Not knowing … But wanting to … At times needing to …

But the answers … At what cost?

At times I think satisfying one’s curiosity is a good thing … But not always. Mystery, Magic and Ghosts are all things I am curious about … Fun to ponder, but if you were to explain them away I think more would be lost than gained.

For example?

I hope the following will suffice …

“What I am about to do is impossible”.

Maybe it was … Maybe it wasn’t … But he had our attention.

A magic trick In an evening of magic tricks … All very well done … Some clever … Some famous … But nothing that might have needed any … Um … actual Magic … 

Until …

I’ve seen him perform the trick twice now … This last time a brass Tibetan prayer bowl was used … The first time a glass brandy snifter … The effect is the same.

He asks for three volunteers from the audience … Three rings.

He provides the rest … A Magic wand, “Abracadabra” and the beauty of the impossible.

Magic? … I’m happy to say I still think so. 

You see, I work in the entertainment industry where all sorts of “magic” occurs on a fairly regular basis, mostly involving time and budgets, but every once in a great while an old trunk of props, a spell or two and a wand is brought in … And twice now, the rarest of the rare … I have seen the impossible.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “the show must go on”? … In my world a more powerful spell than Abracadabra … It is the phrase that will allow me to believe in Magic for a little while longer.

The most amazing things do come along that could and perhaps should keep the show from going on … Accidents … The weather … An artist not being ready, willing or able … Technical glitches galore … And then one day a broken prop … A little of my behind the scenes magic done and the prop behaves … And as a thank you, the artist offers to share his secret of the impossible!

Was I a fool?

I don’t think so … The secret and wonder for that bit of Magic remains.

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!

Thursday Morning … Heading Towards Lunch …

Things spin, they twirl, but generally they go by.

… In a straight line … or on some sort of arc … they go on.

I sort of meander … bumble might be a better word … but I notice.

Small things mostly … they grab my attention.

And today … Something new.

These things as they spin … sometimes bump … sometimes collide.

The evidence is everywhere. One rarely sees it happen, and perhaps rarer still … notices.

Not today … though it happened over a year ago.

Let me try to show you …

A Russian Ballerina, years in the making … but far from home.

The Urban Nutcracker, here in Boston …( a collision I did not see.)

A school “field trip” … perhaps you know the sort.

Duke Ellington … Billy Strayhorn …

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy …

Someone elses tutu.

All aligned … all moving … all …

Unaware …

Lights out …

A cue …

Lights up … and press play …

A drum beat played long ago … revisits.

She starts her dance … Two saxes join in.

The drums and her dance.

More horns and she dances …

They begin to notice.

Then … something unexpected …

They clap along!!!

More horns … and she dances.

She does not hear them … yet …

Then … POW! … It hits her. She hears them and she knows.

Must dance … Must finish this dance … The look … for a split instance … across her face.

And dance?

Does she ever … They get louder … it drives through her.

More saxes …

then horns …

then …

Gone …

Things spinning … some twirling … on and on … to no ideawhere.

Do they remember?

Will she forget?

How long before her feet really felt the ground?

Can you hear them?

Did you see that?

And …

I …

meander on …

… 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.