Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cabin Trip 2014—Day 2

What happened to Day 1? We arrived yesterday in the early afternoon. We had done our Laramie shopping, which went well, and were happy to arrive ready to settle in for a few days.

We could not get down the driveway. The wooden archway that marks the entrance to our drive had fallen down. This was not unexpected. When installed back in 2001, the builder did not creosote the logs and they were rotting near the ground. A neighbor had rigged up some wire hooked to a rebar pole driven in the ground, and that had held up one of the posts for over a year. But, this Winter, it fell.

I was able to drive around it in 4WD and we got the truck to the cabin site with no further issues.

I unlocked the door, stepped inside, and turned on the lights. Nothing. No lights. A quick check of the PV system meters showed that the batteries were at about 19 volts (it is a 24 volt system), and the inverter had cut out at 22 volts, just like it is supposed to. Further investigation (I have some pretty sophisticated meters) showed that the batteries had not had a full charge in 66 days! It was a bright sunny day, but the charge converter (the device that takes power from the solar panels and uses it to charge the batteries) was showing on 6 amps of input current (should have been 28 to 31 volts) and some of its indicator lights were not working. Hmmm.

No electricity meant no water, so we pee'd in the trees.

I fired up the trusty generator and it supplied us with electricity for lights and started charging the batteries.

We unloaded the truck and got the dogs settled and I went down into the crawlspace to check the batteries. They were very dry. I had one gallon of distilled water and it was used up adding water to the first two batteries (there are eight). Faced with a possible need to go all the way back into town, I planned to drive to several neighboring cabins to see if anyone was home and if they had distilled water.

To get out of the driveway, I planned to use my chain saw to cut up the log and drag it out of the way. But, as is typical, I could not get the damn thing started. So, I drove around the downed post again and went in search of neighbors. Our closest neighbor was not home. I drove back to the cabin and told Lynne that I'd drive to a different neighbor, much farther away, and if they were not home, I'd drive into town. 

But, on my way out I passed the first neighbor and he volunteered to bring 3 gallons of water and chain saw to our rescue.

We got the post out of the driveway, and later I filled all the batteries. But, at this point it was obvious that something was wrong with the charge controller. The input current had not changed from 6 amps, even though the sun was in and out behind clouds. And, the indicator LEDs were still not working. It would not respond to any commands I gave it. Ah oh.

I called the company that we use for off-grid services (PV and wind) and they needed to order a new charge controller and by the time it arrived, they could come install it on Friday. Friday? Crap. That meant 4 days of minimal electricity and the noise of a generator. Did I have enough gas?

We got through the night with lanterns and minimal electricity. I did get enough charge on the batteries that they, along with the boost from the generator, were able to fill the water tanks and provide water. Good thing, because it is hard to boil macaroni without water.

Sloppy Joes and boxed Mac & Cheese for dinner along with abundant red wine.

Before going to bed, I tried one more thing. I completely reset the system. I opened the breaker to the PV panels and to the batteries. This removes all power from the inverter, my Trimetric meter system and the charge controller. I thought maybe a complete reset would fix things. What it did was wipe out the program in the inverter, so I had to reprogram it with all the appropriate settings; I lost all the readings stored in the Trimetric; and the charge controller still showed 6 input amps (it was dark by now), but the LED did come on!

To bed around 8:00. We were pooped.

This morning, however, the charge controller seemed to be working. It showed zero input amps (before the sun came up), and I was able to program it for a battery equalization charge. I ran the generator for about 7 hours and during this time the charge controller seemed to be working with as much as 31 input amps. The batteries got up to about 29 volts and after I turned of the generator, settled at about 26 volts. That is good! We'll see what happens over the next few days.

(I am going to still get the new charge controller as a backup -- this has happened before. But, I did call the installer and told her she did not need to treat my case as an emergency.)

More later, I'm sure. We did other stuff today...but, not much.

Tags:  cabin
Posted under: Cabin News • by Rick on 09/16/2014 at 02:10 PM
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