Turquoise Energy Ltd. News #129
covering February 2019 (Posted March 3rd 2019)
Lawnhill BC Canada
by Craig Carmichael


www.TurquoiseEnergy.com = www.ElectricCaik.com = www.ElectricHubcap.com = www.ElectricWeel.com

Special Report: The Second Industrial Revolution: Exciting New Machines for Local and Home Manufacturing
(Report follows "In Passing")

Month In Brief (Project Summaries etc.)
 - Better LED Lighting - Expanding My Solar Systems - Solar Electric Hot Water Experiments - HAT 36-40 Volt Plugs and Sockets - New 3D Printer - Amazing New Production Machines - My CNC Router... and Plasma Cutter - Tidal & Wind power notes - Ground Effect Vehicle

In Passing (Miscellaneous topics, editorial comments & opinionated rants)
  - Oceans Tell of Global Warming - Jet Streams & Global Circulation Patterns - Recycling Plastic LOCALLY - ESD (Eccentric Silliness Dept.)

- Project Reports -
Electric Transport - Electric Hubcap Motor Systems
* Ground Effect Vehicle (not a lot to say)

Other "Green" Electric Equipment Projects
* "Off Grid" (etc): 36-40 Volt "HAT" Plugs & Sockets - New 3D Printers
* New 3D Printer: Anycubic I3 Mega
* Better LED Lighting & Plant/Grow Lighting
* CNC Router & Plasma Cutter

Electricity Generation
* Further Expanding my Solar System - How many watts are those panels, again? Never full nameplate power: 75% seems to be a practical figure - Panel Efficacy: Crap in winter as expected - Still More Solar Panels - and Monitoring Output.
* Solar Hot Water Panels: simpler to make than ever

Electricity Storage - Turquoise Battery Project (Mn-Zn, Ni-Zn or Pb-Zn in Oxalate Methyl Hydroxide electrolyte)
* Thinking of Options with Nafion Membranes (no actual project work)



February in Brief



   February brought winter with it. Whereas we had so far had only some frosts, Saturday morning the 2nd it was -7°C. It went up to -2 then dropped back to -7 overnight. Sunday it hit -3.5 and that night went up to -2.5. It was too cold to work outside and almost too cold inside. Better to sit in front of the woodstove and feed it as much wood as I dared. Around the 18th it went up to +2 to +4 during the day for a few days, but that didn't seem to thaw out all the frozen ground and the ice in my rainwater barrel. Then it went down to freezing again for the rest of the month. There was a little snow on parts of this island, nothing that stayed long in my area.
   But by the end of the month that seemed mild compared to farther south where the whole west coast got heavy snow, from Vancouver Island through Oregon and a bit even as far south as Los Angeles.


The fine line dividing warm and cold on many days this February:
Wherever the sun hit, the frost melted and the hoses ran.
Wherever it stayed in shadow all day, it all stayed frozen.

   The month thus seemed to start out pretty slow, but somehow by the end I seemed to have done quite a few pretty cool things and found a lot to write about - even too much. Maybe it was partly because it was too cold to mill lumber.
   I wanted to get this newsletter out on the 1st of March. I'd have had a couple more days if some deranged person or persons long, long hadn't decided that February should be the only month to have only 28 days. Why wouldn't January, February, March and April all have 30 days? It's the same number of days either way - 120. (Surely it must have been decided by a committee!)

Better LED Lighting


Now the fluorescent holes need insulation, gyproc and all the things that go into making gyproc smooth.
(I'll probably put in a second LED panel too.)

   I pulled out a ceiling-flush fluorescent fixture and put up an LED panel light in its place in the dining area on the 3rd. Then I did two more in the big wooden light fixture in the kitchen ceiling on the 8th when I realized how easy it would be if I just left the fixture and the fluorescent lights within it in place. With two 24 watt LED ceiling panels, even with the morning sun coming through the window switching them on markedly brightened the room and vanquished the shadows. There'll never be another dull day in the kitchen!

   They were so nice I ordered another set of 3, and I just might even go for a third trio. As a bonus the power supply is external and they can easily be run off the 36-40 volt DC solar power instead if required.

Expanding My Solar Systems


   Toward mid month temperatures hovered around freezing. Having sold no solar panels, on a sunny day I put up three on the roof over the travel trailer, which I had discovered got more winter sun than anywhere else. The results being good, on the 20th I added a fourth one to more fully utilize the 1 KW plug-in grid tie inverter. At this point I'd used 6 of the new panels and even if I sold all the rest I wouldn't be making any money from the palette of panels. But I still want (probably come summer) to put a panel on the converted Chevy Sprint EV and two on the Miles electric truck. That would make 9 of the new 305 watt panels (instead of my intended 5), plus the four ~250 watts I'd brought from Victoria, plus a bunch of 100 watt and a couple each of 90 and 208 watts - for sale but no takers. Then on the 19th someone bought 8 of the 305 watt and on the 27th another 6 went, so I could finally start repaying the bank line of credit... or use some of the cash for other things. I had already ordered a plasma cutter and a new 3D printer. I had finished off the several thousand dollars I had put into my Paypal account a year ago and dug into my bank account when I ordered the plasma cutter. It had felt like "free money" for the last year whenever I could pay for something with PayPal. I put some more money back in my PayPal account. (probably safer than in a bank anyway.)

   Near the end of the month there was quite a bit of sun and now 10 panels well engaged, and the solar started putting out good energy, doubtless lowering my power bill a bit. That's great, but mainly I really want to be ready for future potential extended power outages. All we need here to have that is for some disaster like a tsunami to disrupt Masset and close the fuel oil barge receiving facilities there for an extended period. Or in common with everywhere, to have some other national or international fuel supply disruption - a financial system disruption could bring things to a halt since everything runs on credit. The south grid will have hydro power whenever it rains enough. Any "on grid" time then will be that little bit longer the more the solar panels that are contributing to conserve the lake water. My panels will be diverted to personal use if or when the grid power is off. In fact, if there were enough solar panels or wind power, the south grid is well positioned, because the hydro can supply as needed and the alternate sources can help keep usage of the lake water low.
   The north grid is almost wholly diesel, with 3 or 4 good solar installations on public buildings. They'll be out of luck unless some serious alternatives are put into place. The pace for that so far is underwhelming, and if I myself do a tidal project at all, at least at this point, it'll be more of a demo than an immediate significant contributor.

Solar Electric Hot Water Experiments

Some time back I bought a small hot water tank for under the kitchen sink. It takes far too long to get hot water there and in common with the rest the iron rich water stains everything brown including my dishes. A hot water tank right under the sink filled with rain water sounds marvelous. But I still haven't installed it. Someone on youtube compared solar electric panels to heat water in a tank versus an actual solar hot water pumped system. He had two or three PV panels to get enough voltage to heat the tank.
   I decided to try my little tank with just the 36-40 volt solar system and hooked the tank up in the garage to the hose and the DC solar power system. It worked, more or less, eventually. I got very carried away with taking readings over time for several days and the report is down near the bottom under Electricity Generation.

   I also looked at a new idea in solar panels: a simple coil of pex pipe. It looked so easy to make I bought a 100 foot coil of pex pipe and made part of a collector box. (no report or picture on that so far.)


HAT 36-40 Volt Plugs and Sockets

 HAT 36 VDC plug & CAT 12 VDC click-
 lock socket on 36 to 12 volt converter
   I (finally) brought my 3D printer in from the shipping container and started in designing plugs and sockets for 36 volt wiring and appliances. I didn't get too far and went on to other things.

   Near the end of the month some simple 36 volt to 12 volt DC to DC converters arrived. (actually "from" and "to" whatever you want, as set by a trimmer potentiometer, as long as the output is lower than the input. 5 amps max.) It made sense that they should plug into a 36 volt HAT plug on the input, and have a 12 volt CAT socket to plug something into on the output. But I had to solder alligator clips on the input. I don't much like that because they are prone to miswiring and to coming off.

   So I went back to designing the HAT plugs and sockets. I got one pair done and used them for it, but I wasn't satisfied. They're not quite ready for prime time. Maybe next month.



HAT Plug & socket with blades and (?)receptacles inside, mated together.
When I soldered wires on the shells were pretty
cramped inside and wouldn't close very well.
And they might look better if done on a better 3D Printer.

New 3D Printer

   I had some trouble with the 3D printer, and it occurred to me that new ones were probably pretty cheap and better. I ordered an AnySolid I3 Mega for around just 350$C. It arrived on the 26th and I set it up on the 27th. It came with tools and a spare extruder (my problem part in the old printer) and a couple of other spare parts.
   I did the supplied test print "two owls". (One didn't stick to the bed and fell over during printing - ouch! The other came out well.) The beads are considerably finer than on the RepRap Pro Mendel, but the catch is it prints much slower. Now I suppose will come the learning curve with the new software.
   In addition to better looking parts, I hope to be able to print some "porous" electrode parts for batteries that I couldn't do with the old one.



Amazing New Production Machines

    I spent some time writing up the Special Report (below the In Passing section) on a number of exciting new machines I saw in videos for home production of various things. There were so many for so many purposes that I started thinking that the whole face of the production of goods might be about to undergo a major change to more local levels.

My CNC Router... and Plasma Cutter

   One of the videos showed a home CNC plasma cutter. This could make nice cuts through steel sheets and plates. It's what I was trying to be able to do with the "pulsejet steel plate cutter" that I never finished making in around 2010. I discovered home plasma cutters are now common and I ordered a 120 volt unit from PrincessAuto.com . Perhaps a bit of a lightweight, but easier to plug in than a 240 volt unit I have no outlet for. It came on the 28th.

   Then I looked at the 30x30" CNC table I had and the controller that came with it. It was old stuff (1991), but the table seems good. I thought the controller would only be trouble with an old "parallel printer port" to connect to the computer (predating USB by over 10 years), but then I looked on eBay and found that new ones have all the very same plugs!
   Underneath, eBay "suggested" several "USB to parallel printer port adapters". I had some time back been told that "those never work right", but if that's the way everybody is doing them, I assume they must.
   I used to have one - for a printer I used to have - but couldn't find it. So I ordered one off AliExpress.com, for under 2$. Now I just need to find the DB9 connector pinouts and make cables to connect the controller to the stepper motors. There seemed to be a vexing lack of information on line for this simple thing, considering they seem to be the same connectors as on new units.

   It would be very nice to have a working CNC router again, and with a water bed and steel slats placed on the table, it should work for a plasma cutter as well. I'm hoping to use my "general purpose" CNC table to gain the functions of a couple of the other machines I saw in videos as well. Especially I hope it can do printed circuit board making with a miniature router and drill, which is very fine work to accomplish.

Tidal Power, Wind Power: A couple of Design Observations

   I previously mentioned the idea of launching a tidal power unit from the beach at low tide and maintaining it on or retrieving it from the beach as well, with an automatic rudder to steer it out into the channel at high tide and into the best current for maximum power generation.
   But with the craft tethered from the bow and with it pulling toward the shoreline, it occurs to me that the rudder action will be different. The rudder will need to be at or near the bow - near the tether, and it will be steered the opposite direction to how a free-sailing boat would point. To stay away from shore while tethered there, it has to counteract the shoreward pull of the rope at the bow. This is similar to towing a log with a small boat: one steers the outboard the opposite direction because the drag of the log is the overriding factor. (Gosh it's been a LONG time since I've done that! 1976.)
   Or maybe the mooring line shouldn't be at the bow? Maybe it would be better if it was amidships somewhere? Along with the rudder. Or maybe it needs two rudders to keep it out in the flow and also best lined up into it.

   I watched a video on youtube about a vertical axis wind turbine model with 3 "hybrid blades" that was for sale commercially for mounting on houses. The blades seemed to be propeller shapes at the front, but with the tail end chopped off. I surmise the "open" tail ends ensured it would start spinning by providing something for the wind to push on when it wasn't.
   Otherwise it looked like many other VAWTs until I saw the dimensions: 3 meters tall and 3 in diameter. My little experiment was only about 1/2 a square meter. This one was 9. Greater efficiency is good. Catching 18 times the cross section of wind is much better! I started to think in those terms if I was going to try again - make it more of an engineering project, and find the windiest spot for it. And another way to get the generator spinning faster, to get more voltage without winding a new stator, would be to gear it up. A flat belt and pulleys, or maybe a couple of those plastic gears I made in 2016?

Ground Effect Vehicle

   One would think that with it being too cold to work outside except in brief bursts I'd have been working on this. In fact, I only very lethargically picked away at a drawing. One notable change was that if there was going to be a "tail"
in the middle for lateral stability, then I would attach the rudder to that instead of having another tail at the back. Owing to that position, I also made it quite large. It's an unusual arrangement, but I think it should work.






In Passing
(Miscellaneous topics, editorial comments & opinionated rants)


Oceans Tell of Global Warming

   Record cold winters have many people reasonably questioning that there's global warming, with much speculation about a coming "mini ice age". But at the same time there's been record heat in parts of Autralia. I suspect the next northern summer may change many minds, but in the meantime, someone mentioned that the oceans are a more reliable measurement of trends because they hold so much more heat than the air does.
   They seem to show a slow but definite trend over the last three decades. Unless that unexpectedly reverses, expect significant sea level rise. Polar ice is melting at an increasing rate, and as water warms it expands. As ice melts on Greenland and Antarctica they become lighter and will probably rise up, displacing still more water. Then as water encroaches over the land in other places, that land may become heavier and will tend to sink, compounding the effect.
   Current advise has it not to buy a home at an elevation of under 50 feet, but this generalization will obviously vary by region. My own house is just 25 feet above the high tide mark, but it's not wide open to the Pacific. It seems quite unlikely there'll be any big storm surges or tsunamis in Hecate Strait. (...And if you're in Greenland, you're probably pretty safe.)




Jet Streams & Global Circulation Patterns

   My
earlier analysis of what was happening with the circulation patterns of Earth's air was incomplete. In TE News #109 I noted that the aerosol spraying at high altitudes makes high altitude clouds that blanket the atmosphere up to those altitudes, perhaps 25000 to 40000 feet. To oversimplify, the whole vertical layer of blanketed atmosphere is all ground-level warm. It doesn't have the vertical temperature gradient that drives the Earth's predominant circulation patterns.
   One thing I missed was that the temperature gradient still exists. But now it starts above those clouds. We now have a relatively less active layer of air going up 5 to 7 miles before we hit the more usual vertical circulation driving patterns. Of course the air is far thinner up there, so the forces driving the circulations are weaker. The jet streams are now at a much higher altitude than historically.
   The other thing I didn't note is that with the sprayings being quite inconsistent, some places on some days may have normal circulation gradients from surface levels, while other places and other days there will be only the high altitude drivers. This is probably why the jet streams often become broken up and chaotic.

   But if the circulatory forces are weaker, they are also farther up from the ground and so less coupled to it. Recently a commercial airliner set a new time and speed record going from (IIRC) Los Angeles to London. It broke the sound barrier at (?)800 MPH with a (?)300 MPH jet stream tail wind.




Recycling Plastics LOCALLY

   Along with being able to manufacture with plastics, the potential grows for local plastic recycling. More and more, the imagination is the limit to what can be done to solve our many longstanding problems of waste and pollution and create a better future.
   First my grievances with the egregious annual garbage collection fee led me to think that since this is a remote island, we should recycle our own plastics. I remembered the video of a guy who cut his scrap plastic into little pieces, then heated them in a waffle iron until they melted into multi-colored slabs of solid plastic. In Victoria I was paying (probably overpaying) up to 40 $/sq.ft. for 1" thick UHMW to use for motor molds. Could I have made my molds - and made them much thicker -  with plastic scraps and a large "waffle iron"?

To recycle plastics locally one would need pretty minimally:

(a) to get people to bring CLEAN plastic and sort it into the right bins: LDPE (plastic bags), HDPE, PP, PETE... maybe PS, and "other". Those named would account for most of the material.
(b) a washer to clean them better anyway - depending on type, use and shape of items.
(c) a chipper/shredder to break the plastic into bits. (It might be washed after chipping it up instead of before. Solves trying to clean inside of bottles with thin necks or other awkward shapes.) The shredder might be the trickiest piece of equipment to buy or make, but it could surely be done. Where quantities warrant, there could be different chippers for different types of plastic. Otherwise, different types would be done in batches.
(d) a giant "waffle iron" or two. This would be two plates of heated metal that would come together, with a rim all around, to melt the plastic into sheets or bars. 2"x2" angle iron, or square tube, might make good sides. The metal enclosure would keep air out as much as possible. The video presenter's waffle iron seemed to work pretty well, but I remember much of my polypropylene rope material vaporizing(?) when I melted it in open air. Again plastic extruders are also a possibility. (One to extrude filament for 3D printing would be nice!)

   I'm pretty sure that could all be bought or made for quite minimal cost for small scale use. In the cities bigger units and more of them would be required. In the long run it would surely be much cheaper everywhere than finding more landfills or sending plastics to China for recycling.

   The thickness of finished pieces would depend on the amount of material placed on the bottom (rimmed) plate. It could be 1/16" or less to 1" or more to make different sorts of products. There could be a long heater maybe 6" wide to make plastic "boards", and a short but wide one to make fat slabs for various purposes and multi-colored butcher blocks. Or perhaps any length "boards" - or thinner sheets - could be extruded out one end of a press? (Doubtless trickier, but might be practical - if not here, then in cities where there is more material to process.)

(e) On the 14th (Happy Valentine's Day!) I found a video showing a desktop vacuum forming machine, Vaquform. (5 Incredible Machines For Manufacturing at Home #2) Again we find new ideas and products that can change the whole way we do things and what we are able to dolocally, even at a very small scale. If one made thin recycled plastic sheets, they should be amenable to vacuum forming. The colored sheets from scrap could then turned into things - like back into food containers. This would result in the same plastic being recycled and used over - and over - again locally.
   Why should these practices not now be adopted locally everywhere? All the rope and fishnets (good PP!) and other plastic crap littering the beach (not to mention drifting across the oceans) might start to be seen as valuable raw material instead of as a gargantuan clean-up problem.

   I wonder if anyone in authority here would go for that and if it would be economic enough to pay someone to do it? No doubt here it would only be a part-time or one person operation. Or could colorful plastic products even be exported from Haida Gwaii? Could they be a "Haida Gwaii signature" product?

   One must inject a bit of caution of course. Plastics do degrade in the sun, and perhaps gradually with reprocessing. Garbage in, garbage out. At some point the plastic must find a "permanent use" out of sunlight or be completely reprocessed. Obviously polyethylene sheets used for greenhouse coverings for a year or two, which then rip to shreds easily, won't be readily turned into a strong, durable product. But I expect most plastics used for most things can be reused many times.



ESD
(Eccentric Silliness Department)

I accidently typed "bug" instead of "big", and later noticed it. The spelling checker didn't catch it. There must be a bug in the spelling chequer.

2B ... or something else ... that is the question, when selecting a pencil.

Some have said "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity." But in music and theater it's known as "rehearsal" or "practice".

It used to be that you had to unlock something and get in before you could swipe anything. Now you have to swipe something in order to unlock and get in.

Does your area suffer from "crunchy ground syndrome"? The cause is generally outdoor temperatures below 0°C. Help Global Warming is hoping to secure sufficient funding to fix the problem by leveling all the mountains and highlands into the oceans, thereby also adding to global real estate with sales to help offset costs. When the land is all flat, boring lowlands, the ocean breezes will blow freely over the continents and return them to the salubrious oceanic climate Earth enjoyed in the Carboniferous period before the Permian highland and mountain building era made the climate arid, cold and continental, and killed off most species of life. Please donate generously to HelpGlobalWarming.con and together we can cure crunchy ground syndrome.

"Witch Hazel" was recommended for a skin condition. There seemed to be several choices. I just bought the most basic one because I didn't know which witch hazel was which. (Q: Which hazelnuts come from witch hazel? A: Witch hazelnuts.)

Irregular English Verb Irregularities
Past tense of throw: threw - "The team threw the ball game"
Past tense of blow: blew
Past tense of snow: snew - "In the blizzard the wind blew strongly and it snew heavily."
Past tense of show: shoe - "I shoe him where his grammar was bad."
Past tense of grow: grew
Past tense of glow: glue  - "The room grew brighter as the lamp glue more strongly."

"Dr. Suessingston, I presume?"  In the fall, leaves leave the trees and fall, leaving fallen leaves in the eaves. Some rake leaves in fall, but when the raker leaves, more leaves fall. So I prefer to leave them. At the electric car dealership, some leaves fall onto Leafs. Relief comes in the spring when the fallen fall leaves have left and the trees spring to life and releaf.

Why would anyone think spraying lice-all would kill germs? Lice don't eat germs.





Special Report

The Second Industrial Revolution:
Exciting New Machines for Home and Local Production and Recycling


    As I watched some youtube videos about new production machines, it dawned on me that a new industrial revolution is unfolding before us. The first one, while greatly advancing technology, increasing productive capacity and improving quality of life, brought us centralized "mega factory" production facilities and locked the average person out of the mainstream of being able to turn ideas into new commercial products.

   Then very recently we had the computer revolution and then the internet revolution, bringing powerful computing power and the world's information to our fingertips. This has accelerated the spread of new ideas and by the way enabled the "second industrial revolution" - a revolution in producing things.
   I remember the first time I heard of some sort of printer that could create a solid object out of thin air (around 1987 as best I recall - before the internet). I heard it from a person who was always well ahead of everyone in the new technology knowledge curve. Of course as a newly invented device for industrial prototyping it would obviously be far too costly for an individual and I never expected to have any such thing in my lifetime.
   The next time I heard about it was on the internet or in the news over 20 years later, when someone in London had created a 3D printer the average person could afford, the "RepRap" ("replication rapid"). The technology itself had enabled the replication of the special plastic parts it itself needed without costly injection molds. The 3D printer could print 3D printers! Some enterprise and the internet made it available worldwide, to anyone who wanted one. I spent 850$ and two weeks to put mine together. Just this month I bought a new one from China for 350$ assembled, which does much finer detail (and prints correspondingly slower).
   But 3D printers, it turns out, are just one of many new production machines now making their appearance.

   The second industrial revolution builds on the previous revolutions to bring multiple custom machine production and fabrication capabilities to our fingertips. Videos reveal a wide array of exciting new developments in tools and equipment for making things, within the budget reach of individuals and very small groups. It becomes apparent that computer controlled, fast, precision manufacturing can and likely will become more and more local, less and less concentrated in giant factories situated wherever labor is cheapest.
   That's not to say that everyone will want to have all the tools and to learn how to do everything to produce whatever they want, but that at some point there'll come to be various people in town who will make a business of providing many things locally that presently are perhaps made in China or wherever and transported around the world. Presently these technologies are either quite new, or newly available at personally affordable prices. So far there's no culture of local production. There's no local "AliExpress.com" umbrellas for home manufacturers to help clear away the daunting overhead tasks of doing small individual transactions: marketing, sales and deliveries, and for complying with onerous government regulations.

   One thing I seem to be spending considerable time at is watching videos, and now sometimes spending further time commenting below them hoping to broaden peoples' perspectives. This is what brought me to this topic. Youtube is always suggesting videos, which suggestions are sometimes actually valuable, and you discover things you would never have guessed existed without them. On about the 14th I found 5 Incredible Machines For Manufacturing at Home #2. In the middle of that, an ad cut in for a "CNC plasma cutting machine", yet another incredible machine which I actually found more interesting than the video and looked it up. I did a separate article about it, below.

Then I finished watching the original video, and I also found Incredible Machines videos #1 and #3 - a total of 15 devices. I particularly noted the following devices.

Kniterate

   An automatic knitter that will make your own custom designed, custom size, custom colors clothes. From wool, acrylic or cotton yarns. There were clothes designs for it on line. When I was little my Mom used to knit us warm woolen winter wears by hand. Scarves, sweaters, tuques... She spent hours at it. (Even fur lined moccasins one year!) I don't suppose many moms would know how these days. Now it can be automated! (Except for the moccasins.)


Kniterate. Do we now have the potential to easily design and make whatever clothes we want?



   Hi neighbor, can you do me a new tee shirt please? How about that pattern but in tan and brown? Cotton acrylic blend. Make it with a little extra room at the shoulders. Sleeves ending a little above the elbows. Noo, a vee neck please, and a breast pocket. That's it, thanks! Can I pick it up tomorrow? Great!

   What will happen to the big department stores? What will happen to the Asian clothing sweat-shops?

Wazer

   In video #1 there was a CNC abrasive waterjet cutter. That was quite exciting, but it was more limited than industrial waterjets. While it would do thick plastic and 1/2" aluminum, it said it wouldn't do 5/16" or even 1/4" steel, which would be my minimum for cutting motor rotor type parts. So the plasma cutter is still a go. The other thing that ruled it out was the price: 7500 $. Presumably US$, so 10000 $C. But we can be sure they will only get cheaper and better.

   In 2008 I had never heard of abrasive waterjet. By 2010(?) I knew of it but couldn't find a place that would do it. By 2012 I had found a place where I could get it done, and not long after, more than one place.
   Now there's the "home unit". If I'm making things long enough, some day I may want one of my own.



Other Mill

   A PCB router/driller for doing single and double sided circuit boards by routing away the unwanted copper areas, leaving the desired traces and drilling the holes. It would work from the same PCB CAD generated files that PCB making houses use. Ooh, that would sure be nice to have! I wonder how much it is?
   ...Or, can I do the same thing on my general purpose CNC table with a "dremmel" router and bits?






Vaquform

   A small plastic vacuum forming table/machine. With this one could make many typical food packages and things. That would make a good way to turn locally recycled plastics back into useful products! (I also saw a video suggestion for doing a home made one, but didn't get to it.)




Vacuum forming a plastic packaging part from a sheet of flat plastic.
A great way to re-use locally recycled plastic?


DobotM1 and MakeArm

   These were desktop robotic arms that could take multiple attachments for 3D printing, PCB routing, drilling and pick-and-place parts placement on printed circuit boards, among other functions. To move a tool in a straight line, obviously there must be a lot of trigonometry, but of course it's all automatic. My mind isn't getting around what they're really capable of and I didn't check out prices. Their reach would be limited compared to a CNC table machine. No doubt we shall see what uses people put them to!

  

Dobot M1 and Make Arm
(Oops, I got Make Arm's top arm straight on - not the best illustration)

Mazlow

   A CNC router that can work on 4' x 8' sheets of plywood stood on edge. Steel cables and pulleys move the router around instead of the usual long screws. It doesn't take up 1/2 the shop space of a horizontal unit. And it was supposed to be substantially cheaper as well.


The creators of Mazlow with their space and cost saving wood routing machine

Stoneflower

   A 3D printer (or was it a clay extrusion head for 3D printing?) for extruding clay or other materials of similar texture. Wow! I could see attaching such a head to a general purpose CNC table and making pottery.


Stoneflower 3D printing clay pots for ceramic or porcelain.
Can it do cups, plates, bowls, serving dishes?
...Porcelain mouthpieces for my Supercorders?


3D Printer for Making Sintered Metal Parts

   Another notable product was a 3D printer to make small metal parts. (Somehow I have forgotten the name. But it was called "Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing".) It works like a regular plastic extruding printer, but the plastic strand has metal powder embedded in it - probably to the maximum point at which it'll still extrude well. Any metal or alloy may be printed.

   This was an "industrial machine". (Industrial today - Home making tomorrow! ...But you do need to melt the metal, etc.)

   One first prints the part as normal, but 20% oversize. Then much of the plastic is dissolved in a solvent, leaving just enough to hold the particles together. Then the part is heated in an oven. The plastic melts away and the metal particles fuse together, and it shrinks by 20%. It is said to give accurate, complex, strong parts made to order, in a day or so.
   Sintered metal isn't wholly solid. It has minute air spaces, but it's (apparently - in this case) about as solid as cast metal, which also has air spaces.
   I must say this seemed really exciting! If I thought I could make metal parts with this, I might be sorry I ordered the plasma cutting torch.

   I do have a question (which could probably be easily answered on line). Why can't one just buy and use the metalized filament in an any old 3D printer?


   The same company also had a separate composite plastic printing process with chopped carbon fiber plus a continuous filament carbon fiber, that make a non-metallic part much stronger than a simple plastic printed one. Having tried "conductive plastic" with chopped carbon fiber in it and had it clog up my print extruder, I think I'll have to pass on that myself. But why would one not print polypropylene, by itself or with something else. It must have good strength?

FarmBot
When you know exactly where you planted each plant, you know exactly where to water.      
   A CNC gardening machine. I should have known somebody else would think of this, when I still haven't got around to making one in several years. It comes in two sizes - roughly 1-1/2 meters by 3 and double, 3 x 6 m.
   It's somewhat different from my concept. Instead of riding on rails on each side of the garden, it works on a garden plot framed with wood boards. It is much lighter and wouldn't do the grunt work of tilling the soil and prepping the plot for you. Mine was intended to [hopefully] be able to convert a lawn or other ground into a prepared garden plot, picking up the grass/weed clods and dumping them in a pile or in a wheelbarrow. And other heavier jobs - perhaps spreading compost and mulch and so on. (But one reason I haven't made mine is because it would be a pretty ambitious project.)

   It did however plant seeds, water and stomp out weeds, and it had some good software and some good tool attachments for those purposes, which were said to be 3D printable. (I haven't followed them up yet.)

   It would seem there's still room for my idea, which would make it into a pretty complete gardening solution. It could be scaled up even for farming on a very substantial scale, replacing tractors and combines and harvesting the crop along with the other functions.
   With the special-job tools already designed by Farm Bot one could possibly take it farther, faster. I doubt I'll ever find the time, but this is surely the future of crop production.




Doing something remotely with cell phone app


The seeding tool at work.

   How far are we from dialing in the date and the vegetables (with the growing locale pinpointed by Goggle or something and a tie-in to the weather predictions), and just watching everything grow, coming back at dinnetime on the day it says something is ready?

   With all these new, decentralized production tools, are there still going to be big factories for making automobiles, trains, washing machines, solar panels, and so on? There may be. A solar panel factory in China says they have 10 production lines going full time. (or was it 30? Memory, ugh!) But already many automotive factories are closing. It is getting easier and easier to produce whatever is wanted on a smaller and smaller scale. Is there a real economy of scale having 10 (30?) production lines in one place, or might they better be separate plants closer to where the solar panels are to be used? Maybe the silicon wafer production should be centralized but not the heavy tempered glass panel production and final assembly? I don't pretend to know just how all this will develop or should develop, but it seems obvious that change is in the wind.

   And then, how much value is there in having sprawling cities? For at least a century, the greater the concentration of population, the more and more varied the services that could be offered to the citizens. But now even in a remote location I can order whatever specialty things I want on line more easily than I could obtain them in medium-sized Victoria city 40 years ago. Living in a city is less valuable than it used to be. And cities grown too large are prone to contagion. It has been suggested that for reasons of both local food supply and sanitation, cities should be kept to under about 1/2 a million people. (Obviously that can only happen after the population has been reduced - which it will be partly by diseases sweeping through huge cities. Then it needs to be kept managed.)
   Again I won't pretend to know how things will work out, but the potential for change and decentralization without accepting a drop in living standards is greater than it has ever been before since we've had modern living standards.




   "in depth reports" for each project are below. I hope they may be useful to anyone who wants to get into a similar project, to glean ideas for how something might be done, as well as things that might have been tried or thought of... and even of how not to do something - why it didn't work or proved impractical. Sometimes they set out inventive thoughts almost as they occur - and are the actual organization and elaboration in writing of those thoughts. They are thus partly a diary and are not extensively proof-read for literary perfection and consistency before publication. I hope they add to the body of wisdom for other researchers and developers to help them find more productive paths and avoid potential pitfalls and dead ends.




Electric Transport

Ground Effect Vehicle


   This project keeps is another that keeps getting pushed to the side. I did however at least do part of a drawing of how I hope to make the radio controlled model, using the new wing profile intended to provide the craft better longitudinal stability. (And there's always the "Stealth" aircraft approach of last resort: high speed computer controls sensing and minutely controlling the rudder and elevator to damp out tendencies to instability.)


"Catamaran" layout ground effect vehicle with ducted
fan propeller, 16 feet long (model to be 1/4 scale, so 4 feet).
Width is to be 10' or less to be trailerable without disassembly.
Details like the take-off "step" hulls and combining the lateral
stability fin with the "tail" and rudder are being thought out
for trials on the model before trying a person-carrying 'vehicle'.



Other "Green" Electric Equipment Projects


"Off Grid" (etc): 38 (33-45) Volt DC "HAT" Plugs & Sockets

   On the 10th I finally decided to tackle this project. With a hammer I flattened a #9 AWG solid wire to what seemed like a good shape for blades. I ended up with 1.5 mm x 4.0 mm. It was a substantial cross section and different enough that it couldn't be plugged in crosswise to what was intended, so plugs couldn't be inserted backward. To be more sure of
getting good connections, I decided the blade length would be 10 mm instead of 8.
   Then I went into OpenSCAD and made HATPlug.s and HATSocket.s from CATPlug.s and CATSocket.s and started modifying dimensions. I put the pins a little closer together and didn't leave room for a screw in between them as I had with the 12 volt CAT design. This would mean one couldn't accidently plug into the wrong voltage outlet. As the pins were also 4 mm wide instead of 5.5, the whole plastic plug shell ended up smaller in all dimensions. This was agreeable - even if it was just plugs, there's no use having needless extra bulk. The socket was a little longer since it needed room for 10 mm pins inserted instead of 6, but was likewise thinner and narrower.
   Since I still intended to screw these shell halves together (with this design of shell), I extended the little grips on the outside edges to be big enough to hold tiny screws and put holes through them, so there would be one screw on each side, which would actually be better than just one screw in the middle even if slightly more work to assemble.
   Of course, it's possible to make shells differently. Just look at all the different plug shells and sockets for 120 volt plugs, and they (mostly) all work together. Another design I may try sometime is to have the 'front' attach to the 'back' rather than the top half to the bottom half. And they can be made to glue together instead of bolt. Or molded of cast rubber or plastic...

   Every time you change a number in OpenSCAD, you can hit F5 to have it redraw the plug 'instantly' with the change. So you see the progress as you go and it gets mesmerizing. I worked on it much too late into the night.
   The next day I finished the plug design and got out the ReprapPro 3D printer. I hadn't used it since I moved in 2017. The bed was way out of adjustment. Adjust as I might, I couldn't get the PLA plastic print to stay on the bed and make anything. And in trying to clean the nozzle, I seemed to mess up the extruder temperature reading and things went haywire. I finally had to quit.
   
Next day I went back and tried again. If the bed was hotter, wouldn't the plastic stick better? I turned it up from the 55°c default for PLA to 65°. I poked around the extruder wires with needlenose pliers, pushing and pulling the thermistor and the heat resistor, and it started working. Then it seemed to read the temperature, but wrong, and I could smell the heat. I poked some more and suddenly it read 350°c instead of 205°. It gradually cooled off, and for the moment seemed to be working. I had set it up in a room with no window that opened for fresh air and I was sorry for that after the extra high temperature, which probably vaporized some plastic.
   I designed a small test cube and printed it. It worked! So I tried the plug again. That worked too. Then I shut it off. The plastic was stuck solid to the glass even after it was cool. I had to pry the pieces off with a knife. Other than laying the plastic on a rather thick it seemed pretty good. (It was the default setting, but it needs adjustment for slightly different plastic spool wire diameters.) I saw a couple of minor mistakes, but mostly it just needed the plastic to print more thinly so things would fit as designed.

   Next I went out to the garage to make and bend the copper pins. I flattened some more of the same wire. But the fatter - and work hardened - copper wasn't amenable to being bent how I wanted. One piece broke at the bend. It obviously wasn't going to be practical with the thicker pins. No doubt it could be done, but each pin would be a struggle. There had to be another way to make pins that wouldn't slide in and out of the housing.
   At first I thought to try further flattening the inside ends, spreading them out more and then bending them around to form a crimp connector. That would make the inside too fat to slide through the slots, and at the same time would allow crimped-on solderless connection. Then I realized they wouldn't bend around to crimp unless they were annealed with a torch. That too seemed like much trouble. (If you did a whole bunch at once it wouldn't be bad. My usual mode is just to make what I need for the moment, which is usually just two.)

   To use simply straight line pieces of copper that didn't have to be bent, I could either have the printer make plastic alignment "pins", and drill alignment holes in the copper blades, or else file slots in the sides of the copper blades and print larger rectangular alignment blocks to occupy the space of those side slots. With blades only 4 mm wide, the holes would have to be pretty small and I figured the plastic would break, so I decided to go with the slots.
   Then I thought instead of bending the blades in the middle, I could bend a single 90° corner at the inner end, and the short end piece would lock it in. Then I moved on to other things. I got back to it on the 25th after finding that I needed them. Again figuring that, since it was a new size and many people would have to bang a piece of wire flat with a hammer to make the pins, and since the fattest common solid wire is AWG #10, I ended up with the following specs for pin dimensions:

Thickness: 1.35 mm +/- .15 mm (1.2 to 1.5 mm)
Width: 3.75 mm +/- .25 mm (3.5 to 4.0 mm)
Length: 10.0 mm +/- 1.0 mm (9 to 11 mm)
Pins Center Spacing: (7.5 mm but subject to change in March or April.)

   #10 wire is rated for up to 30 amps in house wiring and is good for more in such a short length, so that was plenty of cross section for 15 amp plugs and sockets. The reasoning behind picking this exact size may be considered as somewhat trivial, and meaningless in any production situation, but it's as good as any other nearby size. (Except for me: the #9 wire I have, if flattened in the jewelers rolling mill, stretches in length and comes out that same size.)


    How anybody else may design their shells and pins is their business - there are many ways to skin a HAT. Unlike the CAT pin thickness of .64 mm, 1.35 is too hard and thick to bend readily by hand. Thinking of how 3D printed shells might hold straight pins, I finally decided to file a notch in them that would be filled by a piece of the plastic. With a hole to solder a wire into they ended up per the image, and the first plug also as shown.
   It was a little smaller in all dimensions than the CAT plugs. One might coerce one into a CAT socket, but the pin spacing was a little smaller, and the blades twice as thick, so it wouldn't be easy.

   But I wasn't sure yet that this was the final size. I still had to make a socket, and the shells inside to receive the plug pins had to be far enough apart not to be in any danger of touching each other. Now, what were those going to look like and how would I make them?
   The simplest thing to do seemed to be to flatten a piece of wire (#14), make shallow bends in both ends to guide the pin in and pinch it, and then to fold it in half over a pin. The pin at the fold made sure it would fit over a pin for its entire length, provided a space to solder a wire into, and made the bend in the copper more gradual so it wouldn't break. The resulting sockets seemed satisfactory, the pins sliding in and holding with a good grip.  The fold was far enough away that it wouldn't loosen if a slightly thicker pin was inserted. (Unlike those crappy Pico connector sockets, which plague my CAT connectors. They bend and loosen and then connect so badly that one once left my first electric Mazda RX7 EV dead on the street and not knowing what was wrong!)


     So next they needed a shell. Back to OpenSCAD and the 3D printer... I designed the socket shells and printed a couple, by now rather late at night and after a small altercation with a loose drive belt on the "Y" axis, caused by some loose nuts in the printer. The first version didn't quite hold the copper pieces right. There wasn't room for them to open a bit to receive the plug pins. The second iteration was successful. The plug and socket seemed to mate and hold well. After a couple of dozen insertions, they were looser but still okay. Anyway they seemed much better than the Pico sockets.
   Of course it's a nuisance to have to make pins and receptacle pieces instead of buying them and pulling them out of a box. But it won't matter once they're in production. Some machine can spit out any size and shape you want. With the CAT 12 VDC plugs and sockets, I was trying to make something similar to AT fuses with a twist, expecting to find existing blades and receivers for them. (But the blades only existed on the fuses themselves.) With the HAT 36-40 VDC ones I was working for "optimum" instead of some nebulous "backward compatibility" with existing hardware parts.



Plug & socket with pins, mated together


Trying to fit the wires.

   I found that when the wires were added, the housings were a little too small. I used the ones I made, but I'll expand the housings a little to leave a good space for connecting the wires inside. Once that's done I'll put the OpenSCAD [text] files for the housings in TE News or link to them. Hopefully with wall plates as well.

   And I thought of a new design of sockets and wall plates. The front end of the socket will be the wall plate itself. The blade receptacles will be inserted into the plate, then the back ends will be slipped on and screwed in to hold everything in place. These will look much nicer, with the whole plate being the underside of the print, flat against the printer bed. (I'll probably do a CAT socket plate that way, too.)




New 3D Printer

   My "ReprapPro Mendel" 3D printer is a commercial kit version of the original RepRap ("Replication Rapid") 3D printer made by the guy in London that started the whole genre - that first made possible low cost home manufacturing of custom plastic parts. At the time, I was astonished that one could buy a kit and put such a manufacturing tool together for under 1000 $. It took me two weeks to assemble it, as I recall. But with the ongoing intermittent troubles I had long been having with the extruder head (even tho they were just "minor" wiring problems, but in one small part of the printer but where it was too hot for reliable solder connections), my confidence in the printer continuing to work reliably has become much diminished. And the pieces come out pretty coarse. I had been unable to make plastic battery electrode pockets the way I wanted because the holes came out too big and let powder fall through.
   I also knew that there were new models out there even some years ago. Especially useful would be those that had an enclosed and heated printing space, which as I recalled was supposed to result in much less warping of large parts.

   I looked on line at AliExpress.com and found hundreds of choices of seemingly dozens of models mostly for about 300 to 500 $ Canadian. WOW! There were lots of duplicates, the same machines being sold by different stores (and even multiple listings by the same store with somewhat different prices listed and different shipping rates so that they all ended up about the same anyway - Huh?), but it was still an astonishing variety. For those sort of prices it seemed almost foolish to continue to rely on my old coarse-extrusion beast that warped larger pieces as it printed them, when I could surely get something already assembled and reliable, that works better and makes finer parts, for such a low price. Maybe I could make the printed plastic battery electrode pockets I had tried to make a few years back?

   I ordered one, an "ANYCUBIC 3D Printer I3 Mega Large Plus Size Full Metal TFT Touch Screen". (I didn't see any that had the heated print space. There was one that was enclosed, by the same company, but it didn't say it was heated, so it would mainly just be harder to access things with no apparent advantage.) Perhaps the tendency to warp had been improved without heated ovens? At 210 x 210 x 300 mm, it had about the same bed size and could print taller than the RepRap. It was also single extruder, where some could do colors or "wash-out" extrusions. The latter allow for printing above spaces that turn into large voids, without sagging, by putting the printed part in water and dissolving away the water soluble parts after printing.

   In addition to plastic extruding printers, there were a couple of photo-laser resin-hardening printers for similar prices. Those cost a fortune - tens of thousands of dollars - back when I was first doing 3D printing!

   The machine arrived on the 26th. I put it together and tried the supplied test print. The detail was, as hoped, much finer than the RepRapPro Mendel, with the extruder laying out a much finer bead of plastic. But there was a tradeoff: The printing was also much slower. It took 80 minutes to print the two little owls. And they were tall on fairly small bases - one fell over 3/4 of the way through. The bead came out into the air, making a mess. Yowr! But the other one was still printing, so I let it continue. A couple of beads of plastic then caught on the other owl and the first owl's head started printing again, right in mid air! It moved around too much to make a good print, but at least it stopped plastic from spewing everywhere. The second owl came out very nice.
   With that speed I can imagine my 5 hour prints of 10 D-cell battery cases might go to 15 or 20 hours. I won't be throwing the Mendel out yet after all!


   I noted that there was a new and doubtless useful feature: the [noisy] fan blew air through a small slot directly onto the work where the plastic came out of the extruder. (small black 'hood' duct under extruder box) This would rapidly cool the plastic. Perhaps this was the simple replacement for the heated oven, which was thus rendered obsolete? I'll know if I print some larger things with ABS and they don't warp.
   Another improvement was that the glass printing bed/table has some texture and doubtless a superior grip
to the smooth glass of the Mendel. (That didn't seem to save the owl.) And it came with a spare extruder - the very part I was having trouble with in the Mendel. If I had a spare extruder for the Mendel, maybe I wouldn't have bought a new printer now?

   Next I'll have to delve into the slicing and G-code software on the AnyCubic3D.com website. It would be too simple if I could use the same stuff as for the Mendel. (...or are those on the supplied USB stick or SD card?)






Better LED Lighting

Ceiling Panel Lights

   On the 1st I ordered another 3 of the 300x600 mm panel lights because they seemed so nice, and because I could so easily use them with the 36-40 volt DC power system if the AC is off, since they were full brightness at about 38 volts.

   On the 3rd I mounted one in the ceiling of the dining area, replacing a ceiling-flush fluorescent light. The dining area had three of them and I removed the tubes from all of them. In theory I replaced 6 old fluorescent tubes of 40 watts - 240 watts - with a 24 watt LED flat panel light, and it was just as bright. In practice three of the tubes were 34 watts instead of 40, and one of the fixtures wasn't lighting up anyway, so it was more like about 150 watts I replaced - "only" a six times power reduction.
   Taking out the fixture with it freezing outside, cold air blew through the hole in the ceiling, as it turned out the fixture covered an uninsulated hole into the unheated attic. I had to put in some wood to screw gyproc to, insulation, and then gyproc with the cold air blowing down. Brr! (Now that I know that, I really must do in the other two fluorescent coldness holes! They say one square foot uninsulated leaks as much heat as ten square feet that are. Or was it even worse than that? This was almost 12 square feet uninsulated with cold-conducting metal fixtures - 8 more to go.)
   The LED light is 4000°K color temperature "natural white", instead of unpleasant fluorescent "cold white" with its huge retina-harsh mercury vapor spectral spike. Another bonus was elimination of balast transformer hum. The only drawback was that the light was now concentrated in one panel instead of spread out across the ceiling. I may put up a second panel.
   I put the power supply over the gyproc in the wiring and put the short DC power cord through. I can easily access the plug and change it to 40 volt DC power any time that seems useful (power is out or ?) It will of course be easier if I get the 36-40 volt plugs and sockets designed and make some, then run an actual 40 volt wire to a wall socket, and make an adapter cable with about a 5 ohm current limiting resistor to go to the light. There's the theory (it's perfect!) and then the practical (it will take some work).
   It wasn't until the 22nd that I got some drywall compound and tape to "niceify" the ceiling.


   On the 8th I realized that the panel lights would fit right into the "wooden box" light fixture in the kitchen ceiling. So I disassembled the two 2-tube fluorescent lights inside it (two 40 and two 32 watt tubes: 144 watts) and wired up the LED power units. (I left the bodies of the fluorescents up rather than disconnect the wires and pull everything out. They're doing no harm and no one will see them in the closed box.) With two 24 watt panels it was very bright. Even with the morning sun shining through the window they brightened up everything except direct sunlit surfaces. Dark shadows were vanquished. There would never be another dull day in the kitchen! But with 48 watts I've only reduced power consumption threefold. With 5, 8 and 17 watts LEDs, I've been leaving lights turned on all over the place. Gosh, 48 watts is worth turning them off for if I'm not in the kitchen!
   I was finally rid of all the fluorescent light tubes except in the garage. I may order yet another set of three panel lights. Tubes of all types, even tungsten light bulbs and fluorescent tubes, are quickly becoming a thing of the past, and as discovered by a couple of friends, LEDs compared to tungsten bulbs are probably a power savings equal to the extra power used by the coming of electric cars.




Even with the sun coming through the window, the
kitchen is much brighter with the panel lights on!


Screw-In Plant Grow Lights

   Even less connected to the solar system, I'll mention here that I got five 120 VAC plant grow lights that screwed into ordinary North American light bulb sockets (officially named "E27" sockets). I had never heard of such a thing, but Jim Harrington pointed me to a Chinese on-line store he found called "BangGood.com" ("Good bang for your buck!") that had them. Since I have the "indoor LED garden" with screw-in lights, this seemed too convenient to pass up.
   Since they were specifically for grow lights intended to cast their light straight down, they didn't have to cast light to the sides or fit into the small profile allowed by most fixtures for tungsten/incandescent bulbs. This allowed large flat lighting areas pointing down, and with more cooling capacity provided by air slots in the housings. Imagine almost up to a CD/DVD size with lights on one face. Some types were out of stock, but I got five nice ones. I appreciated that the largest ones had a few white LEDs to avoid that weird look resulting from having only red (~670 nm) and blue/violet (~450 nm) light colors. They were 30 watts, with 290 LED emitters: 190 red, 75 blue, 15 white, and 10 warm white. The smaller ones were 9 watts with 200 emitters: 166 red, 34 blue. (I thought grow lights were supposed to have more blue than red. Obviously I'm mistaken.) Some of the "too small" cooling slots in the 9W ones were blocked with remnant plastic. The 30W ones had bigger slots, but of course they made more heat too.



The screw-in plant lights installed in the "Indoor LED Garden", replacing some of the regular LED "bulbs". I've moved
the whole thing into the livingroom where it's warmer. (Bonus: The sun also comes through the window to the left.)
Note the horizontal strobe lines in the foto, indicating that at least
some of the lights actually flicker on and off at high speed.

(I've been remiss in my plantings:
Plants so far are just starting spinach and carrots. The lettuce didn't come up.
Behind are 3 small coffee trees someone gave me. They didn't seem to like the cold kitchen.
Anyway my confidence level that I won't have to buy coffee "beans" (seeds) any more is quite low.)

   A second box of E27 grow lights has yet to come. And I had ordered a few more still, but some were out of stock and I got a refund. At first I thought I might order more to sell locally, but after an hour I found both types run quite hot, so I think I'll wait a year and see how many are still working.




CNC Plasma Cutter

   A video suggestion showed up on youtube, 5 Incredible Machines For Manufacturing at Home #2. In the middle of it, an ad cut in. It was for an "affordable" CNC plasma cutting table. That was interesting enough that I didn't (at the time) watch the rest of the "real" video.
   The table was 1500 $US; nice! But that didn't include the torch. If I bought it all I'd be into it for over 3000 $C.

   The plasma cutting torch used with the table seemed very good. It seems to me it makes obsolete and replaces the pulsejet steel cutter I had started making but never finished in about 2010 or so (see some early issues of TE News). The cuts are said to be quite clean - probably better than the pulsejet would have been. I could say "Just as well I never finished it", except that I could have been using it all this time with my own CNC drill router mechanism instead of sending my designs off to be cut by abrasive waterjet.

   The plasma cutting torch makes an arc to the grounded workpiece like a welder, but compressed air blows the arc right through it, making it cut the metal sheet or plate. I didn't know about this technology. It makes nice, clean cuts through thick steel plate. I think I'll make the "water bed" with metal slats similar to the CNC unit shown, to use with my own CNC router table. (still not wired up and running - yet. But I've ordered a part for it.)
   I phoned the maker about the torch and they said Princess Auto was a dealer, so I went there. They had many different units - the cheapest at 600 $ and more around 1000 $ and up. I decided to pick a 120 volt torch - easier than wiring up a 240 volt outlet and then being restricted as to where you could use it. With my shop being attached to my house, if one burns down they both do. I prefer to do welding type stuff outdoors. The torch arrived on the 28th.

   I have the CNC router that I traded when I moved up here, but I don't have it running yet. Assuming I do get it going, can I use it for the plasma cutter as well as the router? The big thing for that would be to make a deep bed for shallow water that holds the metal plate and can take the abuse of the torch, without damage to the regular table underneath. That could save a lot of money. Let's see... the place that makes the plasma cutter table sells just the bed as a replacement part. (The upright bar supports doubtless do eventually get full of cuts.) Would it fit on my table, and could I just set or clamp it in place? That might solve the problem without buying a whole second CNC machine. And my table has a "z" axis (torch can move up and down as well as "x" and "y" travel around the work piece), so in that respect it's actually better than theirs.


   The more I looked into getting the table running, the more I think all I need is a USB to "parallel printer port" adapter, to make cables to connect the stepper motors, and "Mach 3" or "Linux CNC" software.


The DB-9 and DB-25 plugs on the back of the table's very old
controller seem to be just the same as on the newest ones! Yay!



Electricity Generation


Extending My Solar Power System some more


   Here is a chart that shows why so much solar power is needed at higher latitudes if one is to be independent of the power grid all year. In the winter when the most power is needed, the least is available. This chart shows a difference of 4 to 1 between July and December. The higher the latitude, the more pronounced this seasonal difference is.

   The other problem with the timing of solar power is that production craps out just before everybody fires up the kitchen to cook supper, turns up the house heat, and turns on the lights and computers for the evening. Again - depending somewhat on season - the power isn't available when it's most needed.
   Canada stretches across several times zones. I wonder what the practicality is of sending solar power east while it's still afternoon in the west, to power the more easterly dinnertime peaks?

   Here are maps showing average hours of solar insolation over an average year the province of BC, and all of Canada. Maps are of course available on line for other areas. There are about 8766 hours in a year. Of course half of them are night leaving 4383, and the sun is at angles below 45° (even at the equator) for half the day, leaving a maximum of 2191. Then there are the days of clouds and rain and snow further reducing the solar input. I knew the west coast was the cloudiest place, but I was surprised to see that the desertous Okanagan (south central) doesn't get more sun than it says it does. I'm also surprised that the entire west coast is smeared with the same color. They have glossed over a lot of important detail.



Canada-wide map showing that lakes must be the worst places to put solar panels.

   The highest latitudes may have as much solar potential as farther south, but it would be entirely seasonal, the sun disappearing for the whole of the winter months above the arctic circle. And I'm sure much of it could only be realized if the panels rotated, since the summer sun circles the sky. I wouldn't want to live much farther north than where I am, about 53°. With the 23° tilt of the Earth's axis, in midwinter the sun is only 14° above the horizon at noon. That improves to 60° in mid summer. The improvement in solar power from the start of February to the end has been apparent, although the especially sunny days near the end of the month have accentuated the effect.

By the end of the month my own 2830 installed watts of panels were putting around 7.5 KWH/Day into the grid.

 7500 WH / 2830 W = 2.65 KWH/KW
 2.65 KWH/KW * 365.25 Days/Year = 968 KWH/Year per KW capacity.

That's right in the "annual average" rainge - at around the end of February. They'll do substantially better in the summer. Will it average the average over a year... or do better? We won't know this month!


How many watts are those panels, again? Never full nameplate power: 75% seems to be a realistic figure

   I knew that I never seemed to get close to full rated power (892 watts) from my earlier solar panel system in Victoria even in the best conditions. 600 or 700 watts seemed to be "as good as it gets", but I didn't entirely know why.
   On the 5th I looked again at the datasheets for the Hanhwa "305 watt" panels when a potential customer wanted to know the dimensions. Usually I have not had datasheets and have been going simply on the sticker on the back of the panel. And until now even seeing them, I had glossed this over: The nameplate rating is based on 1000 watts of sunlight per square meter. That would probably occur with the sun directly overhead of the panel and straight on, on a very clear day. It is also based on 25°C operating temperature. Unfortunately, the panels being dark blue or black, they get warm, and they are less efficient at higher temperatures.
   So a second set of wattages for more typical conditions is given below the first ones. In these just 800 watts per square meter is assumed - "NMOC" at "NMOT" - "normal module operating conditions" "- temperature". Instead of 305 watts it lists 227.6, with slightly lower voltage and current. (800 watts probably accounts for normal and typical atmospheric moisture, dust and conditions, and going through more atmosphere at some angle unless the sun is almost directly overhead.)
   The ratio 227.6/305 is 74.6% ~= 75%. If we apply that to 250 W panels we get 187 W. So the four panels (the ones on grid tie inverters when I wrote this), by nameplate 1110 watts, would more realistically give around 2(187)+2(227.6) = 830 W in the vicinity of midday on a warm sunny day.


Panel Efficacy: Crap in winter as expected

   As the first frozen days of the month went by I checked on the performance of the grid-tie system. Of course the days were still short, and the long shadows of the trees still shaded the collectors all morning (until about 1/2 an hour after solar/real noon) and in late afternoon, so the period they were working well even when it was sunny was pretty short - maybe 12 to 4 PM. Then, the ~1100 rated watts panels put only up to ~500 watts into the mains. 500 watts for 4 hours is 2 Kilo Watt Hours (KWH) - if that. With 50 or 100 or 22 watts at other times through the clouds and tree shadows, perhaps 2 KWH/Day is a good if very rough figure. (Later I started using actual meters. 2 KWH/Day at this point was probably on the optimistic side.)
   I had a 500 watt heater in the travel trailer to keep it from going moldy and a 250 watt one in the Leaf to keep the batteries warm, mostly going 24 hours a day. So I was using 18 KWH per day just for those, and with bedroom heat and the electric car itself and everything else as well it added up to probably 40. (It was 38 KWH/Day on my last bill, with no panels connected.) So it was only making 5% of what I was actually using. But in an extended power failure, I can switch between grid-tie and "charge batteries/run inverter", and the difference between 5% and 0% of a usual amount is "have" and "have not". 5% means you can have (LED) lights at night, plug in your fridge and freezer a couple of times a day to keep them cold, charge your cellphone and your tablet, and run your computer a bit.

   But it hadn't rained much for a while either, so I suppose the lake making hydro power was too low. Or it just didn't have the capacity. When I drove south toward town, I could see the diesel generators across the water in Sandspit bellowing clouds of smoke that obscured the land to the west, to make the electricity for hundreds of homes all with their heat turned up. (The first time I saw that, I thought some building must be burning down over there!)


  Of course, that's in the worst of the winter - the "second worst case scenario". (Worst case is when it's also heavy overcast & raining a lot or snowing, and one gets almost nothing.) When it's much above freezing the heater in the back of the car isn't on, and I drop the trailer to 250 W. Bedroom heat uses less. And of course the output from the panels improves dramatically toward summer. The spruce tree causing the most winter shade on the roof and panels before noon may be dying and if so may need cutting down in another year. That would be a plus for the solar power. (But please, not until I've finished milling the logs from the trees already cut down, and cleaning up all the branches!)
   To jump the story timeline, by the sunny weather at end of the month and with 10 panels working, and with lowered demand from turning heaters down or off, reading the solar meters I hooked up and the house power meter indicated solar was making around 25% of the total power. (Including the electric car.) As spring progresses the figures will get better. Except when it's cloudy.

Still More Solar Panels - and Monitoring Output

   Any little bit generated by any renewable means was at least some small mitigation of diesel exhaust. I could certainly put up a couple more solar panels and another grid-tie inverter... and get another KWH per day.
   I started considering putting a couple up on the east roof, instead of or in addition to more on the south. It would get more sun in the morning. I set a ladder up so I could look onto it. It was steeper than I thought and the house was actually turned 21 degrees clockwise from north, so advantageously it faced slightly south. And, notwithstanding the trees across the highway delaying the early morning sun, it got a lot more sun than I had realized. In the morning it was less in the shadows of the trees that plagued the panels on the south roof in winter. (And the north end was in just the right place for solar hot water, above my rainwater barrels.) But the trees shaded it in the middle of the day, the best time, and I decided it would just be a place for the hot water collector.
   The most obvious thing to do would be to cut down the row of four trees. Would I miss them? I'll have to think about it once I've dealt with the ones already down with 1/2 the lumber still to be cut.
   The other advantageous thing to do would be to put up panels on the roof covering the travel trailer. It was south of the row of spruces, and some observation showed that while not immune to tree shadows, it appeared to get more sun than anywhere else.

   At around freezing it was too cold to work outside except in shorter bursts (or I'm just a wuss - most of Canada was much colder), but the installed panels gradually improved. By the 11th it hit 600 watts.

   I started to realize I had probably made a mistake about the 1000 watt grid tie micro inverters that only seemed to put out half. If two of my panels had had a bad connection in the original configuration last summer, that would create almost the symptoms that I had. Why I didn't think of this last summer I can't imagine. I looked on line and couldn't find any complaints about the inverters. Hmm! Now I had ordered a fourth one, which I started to suspect I probably didn't need. I didn't put the idea to the test for a few days.

   The batteries didn't need to be charged all day for the little I was using the DC lines. On the 16th I installed the third micro inverter and ran the wires from the third pair of panels to it. But I also connected the battery charge controller/DC to DC converter to the same panels. If I switched the inverter on and the charge controller off, the third pair of panels could go to the grid, or I could switch the charge controller on and the inverter off. If they were both on, they didn't seem to co-operate very well but the next day they seemed okay.

   Late in the afternoon, rooting through my "electrical crap" box, I discovered a "Blue Planet Energy Monitor, EM100". I have no idea where it came from. Either I bought it and forgot about it, probably long ago, or else someone gave it to me and I took no notice. Unlike the Canadian Tire ones, it took batteries (huh?) and it also seemed to work fine in the reverse direction, so I could leave it plugged in to monitor the power being made by the panels. (It didn't seem to distinguish between "load" and "generate" as long as current was flowing. The three inverter cords were plugged into a 6 outlet strip to the monitor only because I couldn't find a proper 3-outlet one at the time.)
   The 17th was bright and sunny. The monitor said the 6 collectors and inverters were sending almost 1000 watts to the house and grid at the best part of the day with all 6 panels (1612 nameplate watts - IIRC: 265+265+240+232+305+305), and by the end of the day it said 3.08 KWH had been sent out - that that much less had been needed from the power grid. That was in spite of the tree shadows all morning and in addition to using a bit for off-grid battery charging. I found a manual for the monitor on line; how to reset the max watts and max amps, kilowatt-hours and set the "overload" reading point (which I will hopefully have no use for). While looking for that, on Amazon I found many more power monitors, but none of them specified whether they could be used to measure inverter outputs instead of loads.



   I also made use of the dry, sunny day to put up panels on the roof over the trailer. As I was putting up the second one, it occurred to me that if the inverters really did 1000 watts, three panels rated in total 915 watts would be (even at 100% of rating) a good match for one inverter there. I had the crate of panels. I had everything set up and was working on the roof. There was lots of room for more panels and it was the sunniest place. Why not? Somehow I had fortuitously also made an extra set of brackets for attaching another panel, so I only had to bolt them on. I got all three panels up that afternoon. But I had to forgo doing the wiring that day. I left the ladder tied in place. (Note the long winter shadows behind the planels at this high latitude [53.4°N] even in February. In December they would go all the way down the roof.)

   If the grid tie microinverters were actually 1000 watts, three panels on the trailer roof should result in around 600 watts to the grid on a sunny day even in February. Now I was going to hook them up, so that would be the test.
   The next day (18th) I ran the wires. Where the AC power cable went into the trailer there was lots of room for more cables (AHA! So THAT'S where the mice were getting in!) so I poked them through into it. Better to have the inverter indoors! I took one from the garage and hooked it up. Sure enough, it got up to about 500 watts (over 4.2 amps) "to the grid"... really, to the 500 watt heater nearby on the floor. So presumably very little current was flowing either way in the 100' extension cord that powered the trailer. That was more than I had got out of the inverter last summer, so the low power back then must have been a bad connection - probably one of the two pairs of panels wasn't contributing. I should have suspected that might be the problem, but I never did. Oops, my bad! Well, c'est la vie!
   I wished I had another "Blue Planet" power monitor for the trailer. I eventually found the "outlet tripler" with the taped off blades and late in the afternoon the male-to-male cord, and I plugged in a Canadian Tire power monitor, backwards. Now I could keep track of how much power was being made at both sites.
   The terminal screws in the inverters were so short one couldn't get three flat wire lugs connected and not even two thick ones. If I still have one minor complaint I wish the terminals were at least 1/8" longer. (Having found this problem, I used only the thinnest lugs at the trailer, wired two panels on one cable to one pair of lugs, and got all three onto each terminal.) How to connect the disconnected panels to the other inverter with the other two old panels? I ended up with the connector of last resort, alligator clip test leads. With the same four panels as last summer, this one also put out over 500 watts, again proving that these inverters would do over 420 watts and that I must have had a bad connection in the wiring.

   At the peak time with the sun lined up south, the house panels hit 1072 watts and the trailer well over 500 for a total of about 1600 watts. Altogether the panels were rated 2527watts. Using the "realism factor" of 75% gives about 1900 watts. Considering the roof angles weren't optimum for the low sun, that seemed quite good. In spite of increasing cloud in the afternoon and the disconnected panels at some times while I was working, the panels on the house made about 2 KWH.
   And on that day finally the weather started to warm up (reaching about 5°c). The snow, frost and ice mostly melted away, and I could turn on the tap on the water barrel and get rain water again. I unplugged the heater in the car and turned the trailer heater down from 500 to 250 watts. Using 12 KWH a day less is as effective as having many more solar panels!


I used the 3 leaning boards as a "ramp" to haul the panels up with a rope.
The trailer roof got the least tree shadows of anywhere on my place.
(The 6 panels on the house roof are just visible behind, just below this roof.)

  
Production per panel improved noticeably day by day as the sun got higher and the days lengthened. Before 10:30 AM on the 19th, when at the beginning of the month the sun was just up, the combined 9 panels had already made 1/2 a KWH and charged the batteries. By 11:15 the 3 panels over the trailer were doing 520 watts, but the tree shadows were reaching the 6 on the house and they were down to 430 watts, and by 11:30 in light haze the figures were 435 and 200. I should probably have put all the new panels on the trailer cover roof! (One more panel would theoretically exceed the 1 KW theoretical capacity of the micro inverter. If the inverter would make so much or I used two inverters, 5 panels, 1525 watts rating, would be the limit for one house breaker and the extension cord to the trailer.) Then it clouded over and rained, but by 2 PM, the peak producing time, the sun came out again for a little while. At that point the 3 panels at the trailer were doing 500 watts and had produced 1.2 KWH. The house was at 900 W, but with the 6 panels having been in the tree shadows it had made just 1.3 KWH. By 3 PM it was raining again and watts were down to 130 (trailer) and 230. The end-of-day total was 3.5 KWH. The 20th was cloudier and the total was 2.9 KWH. With 9 panels fully employed, production was at least 50% more and I was now using up 30 instead of 40 KWH per day. So I was now making 10% of what I was using instead of just 5%. Except for it not being December any more, the 21st was almost a "worst case" day with heavy overcast and rain. There was a brief sunny break, but the total collection for the day was less than 1.5 KWH.

   I decided to put one more panel over the trailer to fully utilize the inverter, and did so on the 20th. I might have just done the trailer if I hadn't already put two more panels on the house in January, but there seemed to be little point to taking them down. The house production would improve a lot when the sun got above the trees in spring.
   I ran into a snag when I went to wire it. Ever since I wired my house in the 1970s, and being involved in electronics, I had saved any scrap of house wire or extension cord wire I ran across. Now I had finally run out of longer pieces. I looked dubiously at a 17 foot piece when I really needed a 40. Was I really going to have to buy house wire after all these years? Well, maybe two 20s? I didn't want a join outside, but anything was better than going to a store and buying what had been free for so long. (I had to go into the store anyway, so I looked. Yikes the prices have gone way up since the early 1980s! (Wasn't 14/2 14¢ a foot? Now over a dollar in the local hardware!) Apparently I have saved some money by saving all the wire I run across.)
   Let's see... the 14-3 going to two of the panels (really 14-4: red+black & white+bare) had extra length (~40 feet) and I hadn't cut it shorter yet. If I moved it from what were now the middle two panels to the farthest two, the last wire could be shorter. Hmm... probably everything would make it if the wires were rerouted to go in through the ceiling vent instead of the trailer plug-in gland down at floor level. And shorter wires is less losses. Figuring out that subject:


#14 wire is .0025 ohms/foot. So if the wire is 40 feet long  that's .1 ohms. But there's two wires, + and -, so .2 ohms. At the maximum of about 10 amps, that's 2 volts.

After all, at 33 volts a 2 volt loss is 6%. If one can trim 25% off the wire length... well, it's small peanuts, but it might as well be done - saves on wire! (Then there's the losses in the 100 foot extension cord to the trailer (#12 AWG, .0016 ohms/foot, so .32 ohms counting both wires.) once it's converted to 120 VAC.)
   On the 23 I got up to the trailer roof and took a vent cover off. Under the grille I could see some wires and the top of the radiator coils at the back of the freezer. I cut away a bit of the flimsy aluminum screen/grille and poked the panel wires down the hole. Inside, I pried on a thin piece of 1/8" plywood mushboard at the back of the cupboard over the fridge. It broke and I could see the wires behind. I took a bent coathanger wire and pulled them out one at a time. I clipped the long wire from the two farthest panels to similar length to the others. They were then a good length to mount the inverter on the wall next to the cupboard, where it would also be out of the way of anyone using the kitchen in the trailer. Mounting the inverters vertically on a wall gives convective ventilation and seems to keep their cooling fans from coming on most of the time. It's quieter and probably better for them.



   There were now four 305 watt panels over the trailer - and connected - total nameplate rating 1220 watts. Multiplying by the "realism factor" of 75% that would be 915 watts, but the sun was still too low, too far south, to hit the panels straight on. A while later there was a brief break in the clouds, and the output went from 220 to 750 watts. That seemed very good. (In fact, I never saw 750 again in February - 735 was about peak. My surmise is that with the sudden clearing of the clouds, the panels were still cold instead of warm - higher efficiency when cold.) Then within an hour the clouds cleared off. The house was doing exactly 1000 watts and the trailer 735. Now there was some real electricity being made! Those output figures proved to be the peak, but it continued strong until the tree shadows hit all the collectors late in the afternoon.
   The next morning was sunny. It showed the stark contrast between the 6 panels on the house in tree shadows versus the 4 in the sun on the trailer: 85 watts versus 700 watts. With this all-morning head-start, the trailer had produced more kilowatt-hours than the house by the end of the day. Location is everything!
   The inverter in the trailer was almost burning hot. Surely at least 10% of the input was being converted to heat. But in the chilly trailer, that's a plus! The cooling fan came on for a half a minute occasionally, blowing quite warm air. It might have been 70 to 100 (?) watts of heat, but with the outdoors at about freezing it didn't justify turning off the 250 watt heater. (So the panels themselves were putting out 70 to 100 more watts than the output to the power line indicated - over 800 rather than 735.)

   I think I now have enough electrical generation to manage an indefinite power failure except perhaps on the cloudiest days in midwinter: enough to run fridge, freezer and maybe heat hot water during the day, and keep good lights on at night. In the summer if it's sunny I could probably also charge the Nissan Leaf with the slow charger around midday and run various other things. But I also want some other solar panels mounted directly on the other electric vehicles, to "trickle charge" them all day.
   Other than not yet having new chemistry batteries to hold generated power for longer periods, the big flaw in my setup is that I still don't have a way to run that 240 volt deep well pump to have regular house water when the power is out. Perhaps I should get a 240 volt inverter? I would still need to change the pump to plug in somewhere instead of being hard-wired to the circuit breaker sub-panel in the shop.


From the 20th on I didn't reset the meters, to keep a running total for a while. On the 24th I thought to start recording the house electric meter as well so I could compare what was being made to what was being used. Whatever the panels made would have been added onto the house meter readings during the day if they hadn't been there.

Day - house - trailer - day total KHW. (9 panels main load to grid - small load solar battery charging not counted.)
(19th -        -        - 3.5) - Reset meters to 0, 0 after reading them. - mixed sun and clouds
20th - 1.71 - 1.19 - 2.90 - cloudy with sunny spots
21st - 2.44 - 1.70 - 1.24 - clouds and rain. One short sunny period.
22nd - 4.34 - 3.00 - 3.20 - clouds & rain; may [must?] have been sunny in PM while I was out
23rd - 6.94 - 4.86 - 4.46 - AM clouds and rain, PM clear & sunny - wired up all 4 trailer solar panels in AM.
24th - 10.29 - 8.64 - 7.13 - [64430 - 6PM] sunny all day [Power company's total consumption meter]
25th - 13.86 - 12.64 - 7.57 - [64452 - 1PM, 64454 ~6PM] sunny all day. Recharged car PM.
26th - 17.20 - 16.61 - 7.31 - [64473 - 10 AM, 64473 5 PM, 64474 6 PM] sunny all day (a few very light chemtrails?) I did some disconnections on the house panels to test water heating with solar-electric (see below).
27th - oops - oops - ~6.885 - [64497 - 10:30 AM; 64498 @ 14:40; 64500 @ 17:00; 64502 @ 19:00] (bath & bedroom heat last night)
28th - 22.92 - 24.66 - ~6.885 - [1:30 AM 64507; 64519 @ 10:30; 14520 @ 13:15; 14529 @ 18:00; 46530 @ 19:00] - sunny all day. Recharged car after 3 PM. The hot water tank probably used 2/3 KWH or so and resulted in a few disconnections of the grid tie inverters.
March 1st - 25.22 - 28.68 - 6.32 - [64548 @ 11:30 AM & 2:30 PM; drove 87 Km before 2:30 PM, plugged in car. 64558 @ 6 PM... unplugged car: Why not let it finish charging in the daytime tomorrow!] Sunny all day. (The 1000 W panel set was mostly unplugged from the grid for the hot water tank experiment.)
March 2nd - 27.70 - 30.78 - 4.58 - [64589 @ 1 PM; 64595 @ 4:30 - Drove to Charlotte, so charging car again from ~3:00 PM.] - Cloudy early AM (was little point waiting to charge car?), patchy cloud later AM, cloudy PM
March 3rd - 31.67 - 35.11 - 8.30 KWH! - [[email protected]:30; [email protected]:00] - sunny all day

   Once I started reading the house electric meter, it became apparent that while the sun was out, little or no power was coming from the grid (except when I was charging the car or drying clothes, etc). In fact, it was more likely that some small amount was going out into it but that the meter wouldn't run backward. It costs a lot more for a "legit" wired-in net-metering installation, and it just seems like too much trouble. The inverters are much more costly and more wiring - approved wiring - is required. In fact, do I remember right that an installation has to have 10 KW nameplate capacity to qualify? If so 2.8 KW wouldn't qualify anyway.
   I don't see how these inverters could possibly be dangerous to power company employees. Either they're working properly and won't transmit to the line if there isn't already voltage there, or they will fail and blow a fuse (or, worst, burn up). I'm saving the power company 50 ¢/KWH if/when they're burning diesel, so I hope they will at least look the other way if they notice. It's in the evening and at night to heat my bedroom that I'm using a lot of power from the grid. If I do my laundry and have baths in the early afternoon I'll probably get more solar value. Maybe I can heat water in the greenhouse and keep it going more of the year? But a few KWH isn't a lot of heat.

   Another thing that became more apparent was that without a cheap, efficient and reliable means of storing electricity (such as dammed water that can generate power on demand, or my batteries if I ever get them working well), solar power is most effective if the power is used in the daytime when it's being generated. (Especially of course if the power company isn't paying you for what goes out to the grid.)
   Otherwise, hopefully without getting too carried away, the biggest, most controllable loads such as hot water for laundry and dishes (3 KW), running the clothes dryer (6 KW) and perhaps electric car charging (1 or 3 or 6 KW), are best scheduled to be done in the daytime. (I'm allergic to grass pollen. It makes me itch and raises red "welts". It was a great relief when I went to see an allergist and the last thing he said as I was leaving, which lit my mind like a lightbulb - the most valuable advise ever: "So don't dry your laundry outside on a clothesline.")

DC to DC Voltage Reduction

   While looking for LED lights at aliexpress.com , I found a simple little buck converter board, that is, one that would efficiently reduce voltage from a higher DC level to a lower. It had a trimmer potentiometer for setting the output voltage to any desired voltage lower than the input. That seemed like a great idea for running LED lights, especially 12 volt lights from a 36 volt source. The main component was an XL4015 from XLSEMI, which was a single chip buck converter requiring minimal external components: max 40 volts in, max 5 amps out, 180 KHz switching, and about 90% efficient at reducing 36 volts to 12 volts.
   The "absolute maximum" 40 volt rating on the chip is rather vexing (according to the datasheet, and the catalog page did mention it), since a "36 volt" battery system can easily be above 40, especially when it's being charged. I decided that it would just have to work a little above its "absolute max". If they didn't start blowing up at under 45 volts, they were keepers.

   They arrived on the 23rd. The next day I soldered a 12 V CAT click-lock socket on the output, but ran into trouble at the input... because I hadn't finished designing the 36 volt HAT plugs and sockets yet. So I had to solder on alligator clip jumper leads.
   I plugged in a lamp and found the output was at 17 volts. This lamp didn't seem to mind. It dimmed as I adjusted the screw down to 13 volts. There was an annoyingly intense little red LED on the board to indicate it had power. Otherwise it was perfect.

   I had actually started on the the HAT plugs and sockets earlier this very month, and on the 25th I finished designing, and made, a plug and socket [see under "Other Projects"], which I applied to the board on the 26th, powering it from the 36 volt solar batteries and supplying the 13 volts to the socket in the living room.


Electric Solar Water Heater

   I wanted hot water from my rainwater barrels to the kitchen sink, and preferably to have it independent of the power grid. Someone in a youtube video had compared heating water with two (or three?) solar PV panels versus an actual hot water solar collector.

   On the 26th I decided I should try just connecting my still uninstalled "under sink" hot water tank to some panel(s) and filling it, and trying that out. I got wholly carried away hooking up and monitoring the water heating, for several days.

   It must have taken close to two hours rummaging through containers to find some fittings to connect the tank to a couple of garden hoses. I could have driven to town and bought some in that time! One of two fittings I had given to someone only two weeks ago was just what I now needed. And I had to use iron-rich well water that turns brown and stains, as the rainwater barrels were frozen.

   I directly connected a pair of 250 watt panels to the tank, disconnecting them from the grid tie inverter. I plugged in the water heater and an old lamp cord with a 120 V plug on one end to an otherwise unconnected duplex receptacle, and hooked the other end of the cord to alligator clip leads to the panels. I took the following readings:

Time: 14:15 PM (Note: clock here is 48 minutes ahead of the sun, so in reality it was 13:28 PM. Latitude is 53.4)
Ambient air temperature: 3°C
Initial water temperature: 7.0°C.
Amount of water in tank: 15 L
Voltage: 32 V; Current: 2.9 A (93 watts)

   Obviously the setup wasn't exactly taxing two 250 watt panels. Then I had the thought that the 305 watt panels were wired individually and also, being monocrystalline, had a bit higher voltage so it would provide more power. Hooking just one panel to the water heater still wouldn't be a big load for the panel. So I changed it. Now the inverter system was only down one panel, and about 200 watts.

The single 305 watt panel gave this:

14:30 PM
Temperature: 10.0°C
34.6 V (Over a volt was lost in the cord, connections and alligator clip leads. It was closer to 36 V at the wires coming from the panel.)
3.28 A (113 watts)

14:45 - 11.5°
35.0 V; 3.30 A (116 W)

15:00 - 12.8°
35.1 V; 3.35 A (118 W)

15:15 - 15.1°

15:30 - 17.0°
34.9 V; 3.25 A (113 W)

16:00 - 19.2° [Sun going behind trees]

16:15 - 19.1°

I decided to continue the test the next morning, the 27th. I don't know what lowest temperature the water dropped to overnight as it was already being warmed when I got to it. Obviously the tank loses heat and takes power to keep water hot even if it the water isn't being used.

Air 2.5°C
10:15 AM - Water 17.1°C
34.6 V; 3.25 A (112 W)

11:45 - 19.3°
10.0 V; .95 A (9.5 W) - Panel shaded by trees

12:15 - 19.0°
11.1 V; 1.0 A = 11 W - still shade

12:45 - 19.3° (air temp 3°)
26 V * 2.4 A = 62 W - still part shade

13:15 PM - 23.1°
35.7 V; 3.35 A = 120 W - sun.

13:45 PM - 26.4°
35.0 V; 3.25 A = 114 W - very light chem trails

14:00 - 28.0
35.3 V; 3.3 A = 116 w

*** END 28.4° ***

   On 'day one' in the sun, 35 volts raised the water temperature in the 15 liter tank by 12°C in less than 2 hours. In 8 hours it should have been quite hot. For a kitchen sink water heater, that seemed sufficient - it would get hot eventually. Being right under the sink it would be almost instant hot water, and it didn't need to put out a bathtub full to do dishes. Control was automatic: when the sun went away, there was no power. But a dedicated panel just for this small water tank and small watts would be a waste. Rather, it would be best to just hook it up to the 40 volt DC solar/battery power that was to be run to the house. At 40 volts it should be should be about 150 watts, which would heat somewhat faster.
   I switched the tank onto the 40 volt solar DC supply at 2 PM on the 27th:

27th.
14:10 - 29.0°
38.4 V; 3.6 A = 138 W (The power level seems better. Heat that water!)

14:15 29.5 The DC power controller, now drawing over 160 watts, and the grid tie inverter, were somewhat dueling over the power from the panels, each unit hunting back and forth for the maximum power point, which changed as the other unit changed its own settings. But it seemed to be working.

14:30 - 31.8°
38.3 V; 3.65 A - 140 W  (Voltage out of the controller was 40.0, so 1.7 V line losses)

14:45 - 33.4°

15:15 - 37.0°
38.3; 3.65 = 140 W

15:45 - 40.4° (voltage is the same from our DC controller, so no change, 140 W.)

16:10 - 43.0°

   140 watts was btter than 115. 250 or 300 would heat notably faster. The tree shadows started covering the collectors before 4 PM and output as usual dropped like a rock. Then of course I had to unplug the tank to prevent it from draining the batteries. The water at 43°C (109°F) was just about verging on "hot". Seven degrees per hour was an okay temperature rise if one wasn't using much water. What would it be like in actual kitchen sink use?

   About that time it occurred to me I could use one of the programmable up-converter controllers to boost the voltage to maybe 50 or 60 volts (50 V, 4.4 A, 170 W or 60 V, 5.7 A, 245 W) 60 - or maybe 55 - would be the limit because the controllers are only 10 amps, and the "main" 40 volt one would have to deliver 8.6 A for the 60 volt water heater one to do 5.7 A. Still, 200 watts at 55 volts would heat water a lot faster than 140 watts, without overloading the solar power like the water tank's full 1300 watts would through an inverter. I'm thinking that might be just enough power to keep up with kitchen sink water use. For now I continued the next day as it was set up.

28th
Air 3.5°C
10:30 - Tank: 23.5°C - doesn't hold heat so well overnight, does it? It was still 20° above the air temperature. (Which must have been down to freezing overnight - the garden hose was frozen.) So if it was under the sink in the house at 20°, it wouldn't have cooled so much.

11:15 - 29.5°
35.5 V; 3.35 A = 119 W - The tree shadows having moved in over the collectors, and not wanting to tax the old batteries, I now unplugged the water tank again. But at 11:55 (deep tree shadows) I plugged it back in to see what would happen. Were these batteries any good at all? The controller was managing about an amp, so the batteries had to supply the rest and the voltage started dropping.

12:15 - 31.0°
34.4 V; 3.25 A = 112 W - The batteries were already down to 36 volts, 12.0 volts per section from 13.3

12:30 - 32.4°
32.8 V; 3.1 A = 102 W - The batteries were down to 34.5 V or 11.5 per section. A single set of 30 D cells should have been able to accomplish this. It certainly didn't speak well of ten sets in parallel - 300 individual batteries. These, while perhaps abused as I used them in the RX7-EV, were only 7 or 8 years old. I must conclude that NiMH dry cells have nothing like the durability of the big flooded NiMH cells used in the electric cars of the late 1990s (20 years ago), some of which are today being reconditioned and reused in those same vehicles - the few that escaped the crushers. But further testing (below) showed that wasn't the whole story.

12:45 - 33.5°
34.0; 3.3 = 112 W - The panels were getting some sun again and the batteries were recharging.

13:15 - 36.2°
34.6 V; 3.25 A = 112 - more shade, apparently

I drove to town and expected to come home to some pretty hot water. Instead to my chagrin, right when I wouldn't check for two hours, an alligator clip had come off and left the system idle in the best part of the day. What a good argument for reliable connectors! Even better if they were specifically made for the voltage in use. I reconnected it and got readings.

15:00 - 34.0°
38.0 V - 3.6 A = 137 W

15:30 - 37.2°
38.1 V; 3.5 A = 133 W

16:00 - 41.0° - Turned off for night. And so, not quite hot water again!

   On March 1st fairly early I reconnected the water tank. There wasn't enough solar yet to supply it all. Individual measurement disclosed that the three batteries were holding different levels of charge and one was notably weaker than the other two. Oddly, the oldest one longest used in the RX7-EV was much the strongest under load. After 1/2 an hour supplying a couple of amps, they were at 10.7, 12.0 and 12.6 volts. But the first one had had the highest voltage when on charge. Apparently it was much weaker than the other two. Then I turned off the grid tie inverter and the DC unit suddenly had enough solar power. It was putting out 7 amps, almost 300 watts, to recharge the batteries and at the same time supply the water tank.
   I was only charging to 40.0 volts, 13.33 per. Since they're on charge all day I didn't want to be hard on them. But they will charge to 14.0 volts float charge and 14.2 if shut off when they get there. At 10:15 AM I boosted it up a little higher to 41/13.67 volts. (Later I started manually turning it off much of the day once they were charged. That'll wear thin pretty fast!)

March 1st
Air: ~2°C
~9:30 AM - water 24.4°C

10:30 - 33.0°
38.6 V, 3.65 A = 141 W - sunny

10:45 - 35.0°
38.9 V, 3.7 A = 144 W - tree shadows just coming on.

11:00 - 36.6° - The shadows have steepened enough that the upper 4 panels stay in the sun a little longer, while the lower 2 still go into shade.
(same electrical readings as 10:45)

11:15 - 38.6 - tree shadows are cutting the power from over 200 watts to under 100 now. Batteries are discharging again to power water tank.

11:30 - 40.1
37.2 V, 3.5 A, 130 W - Since I was going out and since the tree shadows would be there until maybe 1 PM, I disconnected the tank. But I was surprised to already have "almost hot water" again so early.

14:30 - 35.6 - Returned home and turned it on again.
38.5 V, 3.65 A =140 W

15:00 - 40.5°
38.6 V, 3.7 A = 143 W

15:15 - 41.6°

   I changed the "maximum power voltage" setpoint on the DC charge controller from 29, then to 28, and now to 27 volts. Now it gradually started winning tugs-of-war with the grid tie inverter and took (more or less) what it needed before allowing the grid-tie to take the rest. Certainly nothing is being wasted. (It may be forcing the panels to run a little below their maximum power point. But considering voltage drops in the diodes and wires when the panels are delivering high currents, 27 may be closer to MPP voltage than 29 anyway.)

FINAL READINGS on March first at the end of the afternoon were:

16:00 - 47.5° - Sunny all day. Hot water at last!
38.9 V, 3.65 A = 142 W

   I then started running the water out into a bucket, with a hose going in to replace the water. At first it felt quite hot, but it gradually cooled and became tepid. Well, it's only a 15 liter tank (3-1/2 imperial gallons) and I ran out over 10 liters. And I fear I should have run it much more slowly instead of all at once, so as not to create turbulence and mix the incoming water and the tank water. If I had poured slowly instead of opening the valve right up, it might have been hot most of the way. But since I had filled the tank with my iron-rich well water and it had been sitting some days, the tank water was quite brown and I didn't want to use it for anything anyway. Only rain water in it from now on! (Now, how to set up a pump system for that?)
   At this point I decided having it on the DC system was only for power failure backup. I like having hot rinse water for dishes. 1300 watts (120 V 10.8 A) from the mains would heat water quickly - way faster than 140 watts (39 V 3.6 A) from the solar DC system. For solar use I'd like to see a lower voltage water heater element to heat more at a human-safe voltage (≤~40 V).


A Universal Controller-Monitor Module?

   What the hot water system would need to prevent it draining the batteries at night would be a control I've been talking about for a long time: one that would sense by the small voltage changes that the system was charging rather than discharging, and only turn on the water heater when the panels were active, also only if it was below its set water temperature. If it got too low, and if the batteries were above a certain setpoint, it could come on anyway even at night. The parameters would all have to be adjustable or programmable for different systems and different battery types. If one did it with a microcontroller, one might as well make it a "Universal" Appliance Controller and Power Monitor. It would have the following:

1. It would plug into the wall via a 36/40 volt HAT plug (There could also be a 12 volt model with CAT plug and socket)

2. It would have a 36 volt HAT socket to plug in the item being controlled, which would have a MOSFET to switch one leg on or off.

3. It would sense the line voltage, and have three setpoints:
    - charging, power freely available (eg, 41.0 volts)
    - not charging, restrict power use but use if necessary (eg, 40.0 volts)
    - low battery - do not turn on (eg, 35.5 volts)
       In between these settings is "dead band" or "hysteresis". (eg, voltage falls from 42 to 40
       before it says "not charging", but rises from 37 to 41 before it says "charging".)

4. The voltage sensing would also have time delay constants, because turning on or off a load will itself lower or raise the voltage, with a high current load sometimes by more than the deadband will allow for:
    - Minimum time to stay off before trying again in case voltage rises above setpoint
    - Minimum time to stay on before shutting off in case voltage falls below setpoint

5. The typical appliance would be for heating or cooling. "Heat" or "Cool" or "None" would be selected with a switch.

6. There would be a connector for a temperature sensor for optional temperature control. The type of sensor might be selectable. It would be intended that this sensor be placed in or on the appliance for complete control with no other control required. (eg, the hot water tank's control might be set to max, but the temperature sensor  would be set to a lower temperature. This would prevent the water tank's control from clicking on and off. Since that control was designed for AC power, it might arc a lot and wear out with DC power.)

7. If it's got all these features, it can certainly show the voltage and (optionally) the temperature, and it might as measure and display the current as well.

8. And having all that, it might as well record the cumulative totals as well. Details of that would depend on the display. If it's graphical and can show graphs, that might be nice. Otherwise number stats are good too. I notice my new 3D printer has a 2" x 3" touch screen and no actual separate buttons at all. It has several menus and various options. That would be great for a programmable controller and is probably the best way to go these days.




Solar Hot Water Panels: simpler than ever with Pex Pipe

   I seem to be watching a lot of videos lately. Yet another interesting video suggestion showed up on youtube, for a homemade hot water solar panel made very simply, from a coil of plastic "pex" pipe, spray painted black. Probably not very good for thermosyphoning, but for any pumped system a coil of pex pipe is rated both for house pressure and hot water temperatures. Black pipe or tube solar panels long have been used for swimming pools, but usually with polyethylene pipe that would soften if heated to water tank temperatures and then burst under house water pressure.
   If one covered the smallish square panel with lightweight plexiglass or polycarbonate, it would be light enough to dismount completely for winter and store indoors, instead of draining it for winter. If it was thought to be too small for requirements... just use more pex pipe to make a bigger coil and panel, or make two of them. Since the pex pipe covers the entire surface of the panel (well at least a solid circular area within it), there's no more need for elaborate soldered-together copper pipe assemblies, fastened to an aluminum heat transfer backing sheet to get the solar heat to the pipes.
   Of course, much of the effort of solar hot water, if it is to be plumbed into the home hot water system, is in the preheat water tank and all the plumbing, and in the pump and controls. But this at least would greatly simplify making the panel itself!

   In fact it seemed so promising that on the 16th I bought a 100' roll of 1/2" pex pipe and end fittings (to threaded). Will the weather improve? Will I find time to make it and set it up when it does?
   I did in fact look up the part sizes listed at the end of the video, and put together a box, about 34" square. The one thing that wasn't listed was the length of the pex pipe. I had assumed it would have been a 100 foot roll, but when I tried to wind it in to check it out, I couldn't seem to get it all in - there were at least 4 or 5 meters left over. I wished I had made the box bigger. That said, I didn't have the corner dowels and eye screws in place to wind it in nicely as he had done in the video. (I can see those are vital for good assembly!) But I'm sure enough that I want to make a new box, a little bigger. With solar collectors, bigger is better. (In fact, another 100 foot roll wouldn't hurt. But perhaps better to make two collectors than one that's big and awkward.)


---

   Later I watched another video directly comparing solar PV with hot water solar panels. Two or three electric panels were connected directly to an electric water tank element. (They were doubtless wired in series to gain voltage for the 120 or 240 volt heating element.) The hot water system had one 32 square foot panel, a circ pump, controls, and a storage tank.
   He found that at first the hot water collector did the best job, but that as the water got hotter, the electric system worked better and could get and keep the water hotter. The insulated electric tank with no circulation had less heat loss. Another finding was that the hot water collector could heat more water for the size of collector, but that the larger electric panels were cheaper than the hot water system. His recommendation was that if you had space for the PV panels, go with electric. (I did some tests with direct connected electric in the article above.)

   Definitely the electrical heating method avoids a lot of costly plumbing. But his collector looked like the sort of typical "old fashioned" type with copper pipes attached to an aluminum plate. Surely the pex pipe water collector is much cheaper.

DIY Pex Ring Crimping Tool

   An annoyance with pex is that the fittings have to be crimped on. I don't think hose clamps would do it. (Hmm... I could be wrong.) It turned out that by far the most expensive component of all was a crimping tool to put the pex crimp rings on with. At 150$ it was twice the price of the actual roll of pipe and end two fittings! And that tool only did 1/2" pex pipe. One that would do both 1/2" and 3/4" was half again as much, 225$! I didn't think much of that. I went home and drilled out a small piece of 5/16" steel with what I hoped was about the right size drill (11/16"), then cut it in half with the angle grinder/zip disk. (The mini milling-drilling machine, with its table to clamp down the work and low turning speeds, makes a great drill press for larger holes!) Since the collector pipe would be portable, I would use the hydraulic press to push the half circles together to do the crimp. A later thought was that if I had used a slightly larger piece of steel, I could have put a bolt through it on each side of the semicircles, and tightened the bolts to crimp the ring. That way, it could be used wherever a pipe was being installed, in place of the costly "real" tool.




Magnetic Flipping HE Ray Energy?

   I made up the large non-polarized capacitor I talked about last month, using fourteen 270 uF, 100 V capacitors and two diodes. I couldn't find my box of schottky diodes (no doubt they're hanging out with my horde of missing 5 watt resistors) but I found a tube of heavy duty surface mount ones. I soldered them to a small piece of copper. I don't expect them to dissipate much power, so a larger heatsink shouldn't be necessary.

   But it was so cold out all month I didn't go out to sit in the unheated garage where my pulse source was to try it out.





I thought my non-polarized capacitor design was rather clever and I've seen nothing else like it.

If the voltage is positive, the bottom diode conducts, so the center leg stays at ground
(disregarding the small schottky forward diode drop) and prevents reverse charge on the lower capacitors.
The upper ones are charged in parallel with the correct polarity with their regular voltage rating.

If it's negative, the top diode conducts instead.
The upper capacitors are shorted and prevented from charging backward
The lower ones charge in their proper direction.

(I'll call it a new invention unless shown otherwise! But it's so simple
I'd say the chances are high that it has been done by someone.)



Electricity Storage

Rechargeable Battery Making
Methyl Hydroxide Electrolyte?


Contaminated Manganese Oxide?

   Having learned in January that MnO2 could be "poisoned" by zinc oxide, by the start of February it occurred to me that the MnO2 I was using, which I had assumed must be "battery purity", just might be already contaminated by zinc chloride turned to oxide from those corroded old dry cells. That might help explain why things never seemed to work as they should. OTOH, I don't know why dissolved zinc chloride wouldn't just dilute out of the MnO2/graphite powder along with the ammonium chloride.

This Month's Take: Electrolyte, +trode, -trode Options

   Okay... there seem to be bewildering arrays of possibilities for making batteries. Let's pick a couple and review known choices of electrode substances.

   We now have methyl hydroxide and potassium hydroxide, which can be mixed to an optimum pH for electrolyte. The optimum for most substances appears to be about pH 11.

   Then we have ion selective nafion barrier membrane that only lets protons through. If that really works well, other possibilities arise.

   With these two things, all sorts of electrodes should work well.

   For a positive electrode, one could go for potassium permanganate or mixed nickel manganates. Potassium permanganate is so little soluble that as the electrode charges, what little will dissolve will soon saturate the electrolyte on the "+" side of the barrier. The rest of it will remain solid, converting from MnO2 to MnO4- at about +.82 volts at an ideal pH of about 11. Adding the nickel would make everything more conductive and maintain the potassium balance in the electrolyte.

Q: In this case, can graphite powder be used for conductivity, or is the voltage too high and it will bubble oxygen? Idea: Add samarium hydroxide to raise oxygen overvoltage. If graphite powder doesn't work, we go back to manganese dioxide to keep it simple. Both ideas can be tried in the same electrode: first charge it to MnO2. If it works, oxidize the other electrode (if required), raise the voltage and charge to MnO4- and see what happens.

   For a negative, zinc is still ideal both from remaining solid (-1.15 V at pH 11) and because even if it doesn't, the nafion should block zinc ions and thus prevent dendrites from penetrating the separator and shorting the cell. Theoretical cell voltage would be +.82 - -1.15 = 1.97 volts.
   Another possibility is again manganese with previously found (2013?) hydrogen overvoltage additives that allow it to retain its high voltage metallic charge, at pH 11 yielding +.82 - -1.35 = 2.17 volts. Again even if it should form the alkaline Mn(OH)3- ion, that shouldn't pass through the nafion, and should plate back on during charging.
   And I now understand that a zinc current collector at such a high negative voltage, without overvoltage additives to the metal to prevent hydrogen bubbling, will turn to fragile zinc hydride as it bubbles hydrogen during charging. That's why they were disintegrating. I now also now have lead (Pb) sheet to try out for a current collector, which might have a sufficient hydrogen overvoltage by itself.

 How To?

   A key part of this now is to get the nafion membrane in place so that it fully blocks the interface between the electrodes. Otherwise dissolved ions can cross to the wrong electrode and slowly or quickly degrade the cell. Apparently the best way to seal around the edges is with barium metasilicate. (Does that make a putty of something?) With or without that, there's little point in trying to seal a "window screen" in a frame between two electrodes simply inserted into a container as I have been doing. The frame has to seal around its outer edges as well as seal the membrane within. Effectively the frame has to be part of the case, as I was making them some years back. Except instead of just paper in the frame, we have the nafion membrane. (Even with the chloride electrolyte, those cells might have worked fine if I had had nafion separators back then. In fact, even a standard dry cell should be rechargeable with nafion separators. Does it really work? Where is everybody with new types of batteries using them - at least rechargeable Mn-Zn dry cells?)



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Haida Gwaii, BC Canada