Blowing up Inverters – Sort of

I now know what I didn't know.  I know what I know.  I don't know what I don't know I don't know.  And I don't care that I don't know what I didn't know but now I know but could get by just fine not knowing.
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed.  Now on lighter "office duty."
750-watt inverter working happily after the connection was fixed. Now on lighter “office duty.”
The learning curve continues.  

Perhaps I'll have that carved on my headstone.  Seems rather profound without being actually profound (a bit like Donald Rumsfeld).  But I digress.

I have managed to blow up one of the inverters on one of my solar generators.  Not blow up as in it lies in pieces at my feet – but blow up as now when I push the button, nothing happens.  I know why this happened, which is helpful.  My mistake was believing the literature.  The inverter was plenty big enough to handle the job, except that it wasn't.

The information on the internet was wrong (imagine that).  The manufacturer was apparently mistaken – asserting that limited power could handle the problem (why does this all keep reminding me of Donald Rumsfeld?)  

I have fixed the problem by installing an inverter that is rated to handle ten times the power requirements of the refrigerator.  Colin Powell would be proud.

Postscript:  Turns out I didn't know what I knew.  I went to replace the bad inverter – but it turned out to be a bad connection.  The smaller inverter still won't power the refrigerator, but at least it didn't meet its maker... yet.  

Tweaking the Solar Generators

The first full day of Thanks for Nothing has come and gone – and we have once again survived without some of the conveniences of a modern society.  Amazing. 
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
Annie enjoying dinner by candle light in front of the wood fire.
My role on the first day was largely technical.  As mentioned, we are trying out our solar generators – trying to test them and push them to their limits.  Well, right off the bat we found some limits.

We built three units.  The small unit, complete with a 400 watt inverter, a 35 amp-hour battery and all the other bits and bobs that make it work seems to be doing its assigned job just fine. In fact, I am connected to it as I write this.  For more than a day it has managed to supply power to my laptop, printer, cordless telephone and lamp (see, a complete office if your office consists only of a laptop, printer, telephone and lamp).  

We used the laptop all day – plus watched two movies on it during the evening (actually documentaries – so we are still pure and righteous).  We have also been listening to the radio over the internet on the laptop.   Some day we might actually stream music and join the modern world more completely.  As I type this, the unit just gave out a squawk that it was at the end of its juice.  So 24-hours seems to be the limit on this unit.  That will probably get you through most power outages.

The middle unit is, as you would imagine, a bit bigger.  It has a 750 watt inverter and a 110 amp-hour battery.  We determined to use this for the refrigerator, as our LG fridge only draws about 165 watts when running, I figured this would be more than enough.  But we have learned something about inverters (and motors).  

When the refrigerator kicks on (and this applies to any appliance with a motor), it draws a bit more energy in the first few seconds of operation (a surge).  Our inverter is supposed to handle this, rated to up to 1500 watts for a few seconds, but happier if only providing 750 watts or less on a continuous basis.  

We found that when the refrigerator tried to kick on, the inverter would indicate it was overloaded (even though it was well below its rated limit).  It would do this four or five times, then chug away happy as could be.  I worried that all this might be putting a strain on our refrigerator – so we moved the bigger unit in to take over.

The large unit has a 2,000 watt inverter and a 225 amp-hour battery bank.  The refrigerator is really happy with this unit.  We need to do a bit more testing, but it looks like there needs to be a lot of headroom in inverter capacity when working with motors – much more than the rated watts of the unit might suggest.

So we are off and running, settling into the slower pace of Thanks for Nothing month.  Dinner must be anticipated well in advance and cooked on the wood stove.  It is eaten by candlelight, which is never a bad thing.

The First World Problems of Thanks for Nothing Month

Okay, after my rant against Wall Street, the Media and American politics (in the last post), let's get down to some of the practical aspects of living during Thanks for Nothing month.  Here is the plan...

As mentioned earlier, we don't spend money during this month, which is to say (of course) that we still spend some money.
Solar Generator
Renie monitoring the solar generator. This unit powers the refrigerator/freezer. Note the laundry drying in the background (domestic chores continue).
What I mean by this is that we still have some ongoing expenses that happen whether we want them to or not.  For example, we will still accumulate 1/12th of our real estate taxes this month.  We will still get a phone bill (which is automatically paid from our bank account), and our insurances (ah, that's another topic for another rant) will still get paid automatically. 

So money is still spent – but we don't do any of the spending ourselves.  We don't purchase anything, such as food, household stuff, etc.  This year we extended this part of the experiment to three months (December, January and February).  No new stuff forces us to make due with what we already have.  And to be honest, most of us already have way too much stuff.  We just can't find it because it is tucked away under other stuff.  After a month of no shopping, it seems we have barely made a dent in the freezer.  I've managed to get by with the socks I already owned (go figure).  

As for transportation, if the car runs out of gasoline during the month – we simply don't go anywhere.  So conscious consumption of stuff grinds to a halt and exits our minds.

Energy is a bit more problematic.  Here at Blue Rock Station, our heat is provided through thermal mass (rammed earth tires and earth berming), passive solar (light and heat coming in through windows), and a small wood stove.  Our water is from rain, our waste is all, for the most part, composted.  In past years during Thanks for Nothing month, electricity has always been the issue.  

This year we installed a solar array for electricity.  So we could cheat and simply say (to ourselves) that we are only using what the sun provides each day.  But we want to push ourselves a bit.  We are currently writing a book on making your own solar generators – so we figured this month would be a great time to test their limits.

We have built three solar generators.  One is hooked up to the water pump (so we will have water – although the water heater is turned off, so we will have to rely on the wood stove for hot water).  Another solar generator is hooked up to the refrigerator/freezer.  The other is a mobile unit which we will use for our computers, lights,  phones and the like.

In the evening we intend to rely on lanterns for light (and not the solar generator).   Cooking will rely on the wood stove.  So dems the rules..  

So far, only a couple of problems.  As in past years, I miss my coffee maker already.  That friendly little appliance each morning has a pot of hot coffee waiting for me when I get up.  At 6:30 each morning it goes to work.  About 10 minutes later, one of the miracles of modern living... hot coffee awaits.

Today the little coffee maker sits unplugged and unloved.  The wood stove had to be lit, water placed in pots, and then... wait.  After waiting a full hour, I tried some of the water in a French press filled with several scoops of grounds.  The result, rather tepid coffee (although better than nothing for the true addict).  It wasn't until another hour had passed before the water and coffee properly got their act together.  

The other problem is that I broke the shoelace on one of my work boots.  Unlike Imelda Marcos, I only have one pair of work boots (although to be fair, she probably didn't own any pairs of work boots).   So this could be a problem.  I guess I can tie two smaller shoe laces together...

Ah, first world problems (lukewarm coffee and a broken shoe lace).  I figure I'll survive.  

Thanks for Nothing Month Begins – 2015

Today we embark on what has become our annual “Thanks for Nothing” month.  

For the past four years (this being the forth), we here at Blue Rock Station (meaning Annie, myself, the two dogs, and way too many cats) turn off the electricity for the month of January and also commit ourselves to spending no money (zero, nada) for the month.

We started this project for a number of reasons.  It was first motivated by listening to NPR (brought to you by America's Natural Gas Alliance) as they dutifully recited the daily stock market report.  It is a pet peeve of mine that nearly every media outlet reports the stock market numbers each and every day (and on days the market is closed, they remind us that it is closed).

Yet who gives a flying rip about those numbers.  They are completely meaningless to anyone and everyone.  You might as well report that the number 16 came up more times than any other number on the roulette tables in Vegas on any particular day.  Those numbers don't indicate economic well being.   They don't indicate a fundamental change in the way companies do business.  They just indicate whether some speculators will pay more or less on a particular day for stock in a very few companies.  

And anyone wanting to trade stocks will certainly not rely on NPR or the Zanesville Times Recorder for their information about the stock market.  That's why Micheal Bloomberg so rich.  Once again I repeat.  This information is of no value to anyone hearing it!  Yet they report it each and every day.  Why is this?

If I were skeptical about the growing corporate influence within American politics as well as within the media, I might wonder if it is not simply the daily financial “Our Father” - recited dutifully each day to remind us that some hidden and very important force is guiding our lives unseen.  The high priests of Wall Street have been busy sacrificing lambs at their alters and all is well with the world.

Having attended (and actually graduated – imagine that) from one of the most prestigious journalism schools in the nation, I suspect it is more about laziness (at least if myself and my fellow students are any guide).  The numbers are handed out like Halloween candy.  No work is involved (except to randomly pick some event to explain why they went up or down... “The Dow fell 36 points today on news that Pluto is no longer considered a planet...” or some such nonsense).  Journalists are essentially lazy bystanders, who want to be where the action is without being responsible for the action.  

Anyway... I rant.  The point is, we wondered what would happen if everyone took a break from consumerism.  Thirty days each year of not spending, shopping or consuming.  How would that change our collective perspectives?

We thought, at first, it would be a chore.  As it turned out, January has become a month of rest and reflection.  Every major religion sets aside a month where you must be conscious of what you consume (Lent, Ramadan, etc).  It seems necessary for humans to periodically break their cycles of consumption.  

This year we are trying a few variations on the theme.  I will do my best to keep you informed of the insights, trials, successes and failures as we once again give thanks for nothing.

Posting is Easy

Some great photos of our summer tomato adventures and more

Sunbelly Farm

It’s been waaaaay tooooo long since we’ve posted something that it’s become a mind monster. What’s that? I just made it up. I think it means that the thought of updating the website gets more and more intimidating and overwhelming the longer I wait to do it. I shall slay that mind monster with an easy post about tomatoes. Many of our days at Blue Rock Station have involved picking, washing, processing, cooking, and canning tomatoes. Here is the proof.


IMG_0431.JPG We made sauce, salsa, tomato jam, and ketchup. The tomato jam and ketchup are life-changing. We were told it was so, we made them and tried them, and IT IS SO. If ever you find yourself with a lot of tomatoes, one day of freedom, and the desire to change for the better, make this recipe.

Blue cheese and tomato jam on a local, grass-fed, organic beef burger (thanks…

View original post 5 more words

Here Comes The Sun

There’s anticipation in the air and it’s not because fall weather makes me nervous that it will frost and finish off the garden. Actually there should be a giant drum role because when we created the first 10 year plan for Blue Rock Station in 1996 we put renewable energy (I barely understood this term) at the end of the goals because it wasn’t an efficient use of money or resources in those days). BUT…In three weeks we will install the solar array that will provide most of the power we will need for the entire farm.

The system we’ve designed is going to be installed in three segments – one the first week of October, and then we’ll add another array in a year, and then, if we need it, another array in 2016. This approach allows us to practice more conservation and also to learn more how we use energy, and how not to go hog wild since it is technically free.

Jay likes to say that when solar energy is readily available (and cheap) people will go crazy using it – “like a bunch of fraternity boys at a party with free booze”. I don’t want to think about energy as “free” because it is not. Many resources (some that are very limited) go in to making the solar array system. Rare minerals are required to create solar panels and those minerals are growing more and more scarce. That’s the reason that the US (and other countries) are exporting used electronics to China – little children are used to extract these rare minerals so they can be re-used. The rare minerals have some very serious side effects when touched by humans. I will leave you to figure out why this isn’t good.

My hope is that this new way of generating electricity will provide us with ways to “think” more honestly about how we live on this land, and how we can learn more about ourselves in our quest to not take away from the future.