Sunday, December 16, 2012

Batteries and Solar Panels

Just happened on Aarg on our way to buy bikes.

Pretty cool solar panel install

He made his own mounts out of Starboard

This is the Bad Boy Controller

Saw this little Kestrel on our walk to Key Fisheries

We wondered what these guys were doing, they were shreding some type of filler into these large wooden boxes at the fish house.

They have a large fleet of these fish boats working the Stone Crab Season.

Bringing the Crabes in from Florida Bay

The Gulls get a little christmas cheer.

Perfect after the Battery install was done!

The Admiral and I could barly finish these eight claws, they are big!

Resting good this Evening.
Batteries and Solar Power

I have been keeping a close watch on our house bank of four 6 Volt Golf Cart batteries since before leaving Tampa. When you are connected to Shore power your battery charger automatically maintains the batteries and keeps the charge appropriately topped off. I replaced our 12V windless battery before leaving Corpus, and the 12 volt start Battery died a few months after arriving at Westshore in Tampa so it is just a few months old. The House bank was installed in July of 2007 by the previous owner so I knew they were getting close to replacement time. Since we are on a mooring ball we depend on running the engine and our engine driven 5 Kw generator to supply 110 power to the Truecharger a couple of hours per day to keep things charges up. Soon after we arrived here in The Harbor one of the usual topics on the Cruisers net for new arrivals was the best place to buy batteries in the Marathon area. Seems that a lot of cruisers learn for the first time that their batteries may not able to keep a proper charge any longer since they are away from the convenience of shore power for extended time. If you just anchor out a couple of days than move to the next spot often the engine is running for so long that the batteries are well charged and you do not have extended periods without lots of charging power. Of the places mentioned the NAPA store that would deliver the batteries free to the marina and a local golf cart store interested me the most. I knew after a week on the mooring ball that our house bank was just not keeping a charge and it was time to get some new ones. On our way to buy our bikes we happened by the Aaargh Golf Cart store so we went in to see if they might have what we needed. I was pleasantly surprised that they carried Trojan Batteries that actually had a higher Amp hour rating than the Excide that we had depended on for the last 4 years. He said they would bring them down to the marina and exchange with the old cores. Wanting to make sure that our batteries were on their way out I monitored them closely for the next 4 days and used my mutimeter to check on their individual status throughout the day. Yep, time replace the four 6 volts. I called up Aargh and they took payment by phone, I told them I would call when I had my old ones out and in the dingy. This took a couple of hours to extract the batteries since I had to remove a few things to get them all out. Also since they are 60 pounds each I had to get them up into the cockpit then down into the dingy. 60 pounds is a lot easier when your not standing on a moving surface. Fortunately they have various dock carts to use at the dingy dock but the one that was available was a old grocery cart, with the 4 batteries loaded in that cart it was a comedy routine coaching it up the ramp as I think both front wheels were either stuck or just could not handle the weight. Finally got them to the waiting truck in the parking lot and as he was lifting the new batteries to the tailgate I could tell that the new batteries were even heavier. That is a good thing since the heavier the battery the more powerful they are. But I was not looking forward to the loading into the dingy and then up to the deck of Wand’rin Star. He had a nifty handle that made it easier to manage the weight. I asked him if I could buy the handle from him and he said he did not have any extra’s. I did have two rope style handles that I thought would work once I got the batteries to the boat. When I got to the boat I asked the Admiral to come out and help. I tried to lift the first one to the deck but it was just head high and trying to maintain balance and hold the 65 pounds onto the deck was next to crazy, I got it up there but I am lucky we both did not go into the drink. We decided to use a mast halyard for the other three. My rope handles worked good and we just connected the shackle and the Admiral hoisted them on deck as I guided from the dingy. Almost there. I installed the first two and all was good but as I was about to install the second two it was clear that they needed a proper tray to sit in as they previously had just been mounted on wood so in the event any of the contents might spill out it would just go into the bilge, not good. I took a bike and visited a few stores trying to find a battery box or some kind of plastic container that would fit in the space. K-Mart had some plastic containers that I could cut down and make work. Back to the boat to modify the containers, Seal them together with some adhesive sealant and a total 6 hours from start to finish the batteries were in. Every morning I wake up now I celebrate the new batteries!

I noticed that the Morgan Out Islander next to us had some really nice solar panels and I liked the way he had them mounted on his dingy davits. We stopped by to talk to Brian and Sally on S/V Chatterley and he told me to come by some day and he would show me his system. We just happened to meet a couple of days later in the marina commons area and he spent about an hour detailing his system. He has two 240 watt, 32 volt solar panels that he bought from Sun Electric He drove to their Warehouse in Miami and they assisted him in putting together a package that was fit for his vessel. He explained that the Charge controller is where you put your money and to buy the best one you can get since you might want to expand your system. He has a Outback MPPT Flexmax 60: He went on to explain all the features of this controller so I learned a lot just about controllers from him. He said all panels lose efficiency from shading throughout the day, even a shadow cast by a shroud can reduce the efficiency so that is why he chose 32 volt panels which are really no more expensive than 12 volt. I am al most ready to start building my system I just want to do a bit more research and talk to those here in the harbor who can provide how to advice. One experienced solar collector told me that I was ”spending about $3 a day in diesel, that is cheaper than Ice, but not as Great as Solar Panels” He likes to tell all who will listen to the luxuries of solar collecting that he “really enjoys making Ice from the Sun!” solar panels have become much more powerful and cheaper, it is not uncommon to see 300 watt panels for what a 100 watt panel cost 7 years ago. Right now I am leaning toward 2 X 240 watt, 32 volt panels. That should more than see to our needs and remove the need to run the engine any more just to charge batteries.

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