Monday, March 26, 2012

Charger Replaced

I gave Xantrex a call and they walked me through some troubleshooting steps. One interesting thing was to unplug it for 10 minutes and then connect the batter first. "Sometimes if you connect the PV first, the micro-controller locks up." was an interesting factoid. However, they eventually concurred with my theory, which is that the controller is no longer working.

Today, I received the replacement controller and put it in place. Right away, it started charging the batteries back up. With the old controller -or- no load on the PV connections, I get around 40V.  However, once I connect those wires to the charge controller and it starts charging, that voltage drops to 24.2V, which is a good sign. Now, I just need to send the old controller back.

I also brought the generator down and hooked that back up. So I will be able to run the generator and air conditioner over the summer. I still plan on further insulating the van, covering the windows and separating the cab from the the living area. But I'm not going to try to get the A/C working off of batteries and solar.

A major change for me this summer will be me moving to a daylight position. So I will not really be in the van much during daylight hours, just for sleeping at night. This should be an advantage to me during the summer months as I will not have to contend with direct sunlight. Obviously, there will be some disadvantage during the winter, but I think I can deal with that.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Back into Spring

March 2012 makes 31 months of camping at work. Over the winter, I haven't had to run electricity, and my only purchase was $7 (actually $5.98 + tax, but I round up) for two propane bottles. For most of the winter, I used one left over from last year, and I'm currently on the first one of my purchase. Since we're getting back into 60F+ weather, I suspect I won't need the second bottle.

Here is a quick snapshot of my savings, and as always, the spreadsheet is available.

31 Months Van
Equipment: $5500
Operating: $1380
Total: $6,879
Equipment Average: $178
Operating Average: $45
E+O Average: $222
31 Months Apartment
Rent + Utils: $600/month
Total: $18,600

Savings: $11,720

Over the winter, I haven't needed any electricity, but I've been observing that my batteries haven't been charging properly. I assumed that this was a problem with the batteries themselves. However, today I went ahead and disconnected all the wires and measured the voltage of each battery. They are all reading 12.5 and when combined, 24.8, so they seem fine. After disconnectng and reconnecting the inverter, I was able to power it on, and I can power the light and fan from the batteries. I then measured voltage from the solar panels. The PV array is putting out around 40V, which is pretty good. My Xantrex C35 can handle up to 55V, so we are well within limits. The problem is when I measure the voltage on the Load/Battery terminal from the C35. The C35 is putting out only 0.1V, which is bad.

I checked my history, the the C35 arrived at my house on 3/12/2010 with a 2-year warranty. I am very glad I decided to fully troubleshoot the system today, as it allowed me to put in a warranty request and get an RMA number before the 12th. I will find out this week if it will still fall under warranty (the warranty language only requires notification within the warranty period). Hopefully they don't attempt to finagle their way out. The device hasn't been working for at least a month, if not more.