Solar Charge Controller Upgrade

Since I added the second solar panel, it has opened up the door to more efficient output and less loss from my 55 foot wire run into the house. In order to maximize the output from my now TWO panels, I needed an MPPT controller which would allow me to put my panels in series, instead of parallel. Here is a short video showing it to you. Will post some numbers when we get a really sunny day next to see how much better it is.

Weather Station Display Upgrade

So, my weather station mostly worked great, except that I would occasionally lose the outdoor sensor signal. Then it would be a few hours before it found it again. I don’t know if my sensor is just a little too far away or what. I did some searching and found they sell another compatible display model that actually has a full LCD screen. More importantly, it features an EXTERNAL antenna. So I upgraded to this:

As you can see, the display is beautiful and has 3 info screens. Outdoor info, Indoor info, and then Records. This unit can store up to a year of data its collected. Since it has a real LCD screen, you can even display graphs of rainfall or windspeed etc. I get a perfect reliable signal now. The only negative is that there is no battery backup. Which means if the unit loses power for too long, you will lose your data and have to start over from scratch. So seeing as I have a 12v solar setup for my Ham Radio stuff, I thought, why not run it off of that. So I chopped up the power adapter for my weather station and wired this DC regulator in.

 

It takes 12v DC in and puts out 5v DC which is what my weather station uses. I was worried the weather station might use alot of power and drain my battery, but after some measurements, it only needs 0.13 amps at 12v DC to run. Thats not much at all and shouldnt be a burden on my system.

Lots of amps!

Sun came out for a few mins this morning and look at that output! 10.4 amps, 150 watts!! Getting that second panel was a good choice. Glad I went with 10 gauge wiring too. Brings a tear to the eye to see so much power coming in!

How much sun do my panels get?

This is a short timelapse video illustrating of how much sun I can get with solar panels that stay on the ground in the city. Obviously, the spring and summer months are excellent because the sun is so high in the sky, but you can see the morning and late afternoon, some obstructions come into play. Also I make a cameo putting away the garbage bins. LOL.

Solar System Upgrade

After a long winter, we are finally well into spring and the Sun is out often again! Now that bad news. Something happened to my 12v AGM batteries over the winter. I dunno if it was the lack of charging everyday or just poor quality batteries, but both of them died. They wouldn’t hold a charge. As soon I’d put a charger on them, the voltage would shoot up like they were full and after only an hour, it would say they were fully charged. When I put a load on them, the voltage would drop quickly and within an hour be down to 10 Volts. So I had to junk them. I won’t be buying APEX batteries anymore. I replaced it with this one, from Renogy, the same company I get my solar equipment from. Sadly, these things are expensive so I could only afford one.

New AGM Battery

 

So onto the solar upgrade. 100 Watts was nice, but I always felt it wasnt quite enough for my needs. Now with only a single battery to get me through cloudy and rainy weather, I decided I wanted to add a second panel. This presented some challenges. My single panel was sort of frankensteined with my old harbor freight solar panel frame made out of PVC and the year wasnt kind to it. Between baking in the sun and neighborhood kids climbing on it like a jungle gym, the frame was broken in several places and taped up with duct tape. Besides, it was too small to fit a second panel. So I decided a needed a new frame. I considered building my own out of PVC, but my buddy Steve brought my attention to an aluminum metal solar stand. The only catch was its meant for a single panel. Each “leg” attaches to one side of the panel. So I had the idea of bonding my two panels together with metal plates to use with the stand. I was unsure of how secure it would be, but it’s quite secure. Below you will see how I set it up and bolted the panels together.

And finally the finished result. Introducing my dual panel 2×100 Watts setup with a peak of 200 Watts! They are connected in parallel, positive to positive, negative to negative with some adapters I bought with the second panel.

 

Since I JUST finished setting up and my battery is already fully charged, I will get back to you all on how much output I get from the two of them. I’m pretty happy with the result!

My AcuRite Home Weather Station Install

So I’ve been interested in measuring weather conditions for several years now, ever since I got a small Radio Shack outdoor wireless thermometer back in the day. Over the years, I’ve been upgrading them adding a few features each time. This is my latest version. The AcuRite 5 in 1 Professional Weather Center.

There are several variants of this weather station with different sensor and display unit options. The one I have is the Model 02064C. It includes mounting hardware, the outdoor sensor assembly and the indoor display unit.

The 5 in 1 Sensor measures outdoor Temperature, Humidity, Wind Speed, Wind Direction, and Rainfall. The Indoor Unit measures indoor Temperature, Humidity, and Barometric Pressure, and displays all the info together. It also can calculate Wind Chill, Heat Index, and stuff like that. On the bottom is a text display that cycles through various information such as moon phase, high temp of the day, etc.

For mounting the outdoor sensor, the manual recommends an open area free of obstructions and at least 5 feet off the ground. Ideally it should be above any buildings and such. But I live in the city so the best I could do is along the backyard fence. I used an existing pole that was cemented into the ground for an old satellite dish as a base, and strapped on a 10 foot steel pipe that would fit the sensor mounting hole using wireties and bungie cords. I’ll add some clamps later. Here’s what it looks like mounted outside.

And finally, the indoor display unit all setup and synced to the outdoor sensor.

Finally, here’s a short video of a walkaround of the outdoor install. Seems to be working well so far!

Our custom home security system

We don’t live in the greatest neighborhood and the neighbors have been growing more and more bold in trying to take advantage of us. Ignoring our “No Parking” sign and parking in our driveway; Throwing their own garbage in our trash bins; Letting their dogs shit in our yard and not picking it up, etc etc. So I was able to convince the family that it’d be in our best interest to have cameras that can catch such people in the act. Below you can see the installation process:

The parts we chose were 2 Foscam FI9961EP weatherproof/vandal proof outdoor 1080p cameras with night vision mode. They don’t pan or tilt unfortunately, but those were much more expensive and I couldn’t sell them on that. We also got 2 runs of 100 foot premade ethernet cable to provide the data in/out and the power to the cams on one wire. In the house, they connect into a Power over Ethernet Switch seen here:

My dragon watches over the camera packets to make sure all is safe 😛

 

The Finished product; wires routed, cameras screwed in and sealed up.

It came out well in the end. The way I have it setup on the foscam cameras, is to send video to an FTP server when they detect motion. I setup an old Mac Mini for the purpose.

Mac Mini 2.0ghz with a 250 GB hard drive running Ubuntu Server and vsftp server

 

And the end result. Voila!

Sun and Rain

Sunday and Monday my batteries got some much needed juice from the sun. They were down to 12.6 volts or so and actually took both days to reach full. As nice as this 100 watt panel is, when you have 200 Ah worth of battery capacity, charging them up when they have discharged a good amount can take AWHILE with only 4 or 5 amps. A second panel would be nice. A future upgrade someday 😉

Panel soaking up some much needed photons.
A whole 0.41 amps in the middle of the day. 😛

It’s all about the direct sunlight. Even at 1pm and plenty of light to see, the best I could do was 0.5 amps, a fraction of what the panels can produce in full sun. I’m learning alot about energy conservation and taking advantage when there’s a surplus. Also about not leaving stuff on when it’s not being used.

Solar Panel Upgrade Status

So, I’ve been using this 45 Watt solar panel kit from harbor freight for a little while with my ham setup. I picked it up a few years ago for $120 or something. As you can imagine, that’s not a lot of power when running 3 radios at once, especially when transmitting occasionally. The max I ever got out of them was 2.5 amps to my 12v battery bank, which was enough to break even when all radios were on and just idling. So I found an inexpensive way to upgrade. Renogy sells very affordable solar kits, so I picked up a single 100 Watt Monocrystaline panel with a charge controller and the appropriate power cables. Below is the result. The big one on the right is the new panel. I reused the existing PVC frame that the Harbor Freight panels used and left on one of the panels on to act as a counterweight.

Then I have about 55 feet of wire between the panel and my controller/batteries. 20 feet of 10 awg cable that the kit came with, and 35 feet of 18 awg that I had already. The 18 awg defintely needs to be replaced because the voltage drop at 6 amps is REALLY bad, so that will be a future tweak to the setup. Inside I have the charge controller mounted to the wall next to the battery bank which you can see below. The white wire running off to the left goes to my 12v distribution box and to all the radios and stuff.

Next step is to add a fuse between the battery cables and the charger controller for safety. So far it’s working great. The real test will be how I manage through cloudy/rainy weather. More updates to follow later 🙂