Friday, May 8, 2015

Solar: My first venture into building a solar system

My first venture into solar had me doing hours of research.  My main purpose is two fold.  First I want a system to use on an RV.  Secondly just to satisfy my own curiosity.  With a lifetime career in electronics and engineering I am always tinkering.  So part of this is self education.

During research I found there are many systems, many components, and many so called experts.  I found it difficult to pin anything down as being the "best" or "better" in all those categories.

I could have probably bought a cheap package deal to throw out on a sunny day to charge up my battery?  It would either work or not work.  That would be the end of my knowledge gain.  Not much fun taking that approach.

I don't want to come across as an expert by any means.  Closer to the opposite.  For the most part this is a search for my own knowledge.  I will try to put this information into a non-technical format so that any half handy person might benefit from the info.

My objective/budget is to build my initial system for around $750.00

The initial system is being built to keep my single deep cycle battery topped off and run my 12V 82qt ARB Fridge/Freezer.  I want components that I can expand without replacing existing parts as the system grows.  Future plans are for more panels, multiple batteries, and a 1000W pure sine Inverter

After much research and consideration I have started gathering components for my system.  While I could get by with just a panel and a charger, I intend to maximize how much energy my system will capture and store.  Plus do this in the shortest time possible to maximize available sunlight.

Most cheaper chargers, even the better 3 step chargers put out a max 14.5V, or less, as an absorption charging voltage, before dropping further during "Float" mode.  In most devices this max voltage is a set value and not adjustable.  That really isn't enough to completely top off flooded/wet cell batteries to 100%.  Over time the slightly under charged batteries will deteriorate faster than batteries charged to 100%   Slightly undercharged batteries will also store less energy than a battery that is charged to 100%.

When looking for Solar Panels look at their specs.  If you are building a 12V system, get one rated as such.  Watts can vary depending on your preference.  Dimensions also depend on the area you have to work with.  For surface area, my thought is to get the highest possible wattage for the real estate you will be using.  After that make sure the VOC spec is somewhere in the range of 20 to 22 Volts.  VOC stands for "Voltage Open Circuit".  It is the measurement with a meter across the output panel voltage, in full sun, and no load connected.  Next make sure the VMP spec indicates it is rated between 17 and 19 volts.  VMP stands for "Voltage Max Power"

I ordered a TriMetric SC-2030 Solar Charger and a companion TM 2030-RV Meter/Control, plus a 500 amp shunt and a remote Battery Temperature sensor.  

These components will provide:
Solar Charging
Remote Meter and Control of the SC-2030 Charger
Battery Temperature sensor and control
500 amp Shunt
Cost including Shipping $319.50

Perhaps over kill but I want to be able to add more batteries, more panels, and an inverter in the future.  I do not want to change out components if or when I upgrade.

As I indicated I also want the ability to adjust the charger output voltage.  To increase it from a fixed max voltage to a higher voltage to match up with the Battery specs max charge rating of a Flooded/wet cell.....typically to around 15V.  Or to adjust in the case of AGM battery use, to a lower charging voltage.  I am talking in general about the Absorption charging voltage since the Absorption charging voltage and Float charging voltage differ even within a given charger. 

You do have to know your devices that are plugged in can handle this voltage change.

Those that dispute my thoughts on adjusting the charging output can research on their own, then come to their own conclusion.  Check the battery specs of what you will be using.  Other people may sight that this increase in output voltage will overheat the battery....hence the battery temperature sensor that also connects into the SC-2030 and further overrides any charge settings, the charger is following, should the battery become too warm.  I am only trying to get max charging when my panel(s) is/are converting the suns energy.  And to store that energy as quickly as possible.  I am only passing on what I am doing, and things I learn along the way.  I am not trying to trigger a debate on chargers, voltage, or batteries. 

The SC-2030 is Solar Charger for either a 12V or 24V system and rated at 30amps.  The unit will work on flooded/wet cell, AGM, or GEL Cells  (They are pre-set for flooded/wet cell batteries).  The Unit can be set for the other outputs in less than a minute.  Pre-sets on 12V are:
Flooded/Wet =14.6V Absorption and 13.2V Float 
AGM or Gel =14.3V Absorption and 13.2V Float

The TriMetric TM 2030-RV will give me a remote monitoring ability to meter and see what is happening with my batteries and charging.  This remote will also give me the ability to alter the charging voltage to the higher sittings I will be using to insure my batteries are charged to 100%.

The Solar Panel I ordered is a Kyocera KD140SX-UFBS 12V 140 watt  Panel with Junction Box.  I wanted max wattage, and simple connections.

You need panels rated for charging batteries.  Panels with specs outside this range are not designed for charging batteries.  This panel is rated at 12V, 140watts,  VOC=22.1V  VMP=17.7V and comes with a standard Junction Box for terminating the power wires.  I did not want special connectors to contend with, try to mate up a wiring harness, or try to replace/repair during trips.

Cost including Shipping $315.49

Check back often.  Over the next few weeks I hope to have the system up and working.   I will provide photos and wiring diagrams.  

Parts Purchased from & recommended solar vendors.
BACKWOODS SOLAR  I purchase my TriMetric Charger and Controller, as well as a Battery monitor/sensor and 500 amp shunt from Backwoods Solar.   They also have a great free catalog that is packed with all kinds of info as well as what they sell. 

NORTHERN ARIZONA WIND & SUN I purchased my solar panel here.  I had called a company in Massachusetts first.  When they quoted me shipping to Nevada I said wow!  They actually recommended I call Northern Arizona Wind & Sun since they are so close to me.  Hard to find a business willing to do hats off to them as well.  It also made me feel like NAW would take care of me.  I paid a little extra for 2 day delivery.
The past week had me gathering the necessary metal tubing and parts to construct a roof rack for my trailer.  I did not want to drill holes in the roof.  I will be fabricating a rain gutter mounted rack.  I have to span about 8 1/2 feet and will be using 1x1 and 3/4x3/4 16 gauge steel tubing.  

I had several designs in mind to construct the gutter clamps.  After pricing material and hardware at Home Depot I found it easier and probably nearly as cost effective to purchase heavy duty  pre-made clamps from Smittybilt.  I purchased these at 4wheelparts.

I am using their Defender series Rain Gutter Clamps (P/N: S/BHDS-4)  That gets me (a set of 4) clamps and hardware for $104.99.  The 90° metal part that would be used to attach their rack will be discarded.  The clamp back plate will be modified by welding it to a piece of of flat steel about 14X3 by 1/8 inch thick to create a vertical upright.  The cross member 1x1 steel tubing will be welded to the uprights.  

The roof line high center point requires 12 1/2 inches of clearance, which includes a 2 inch gap in case of flexing.  The uprights will be left high enough to allow stacking a second 1x1 cross member in case the 8 1/2 ft span is found to flex too much using only one cross member.  Once weight testing is competed with the basic bar system the additional bar will be added, or the uprights trimmed and finished with the one cross bar.

Note: It was a good thing I anticipated the fact I might have to double up the cross member.  I had made my vertical extra long just in case.  The vertical risers ended up being 14.5 inches high.  My cross members are 100.75 inches.  The cross member with just one 1x1 tubing flexed too much.  Adding the second 1x1 tubing beefed up the cross member nicely.  My solar panels weight 35 lbs each so there should be no problem supporting 70 lbs.
Vertical Riser Welded to the Gutter Clamp

Vertical welded to Crossbar and 45° Brace

Rough finished rack component


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ARB Fridge/Freezer 82qt - Gear Review

ARB Fridge/Freezer 82qt P/N 10800782

My ARB 82qt Fridge Freezer unit arrived about 3 days ago and I was able to put it through some initial testing.  I had a Dutch Oven competition event out in the heat, that provided some initial "real world" testing.  My intent is to provide some initial feedback to other people that are doing research before buying.  These units, and comparable units of other brands are not cheap.  For the size I purchased (a 82qt), expect to pay over $1300 by the time you get into tax and any shipping.  This factor alone makes doing your own investigation very important.  It is a sizable investment that makes buying ice seem like a more economical alternative.

I spent most of the winter researching, reading reviews, and analyzing pros and cons.  I had narrowed it down to several brands on the market.  I really wanted a portable 3-way (110V AC-12V DC-LP).  There are a few on the market but they did not pass the review tests I looked at, nor my spec requirements.  I actually considered buying a 48 inch RV 3-way unit and building a fiberglass housing with wheels to accomplish what I wanted.

My objectives were to have a unit that was able to have a set "cold" temperature.  Also maintain that regardless of outside ambient air temperature.  There are many units out there making lots of claims, and reviews supporting some claims.  But when you start reading the specs many units aren't capable of living up to what some people claim they will least not in my climate.  The simple math of their listed cooling capacity has to add up.

I also want to run this off of solar in the very near future.

I live in a desert and camp nearly all year off and on.  Often times I am traveling or camping in heat well over 100°F.  Coolers closed up in a trailer while driving down the road, or parked in a parking lot, could be sitting in 150-180°F air temps.  Or what happens if your cooler is sitting outside while you are off hiking and it ends up in the sun?  So the units that indicate they can only maintain temps 30 to 40°F below ambient temperatures were crossed off my list.  I consider these convenience "coolers" for use while on a road trip.   Honest reviews or actual personal testimonies told me not to even consider these for my use.  It doesn't do me any good to have food sitting at an internal temperature of 60°F or 70°F.... or perhaps higher temps.  It is not worth getting sick or worse.  If I have to add ice as some suggest then I might as well stick with an old fashioned ice chest.

My preference would have been for a high end LP 3-way portable.  I could not find any that met my specs.  The very few out there were not of my size requirement or complaints were many.

ARB Fridge/Freezer 82qt P/N 10800782

So I opted for several higher end 2-way 110VAC - 12VDC models.  There are only about 3 brands that met my specs.  Good reviews and a couple personal recommendations led me to go to the ARB brand.  I contemplated size for a while after that.  I ended up selecting the largest, the 82qt.  I nearly went with the next size down.  I was apprehensive the whole time waiting for it to be shipped and delivered.  When it arrived and I saw the unit up close and personal, I was very pleased with the internal capacity.  It is just what I wanted.  I consider it a semi-permanent installation since empty this unit tops 70lbs.  I intend to mount mine on a hand dolly so I can roll it up and down the rear ramp of my trailer. Full of food, two of us were able to move it around with the units end handles.  I wouldn't even attempt to lift it by my self, if full of food.

I had pre-installed weatherproof 12V cigarette type outlets in my trailer. I had intentions of using the unit as soon as it arrived.  It came a day before an important event. If you are reading this, STOP before buying outlets or wire and making several of the mistakes I did.  Read on through this article.

Standard 12V cigarette lighter type outlets, regardless of how heavy duty, are not the route to go.  Secondly I suggest you use #8 wiring that is fused at the source connection.

The cigarette lighter type outlets may or may not work.  Mine wouldn't.  Plus even if they make electrical connection they may vibrate loose if used in a moving vehicle.  The Fridge does come with a cord that has a conversion adapter plug on the end for use in the standard cigarette lighter type of outlet.  So your vehicle outlet might work.  But also check your wire gauge.

Factory vehicle outlets are often wired with 16ga.   I suggest you use the ARB type mini 2 prong outlets, and the #8 wire.

You can unscrew the 12V cord male plug adapter and remove the cigarette type plug.  This reveals a mini 2 prong plug.  You do need the special 2 prong outlet from ARB.  The outlet 2 prong female base is also threaded.  The Male 2 prong plug on the end of the cord has a threaded sleeve that matches up with the base inside the outlet.  Once the 2 prongs are inserted in the outlet the sleeve is screwed on to lock the plug into the outlet.  There is no way this is going to vibrate loose.

The outlets are about $9 each.  Better yet you can get a 20ft length,  two conductor, #8 wire, with fuse holder, plus the outlet...all  for about $43 for the kit.

P/N 10900028 Surface Mount Single Mini 2 prong Female Outlet $9.00

P/N 10900027 Kit with 20ft #8 wire, fuse holder & includes the Mini 2 prong Female Outlet $43.00

This all leads to a couple negatives I encountered.  My 12V standard cigarette lighter type outlets (auto parts store/non ARB) are made for a very small diameter end pin on the plug that is inserted.  The ARB plug with the standard adapter attached has a very large diameter tip as shown in the image below.  That tip bottoms out on a plastic ridge inside my female outlet.  That ridge prevents the plug and outlet from making an electrical connection on the positive+ voltage.  I can't remove the ridge of plastic because it retains the metal contact inside my outlet.

Ironically the ARB plug does work in my vans factory cigarette lighter outlet....but that is on 16 gauge wire.  This is all a mute point for me personally because I am going to now install the ARB mini 2 prong type and re-run the wiring with the #8.... and rip out the #12 wire I had installed.  Just something to consider if you wish to add outlets ahead of time.

My auto supply 12V standard cigarette type weatherproof outlets - That did NOT work with the ARB adapter plug

The second part of the negative issue is I went to the 3 ARB authorized dealers in my city (called them rather than physically driving there).  None of them stock the ARB mini 2 prong outlets, or the wire harnesses kit that come with the outlet included.

Retailers on-line seem to be gouging on price or shipping.  I hope as this brand gets more popular the range of local availability of parts and accessories increases.  I would think in Las Vegas this would not have been an issue.  Since they don't stock accessories locally they missed out on another $200 of my business.  They didn't have the Fridge either.  So the locals lost out on a good chunk of change.  I purchased mine off Amazon.  It was at my door in 2 days.

I have to say the negative of these outlets also turned to a positive for me.  I immediately saw the potential of the standard cigarette lighter style plug vibrating out while traveling down the road.  I wondered about this before I found out all this additional info.  After contacting the ARB sales department I have some outlets with wire harness being shipped direct to me.  The person I talked to was super knowledgeable and discussed at length solar connections and solar controllers for use with the ARB fridge/freezer too.

During this call I also found there is a new device on the market for the latest generation of ARB fridge/freezers, which I have.  On the rear of the fridge there is a small connector in the plug-in cord area.  This small connector is about the size of a USB port.  I didn't look may even be a USB.

ARB is coming out with a wireless remote that displays the conditions of the Fridge/Freezer, temp, etc.  So while purchasing 3 harness/outlet kits, I also purchased the wireless remote.  That way I can monitor my fridge sitting in my trailer while I am driving down the road.  I also wanted to test out the remote and give some honest feed-back here on the blog. 

This should be an interesting test since my tow vehicle is a full size van.  My trailer has a metal exterior.  The wireless signal will have to send from the fridge in my trailer, to my dash area of my van.  From where the cooler will ride in the trailer, the signal will need to travel about 30 ft. 

The ARB specs shown on-line for this unit state that it provides 100ft line of sight transmitting technology.  The interrupted transmitting capabilities is 50ft.  As with myself I a betting most of use will fall in the "interrupted" category.  I just hope these are over engineered, rather than under engineered.

Check further down this article to see if I have updates on how the remote works.  I will be adding that info the first chance I get to see it in action.

P/N 10900026 Remote Monitor  $80.00


When the Fridge/Freezer unit arrived I plugged it into 110V AC (standard house outlet) and set the unit for 27°F.  At a little over 30 minutes the fridge was at that temp.  The outside air temp was at 80°F.  I was impressed.  I loaded it up that evening for an outdoor event the next day.  I couldn't use my 12V DC outlet in my trailer due to the outlet incompatibility issue I stated above.  So I ran it off the 12V DC port of a portable jump start unit.  My power source was a charged up Schumacher XP2260 Jumper starter unit.  These only have about 20 amp hours worth of juice.  I was blown away it powered my ARB for 6 hours while sitting under my EZ Up tent/awning in 80-85°F air temps.  The XP2260 meter read 60% at the point the ARB Fridge shut down.

This ARB fridge/freezer has 3 programmable battery monitor settings.  To cover those settings first allow me to quote some battery tech stuff for those not knowing battery specs.  This might help you wrap your brain around this info.  A fully charged 12V battery (your car battery or marine deep cycle battery ....a new/good battery....normally has a "standing" voltage reading of 13.5V DC.  "Standing" means what the voltage settles out to when there is no load drawing any current/voltage.  

With normal batteries, and most likely the type you will be using, you never want to discharge them more than half way.  Ideally not less than 60%.  Otherwise damage and a very shortened life may be the result.  Some might think 50% means half of 12 volts or half the full charge of 13.5 volts?  Putting 50% in the neighborhood of 6 volts.  That is incorrect.  A battery that is 50% discharged will have a "standing" voltage reading of about 12 volts.  60% is at about 12.2 volts.  This means discharging your battery below 12 volts will more than likely result in damage or reduced life.

What does all the battery spec info have to do with the ARB fridge/freezer monitor setting?  ARB allows 3 user programmable settings on how much energy you withdraw from your battery before it shuts off the ARB fridge/freezer.  Remember this is to protect your battery, not your food.  The factory setting is Medium

LOW       =Shuts off at 10.1 volts
MEDIUM  =Shuts off at 11.4 volts
HIGH       =Shuts off at 11.8 volts

The ARB LOW setting would run the fridge/freezer the longest.  On most battery usage charts this would discharge the battery well into the danger zone of causing damage to your source voltage battery charge.  But it will protect your food the longest.  It could be a sacrifice of battery to protect a chest full of food?

The ARB Medium setting would run the fridge/freezer for less time than the low setting.  On most battery usage charts this would discharge the battery into the marginal or caution zone of your source voltage battery charge.  Well below what I feel comfortable discharging my batteries.  But again a sacrifice might need to be made to protect your food.

The ARB HIGH setting would run the fridge/freezer for the least amount of time.  On most battery usage charts this would discharge the battery right around 50%.  To protect you battery life this is a better setting.

Update May 18, 2015 (Info on the Remote Monitor)
I finally had the chance to test out the ARB Remote Monitor.  During a 5 day trip I used the Remote to monitor my fridge/freezer that was riding in my trailer.  It performed flawlessly.  Though I found installing the sending unit to be a bit difficult.  Difficult being I was afraid of causing damage.

The system consists of a sending unit that is mounted on the fridge, and plugged into a port on the rear of the fridge.  This sending unit has a short screw-on antenna.  The receiving unit is plugged into a 12V electrical outlet (cigarette lighter) to power the receiver.  While it would be nice not to have to plug this in, it does get the job done. 

Let me address the sending unit installation.  The unit comes with a short ribbon cable that is soldered to the remote sending unit.  The ribbon cable is less than 2 inches long with a flat female multi-pin connector attached.  This connector is about the size of a USB connector though it is not USB.  The ARB fridge male connector is built into the fridge and is covered with a rubber cover.

The remote sending unit I received had extremely little slack to allow plugging in before mounting the remote to the fridge with the provided screws.  The male connector pins on the fridge are very small and these could easily be bent over.  I was so afraid I would damage these pins or pull the ribbon cable loose on the remote.  I turned and tried over and over.  There was not room to get my fingers in to line up the connector, then press it in.  I don't know if I happened to get an overly short cabled one or if this is the normal?   This definitely needs addressed by ARB before people start damaging those pins.

I managed to get the connector plugged in and then I mounted the remote on the fridge.  Even during mounting I could feel the pressure of the strain on the wire trying to get the remote lined up with the factory drilled holes on the rear of the fridge.  Though things worked I have it in the back of my head this connector might eventually work loose?

Aside from the short ribbon cable everything worked.  I have a full size van towing a 16ft trailer.  With the tongue distance I estimate the remote sending unit was positioned about 30 to 35 ft away from the receiving unit.

I followed the instructions that came with the remote.  Both for installing the sender, and also the set up procedure for selecting the channel, etc.  The instructions are pretty straight forward and not complicated.

My van and trailer both have metal skin.  The signal never failed.  Though I found after the receiver was unplugged for a couple days I had to go through the setup procedure again for my return trip.

It was great to be driving down the road and have the ability to see the temperature of the fridge riding in the trailer behind me.  I am happy with the remote unit and highly recommend making it an accessory you purchase when you buy your fridge.

I intend to post more personal practical experiences after I use this unit more.  So check back often.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Recipe: Cake Cherry Bundt done in a Dutch Oven

 Recipe & Photos: Rick Beach

12 inch Dutch Oven and Bundt Cake pan that fits inside.
Hot Coals for 350°F


1   Chocolate Cake Mix (Devils Food that calls for 1/3 cup oil & 3 eggs)
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange           Combine juice and water to equal liquid
Water                               called for on cake mix
1/3 Cup Oil  (amount of oil called for on cake mix box
3 eggs           (called for on cake mix box)
½ Can   Cherry Pie filling chopped coarsely

1 Can of your favorite icing ( or prepare your own homemade) (I use Cream cheese Vanilla)
½ Can Cherry Pie Filling – leave cherries whole

Prepare cake mix (The type that on the box it indicates 1 Cup water, 1/3 Cup Oil, and 3 eggs.  Do not use the total water indicated.  Fresh squeezed Orange Juice is used in place of some of the water.

Dump the cake mix in a mixing bowl.  Zest the orange peel into the mix.  Squeeze the juice from the orange you just grated the peel.  Squeeze the juice into a measuring cup.  Add enough water to the juice to equal 1 cup total liquid (or whatever the total liquid is on the cake mix.  Pour this into the mixing bowl with the cake mix and zest.  Add the oil and 3 eggs.

Chop ½ the can of cherry pie filling until the cherries are in course pieces.   Add the chopped cherries to the mix and using a mixer beat the cake batter per the instructions on the cake mix.

Reserve the other ½ of can of filling for topping after the cake is baked.

Spray oil the bundt cake pan, then pour in the beaten batter.

Pre-heat the Dutch Oven and lid with coals for 350°

Once the Dutch Oven is hot place the bundt pan in, cover and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes.  Gently raise the lid and test for doneness with a knife or tooth pick.  Mine normally take 35 minutes.  Bake and test every 5 minutes until tooth pick comes out clean.

Cool completely.  Ice the top and about ¼ the way down.  Spoon the remaining Cherry pie filling on top of the icing allowing it to ooze down the sides.  Serve

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cobbler "Fort Hall Wild Apple"

Recipe and Photos submitted by Nancy Lane

12 inch Dutch Oven and lid
Hot Coals for 350°F

Crazy Crust
1 C. butter
1 1/2 c. milk
2 C. sugar
2 C. self-rising flour

1 C. Apple Pie Filling

Melt the butter and preheat the DO over the chimney starter while the briquettes are heating.

Mix the Milk, Sugar, and Flour together and dump on top of the melted butter.

Dump the pie filling in on the crust mixture and spread evenly across the top.
Bake at 350° with the appropriate amount of briquettes.  With a 12 inch oven use 15 on top, 9 on the bottom.  Rotate the Pot and Lid 30 minutes into it.

Then remove the bottom coals and place on top with the existing coals already there.  Check often until the crust browns.