Heat

homemade sun baked breadWell, it looks like the heatwave that has been moving east from Colorado has arrived here. The heat is repressive. The strange thing is that my SunOven, which is heating up as I write this, won’t get as hot today as it would on a cool, clear fall day, in spite of the fact that it is nearly 100F (38C) degrees, outside. I can expect the oven to hover between 300F (149C) and 325F (163C) while my bread is baking. On a clear fall day, I would get temperatures around 350F (177C) and higher.

The good news is that I’ll have fresh, homemade bread and I won’t have to use electricity to bake it and more electricity to pump the excess heat out of my kitchen. I love homemade bread, and it’s even better when it’s baked in the SunOven. If you don’t make your own bread, you’re really missing out. Then again, you could do like my dear friends; you could just find someone else who makes bread and eat theirs.

For those who believe that all of this crazy weather is just a natural cycle in the planet’s continuously changing climate, I must ask you to look into the time span over which those natural cycles occur. I think you’ll find that natural climate cycles span thousands, or even millions of years. In a man’s lifetime, there should be no noticeable change. I can tell you, with certainty, that many things have changed in my lifetime. What’s even worse is that the changes are accelerating. Whether you agree in anthropogenic climate change, or not, it just makes sense to conserve our precious resources. One thing I am sure of is that if the sun ever stops shining, life as we know it on Earth will cease to exist. As long as the planet is habitable, there will be sun, so using solar energy as much as possible is a no-brainer, for me.

Too much hot water!

I’ve had my solar water heating system in operation since May 2011. It works really well. In over a year, I’ve turned my electric water heater on for part of 2 days. Once, we had experienced about 7 heavily overcast days in a row, so I was just running out of hot water. The second time, I had to drain and recharge the collector loop because I didn’t have enough antifreeze in the solution. That means that my electric water heater has been powered up for less than 24 hours in over 400 days. The solar water heater is providing 99.75% of my hot water. I even do some of my laundry in hot water and rinse my dishes in hot water because the heat is free.

solar water heater panel partially covered with a sheetWell, now that summer is upon us, again, I can’t use enough hot water to stay ahead of the sun. The primary tank will reach 185F in a day of full sun. The water is so hot, even with R30 insulation on the tank, it’s heating my utility room.

I can set the pump controller to stop circulating the collector loop once the storage tank reaches the desired temperature, but then the collector gets really hot. It reaches temperatures of 300F, and I am pretty sure that’s not a good thing. So, yesterday I enlisted a friend to help me put a sheet over about two thirds of the panel, to deflect some of the sun’s heat. We had a day of full sun, today, and the sheet worked well at moderating the amount of heat. It’s a good temporary solution, but I’m going to have to work on something more permanent and easy to control. It would be really nice to have an automatic louver system, but I’m not that ambitious, and I’m pretty sure that would cut down on the effectiveness of the panel when I actually need it to work at 100% capacity.

Introduction

solar panels on custom tower

The Solar Tower

This is my first blog post, so let me get started by introducing my tower. I built this tower from square, steel tubing, anchored in steel reinforced concrete. I installed my solar water heating panel and my photovoltaics on the top of the tower, which is oriented to face due south.

The green box holds batteries, a charge controller, and some other electronics for monitoring and controlling the power generation part of the system. There is also a pressure tank for the rain water pumping system in that box.

Mounted below the green box is a 275 gallon water tank that holds rain water that is funneled into it from the gutters on the house. There is a 12 volt, solar powered pump and some plumbing that connect to a couple of spigots where I can connect garden hoses and an outdoor shower for rinsing off after a hard day, working in the sun.

My photovoltaics charge batteries that power some 12 volt equipment in my house and an inverter that provides 110V AC for powering tools, my electric lawn mower, and other things. The batteries also power my water pump, as previously mentioned.

I’ve always got several projects in the works, and I hope to use this blog to document my progress on those projects.