Monthly Archives: February 2012

Increase solar panel gain by XX%

panels are mounted on z-brackets 2" above roof

We want to chase 75 degrees all over North America in and, sometimes, out of campgrounds. It is especially nice to camp without needing utility hookups. Several places (e.g., Kentucky Horse Park, several Ohio state parks) allow discounted parking on grass without hookups. Perfect if you don’t need electricity or water — and solar panels are so much quieter than a generator.

We assumed, with two 125 watt solar panels, we could keep them flat on the RV’s roof and we’d have plenty of solar recharging for the RV’s two batteries. This seemed mostly true throughout the past four years. If the solar panels had clear view of the skies, if the weather was fair with lots of sunshine, the two panels did fine.

There are, however, winter days with limited (and low-angle) sunshine when we capture solar energy for far fewer hours. Too, we have been only recharging a 225 amp hour battery bank, a pair of 6v 225 amp hour batteries wired in series. We want to increase our battery capacity by two-fold and we want to increase our solar panels output to the solar charge controller.

Tilting the solar panels seemed the simple solution. Our criteria were, (1) easy to install; (2) easy to operate from a ladder at the RV’s side. We found very nice ready-made tilting hardware from Go Power! through Amazon. We purchased two sets for our two 125-watt solar panels atop our RV.

These Go Power ARM-UNI Tilt mount kits look fine and meet both criteria perfectly. The aluminum parts are smoothly finished and accurately drilled. All mounting bolts, nuts, washers are stainless steel. We mounted the supplied brackets atop our existing Z-brackets on our roof to provide an additional 1.5 inches clearance above our roof surface. All to gain and no disadvantage for us.

10-32 well-nuts

The kits also include a set of well-nuts for mounting through the roof surface — we neither wanted nor used the well-nuts. Oddly, our solar panel package (purchased and installed 2007) also included well-nuts for installing the panel feet (z-brackets) to the RV roof. These well-nuts might be just the trick for some roofs but we just wouldn’t again use them on an aluminum roof like our Airstream travel trailer. The problem with expanding anchors like the well-nuts in a sheet metal roof: they require a large hole and they just aren’t necessary.

Our solar panel installation was to have been a simple affair in November 2007. Jim briefly chronicled it in our journal (see week of Nov 7) at the time and it looks easy if you read it. We might not have mentioned before, Jim spent less than a day installing the solar panels and charge controller and an entire week tracing the resulting short circuit and repairing the damaged wiring inside the RV’s roof. All is well and we know our RV’s 12vdc wiring better for the trouble. But we recommend following an easier path for self-installing your panels.

The large hole wouldn’t have been the problem had Jim used a stop-collar on the drill bit and therefore avoided drilling over an inch below the outer skin and into a wiring bundle. The real trick though, is to dimple the roof with a sharp 8d common nail or an awl. Then use a #12 or #14 x 3/4″ sheet metal screw to fasten the panel attachments.

indenting would have been far superior

A drill bit removes material from about the hole whereas the awl or nail point pushes down and indents the material.  Indenting the roof surface allows the screw’s threads to engage more material than if drilled away. This can provide a very strong and minimal hole without drilling.

These tilt mount kits are expensive and we could have saved a bunch by fabricating them ourselves. However, the included hardware is first-rate and Carmanah Go Power did the engineering and assembling of the kit so we didn’t have to mess with it. Sometimes it’s nice to take the easy, if a little expensive, way to get a project done right the first time.

The result is we now have both our panels tiltable with nicely made aluminum arms and brackets and securely mounted with all stainless hardware. Looks good, works fine. And we’ve greatly increased our solar panels morning and evening gain by tilting the panels to 38 degrees. Big difference.

Jim found a couple of sites on internet (http://energyworksus.com/solar_installation_position.html; http://www.wholesalesolar.com/Information-SolarFolder/mount-info.html) The latter site provided the simplest guideline for solar panel tilt angle relative to latitude and season:

  • February 5th – Set to same angle as your latitude.
  • May 5th – Set at the same angle as your latitude minus 15 degrees.
  • August 5th – Set at the same angle as your latitude.
  • November 5th – Set at the angle of latitude plus 15 degrees.

With one panel tilted at 38 degrees toward the south we have immediately noticed a couple of benefits. We are, by 07:30 a.m. gaining battery charging through our panels to the battery charge controller. We are getting higher amps charging throughout the day resulting in topping off the batteries charging for more than four hours. And we are gaining battery charging later each day due to the panel tilted toward the southern sky.

We can only tilt one panel at a time because they are mounted so close to each other. If we tilt them both then one shades the other, reducing the shaded panel’s output by more than it gained by tilting. With one tilted and the other flat, the flat panel is doing as well as we ever had it and the tilted one is greatly improving its output.

Flat panels were okay when the sun was at its zenith, but the tilted panel arrangement is much more effective. One of our solar panels is aimed nearly squarely at the sun and the other is helping as best it can. As long as we park approximately east-west (or west-east) we can easily tilt one panel or the other from the trailer’s roof edge and boost our solar charging output noticeably.

This has worked out very well. Panel tilting is a cool improvement, and so easy to do.

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

And the winners are . . .

A most fashionable lady

A few weeks ago I slept with a fashion model — pretty exciting as you might guess. And now I’m sleeping with a tennis champion too. “Isn’t the bed becoming a bit crowded”, you’re probably wondering? (Nah, we find the room.)

Nancy and Debbie, winners in the 1.5 Winter Breakout Tennis Tournament

Okay — before I land myself in any trouble, let’s clear this up. My drop-dead gorgeous wife is a model and a tennis champion. Clear? Debbie and Nancy participated in a three-day tennis tournament for the 2nd year players. And they won bronze medals for their great playing. They played well and had fun.

Why do I get to share space with a great tennis player? The answer is only a little complicated — but I’m not much to blame for Debbie’s successes. She deserves all the credit and I’m too happy to honor her hard work and good genes. Debbie practices hard, plays well, and earned this great win at the three-day tournament last weekend.

Way to go, Debbie and Nancy!

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

A foot and one-half of snow in Arizona?

Snowbirds, is it really warmer here than back home? And who left the deep-freezer door open? Brrr. Arizona is in a short spate of cooler temperatures than we’re accustomed to. Flagstaff has between one and two feet of snow and even cooler temperatures than ours.

No one was warm at Debbie’s team tennis match this morning despite propane heaters over the spectator area, extra blankets for us to bundle under, and sometimes finding a place out of the persistent wind. Oh, and it was raining off and on throughout her match. The players continued pluckily, aided by the synthetic grass court service which seems a bit tractionless even in best of conditions.

Our weather forecast for tonight is 36 degrees and our high for tomorrow is low 60s and no precipitation. Just think, this would be balmy weather for Canada. We had to laugh whilst in Vancouver BC over the Christmas holiday — the weather announcer on CBC read off all the sub-zero temperatures throughout several provinces and then stated “and balmy Vancouver will be up to 8 degrees” (Centigrade). Yeah, that’s balmy compared to the rest of the nation.

We know we’re very spoiled — daily highs range between low 60s and high 70s throughout most of the winter in Mesa AZ. So when a day fails to get up to 60 we think it is a really cold day. Give us a day in the high 70s and we are forced to the outdoor swimming pool to catch some vitamin D and maybe a tiny bit of tan for our very white tennis feet. And if the weather reduces our ability to find 75 degrees anywhere, we’re outta here. Isn’t this why we’re full-timing?

We hope you are warm wherever you are, have not too much snow to shovel, and have a lovely Valentine’s Day.

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr

Why are ham fests sometimes in very strange locations?

A couple of posts ago we wrote about Herb’s and Jim’s unplanned 10 mile hike in the desert.  More significant, really, is why were we in the middle of Arizona’s desert at all? You might already know we are suckers for interesting or unusual ham radio conventions. A ham radio convention in the middle of Arizona’s desert would probably be interesting and unusual. We’d heard about Quartzsite for several years and wanted to get there. This seemed like a great opportunity, and we only had a drive of 160 miles to get there.

Less than 700 miles to visit a new hamfest? Let's go!

Some of you dear readers may recall our post two years ago when Debbie and Jim drove to Essex, in the top of Montana for a famous ham fest.  We had heard of the oldest continuous running (once per year, that is) ham radio convention, the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park Hamfest. And so upon departing Gillette Wyoming in early July 2010 we reasonably figured, since we were only 600 miles away, we should take the opportunity to visit Essex Montana and see this venerable ham fest first hand. It was pretty neat and sharpened our interest in unusual ham fests.

and the camels are another story entirely

The recent week we spent dry-camping in the Arizona desert was pretty much the opposite in several ways. Glacier National Park can be very chilly even in the middle of July.  Everything in Glacier National Park is either green (evergreen trees, grass, moss) or white (ice and snow), with just a little brown (bears and deer).  The Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest is 78 years running so far, versus a few years for QuartzFest.  And camping in any campground near Glacier National Park is a bit costly — we camped free at Quartzsite (except a donation to the organizer to help cover paper and printer cartridges.)

very cool hex beam antenna for W7Q station

Some things are remarkably similar between the two hamfests.  At neither hamfest did we see any ham radio vendors (although one almost always does).  Both hamfests are pretty close to an international border (Canada and Mexico).  Both hamfests involve dry camping although in Quartzsite the term takes on additional significance — everything is really really dry.  Both hamfests had very dedicated RVing hams with some really interesting antenna setups.  Both hamfests had special event stations allowing attendees the opportunity to operate from a different location and try using different gear than in their own station. Both hamfests had well-organized presentations on various subjects.

another big antenna on small RV

The QuartzFest rally seemed huge compared to the Glacier-Waterton International Peace Park HamFest.  We might have had 75 rigs at Glacier-Waterton, and we had 400 rigs at QuartzFest.  We never had seen such a big collection and wide variety of amateur radio antennas as at QuartzFest.  Not all were RV-portable – many were tall masts with two and three sets of ropes guying the antennas against the winds.

Much easier to clean and aim than on the roof

Oh, and we saw assorted ways to collect solar energy for electricity as well as several wind generators. We went to a lot of work putting our solar panels on the Airstream’s roof — they would be low maintenance (sort of) and pretty secure from theft or damage. Tilting the solar panels wasn’t in our original scheme and weekly wiping of the panel’s glass surface (necessary in the dirty dusty desert and even in Mesa) requires setting up and climbing the ladder. We like this portable panel idea more and more.

THE place to be for fish on Fridays

When in Quartzsite, do as the Quartzsitians do? We followed our friends Bob K9WMP and Laura K9BZY from Mesa to Quartzsite since they knew where to go. And we followed them to Sweet Darlene’s restaurant for Friday fish dinner our first evening. Without Bob and Laura we probably would have given up this idea when we saw the lineup outside the restaurant — this place was hopping. Herb and Lois, Tom and Debbie, Bob and Laura, and the two of us were deluded if we thought we would get to sit together in this place.

Sweet Darlene's does big biz on Fridays

The line moved reasonably quickly and we soon found out why — you don’t wait for a table of four, or six, or eight — you wait for a couple of chairs anywhere close to each other and you forgo sitting with your larger party. Your food order at Sweet Darlene’s Friday fish dinner is simple. Fried fish, cole slaw, and a slice of bread are on all the plates — you choose what style potatoes.

Our order was simple and the food was good

Except our wait person was so frazzled by the time she arrived at our table she asked what style fish we wanted. Faked us out briefly then we all had a big laugh — there’s one style fish at Friday fish dinner at Sweet Darlene’s, and it was good.

Can we take one of these home?

People we meet in Mesa think of Quartzsite as a place to shop for gems and geodes. While we don’t frequent rock shops we have been in a few. We’ve never seen anything equalling these huge geodes. We didn’t see any price tags but wonder if everything is for sale at some price.

Clearly the biggest tent we've ever shopped in!

Another thing most people do in Quartzsite is browsing the shops. Sweet Darlene’s has graduated from a tent enclosure to a completely enclosed metal structure. Some of the shops are in metal buildings but most were in tents. One of the tents seemed as big as a football field and was chock full of vendors representing nearly every facet of support and supply for RVing.

US Gov't perhaps runs most smoothly when done by volunteers

We camped in Road Runner RV area of the BLM land 6 miles south of Quartzsite. BLM required us to register and receive a 14-day camping permit (at no cost), allowing us to park anywhere within a vast area of the desert. The closest dump station and fresh water resupply was in Quartzsite, and we couldn’t even find a 30 amp power pole in our camp site. Nor did we really expect one, we knew we’d be conserving water and battery power both.

We’ve dry camped numerous times but had not previously done nearly so well with our fresh water. We used less than 20 gallons total of fresh water in five days for all uses — cooking, drinking, and bathing. Our Airstream travel trailer carries 40 gallons, so we had water aplenty. Not so capable though is our 19 gallon black water holding tank. The only thing it serves is our toilet.

Some of the 20 gallons of fresh water had to have gone into the 40 gallon gray water holding tank, right? We bathed each day and used our sink for pot and utensil washing. But the 19 gallon black water holding tank was nearly full after five full days use. Very nearly all our toilet flushing was with dish water or bathing water, so precious little fresh water found its way to our gray water holding tank. If only we could find a way to expand our black water carrying capacity. Who would have thought we’d wish for such a thing, eh?

Our best (and only) Quartzsite neighbors

We were grateful to Herb and Lois for sharing their Winnebago’s generator with us twice a day. We ran an extension cord 100 feet between our RV and theirs and they would bump our batteries up a little. It was nice to have their big old generator send some extra energy our way a couple times daily. Even nicer, though, was camping with them and sharing meals, conversations, and spending evenings at card games or watching movies together.

Our solar panels did fine but one pair of 6-volt batteries just don’t have enough depth for our uses (this is not necessarily a mutually held opinion). We like to read at night. Our water pump, fridge controls, and propane leak detector all use battery power. Oh, and the ham radio can use a bunch (22 amps @ 12vdc) of battery power. One of us likes to have enough battery power left by morning to do a little chatting on our HF (long distance) ham radio. More power = a good thing, right? Unless you were a ho-hum-ham and might ask, “Jim, what problem are you trying to solve with all this?”

Maybe keeping busy is a good thing in itself? Jim’s been busy since we returned from Quartzsite. Our solar panels are, after four years flat use, tilt-able. We are on the verge of more than doubling our storage battery capacity from two 6v 220 amp hour batteries to four 6v 232 amp hour batteries. Results are encouraging on tilting the solar panels and we think the battery change will be a significant boost. We’ll get back to the details about these two changes in another blog.

Stay tuned — we’ll be back soon!

 

 

 

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-20112 Dreamstreamr

Canadian Dinner Synchronized Swim Team Performance

If you haven’t seen them perform in your area you might want to check out this group.  They were sooo entertaining although the performance is not overly long at only eight minutes.

Debbie and I have never recommended a video, this will be our first.  Heck, we don’t even watch videos on-line since we’re on limited broadband.  But we thought we should recommend this one.

This video is of a troupe of folks who performed at the TowerPoint Resort Canadian Dinner this past Sunday evening for a select audience of over 200.  The performance was so well done and wildly received they presented an encore today for over 300 more of our neighbors.

This is art.  And fun.  And you’ll possibly never watch another video I recommend after this one, but you won’t regret having seen this one.  Starts off a tiny bit slow as they build the aquatic pool (a minute or two), but gets going and only takes eight (8) minutes total.

Have fun, take a chance, watch this youtube video.  BTW, Debbie and I rate this PG, suitable for all audiences.  You’ll laugh, you might cry.  Those are both healthy reactions for folks, right?

Here’s the link:  http://youtu.be/_NiFDabvWBo

See you down the road!

Jim and Debbie

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©2007-2012 Dreamstreamr