Thursday, 28 May 2009

Mad Dogs and Englishmen

I have more than a passing interest in natural power - power provided by the wind, sea or sun.

We have a wind generator on Willawaw - a monster of a thing. The problem we have found is that the wind strength on the cut is rarely strong enough to generate a lot of electricity.

While the tops of the trees can bend over double in a gale, the water surface will only have ripples. The blades of the windgen tend to be too low down to pick up the gusts.

Although there are exceptions to all rules, most canals are pretty sheltered !! 

Solar power seems more practical on the inland waterways - power is produced even in quite mediocre light conditions.

I believe there is still some way to go with solar panel technology, but things are improving in leaps and bounds.

The owner of Harvest was quite adamant that he wanted solar panels on his boat.

They would never provide enough power to replenish the power taken by the drive motor, but as Paul intended to spend a lot of time moored to the bank in remote spots, it did seem practical for panels to provide enough power for lighting, TV and laptop use and so on.

Solar panels generate a lot more power when their flat panel surface is at right angles to the rays of the sun. As the sun moves across the sky, this means that fixed, horizontal panels bolted on the roof of a narrowboat, are not in an optimum position for very long.

The original plan was to fit a little device that I designed with a friend, called the Gizmo.

Basically, it senses the strength of the sunlight and rotates the panel by use of a motor drive, to track the sun. Although the design was proven technically, the cost of production was prohibitive and we decided not to pursue it further than the prototype stage.

The movie below, shows it strutting its stuff, whilst fitted with a small test panel and tracking the light from a moving electric light.

In the end, Paul decided that he would mount the panels mechanically, so they could be rotated manually and their elevation altered by means of extendable, telescopic arms.

To assist with the setting up of the two independent panels, I produced this solar meter.

It simply clips on to the output of each panel and the panel is then manually moved around until the needle on the meter shows maximum. It cost only a few pounds to make and is simplicity itself. 

We couldn't understand why Paul was reporting that even in quite dull conditions, the needle was over at the stops. At first I thought there was a fault in the design or components.

Then, Paul mentioned in an e-mail that he was measuring about 50 Volts.

50 Volts from a 12V solar panel ?? impossible...

It didn't take long for the penny to drop.

Despite a circuit diagram that says 2 x 12V Kyocera panels, Paul purchased two 24V models and the bombshell had lain undetected for two years in a barn, until the panels were connected up last week to give 50V !!!

Anyhow, now we know why, the problem has been resolved.

Back to the drawing board with the solar meter, though - it will need a bit of a component tweak to work with a 24V panel instead of the anticipated 12V panel !!! C'est La Vie.

1 comment:

  1. It is a small world after all ...

    Paul seems unable to tear himself away from Mel's yard. I think perhaps his car should have it's homing device disabled soon or he will never be able to make the break.

    My solar panels will not be following the sun as I have opted for the marine flexible ones.


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