Sunday, November 13, 2016

Battery Power!

As most of you know, we live off-grid.  We rely on our generator and solar panels to charge our batteries, which in turn, power our life. 

Because Sir Knight fixes electric forklifts, we use industrial, deep cycle lead acid batteries in our system rather than the Trojan LT 316's most commonly used in off-grid applications.  These batteries provide us with a huge amount of storage and have worked well for us for many years. 

About a year ago we began to notice that our battery didn't last as long as we would have liked, and that it took a charge too quickly, indicating that it had a severely reduced charging capacity.  We limped along with our dying battery through last winter, with the intention of replacing it in the spring.  Spring came, and with it, the sun, which kept our battery charged to full capacity, lulling us into a false sense of battery security.  And then, the bottom fell out of our off-grid world - our generator died and the sun sank into the autumn sunset and our battery slowly faded into powerless oblivion. 

Sir Knight, realizing our precarious position, brought home a beautiful "new" battery!  One of his customers bought all new batteries for their fleet and discarded the old batteries.  One of the discarded batteries was only about a year old and hadn't seen much use so Sir Knight discharged and charged it and loaded it into his van and brought it home. 

One Saturday morning, our neighbor arrived with his self-loading log truck to help us remove the old batteries out of the shouse and install our new battery.   Switching batteries is not my favorite task because it requires moving nearly every piece of furniture in our shouse!  Our batteries live in our bathroom/utility room, which is on the far end of the house, as far away from the front door as you can get!  The batteries are huge (ranging from about 1500 pounds to 3000 pounds each) and require a decent amount of room for maneuvering.  After we cleared a path through the house, we brought in our pallet jack (doesn't everyone have one?) and put a special "roller tray" on it that Sir Knight fabricated for moving our batteries.  We rolled a battery out of our bathroom, through the shouse and to the front door.  From there, Sir Knight chained the battery and hooked it onto the grapple of the logging truck and our neighbor pulled the battery off the pallet jack and through our front door.  After moving both batteries from the bathroom, we were ready to bring the new battery in - a far bigger chore than we had anticipated! 

Miss Serenity wheeling out an old battery

Using a self-loading log truck to drag the battery out

Because we have an arbor in front of our door, we had to jerry-rig a couple of battery roller trays outside to get the battery to the front door so that we could pick it up with the pallet jack.  A pry bar, a couple of oak beams and a wish and a prayer later, we had the battery on the pallet jack - at an angle because the new battery was 1/2 and inch wider than the old batteries and wouldn't fit into the roller tray!  Finally we rolled the new battery into place, plugged the SB connector into our house system and flipped the switch.  Let there be light!!

Ready to move the new battery into the "Shouse"

Miss Serenity and Sir Knight guiding the new batttery

"Shouse" Surfing - it's a new thing!
We have been running on our new battery for about three weeks now and are in constant amazement!  Because our old battery had been slowly losing capacity, we didn't realize how terrible it was.  This new battery holds an incredible charge, rarely dropping below 24.9 volts, and takes a nice long, hard charge.  Our gas bill has plummeted because I rarely have to charge the battery and I am thoroughly enjoying a well-lit shouse!

One new battery in position

I take the tablecloth off of the battery when charging so
that the hydrogen can gas off the battery
Running your own power company has its challenges, but it also has great rewards - and a nice, full battery as winter envelopes us in her frigid embrace is just such a reward!


  1. I have pallet jack scootered on and off for DECADES. To apply the brakes, turn the wheels 90 degrees to the direction of travel. This'll make the folks who maintain the floors AND the pallet jack unhappy, but it is fun. At age 60 plus it was fun to see the expression of the twenty-something folks.
    I think it was something like "Wow, you can do that with a pallet jack?!"
    That or, "Crazy old Coot!!!"
    Not sure which... B-)

  2. How exciting for you! I'm glad to see you have this, just in time for winter.

  3. So good to see how the Lord is taking care of you!

  4. glad to hear of your 'renewing'.

    i'm always very curious of your solar experience. recently i wired our garden house for 120AC, however with a large 12V solar panel (8A output!) i simply bought very inexpensive LEDs for lighting and used the wiring to use solar input and 12V LEDs. i pulled the batteries out of the farm truck, backhoe, and boat to wire them in parallel so the 12V out of the solar panel charge the batteries while not in use, and the LEDs (and 2000W inverter) run off the batteries.

    my question to you is, with all the inexpensive 12V options for utilities (lights, heaters, fans, etc) is it worth running 120AC appliances that require the expensive inverters and batteries? there are great RV stoves and refrigerators that use propane or 12V... so can you please share advantages that 120AC with solar offers?

    much thanks!

    1. Dear Lord!! Please don't wire those diverse batteries in parallel. Shortly, all those batteries are going to function like the worst one of the bunch. It's best to never connect batteries together that aren't purchased together. I've been using solar power for nearly 2 decades now...learned this from experience.

    2. I will try to answer your question to the best of my ability. The rule of thumb for low voltage DC versus 120 volts AC - if an appliance is going be on all the time or a lot (eg. ceiling fans, refrigerators etc.) it would be optimal to run these appliances off battery voltage. Now, that being said, with the exception of LED lighting and low voltage DC fans, there really are no good options for 12 volt appliances off of DC power (directly off your batteries). For your greenhouse, if you're just running LED lights and one circulating fan, I would see no reason to run an inverter, unless you needed 120v inside the greenhouse for power tools or any other needs. You mentioned in your post 12v heaters. You will not be able to run any resistive loads on a small battery system with or without an inverter. To run a household, inverters are absolutely essential - if for no other reason, the cost and quality of DC appliances are not particularly good. Just try to get a 24v tv! It is important to note that "off-grid" inverters are different than the small 12v inverters that you might buy at Harbor Freight. Home inverters have built in battery chargers and switching gears for generators. They work seamlessly. As far a the batteries go, anonymous was right. Any time you use multiple batteries in series your charge controller will attempt to bring the batteries to the state of charge of the best battery in the bank, thus boiling the weaker batteries to death in a very short time. That is even the case with the battery you see in the pictures here. While you can change the cells, a battery of this age, we would have to install a used cell from another battery. A new cell would cause the weakest cell in the stream to fail and this process will continue.

      I highly recommend propane for cooking and also for hot water. We run both a propane cooking range and propane hot water heater. We had a propane refrigerator and we loved it. They are small, the freezers don't work well, an a high quality one is very expensive. And ultimately, we can't make propane. So invest that money into solar panels and a larger battery bank and make your own electricity to run the fridge. Please note, we've owned a Sunfrost "off-grid" refrigerator. Their testing methodology is flawed and we found that our Amana energy star fridge works even better than our Sunfrost did. And we can actually keep ice cream frozen, unlike in our Sunfrost.

      I hope this answers your questions.

      Sir Knight

    3. excellent - thanks for the input! the 12V DC has worked for my "light loads", so was curious how well it would scale up to a house-hold situation.

      yeah, sorry for the confusion - the different batteries aren't all connected at the same time. i switch between then keeping them charged and so they don't work against each other.

      thanks again

  5. So nice to see your post and that life seems to be going well for you and yours.
    Your post brought back fond memories. I never had a pallet jack at home but did at work. Cheers, SJ in Vancouver BC

  6. Thank you for sharing your battery info. Would you be willing to share more info about your panels and inverter setup?

  7. so how do you vent the gas from batteries charge since in the house?


  8. Okay I have to ask a question that has nothing to do with solar. I have read your blog for years and know you have raised your children in a Christian atmosphere and taught them the differences between the sexes, hard work, modesty etc. So my question is why does your daughter pictured above act and dress so masculine? You and you older daughter seem to dress feminine but she quite frankly looks like a young man. Is there a reason for this? I just wonder if she still is a tomboy and hasn't out outgrown this stage. I grew out of it and found that it wasn't until I did that young men wanted to court me. Men want women for wives not girls that resemble their hunting buddies.

  9. Great post. Thanks for sharing. SolarEnergyXpert offers reliable and affordable solar panels installation in California. Visit us to get free solar consultation today.

  10. Incredible points. Great arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.