DC pump powered by solar panel for solar water heating

It seems like ages ago that we started to put up the new vacuum solar tubes. The rain and the corn planting and hay cutting have stopped us getting on with the installation but today we finished it !

I’ve used a photo of a pump as an introduction to today’s blog post because DC pumps like these are really difficult to find – at least in France.
Someone searching the ‘net for a solar powered pump (As I’ve done so often !) will get the information here that they need to find the right pump. The installation and operation manual of our pump is available on the ‘net in the Laing website

Our old flat plate solar collectors worked by thermosiphon – that is the hot water rose and circulated without the need for a pump. (Note the English and the American spellings differ) I prefer that system as there’s nothing to go wrong but as I wanted to put our new panels on the back roof of the conservatory where they wouldn’t be seen which is higher that our hot water cylinder, we couldn’t use thermosyphon and have to pump the hot water around the circuit.

This little pump is powered by a little 20 watt photovoltaic panel which of course only works when the sun shines and the water is being heated – so it’s perfect for a solar water heating system !

The photo above shows Fabrice fitting the last of the 16 vacuum tubes which each heat a little copper bar at the top of them. They fit into a manifold where they heat the water. That was the last step in the fitting process after we’d tested the pump and bled the hot water system.

I haven’t lagged the pipes or insulated the water cylinder yet just in case there’s a leak, so the system isn’t as efficient as it will be when it’s insulated but so far everything is working as planned and the water is warming up nicely.

The tomato blight is under control !

Sweet peppers and tomatoesWe’ve been lucky – either the hot weather or the Bordeaux mix has stopped the blight from taking hold and we’re getting good crops of tomatoes from the plot. The capsicums and aubergines are doing well too and I’ve lifted my onions. So as well as eating lovely fresh salads and tasty Provençal dishes, every week we’ve enough veg to store in sterilised jars for the winter.

Ratatouille is often my choice because it’s quick and easy. The smell and taste of it bottled is almost as good as freshly made and it’s good for couscous, adding to a stew or to eat just on it’s own. I simply stir fry all the ingredients in batches then put them together in a huge pan and reduce the water content by simmering then put them into Kilner or Le Parfait jars and sterilise them for 30 minutes.

Rocket stove for cooking and water heatingAt this time of the year we clear out the freezer. The ice melts quickly and the freezer dries properly ready to be filled again with our own meat and winter game. I use up all last year’s meat to mix with the summer veg to make stews and curries and this week I’ve made a few batches of bolognaise sauce.

Reducing tomatoes and the long slow cooking needed to make a really good bolognaise sauce takes a lot of time and a lot of gas so we rigged up a cooking plate on the rocket stove with a simple chimney leading the flames towards our back boiler in the fireplace so while we’re cooking we also get hot water.

We normally use tree branches as fuel but at the moment, we’ve thousands of light, clean, dry corn cobs lying outside. (We grow a couple of hectares a year for animal feed.).

A dozen pots of Bolognaise sauce sterilised ready for the cellarWe’ve been using them in the rocket stove with really good results. With one bucket of cobs we slowly reduced 7 kilos of tomatoes (four hours) and now there’s enough water for a bath !

I usually to make a dozen or so jars a week of garden veg in August and September because there’s not an awful lot to do outside and it’s hot here in August !. So we can have “ready meals” two or three times a week throughout the year without having to buy veg or spend too much time cooking – which suits me just fine !

Notre système pour chauffer l’eau

The fireplace dries clothes, the cauldron heats the water and two radiators upstairs and we cook on here a lotComme promis, pour mes amis français qui ne peut pas lire mon blog, voici une description de notre système pour chauffer l’eau.

Chez nous, il y a une cuisinière, allumée en hiver pour faire la cuisine et elle chauffe toute la maison sans effort. Mais, la cuisinière ne chauffe pas l’eau – sauf en petite quantité. Donc la solution pour avoir l’eau chaude était de se servir la cheminée.

Nous avons décidé d’utiliser une cheminée ouverte. Je sais, je sais bien que ce ne pas trop efficace vis à vis d’autres systèmes, mais je l’adore. Nous l’utilisons pour l’élimination des déchets pour le séchage des bottes, chaussettes et champignons et pour faire la cuisine à notre façon. A coté du feu, nous pouvons faire toutes sortes de choses comme sculpter un morceau de bois ou nettoyer les chaussures sans se soucier de salir la maison est la communication est plus facile et beaucoup plus douce à côté d’un feu ouvert.
Nous avons construit la cheminée à une pente afin de conserver autant de chaleur que possible à l’intérieur du bâtiment. La cheminée chauffe le premier étage où je garde ma literie.

Dans le foyer au-dessus des flammes, il y a un récupérateur de chaleur qu’on appelle “Le chaudron magique” qui chauffe l’eau et deux radiateurs dans les salles de bains au premier étage. Les panneaux solaires sont sur le même circuit.

J’avais déjà un système très efficace que j’ai conçu au Royaume-Uni qui a utilisé du gaz, du bois et de l’énergie solaire pour chauffer l’eau et la maison, alors j’ai décidé d’utiliser un système pareille dans la nouvelle maison en France.

Voici une parti de plan de la conception du système rez de chaussé (12mx6m) indiquant l’emplacement de la cheminée au milieu de la maison, afin de minimiser la longueur des tuyaux qui vont aux salles de bains et aux radiateurs.

Le ballon d’eau chaude (à droit sans isolation, principalement en laine de chèvre) est placé derrière la cheminée dans une petite pièce que nous utilisons pour le séchage des vêtements mouillés, les graines et d’herbes. En place maintenant, il y a beaucoup de masse thermique autour le foyer de la cheminée (chauffée aussi par le soleil en hiver) et le récupérateur de chaleur en forme de chaudron.

  Voir les trous dans le chaudron (à droit sur le photo gauche) pour maximiser le contact avec la chaleur de la flamme. Le système fonctionne très bien.

Quand il fait trop chaud pour chauffer la maison, nous utilisons un petit poêle fusée (ou rocket stove) directement sous le chaudron pour éviter de chauffer le foyer et la maison reste fraîche.

Le poêle est alimentée soit avec du bois ou des rafles de maïs. Nous cultivons environ un hectare et demi de maïs chaque année et nous utilisons les grains de maïs pour l’alimentation des moutons, les chèvres et les poules.

Empty corn cobs for two showers from the rocket stoveUne fois les grains retirés de l’épi, nous avons des “déchets” que nous utilisons soit pour l’isolation ou comme source d’énergie. Les rafles de maïs sont parfaites pour un rocket stove, elles sont légers, propres et produisent beaucoup de chaleur. Heureusement, le bois et les rafles de mais sont les deux sources d’énergie en abondance chez nous.

Grâce au rocket stove, nous pouvons faire la cuisine ou faire des conserves pendant des heures avec peu d’énergie et chauffe l’eau en même temps.

Il y a donc trois façons de chauffer l’eau en utilisant ce système:

Reducing tomatoes on the rocket stove which also heats the hot water for a shower laterLes panneaux solaires, qui sont sur le même circuit que la chaudière arrière, préchauffent ou chauffent l’eau à partir de la fin du printemps, jusqu’en été et en automne.

Un feu “normal”, qui réchauffe aussi la maison, le foyer et nos cœurs, offre une fin appropriée à nos interminables paperasseries et remplace la télévision.

Le “Pocket Rocket, qui peut être poussé sous le chaudron pour chauffer l’eau rapidement ou nous pouvons l’utiliser avec une surface de cuisson avec la sortie de flamme dirigée vers le chaudron. Cela chauffe l’eau en même temps que nous cuisinons.

Les panneaux solaires qui préchauffe l’eau au printemps et en automne et nous fourni l’eau chaude durant les mois d’été. J’ai amené mes vieux panneaux solaires depuis le Royaume-Uni (La personne qui a acheté ma maison n’en voulais pas !) et nous les avons placés sur le terrain en plein sud, derrière la maison.

Comme le chaudron, les panneaux sont plus bas ici que le ballon d’eau, le système complet fonctionné par thermosiphon. Mais, placé sur le terrain les panneaux ont été trop vulnérables et et malheureusement ils ne sont pas esthétiques.

Donc, nous avons décidé de poser les nouveaux panneaux sur le toit de la véranda qui est en construction. Ils seront hors de vue et de danger aussi. Le toit de notre véranda est plus haut que le ballon et pour faire circuler l’eau il y a une petite pompe 12v alimenté par un panneaux photovoltaïques.

Nous utilisons environ 8m3 de bois chaque année pour chauffer 170m3, cuisiner et sécher le linge, teinter la laine et faire nos conserves. Nous achetons aussi deux bouteilles de gaz chaque année pour la cuisine.

Une fois que nous aurons terminé la véranda et la serre adossée, isolé la partie ouest de la maison et construit un poêle de masse “Rocket” pour chauffer l’atelier dans l’extension, nous devrions réduire considérablement cette consommation de bois.

Bientôt je vais commencer à faire le design du poêle de masse et cela prendra un certain temps pour la recherche et l’expérimentation.  Je vais prendre des photos de chaque étape de la conception et la construction et vous faire savoir comment ça se passe.

We’re between solar panels so we’re using a rocket stove to get hot water

We’ve taken away the old solar panels to redo the back terrace and intend to buy new vacuum tube solar panels very soon – well as soon as we have a roof to put them on!

In the meantime with five of us in the house we need hot water and although we just have to light the fire to heat the cauldron which heats the hot water, the fireplace is designed to retain heat so the house stays too warm for too long afterwards.

So we made a new rocket stove from an old bucket, a flue-pipe elbow and some ashes for insulation. We put it directly under the cauldron and it does the job perfectly without heating the fire surround. This isn’t a very efficient design for a rocket stove but the bucket already had a hole in it so we used it.

To save us having to make a video, there’s a video by a guy called Vavrek (Thanks Vavrek !) which shows how to build these efficient twig-powered cooking stoves from scratch.

 

Experiments with LEDs to get …l’ambiance parfaite …

We’re sorting out loads of things at the moment. The style of the roof and the heating for the extension, our lighting for winter and designing the electricity runs for the extension.

I went on a bit of a spending spree a couple of weeks ago and amongst other things, I bought several 9 and 5 watt 12v compact fluo lightbulbs and these 36 LED units (In the photo above.) which consume under 2watts each. I know I go a bit about lighting but it’s nice to have a lovely warm cosy atmosphere in a house, and good lighting can help a lot.

I bought them from a supplier I’ve found reliable with good prices and fast service, Energie Douce. I’m a bit disappointed with the blue/white colour of the new LEDs but a red or pink shade over the light will it warm up. I often put a bit of red nail varnish on to LEDs (Which stay quite cool normally) but only for outside the house. I wonder if I should take a chance and try some out on the inside ?

There’s not a lot of useful light either and I expected that with LEDs, but I’m still experimenting with how I can use them for background lighting.

I’ve got a few lovely paintings and interesting corners (Like this one with my “magic egg” collection.) which just disappear once we switch on the main lights in the kitchen. It’s a big room, 7×6 metres but feels small and needs more light to open it up.

We do use candles a lot and I love them but we don’t like going out for a wander outside in the evening leaving the candles on because our two cats love sitting in window sills and they’ve singed their tails and knocked over quite a few things on their travels.

Candles also need to be bought and stored and you need to spend time every so often cleaning the holders. I “rewick” them with a tiny bit of cotton wool twisted and pushed into the wax in the holder with a knife then I dribble some wax from a candle on to the little wick, light it and it burns away all the accumulated wax around the edges. Once there’s a nice dip, I enthusiastically push in a new candle and often end up squirting the wax on to my computer screen…

Off grid computing

Happy solar batteriesOne of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much recently is that my six year old laptop has only a few hundred Mo of RAM so it runs out of memory whenever I try to do anything complicated.

Often, I just give up waiting for action and go and get on with something else – not a bad thing really. 😉

I did buy a bit more memory (The maximum for my machine.) and took my computer apart to plug it in. (Scary stuff!)

That did do the trick for a few weeks but when I’m in forums, answering e-mails and trying to research something amazing that a friend’s just told me about, all it needs is for me to visit one site with a bit of background music or a video and everything comes to a standstill.

I like being able to make do and mend but with computers there’s only so far I can DIY, so I’ve bought a brand new laptop with lots more memory and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better once I get all the electrics and the internet connection sorted out.

Frog on a solar panel People often ask us how we manage our internet connection living off-grid. I cleaned up and emptied out my laptop a few days ago (To let me get on the ‘net to buy another one!) and the connection seems to be quite stable, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about how we manage our solar and wind energy to have off-grid computing.

At the moment, we have a very modest 12v renewable energy system which runs on eight 75watt photovoltaic panels and two 75watt Rutland wind generators.

We’ve bought the panels and wind turbines in stages and decided to keep two separate systems – each one is capable of lighting the whole house, recharge batteries, run small appliances and allows us to get on the internet. Having two systems means that when we can carry out our battery maintenance or add more panels to one system we’re never without power. If one system is out of energy we can swop over and at least I’m always sure of being able to send e-mails or recharge torch batteries. I’m pleased to say that neither of the systems of our alternative technology has ever let us down.

DC Converter (12v to 19v) for laptop computer run by solar power 29€My old laptop needs 19v of direct current (DC) and when laptops run off the mains power they need a transformer to change the alternative current to DC. So instead of using an inverter to change DC to AC to DC, I bought some cheap and cheerful DC current converters like the one in the photograph above for about 29€. This little gadget allows me to step up the DC voltage needed by my laptop and means that I don’t waste the precious (especially in the winter!) energy taken up by an inverter while it’s switched on. This one has been working well (Despite the dust!) for about three years.

My new computer – like many of the bigger machines on the market – needs more power than the 70watt maximum allowed by the small unit above, so I’ve been looking for another one. I ordered a unit from Nauticom and it sh300watt inverter runs printer external hard disk etc.ould arrive soon.

I also run my modem from a DC-DC converter but for the other appliances like my external hard disc and my printer (Which I rarely use.) I need an inverter which changes 12v DC to 230 AC. This one cost around 150€.

It’s best to use the smallest inverter you can to run equipment because the inverter itself uses a lot of energy, so I opted for a little 300watt one which doesn’t take up much room on my desk. I use it with a three plug adaptor so that I can plug in several things at the same time and it too has been working perfectly for a few years. The only thing that drives me mad is all the wires everywhere but I suppose if I want to charge cameras mobile ‘phones, batteries and get on the ‘net, that’s something I’ll just have to live with.

I’m really looking forward to getting everything sorted out and finally using my new computer. I wanted to post a photo of the beast, but I don’t want to take any chances…;-)

While I was away on my Permaculture Design Course, somebody cleaned my woodstove with soapy water!!

In the summer we tend to use the woodstove as a work surface. It gets filled up pretty quickly – as do all the other surfaces in our house.

As we were expecting a lot of visitors this weekend I gave the house a dust and when I cleared all the pots and pans, gardening gloves, scissors and other stuff off the top of the cooker I realised that it had started to go rusty!

Woodstoves are made of cast iron and they need to be kept dry and over the years we’ve just got into the habit of not putting anything damp or wet on the cooking surface. It doesn’t matter when the cooker’s lit – the heat soon causes the moisture to evaporate but in the summer the stove is vulnerable unless it’s covered and checked regularly or unless everyone is aware that moisture can be a problem for the metal.

When the warmer days come in spring and the stove is on its last few firings, I coat the surface with oil and rub it into the joints and round the handles to protect them.

To start getting the top back to it’s former glory I rubbed gently with a bit of wire wool on the areas which were starting to bubble, then scrubbed beeswax into the top and joints. I need to light it soon to make sure the wax seeps into all the joints and the rust doesn’t spread. I’ll do that while this warmish spell keeps up because I’ll have to keep the windows and doors open to get rid of the smoke and smell of the burning wax.

Once the stove’s back to normal I’ll start dying some yarn, bake a bit of bread, and do some sterilising because I’m just too mean to use gas for those sort of things. I can’t wait to get on with it!

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