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.

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…;-)

Digging the holes for the erection of the new 2kw wind generator

Fabrice digging the holes for the new 2kw wind generator

We’ve made a start to getting the new wind turbine up, but it will be a while before it’s generating electricity.

Doing this now while the ground is dry will ensure that the cement in five holes we made – one for the mast and four for the guy ropes – has a chance to dry out before we put up the mast.

Each one of these three sections of the tower is too heavy for one person to lift. When you see them laid out like this it’s a bit scary.

This is us working out where to put the holes for the 8 guy ropes and have a clear passage for the tractor so that we can erect the mast and let it down again for maintenance.

The 9 metre mast will sit on this base and the steel ropes

will keep the mast absolutely straight.The bolt goes through the bottom of the mast which will be pulled upright gently by our tractor and secured in place.

We still have a lot of building work to do including installing our hot water system (which we’ll use as a dump load for excess electricity) before we put the generator up but the cement bases should be dry and completely solid by then.

More lighting info – now that the dark nights are really on their way.

I put a new 7 watt compact fluo in the clock lamp. The comparison between this and the LED is incredible.

I’ll use the LED somewhere else, probably outside. I like this lamp very much. It’s such a nice colour and the fluo really lights up the area around the lamp instead of just glowing in the dark like a LED.

The woodburner’s lit for winter

Godin Woodburner and home made The house is toasty warm and I love cooking on this. We keep it alight 24 hours a day throughout the winter.
I put a bit of chestnut in it in the morning on the embers from the night before and let it blast a bit to clean the flue, then if we’re around we fill it with chestnut and close it right down until we start cooking lunch when it gets opened again either to use the top fast plate for fast cooking or the oven – the hottest oven I’ve ever had.

Godin woodburner being used to it's maximum !I can make a lovely flaky quiche from start to finish in under half an hour, boil a kettle while I open the chickens and geese and give hay to the goats in the morning. A casserole can be left on the cooler side of the cooker to simmer all day and I dry socks, wellies, pots and pans, and all our clothes around the cooker.

If we’re out all day I use oak wood which stays in well, and just before going to bed, we fill it up with mostly oak to make sure it stays in all night.

Rutland wind generators and reliability – our experience

Two little windgenerators on the hill at BourrouAt the moment, we’ve 2 small Rutland 910s wind generators. One is 15 years old. I bought it as a winter back-up to four small solar panels I used when I first went off-grid. The other (A Furlmatic) is 7 years old. They’re rated at 75 watts each, but of course when the wind’s really blowing they give us more – up to about 250watts.
The first Rutland I bought has been through hell – re-sited three times and damaged twice. The first time was my fault – I dropped the head (It was heavier than I imagined.) and damaged the bit the pales push into. It was easy to fix, but left the unit with a slight rattle. Rutland wind generator in the snow

The second time it was damaged was during a terrible storm in 1999 which destroyed homes and forests all over Europe. The Furlmatic sailed through the storm with no ill effects, but we had twenty four metre roofing sheets stacked and covered and weighted down in front of the generators and the wind was so strong that it whipped them off one by one. Several sheets were forced around the mast of the old 910 and pushed it to the ground. When we went out to see it the next day three of the pales were broken and the head was bent and the back fin was damaged.

We got replacement blades and a new fin from Marlec – delivered in under a week – and we unbent the head and pulled the mast back up with the tractor and the bloomin’ thing still gives the same output as before – but rattles even louder !

One of our Rutland 910 windgenerators

For the money (around 700 euros each) and the reliability and availability of spare parts, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Rutland 910 series as a small low cost wind generator – especially as a complement to photovoltaic solar power.

This is an update to this post in the blog. I’ve just come across a PDF of a Rutland owners manual so HERE’s the link.

I’ve been looking for a larger turbine for a few months now. I’d love to be able to have a washing machine here. We’ve 600 watts of solar (450 more coming on Sunday !) but I need at least another 1000 watts to ensure that on a sunny windy day I can get my washing done without leaving the house and still have the luxury of a computer, television and good lighting for the evening.

With “Make your mind up time” looming nearer, (We’re going to need lights for working on the inside of the extension this winter and we need to get the cabling done and decide where to site all the material before we go any further on the east terrace outside) I was watching the price of some windchargers on Ebay and the sale of one of them finished around 4pm. At 2.30pm, we had an unexpected visit from a man who stopped off here once – to see our windgenerators – about two years ago.

He’s a very shy geeky little man who asked Fabrice technical questions that I answered and undaunted, he kept up the conversation on that basis. His general manner takes a little getting used, to but we stated talking about his system and I showed him and explained the working of ours and little by little he and I started making contact.

With electricity, Fabrice leaves all the design and technical stuff to me, but he’ll help me wiring and lifting which is all that a girl can ask for really. It’s very exciting having someone who lives nearby like this man, he knows about the things I know about and want to learn more about, that I’ve never, ever talked to anyone else about in person.

He suddenly stood up to leave and asked if he could take our old 600 watt inverter away that I’d mentioned earlier, adding that he might be able to fix it. Now, I’m desperate to see his workshop and learn more about fixing and making generators, it would be great not to have to worry about getting spare parts.

I smelt serendipity and this felt like an omen. He left just minutes before the Ebay sale ended, so I got on line quickly and bought the 2000 watt windgenerator and it’s coming with the panels on Sunday – if all my plans work out OK.

I’m very excited – Fabrice is even showing signs of anticipation, but there’s still a lot of work to do digging trenches, wiring, putting the panels and generator up and humphing around batteries, controllers and making things to keep things in etc. before we’ll be able to try it out.

I’ve spent about six months researching which generator to buy and how to buy it (There are grants in France for Renewable energy projects). I’d like to share that information with other people thinking of doing the same thing, but I’ll have to do some work on getting it all together before it’s a presentable post in the blog…

I do miss having a secretary.

Fiddling about with 2D 12v low energy lighting

I love nice lighting, but unfortunately, the choice of fittings and decor in low energy consumption lighting is still quite limited.

12v 2D Leisure lights from MarlecI bought three of these units from Marlec Engineering eight years ago, along with several replacement tubes which I haven’t had to use yet. They do the job and can light up a whole room, but last week I decided to buy covers for them which give off a nicer diffused light and are much prettier than the original utilitarian square plastic box.

12v 2D innards by hardworkinghippyI took a chance and bought them without measuring the lights and fortunately the 2D tube plus the electrical components fit, but I had to cut off the edges with a hacksaw to get the square box into the round cover.

I rewired the unit, replacing the wires (2.5mm cable which is very difficult to work with and guaranteed to break nails!) with slightly longer pieces long enough to enable them to go round the outside of the box. When you’re working with DC (Direct Current) you must ensure that the cable size is big enough to prevent losses along the length of the cable. Here is a Cable size Calculator to help you determine the size you’ll need for your own installation.

Rewiring a 2D 12 volt unit powered by solar energy Then I made some small holes with a red hot screwdriver in the plastic to correspond with the fitting holes in the cover unit, so the screws supported the two together.

Up the ladder again, I screwed the unit into place securely and pushed the feed cable through a side hole so that everything laid flat to the ceiling and connected the wires using a “chocolate” block. I tested the light, then went back up the ladder with the glass cover and gently fiddled with it until it slotted into place then I tightened up the last screw and it was done.

hardworkinghippy and 12v solar lightingLights on again et voila!

We have three of these lights – one in the kitchen, the hall and the main bedroom. They consume only 12 watts and give off enough light for working and looking for things. Most of the other lights in the house are low consumption LEDs which don’t give off a lot of light, but they “open up” a room and are lovely for mood lighting.

This week, I’m working on another old spotlight which I’ve bought LEDs for to replace the 12v halogen, so I’ll post some information on that, plus some other examples of our LED lighting soon.

THIS site will tell you how and where – depending on your post code – to dispose of your low energy lights (220W or 12v) safely.

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