Saturday, October 29, 2016

A nice piece of ash - made into a bowl

Apple wood bowls
 One of my hobbies (some would say obsessions) is wood turning.  In particular I like to make bowls from trees cut in my neighborhood or from logs that my friends bring me.  I sell some of these bowls in local craft galleries, and give others as gifts.  The bowls above came from an old apple tree that blew down in a storm back in the spring and I have been mining the wood for months.  Fruit wood tends to be very attractive and colorful.

 Here's a time-lapse video showing the process I use to make a small bowl from Apple wood (click the image to see it on YouTube):

 A few months ago a crew working for the utility company came through the area cutting trees back from the power lines and my friend and neighbor John noticed that they had cut down a substantial ash tree that was around 14 inch diameter at the base.  He "rescued"  the trunk and cut it up so that he and I could make bowls from it.  He offered me a piece that he had cut into a cylinder for me as a "bowl blank".  I got to work on it this weekend and it took me around three hours on the lathe to make into a nice salad bowl that measures around 9 inch diameter.  It is fairly hefty at over 1 lb. 6 oz., and the grain pattern is quite lovely.  It is finished with mineral oil that needs to be reapplied as the wood dries out.
9" diameter Ash bowl
I always sign each piece and identify the wood it was made from.
 It is surprising the amount of shavings that come from a single bowl like this, there was enough to fill up 3 - 5 gallon buckets.  I let it dry on my work shop floor for a while and then store it for use as kindling for my wood stove.
gallons of wood shavings from a single bowl
If anyone wants this beautiful bowl - or one like it, I sell them for $7/inch diameter - so a 5" bowl = $35.  Email me if you're interested.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Installing a 245 W solar panel on my house

The solar array I have installed on my barn workshop currently consists of 31 solar panels all using Enphase micro-inverters.  The original batch of panels were only 175 W and cost me over $4/Watt in 2009, solar panel prices are now down to around $.50/watt.  I have been eyeing a spot on the south facing wall of my house for years and when my friend Paul Kando generously offered to sell me a 245 W Schuco solar panel that he did not need for $100, I jumped at the chance.  Paul has been involved in renewable energy since the 1970s and is very active raising consciousness about renewable energy here in Maine.

I purchased an Enphase M250 microinverter (pictured in the image above mounted to the back of the solar panel) and then bolted some angle brackets to the panel to create a wall mounting system.  I gave a great deal of thought on how to install this panel safely and called in my friends and neighbor to help install it.  Thanks to my careful planning the installation took less than an hour and went like clockwork.

We got 2 very long ladders up and then mounted 4 brackets I had made to the wall.  I made a wooden jig that to ensure they were spaced correctly.  Then we hauled the panel up by dropping a rope from the attic window and secured the top of the panel with two bolts.  We were able to push the bottom edge of the panel out from the second floor bedroom window with a long board that I notched at the end for the purpose.  This made it easier for the two guys on the ladder to bolt on the struts that hold the panel out at an angle of around 39° from the wall.  I chose this angle to optimize winter performance (we are at 44° latitude here in Maine).

Before the installation, I had pulled some 14/3 Romex from a junction box in the attic down to the breaker box in the basement.  I added a 15 amp 240 V dual breaker for the solar panel.  The following morning at around 10:30 I clipped my Amp meter onto one of the wires and got a reading of .688 A on one of the lines - so that's 144 W.

Watts for the last 3 days:

According to calculations using the online PVWatts calculator the annual energy value for this panel will be $42 a year.  So this panel will pay for itself in less than eight years by reducing my electric bill by around $2 to $5 a month.  Another way of looking at it is that each month this panel will provide enough energy to drive my Chevy Volt electric vehicle roughly 30-70 miles depending on the time of year.
My costs were relatively minimal:
$100 Schuco MPE 245 solar panel
$144 Enphase M250 micro inverter
$29  Enphase Engage cable
$20  Enphase M215 branch Terminator 
$20  30ft 14/3 Romex wire (run to the breaker box)
$313 TOTAL

The other advantage of installing this panel above my bedroom windows is that it will provide shade during the summer.  I do use a small window air conditioner occasionally in July and August and this should reduce the need to use that a little.

Many thanks to my neighbors and friends who are all energy mavens:
John Rogers, experienced home builder and fine furniture maker.
Topher Belknap, home energy auditor and building efficiency expert.
Al Heath, experienced home builder and energy auditor.
We all had a lot of fun installing this panel and I could not have done this without their help.

Update a week later

I decided not to invest in an Enphase EMU Communications Gateway monitoring device for this single panel because it would cost more than the panel and microinverter at around $500.  I have one of these in my workshop to provide live to the web monitoring of all 31 solar panels.  It receives data over the AC power line from each microinverter and sends it out to the web portal, but it is too far from by new panel (about 150ft of wire run) so the AC signals cannot reach it..
Enphase ENV-120M  Envoy Energy Management Unit
 But I did want some way to monitor power output and decided to install a small energy meter above the circuit breaker box in the basement.  This meter only costs $25 (available from MPJA) and I mounted it in a plastic box for another $10 or so.
It shows instantaneous Watts on the lower left corner and cumulative Watt hours on the lower right corner.  I plan to log the kilowatt hours weekly so that I can track performance of this single panel.  If anything should go wrong, I would certainly notice a lack of performance by the end of the week.  Here's a photo of it mounted above my circuit breaker box
I have now installed a live energy monitor.  The panel is currently producing Watts.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

clearing a tree that was shading my solar collectors and satellite dish

When a tree becomes inconvenient, it must go!  Case in point is a pine tree near my house that had been partly shading my solar collectors for the hot water for my home in the afternoon.  I was willing to tolerate that, but eventually it grew high enough to block my Dish satellite so that I was losing HD signals.  Two strikes and it was out!
Offending Pine tree on the left
You can see the offending tree on the left.  It is concealing the satellite dish to the left of the dormer window on the left side of the house, and the solar collectors are below the second floor windows towards the right.

Trunks down and partly bucked
So I called my neighbor John who is always happy to help me cut down a tree and he came over with his pickup, chainsaw, length of chain and steel rope to tension the tree and we got to work.  It took some careful strategy to tie a cable from the tree to John's pickup so we could haul it in the right direction as it came down.  There were two large main branches, one went to the left, and the other to the right and down slope.  They both landed pretty much where we wanted them.

We hauled off all the branches to my burn pile and lit that off while we were cutting up the trunk.

Burn pile before
Pine needles burn very quickly so the fire did not need a lot of tending and maintenance, although it was somewhat smoky.  There's nothing like the smell of wood smoke in the fall.
Burn pile almost done.
We cut the trunk into firewood lengths and I have stacked it in the backyard to season for a few years before I split it.  Pine wood has so much pitch that it takes a long time to dry out.  It's not a good idea to burn unseasoned pine in the wood stove because it creates a lot of creosote buildup in the chimney.  That creosote can create a chimney fire and burn down your house.  I get my chimneys cleaned every year or two just to be safe.
Tree stump and stacked firewood
Now the tree is down, my satellite dish has a clear line of sight to the HD satellite, and I'm getting better performance from my solar collectors.  I guess you could say I am back in hot water!
A clear line of sight for my solar and satellite

While I have contributed a substantial amount of carbon to the atmosphere by burning the tree, I see it as just shortening the carbon cycle.  The tree would eventually have died and rotted, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere.   I am sure the equation does not pencil out optimally, but by gaining more free solar energy, it probably nets out.