Thursday, June 29, 2023

More power

My ten year old solar setup worked fine. I just had to be judicious with electrical usage during the darker days of winter. After a lot of debate with myself, and after acquiring some extra cash, I decided to make the leap from lead acid batteries to lithium. And I would boost both my collection and storage capacities while I was at it.

With deep cycle lead acid batteries you should use only half of its capacity each discharge cycle. Otherwise you damage the battery. So a 100Ah battery is actually good for only about 50Ah. Meanwhile, you can access nearly all of a lithium battery’s power each cycle, meaning a 100Ah lithium battery has almost twice the available power as a 100Ah lead acid battery.

I had two 104Ah lead acid batteries — 208Ah total. I could have replaced them with one 100Ah lithium battery, but that would still leave me with borderline power in winter. I decided to get 200Ah lithium — twice the power. And I chose to get one 200Ah battery instead of two 100Ah ones. It was a couple of bucks cheaper and easier to wire and locate in the van.

One drawback of lithium batteries is they don’t like to be charged in cold weather. Some people keep their batteries in sufficiently heated spaces. Some use the batteries’ power to run a heater or heat pad. But now there are self-heating lithium batteries. That’s what I got.

Having twice the battery capacity meant I needed to increase my solar output. I had a single 270W panel that took up most of the available roof space. But after considerable searching and measuring I found a pair of 200W panels that actually take up slightly less room.

Lithium batteries require a different charging profile than lead acid batteries. I could have found some solar tech guy who could reprogram my existing charge controller that didn't have a setting for lithium batteries, but it would be cheaper and easier to just get a new one. It would also be smaller. So that’s what I did.

Solar experts would probably blanch at the way my original system was wired, but hey, it worked. No shorts, no destroyed components, no fires. But I figured I could do it better this time. So I watched a lot of videos, read a lot of articles, and found a wiring diagram that matched my needs. The new system is more complex, with fuses, breakers, bus bars and such, but it’s actually less of a rat’s nest than what I had.

So, wheeeee! A new solar setup to go along with the new engine. I’m set for another ten year — assuming I last that long.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Further progress

I checked in on the Rolling Steel Tent again. The new engine was in place and Manny was busy hooking up hoses and wires.

I said, “Van engine swaps are a real pain in the ass, aren’t they?”

He shrugged and said, “It’s the third van I’ve done this spring.”

He showed me the old engine. It wasn’t pretty. And it was wrapped up in preparation for a hazmat team to haul it away.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Gone at last

The truck topper that used to be on Lou’s F-150 was the last large item to be cleared off the property. It had been on Facebook Marketplace for two weeks, offered up for free, but there had been no interest. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty, and it was for a 7-foot bed in the age when most truck beds are shorter than that, so I sort of expected it. I was thinking about how I could have it hauled away when I finally got a reply to the ad from a guy in the next town over.

“Bring some extra muscle to lift this thing,” I advised. I was worried when just he and his wife drove up. Well, Lou and I had wrestled it off the truck, so maybe the three of us could get it on his trailer.

“No need,” he said, pointing to the crane on his truck. 

Ah-ha! Excellent. And excellent to have the topper gone.

Friday, June 2, 2023

So far

I was in town on other business this morning and decided to stop by the auto repair shop to see how things were going with the Rolling Steel Tent’s heart transplant. Some shops have strict liability-based rules against non-employees being in the shop, but the folks at R&L turned out to be cool.

The first chore when doing major repairs on a van engine is creating access to it.  Grill, bumper, radiator, core support, fan shroud, air filter and intake, hoses, cables, wires, pipes… All that stuff has to go. Then it’s time to remove accessories like the alternator, power steering pump, and water pump. That’s how far in the process the mechanic was when I dropped by. This is the ugly, sad looking stage of engine replacement.

I had already removed some things from the interior to maximize access to the engine and simplify the mechanic’s job. Just before delivering the van I decided to remove the mattress as well so it wouldn’t soak up garage odors. Good thing I did, because the mechanic is storing parts on the bed platform. Hmmmm, okay.

The service rep said everything had been going smoothly so far. I hope that’s more than just a standard customer-pleasing response.