Friday, March 16, 2012

Keepin the dream alive

Well it's another phase for the experiment. I've opened up a website at I'm focusing on basic PV style solar tracking since that's the best first market, but I'm getting excited about the future for home CSP applications. The first run with my ad campaign didn't get enough orders to make a profit, but it did show some interest. Soon I'll have the inventory of product and the shift to sales mode will be on. With summer coming, it's a whole new game.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Well I stopped by my old friend Ed's today and learned a new word. Ed has been working with hydronics for the last 30 years. He says hydro is latin for water, and ics is latin for sh!t. Did I say he's my friend? :) He's going to show me all the things I did wrong when I built my flash heater so that I don't end up getting hurt from something bursting. Hopefully he's got some appropriate components at his shop that I can have.
Some of the things I neglected:
- a way of throttling the heat, i.e. fire to prevent steam flash
- a strainer
- the fact that pressure increases when pipe volume decreases
- known flow rate
- establishing min and max parameters and operating in the middle.

Sometimes optimism is good, sometimes it can get you hurt. Building a boiler falls in the later category; nevertheless it seems that I have to familiarize myself with this to kick start some useful residential scale heliostat target prototypes.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hot Water, Almost

Two days ago I finished the plumbing a flash water heater that I built. It's been really cold, and rained all day yesterday. I thought two days would be good to make sure the glue cured thoroughly. This morning I rigged up the electrical part and gave it a test. The pump ran fine and there didn't seem to be any leaks, so I got some wood and lit a fire. Right away I could tell it worked quite well. The infra-red thermometer registered about a 16 degree differential on input and output, but I'm not sure what the effective flow rate was. One problem I soon noticed was that the pump input, which is connected to the water tank cold inlet, was drawing the warm water off the top of the tank. I kind of assumed that they had a pipe extending down into the tank so that the incoming cold water wouldn't mix with the hot. Apparently that was a bad assumption. I originally planned on the pump intake being connected to the drain on the bottom of the tank, but after flushing several pounds of scale out, including gravel sized pieces, I became concerned that the scale would end up either damaging the pump or plugging up the 1/4" tubing in the flash heater section.
Everything seemed to be going fine and I was just sitting on the porch enjoying the momentary feeling of accomplishment when all of a sudden one of the pipes burst. I quickly shut the water off, and assessed the situation. With the flow shut off, temperatures rose in the flash heater and the next thing I knew, the flexible hose connected to the copper blew off: so much for faucet lines. Steam and smoke was all bluring together and the feeling of accomplishment quickly changed to disappointment. Now I'm going to have to use a galvanized or copper line, which means spending more money. At least a certain proof of concept with the flash heater was accomplished. The next step may well be moving to the other side of the house and going ahead with connections to the house tank. That way at least I'll be able to easily use the water once it's heated. The down side is that I'm still a long way from being able to take a hot shower.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hard Reality

Yesterday I painted at two jobs before playing music for 6 hours. I grosed about $50 for my skill and labor, and probably spent $5 in gas while I helped beautify houses that are already in the top tier of real estate in the USA, and even more so world wide. Some of the houses on the way to Point Venture feature the worst displays of ostentatiousness that I've seen. Along the road are signs advertising "million dollar views."
Relief (or torment) comes in the form of Rock'n Roll. As soon as I turned on the Marshall, I fired off into a frantic version of REO Speedwagon's Riding the Storm Out, to which I was soon joined in by the drummer and bass player while everyone else stood in amazement. It's hard not to get excited when you can slash at the guitar with abandon and yet have it sound like music, very loud music. The Marshall's 8x10 cabinet screams like a 747 taking off while I stand in front absorbing the energy along with the guitar as the feedback creates a nuclear reaction of energy which explodes into a furious lead. It's like being able to grab a 10,000 volt wire and yet you don't get hurt. After hours of musical ecstasy, suddenly the last song has ended, and all the equipment is quickly packed up. I drive back to the place I will park the van and spend the night after heating some tortillas on the camp stove for dinner.
This morning was very cold. I noticed during the night that I had condensation on my moustache. The sky was perfectly clear for the first time in at a week if not two, and it quickly warmed things up into the 60's. I got to take a leisurely morning and then went back out to PV to work some more. I have to be thankful for some work, but it sucks to be working in the same neighborhood doing the same thing I did when I was 16 and 17 years old, and hardly making any more money, while everything else costs more and the houses have turned into bling bling. I could do anything, and I've done so many things, and here I am back where I started doing the same old thing, playing the same old songs. This too will pass.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Inverter Power and the Boogie Man

It was too cold today to work for money so I worked around the house. I cleaned up the carport considerably, and got a better vision of how to set up the water heater and peripherals, including a firepit for testing a heat converter that I built out of 20' of 1/4" copper tubing.
I found a small piece of extension cord in the yard with the male end still attached. I fitted a second male plug to the other end and then used the resulting cord to plug a 12v inverter into the outdoor outlet on the porch. I turned the inverter on and nothing blew up (yeah!) and then opened the front door and turned the lights on (presto). Curiously nothing seemed to work outside of the living room circuit, so I'll look into that another time -- probably on another phase of the bus.
While gathering firewood from the nearby woods, I met a neighbor who was also gathering wood. He was quite curious, without coming straight out about it, as to what I was doing at the house. Two nights ago someone drove past, turned around, sat up the hill looking at the house for about 5 minutes then drove into the driveway. As soon as I turned on the headlights on my van, they quickly left. Security has been on a little higher alert since then (what does that mean?), so it's nice to have some working lights and wood for the fireplace. I also happened to use some scaffolding to reach the exaust vent upstairs to plug it so that the warm air will have a chance of staying in the house if I actually light up the fireplace and spend some time inside the house instead of the van.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Direct Current

Well the other week I got a 45w solar panel kit from HF, and today I finally got a fresh deep cycle battery to go with it. I also got a 12v DC power supply for the laptop I'm writing this on, it's cool because now I don't have to use an AC inverter -- more efficient. Solar to 12v battery, then battery to DC powerboost at 19v for the laptop. Supposedly 85% efficient step up conversion.
What all this means is that I am at the first stage of successfully living off the grid! From now on its just a matter of increasing capacity, and convenience. Even as I was purchasing the new battery, the solar panels were powering an AC inverter to provide juice to an 18v battery pack for a drill. Most importantly I'll now have enough power to run the laptop during the day and work on the heliostat controller routines some more. Yeah, testing can resume!
Also now in the picture will be using the inverter to power the Taco circulation pump that I've got, which is key to getting some solar hot water happening -- and developing the first heliostat target product.
It may be crazy dangerous, so I'll think about it a few more days, but I'm thinking about plugging in 12v to the house wiring and running some 12v lights and stuff off of the outlets scattered about the house. I realize that the breakers sharing the same phase of the buss will be the only ones sharing power. As long as no AC devices are hooked up it may be safe - provided I'm sure to run through at least one breaker.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Testing 1,2,3

Well the first test was getting the prototype working. This week I realized that I had be running the prototype set to Daylight Savings time, which caused the solar calculations to be off. With that little tidbit out of the way, tracking is now in the +/- 1foot accuracy range which is ideal.

The second test has been finding a place to live and work on the project. Two weeks ago I was abruptly kicked off the ranch after only my second day of outdoor testing. The last two weeks have been pure van living at it's finest, hanging out in the suburbs of Austin and bathing in a local creek. Fortunately I found an old friend with a shop where I've now done a couple days of testing and seem to have most of the kinks worked out.

The third test is going to be turning this great idea into a business. I need a pilot site, and at least one business partner to help some capital to make things take off. I'm drafting up an ad that I'll try floating on Craigslist to see if I can find any partners that way. Plan B in the wings is to find a place (park, flea market?) I can set up and see if I attract anyone interested in being a pilot site or investor.