Monday, February 16, 2015
After a lovely trip to the dentist, we come home to find that the off-grid power system of Secret Hidden Bunker II was flailing and, 10 minutes after we got home, the whole damn thing shut down. It's very dark when the power goes away. We turned on the aux heat, pushed the buttons on the Streamlight Sieges, then tried to figure out WHAT THE BLOODY HECK was going on!
We turned the genie on manually, but the batteries stayed at a low voltage (the charge controller/inverter shut them off to protect the batteries). WTF??? Generators aren't high tech…it's a engine and a gen head, which we'd had completely checked, tested, oil changed, tuned up, etc. 2 weeks ago. Gen had been running for 3 1/2 hours, like propane grows on trees or something. Batteries had not moved up even a tenth of a volt.
We tried all the diagnostics on the brand spanking new remote unit designed to control all the various aspects of the system, but nada. When went through menu after menu looking for anything to explain why the gen wasn't genning and the inverter wasn't inverting. Somewhere in the veeeeeeerrrrrrrryyyyyy back of the manual was a little note that described something called "Generator Standby," an incredibly stupid function where the generator turns on, but doesn't, you know, charge the batteries. What a handy function! Somehow, the new remote panel had locked onto Generator Standby, no doubt programmed by some Pop-Tart eating brain dead Korean salaryman for some unknown reason, and there was no way to turn it off. We performed the "Emergency Reset," a last resort option that involved unplugging the remote from the system, then plugging it back in. Zip. Little flashing lights that mean "Generator Standby."
Luckily, my Sweetie kept the old remote head, which had its problems but did, you know, work. I unplugged the shiny new remote (which I considered throwing, but didn't), fished out the old remote (designed for a Winnebago in, say , 2008), plugged it in and, low and behold, the lights came on, and when I went outside and manually launched the generator, the batteries immediately begin charging like gangbusters.
So is the system working? Maybe?
What's the solution?
1) Accept that there are no such things as "experts." Every single person we've paid money, occasionally big money, to build/work on this system have basically been reading from the manual. No matter how much "experience" experts claim to have, in the end you'll find their only off-grid experience consists of 1 solar panel and a battery from a golf cart used to power their rock tumbler in their mom's basement.
2) No matter how many guarantees your supplier give you, when you need them, they won't be there. Unlike tradition power systems, who understand that when it's zero degrees and the heart's off it's an honest to goodness emergency, alternative power "experts" sleep in, have answering services, don't answer emails, text or carrier pigeons and are puzzled that you don't just climb into your sleeping bag and wait for spring.
3) Nothing works as described in the pages of Home Power Magazine. It's sort of the difference between you buying pastel-colored duct tape and festive striped rope at Home Depot and "50 Shades of Gray." No matter how wonderful the specs for the charge controller of your dreams are, divide them by 2, subtract a little more, and consider getting back-up.
4) Even after you've stripped your lifestyle of energy hogs, embraced power strips, spent the equivalent of a year's salary when you were 22 years old on LED light bulbs, bought appliances made exclusively for use in Uganda, something will come back and bite you in the ass. I don't know what it will be, but trust me, it's there waiting for you.
5) Yes, it's worth it…if you can get through the experience without strangling some one…
Lights are still on…fingers crossed!