Thursday, April 19, 2007

No more power.

Contrary to what CNN-Weather is saying, the sky above Punta Boca del Salado, and most probably all over the Southern part of Baja California, Mexico, is overcast.
The strong winds of the last days have died down and nature is quiet and silent.

This has repercussions for the people who rely on solar energy as their main supply of electricity.
The Fuso Santek however is equipped with 550 watts of solar energy panels and having 6 batteries.
It has always been believed that this would be sufficient for the energy needs.
That even on days that the output of the panels would be low due to absence of sunshine, the relative moderate consumption of electricity would be supported anyway.

Yesterday, while having worked most of the morning on blog text and business communications, the electrical system of the Fuso Santek refused to invert anymore.
No more 12 volt was inverted to 110 volt.
Disabling the Datastorm system and access to the Internet.

The monitor of the Magnum Energy System, with which the Fuso Santek is equipped, was checked and it was read that the disconnecting had occurred due to low battery voltage.
This is a build in safety feature of the Magnum Energy System.
If one would use too much electricity, the voltage of the batteries might get so low that it will fatally damage the batteries.
However, it was puzzling that the batteries had reached such a low level of power: electricity was not used excessively.

It was a most disturbing situation.
The inverter not working anymore and therefore having lost the option of accessing the Internet.

However, the little sunshine there was made the voltage of the batteries go up and when they reached over 12 volt it was expected the red fault light would go off, the message of low voltage of the batteries disappear and inverting would be possible again.
To return to the urgent business waiting on the Internet.

The voltage went up from 12 volt to 12,1 volt, to 12,2 volt, to 12,3 volt, to 12,4 volt and still nothing changed in the status.
It was then realized that the Magnum Energy System might maybe have developed a problem.
Might be malfunctioning.
A shocking realization out in the boondocks and so dependent on Internet.
To be unable to communicate.
To talk to family, friends and business contacts through SKYPE.
To be unable to receive and send e-mails.
Research and visit websites.
And of course publish the daily blog having to disappoint all the loyal and fervent blogreaders. It was a hair-raising and most disturbing thought.

A smart plan was cooked up to use a small inverter of 150 watts on board the Fuso Santek and plug this into the cigarette lighter of the Mitsubishi Fuso truck and use an extension cord to get the 110 volts to the Datastorm equipment.
This could be done harmlessly because in the end, the Heliotrope Solar System is sending 5 amps to the truck batteries.

In circumstances of dramatic technical problems it is also not a bad idea to consult instruction manuals.
Santek Trailers included in the Fuso Santek a large book in which all the manuals of the different appliances.
The Magnum Energy System came without any manuals, which is unforgivable, but Santek Trailers was so smart to download them from Magnum’s website and print them.
In the manual somewhere it was found that the inverter stops working indeed when the battery voltage gets too low.
It can even be set at which voltage this needs to happen.
Next, the manual explained, the “Fault”-status will stop once the batteries reach a voltage of 12,5.
Because the sun was simply too weak to be able to boost the voltage of the batteries to that level, the diesel engine of the Mitsubishi Fuso was started.
The truck has an alternator producing 30 amps and does also load the 6 RV-batteries.

Tremendous was the joy when the voltage was seen going up, reaching 12,5 volts and seeing the “Fault”-light go off.
Inverting was possible again and therefore access to the Internet.

It felt like a pretty disastrous and disappointing situation passed by very close.

Still, there was puzzlement about how all this could have happened.
How can 6 solar panels with an output of 550 watts and 6 batteries not be able to manage one morning of cloudy skies with moderate use of electricity?

Suddenly a flash of geniality.
An idea dropped in the mind like Einstein himself threw it.
Could it not be that when the inverter was switched on, to operate the Datastorm system, that the refrigerator was switching from propane to electricity as well?

This was checked right away with the pride of being super smart and the air of being a real expert.
And guess what, loyal and fervent blog readers, when the inverter is switched on the fridge switches to 110 volt as well.
We must realize that the Dometic RM 2820 fridge installed in the Fuso Santek, uses 2,7 amps and research made while developing the Fuso Santek has learned that a fridge uses this amount 50 % of the time.

It became clear that since starting to use the Fuso Santek, each time the inverter was activated to go on the Internet, the fridge started to use important amounts of electricity as well.
We may wonder why Santek Trailers wired the expedition vehicle in this way.

The temporary solution is simple: the fridge is permanently set on propane and won’t switch to electricity anymore.
However, the “auto”-function of the fridge, automatically switching to the energy source available, is of no use because of the way the fridge is connected.
Next month, the Fuso Santek will return to Santek Trailers in Riverside, California, and it will be one of the things to correct.

Today are clouds again.
Right now, at 7.55 am, the solar panels have an output of 5,5 amps.
The inverter and XM radio use 2 amps.
All is well again on board the Fuso Santek.


John in Livermore said...

Open the outside door of the refrig. You will find an AC plug that powers the refrig. Pull it out when you do not want the "auto" switchover from propane to AC. The refrig will stay on propane when you are running off the inverter. Just plug it back in when you have shore power!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on successfully identifying the cause of the missing amps. This is another step on the road to independent travel.