Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pro Solar Engineering

It's hard to believe that our electrical problems might be over.  Marco, of Pro Solar, and one of his technicians spent the morning here, installing our new batteries and going thru our system.  One problem they found right away was that one of our DC breakers was broken, thus cutting down the actual amount of power coming down from the panels.  Duh!  Not sure why no one else discovered this.   Some of our wiring was confusing and they changed that and then spent a lot of time monitoring the system and adjusting the settings on the inverter and the charge controller to the limits dictated by our temperatures here in Belize.  Within a couple of hours, these changes had already doubled our input over all of yesterday.  There were several components that hadn't been installed that will help us monitor our usage.  He'll send technicians back in a week or so to check the wiring of our panels, wire in a battery monitor and redo our racks to allow us to raise and lower the panels to better track the changing sun during the year. 

It is such a blessing to feel that we have finally gotten the help we desperately needed.   We are still thrilled with solar and our decision to live off-grid.  Even with our problems, we've had power when the folks using the electrical system haven't.  My main advice to anyone coming to Central America is to get help from a qualified solar engineer.  We've faced huge, unexpected expenditures because of well-meaning, but poorly trained installers.  We even found that the incorrect settings on the inverter could have damaged our new generator.  We're both sitting here breathing a cautious sigh of relief.  Thank you Marco.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Solar answers-finally

Yup, we're still fighting the losing battle with our solar system.  We've had technicians here to try to figure out what is happening, but no real answers.  Nothing they've tried has made a difference.  They've tried to reprogram the inverter to no avail.  Per recommendations from our solar provider in the US and the battery manufacturer, the default settings were appropriate.  Our batteries are nearly toast.  By watching our available volts and running the generator every evening, at least once, we've been able to keep enough power to allow us to continue at night and run our refrigerator and freezer (they're both Sundanzer DC).  We've finally given up the fight and are buying new batteries.

Thanks to the internet, I found another company in Belmopan who sells batteries, designs and installs systems.  We decided to visit their office and see what they have to offer.  We talked to Marco of Pro Solar Engineering and finally got some answers that make sense.  Marco has an engineering degree and additional advanced degrees.  He said that they hear stories similar to ours and offered some answers.  First off, our pump wasn't the total cause of our system failure.  If I'd been more knowledgeable I'd have recognized the fact that the inverter shut the AC down when the pump pushed it to dangerous limits.  Thus it was impossible for this to take the batteries totally down. Of course it didn't help, but wasn't the culprit.  His view of the advice offered by the other companies is that most companies in the US aren't considering our temperatures.  Here in Belize the average temp is 85 and most of the dry season it's much higher.  The charge controller, which was totally ignored by others has allowed the voltage to go too high to the inverter.  He recommends that it be programmed to keep it at 28v and below.  We regularly see the panels send 30+ volts to the charge controller . Marco says that over the two year life of our batteries, we've been frying them.  Well heck!

Also, something that I've noticed all along, but didn't have the knowledge to question it is that we were told when we initially bo't our system that it should generate 4.5 useable kilowatt hrs on a sunny day.  The highest we've seen has been 3kwhs and that was last year.  

We're buying new batteries and having Pro Solar come up and reconfigure our system.  I'll update this when we get things set up.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Family visit

What a lot of joy we got from the visit from my cousin Roger, his son Matt and Matt's partner Lenae.  The 10 days seem to whip by so fast and now they're gone.  Roger's goal was to relax, read and just enjoy Belize, which we hope he did.  There couldn't be a more comfortable guest than this dear man.  He's already talking about when he comes back.  Hope it's soon.

Matt and Lenae were great.  Matt is the same age as our son, Tim.  I have to tell you that their energy level is much greater than ours, but what a lot of fun we all had.  I had never been to Caracol, and that was one of the top things on Lenae's list, so Roger and I accompanied the kids on a tour.  I was so glad that we took a tour rather than drive our truck.  The road is long and rough, but the trip in the Maya Walk van was great.  Lots of terrific information.  The changes in the environment on the way up are startling and unexpected.  I hadn't seen the pine forests of the Mtn Pine Ridge area.  Of course they look rough because of recent fires, but having come from Oregon, I was disappointed in them.  We passed thru and reached the jungle of the mountains.  It was all incredible.  I'm always so overwhelmed by all I see and then have trouble describing it.  I'd make a terrible tour guide.  We passed a huge abandoned camp with lots of buildings.  Our guide told us that the government won't allow them to be occupied, moved or torn down.  What a waste!

Of course, Caracol was fantastic.  It's not a trip I'd want to make every day, but it's a trip I'm so very glad I made.  I can't begin to keep up with the younger, stronger legs of my younger cousins, but had fun just looking and absorbing the beauty of the place.  There are so many similarities with the Mayan sites and yet each is also different.  What an incredible history.

On the way back we stopped at the Rio Frio cave which was so surprising and interesting.  Then, down the road a bit were the Rio Frio pools.  Wow, at the end of a long trip, this is a must see and enjoy spot.  The pools are beautiful and the water so refreshing.  This body doesn't get out in a bathing suit in front of others, but I would still recommend jumping in to the water for most folks.  I felt I could just camp there (not allowed) for weeks and enjoy the cool and calm.

A couple of days later Matt & Lenae too a tour to the ATM Caves.  They were thrilled with the experience and enthusiastically tackled every part of the trip.  I have to state right here that Matt is a river guide on the Salmon River in Riggins, ID and Lenae works for the Idaho Fish & Game Dept., so this was all right up their alleys.

We let the kids use our old Trooper to explore around Cayo and then it was time for all to head home.  The sad thing is that it took them over 1 1/2 days to get back to Idaho and a long day for Roger to reach New York.  There lies the down side of living in Belize.

We were so happy to be able to share our little corner of the world with family and look forward to more visits.

I have to add that I lost a lot of my favorite photos.  I still don't know how to manage all the settings on my camera.  Darn!    Just have wonderful memories.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Secondhand Lions

We are having a wonderful visit with my cousin and his family.  The weather has cooperated and been lovely.  Some clouds, occasional rain and cool nights.  Can't beat that!  Belize has about 12 hours of daylight year round, so it's dark by 6:30 every evening.  We've watched a couple of videos.  We have quite a collection of those we bro't down from Oregon and the ones from the market in San Ignacio.  We always manage to watch The Secondhand Lions, as it's one of our favorites.  None of our family or friends had seen it.  If you haven't, you are missing a treat.  I can't figure why it didn't make a bigger splash when it was released, but it has to go down as a classic.  With Robert Duvall, Michael Caine, Haley Joel Osment and Kyra Sedgwick, how can you go wrong.  Please beg, borrow or steal a copy and watch it.  You won't regret it. 

We just have a couple more days with family and then it will be back to our normal schedule, which really isn't one.  We'll putter around the grounds, raking leaves for compost and will try to finish putting the ta-tai on the handrails.  I'll post a photo when I get done.  Nothing too strenuous, just keeping busy. 

I've had a couple of emails from new friends, asking questions about living here.  I'll try to answer very soon.  I love hearing from you and will do my best to give honest, answers.  I'm sending a hug to all of you.  That may sound corny, but you can never have too many hugs.      Gale

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Family visiting

We're now enjoying a visit from my cousin, Roger, his son, Matt and Lenae.  I'm feeling like a real goose as they came in yesterday and I had my days mixed up and had planned to pick them up today from the airport.  What a shock when I got a call from Roger asking me if I was almost there.  They ended up taking a shuttle, as it would have taken me 2 hours to get there.  They're fine with it, but I'll be beating myself up over that for months.  They're so lovely to have as guests.  We hadn't seen Matt since he was a tiny boy, so this is a wonderful reunion.  We love being able to share the bush and the wonders of Belize with family. 

We had two technicians here last Sunday to check on reprogramming  our solar batteries.  The news wasn't good.  They think our accident probably destroyed their recharging ability.   Next Sunday Elvis will bring up a battery charger capeable of charging the 24 volt system in order to bypass the restrictions of the inverter.  This will be our last hope.  We're getting enough energy during the day to handle our useage, but the batteries aren't able to store enough to get us thru the evening and night.  We'll then have to just use them until they're totally destroyed and hope then we'll be able to afford new ones.  How sad to only get two years use.  For now we're just focusing on enjoying our very welcome visit of family.  It's hard to complain when we're having scattered clouds and temps in the low 80's when the rest of the world is cold.  My glass is still half full.