Monday, 28 October 2013

Harvesting the Sun ...

We have had a couple of request to supply some details regarding our solar installation here at the farm. 

Taking the path of supplying your own power is a constant learning curve, and thus the solution evolves from all aspects, if designed and though out properly most solar installations are scale-able, but not always at a small cost. 

Our system is 12V DC, this meaning that our nominal system voltage between batteries (storage) and inverter (DC to AC conversion)  is running what you would in essence find under the hood of your car. These guys are just a lot larger and heavier 64kg each.

1000ah Lead Crystal battery bank

The logical flow of energy is as follows.

Sun ->PV Array ->Solar Charge Controller ->Battery Bank ->Inverter ->Load 

We have a 750W PV Array, this consists of 3 250W 24V solar panels connected in series. giving us 750W @ 72VDC @ 9-10amps. These panels terminate on a 60A MPPT Solar Charge controller. This device regulates the charging current and voltage to your batteries. The Battery bank consists of 5 200AH 12V Cells connected in parallel giving us 1000AH of storage @ 12V. or 12000WH - AH multiplied by volts, then our AC power that keeps our appliances and lighting run is supplied by a 2000W inverter. 

This is the typical end of day read out on the Solar charge controller.

This gives you a good indication as to the amount of energy brought into the system that day, the second part to this delicate balancing act is obviously knowing what you are drawing from the system daily. To do this we use a nifty little device called an Owl Energy Meter, which gets connected to our 220V AC input. This device then monitors what we are using in real time logging all the historical data too.  

To the right is the Owl showing a current draw of 193W, this is very handy as you get a real time indication as to how much power you are drawing from the batteries at all times. 

Below is the 2000W inverter which takes our 12VDC storage and converts it to 220VAC. The 2000W is just the amount of concurrent power we can draw at any one time, don't think we have come anywhere close to the limit yet.

There is one thing to keep in mind, living off power provided by the sun is mind-blowing, but there are drawbacks too, we undertook a whole different lifestyle and awareness while prepping our move to the farm. All our appliances are "green" A+ rated or better, no toaster or electric kettle, even washing dishes the old fashioned way. Our hot water is a supplied by a gas geyser. 

Our current daily average power consumption for last month was 2.2KWH, the average family home in SA is using 12-16KWH, with North America way above that at 32-38KWH a day. We are still running a 660L fridge, 9KG Washing machine, 47" LED TV, internet, laptops, 9 5W lights (not used concurrently), 3 10W LED spot lights and a 50W fan, as mentioned above we are just very aware of how and when we use all this.


Monday, 9 September 2013

(Farm) animals make a home

Snow covered Langeberge during a break in the rain 
The last month has been spent mainly dealing with the weather from our little 'campsite'. Having finally experienced the rain and snow on the mountains that is typical of an Overberg winter, we're happy to advise that we are making it through! 

Buffeljags River - en route to Michael's school
Snow above Swellendam in the west

Still waiting to commence the main build of the house, Wayne and Terrence were busy with the carport and main storeroom. We've also installed a fresh water tank directly behind the bathroom (the silver corrugated iron with the extractor) along with a pressure activated water pump, for the days when we experience low water pressure - ensuring that we always have enough drinking water on tap hehe..

Roof on! Some shade at last!
From the other side
So we took the leap of faith and have invested in a fledgling farm yard, with two male baby goats from Mikey's school (it's kidding season, and with a surplus of goats how could we resist.....), 4 baby rabbits and 4 chickens. The goats were a week old when we took them home, and are on a three hourly bottle feeding regime - thankfully not through the night - and are simply adorable. The affection received is well worth the effort involved.

Vettie and Blackjack
Still waiting for eggs......get laying chickens!!

We're desperately hoping to get busy with the actual house build this month coming. Hold thumbs for us that everything falls into place!!

Until then :-)

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Settling into farm life

Well, we have just celebrated our first month here at the farm, and it's been a busy one! Last week we moved across to our little hunting cabin on our property, and we have been focusing on making it as comfortable and cosy as possible ahead of our planned build. First on our list of priorities was adding an additional solar panel to our array.

Wayne designed and built a very nifty north facing base structure, which he can adjust in summer to a near horizontal plane, maximising exposure. We are SO chuffed how well the solar installation is running, the lowest battery charge was 80%, even with power tools and basic appliances drawing charge - simultaneously!

We have also tackled the project of enclosing our little cabin's porch (stoep), so that we could move the cooking and food storage area out of our combined bedroom. Wayne and I shot through to Cape Town to fetch timber cladding, which we brought back on our quad trailer, as well as our new top loader energy efficient washing machine WOOO HOOOOO!!!! (making me a very happy housewife hehe). All three of us have been hard at work removing the existing laticing which provided some wind protection, and replacing it with the shiplap pine cladding - along with a door and two windows.

I also now have a kitchen sink and running water INSIDE our cabin, whereas before we were schlepping in water from the outside tap. We have also dug out our grey water pit, and run the plumbing from the existing french drain out to the pit. We also have a bathroom basin (with HOT water nogal!) and a three plate gas conveniences that are very appreciated.

Wayne has called in some help from some local guys and has constructed the structure behind the cabin that will become the carport and storage room.

We are also busy with a ranch style Australian Wattle pole fence, which will 
circle the cabin (and future house), as well as a corner area of the property that we affectionately refer to as the "pretty garden". My Dad arrived with his trekker one morning last week and cleared out all the indigenous Renosterveld within the planned garden, and soon I will start throwing around some landscaping ideas.

We're still waiting on our building plan approval to come through, the municipality has requested that due to the nature of the house (raised/timber), we need a structural engineer to sign off the plans first.

More to follow soon x

Wednesday, 17 July 2013


It's been two and a half weeks since we arrived (this time for good) at our little farm near Swellendam, in the Western Cape, South Africa (Swellendam is on the N2, roughly halfway between George and Cape Town).

In the meantime, Wayne has been up and down to Johannesburg to meet the removals company and send off our furniture (stripped of all major appliances - fridge, washing machine, dishwasher *sob*, etc - running off a solar energy installation means not only that we're not reliant on the national grid, but also that we need to run an energy efficient household).

Our ten year old son Michael has also kicked off the term at his new farm school, located approximately 25km away, and while still out of his depth with regards to the language obstacle (Afrikaans as a first language, which will take some getting used to), he has already made some friends and started playing rugby. During break, he feeds the resident goats, which are milked by the children who go on to produce goat's cheese. This cheese is then sold by the kids as an additional source of income for the school. There are 121 other children, from all manner of backgrounds, and we firmly believe that this will be an enriching and invaluable experience for Michael, as he completes the last 2.5 years of primary school.

We are currently staying with my parents (thanks again, guys!), literally 'down the road', while we await the arrival of our things, which is when we plan to move across to our little cabin and effectively camp while we build our raised timber frame house. We are waiting on final approval of our building plans, at which point we can place the order for the timber and call in the assistance of my brother to help Wayne with the self-build.

On arrival, during one of our 'perimeter walks', we discovered that in our absence our olive trees had produced a second batch of olives - the first having been harvested by my parents a few weeks ago.

It was a nice welcome home surprise.