Happy new year. Just for fun, I’m going to start out giving my own perspective on the events of last week to contrast with Leslie’s.
On New Year’s Eve, line power came on for a few hours and I decided to make use of it and weld up a loud, annoying hole in the exhaust pipe of our generator. I went out and welded it up, which was a pretty simple job. After just finishing the last bead, I still had my mask on but I noticed an orange glare inside the mask. My first thought was that my hair was on fire – it’s happened before. I threw the mask on the ground and rapidly patted my head, but my hair wasn’t on fire at all. A large part of the wall in front of me was on fire. It was much too big to pat out, as I’m used to doing from time to time when I’m welding. I very quickly pushed the welder out the door and started throwing the mostly empty diesel drums outside. However, the fire grew so quickly that three small cans stayed inside and melted.
It was scary, and no matter what I did, it didn’t happen fast enough. First, I looked for a bucket to fill with water – no bucket. I remembered that the buckets were probably in the shop (the room adjoining the generator room). I ran into the shop, which was already so hot and flamey that the cautious part of my brain told me to run back out again. Then I ran for the hose. By the time I got to the depot with a running hose, the water stopped coming out of it. What had happened is that the power lines inside the shop had burnt up and shorted out and there was no more power to run the 220v pump. Then somebody finally appeared in front of me with a bucket, and I used the water tank at the sand washing station to fill buckets. The buckets filled so slowly! After many buckets, there finally seemed to be more smoke than fire.
Eventually somebody much smarter than me remembered that we had a well with a hand pump across the yard, and started a proper bucket brigade. It shows how people’s brains work in an emergency – not at peak efficiency. Time was moving at a different speed than usual, but if I had to guess, I would say that 10 minutes went by before anyone remembered about the hand pump. We finally got the fire out and assessed the damage.
Everything in the generator room was destroyed. The generator itself cost $8200 when we bought it in 2005. It had 5300 hours on it and could have gone about 8000 hours before needing a rebuild. The US dollar has crashed since 2005 so the same generator costs $12,000 or more now. In addition, we lost a welding mask (the one I was using) a flashlight, and a large part of the roofing plywood (7 sheets).
The biggest blow was to my pride though. The generator room would have been just fine if I’d had a bucket of water sitting next to me while I was welding. If it was during a work week and I’d had a worker do the work, I would have said “Make sure you have a bucket of water next to you when you do that!” Expensive mistake, and every dollar comes from donors who would much rather see their money go toward’s filters.
New Year’s Eve is our dog’s least favorite day. She hates loud noises. During summer lightening storms she’s mostly okay, because my favorite thing to do is sit out on our deck, watch the lightening and pet the dog. However, on New Year’s Eve there were fireworks going on at times all througout the day. At midnight I was in bed, but the racket shook my bones, and there was a generous amount of gunfire mixed in there. I’m pretty certain I heard some guy with a 9mm uzi as well. The next morning, no dog.
Jabez has never run away before. Her and I are the only ones who have lived here continuously for all of the past 6 years, and she’s always been the one I can count on to be there and do her thing. When she disppeared it was pretty traumatic for me, and I was so happy when she returned 24 hours later. We both have a new appreciation for Jabez now, and we’re going to get her a little friend (another rottweiler) for her to play with. She’s over 7 years old, so she’s no longer a young dog, and eventually her little friend will take over her old functions. I’ve even thought about building a doghouse – some of that plywood from the generator room isn’t fully burnt but merely charred, so that, a few nails and a coat of paint could make a nice place to go when there’s thunder, firecrackers or gunshots.
The solar panels have been really nice. I mean, for most of what we do now we don’t need a generator at all. The following is going to be a bunch of engineer speak so Leslie’s usual readers can skip ahead a paragraph. That’s okay, I won’t be offended.
On Jan 3, I finally installed the MPPT controllers that came in with a friend who was in Haiti for the New Year. The controllers give all kinds of information about what the panels are doing. For example, I can see exactly how many watts they are giving. MPPT stands for “Maximum Power Point Tracking”, which means that they optimize the watts that are pulled out of the panels by letting them give of their most efficient voltage for any given amount of sunlight they are receiving. This is important because the panels are each essentially 1 amp panels. However, if you hook those panels up to a 24 volt battery bank, then each panel is going to give 1 amp X 24 volts = 24 watts. (V X A = W) However, if the controller can pull out that amp at 40 V and convert it (which it can) then we get 1 amp X 44 Volds = 40 watts. The controller then sends out that 40 watts of power to the batteries at an easily digestible 24 volts, and voila, we have lots more power, plus a really cool digital readout display that I can look at throughout the day. I’ve noticed some interesting things in my observations. Yesterday, for example, it was about 11am and I was unhappy with the power coming out of the array, about 1850 watts. I asked Fristner to go up there with the hose and wash off the dust and all of a sudden we had 2350 watts coming out. That should give you some idea of how much dust we have coming off the highway right now – that was only 2 weeks worth of dust. We’ll be cleaning those things off every monday morning. Free power! Yay!
Okay, welcome back, non-techies. The last thing I’ll add is that I want to get back to the story of how I came to be in Haiti, but I’m still thinking about how to tell it.