a man, his batteries, and a turkey baster

May 04, 2020  •  6 Comments

The title of today's blog might indicate I have some sort of incredibly witty and creative video offering, but my still camera holds the creativity and thus, this blog is more of the technical sort.

Solar electricity is more popular than ever, with a wider variety of capabilities and more efficient options available now than twenty years ago when we started building our home on the mesa.  There are two types of owners of solar systems - those who love the idea of getting energy from the sun and happily use the systems with minimal knowledge. Then you have geeks, like Fred and eventually me, who understand as much of the inner workings of solar electricity as possible.  These are the folks who might have (as in our case) solar panels mounted on trackers that move through the day to track the sun's angle.  The house tracker is shown here, with last year's late spring garden in bloom.


Having solar or photovoltaic panels mounted on a tracker enables the owner to change the angle of the tracker, and maximize energy production throughout the year.  We change ours quarterly, with dates in conjunction with the winter/summer solstice and spring/autumnal equinox.  It is a two-person job - one person pushing up or pulling down - on the tracker, and the other moving the bolts to different positions.

After the angles have been changed, the batteries are equalized, running them to a higher voltage and shaking the sulphur off the lead plates inside. The process prolongs battery life.  This is where the man, the batteries, and a turkey baster come into play.

Lead-acid batteries are wonderful things.  They enable us to store energy from the sun for use at night and on cloudy days.  The process of storing and discharging energy in the battery requires distilled water to replace water loss due to evaporation and the production of hydrogen gas. Thus, the 18 batteries in our house system have two cells per unit, each requiring servicing with distilled water.  For safety's sake, when working with acid, mask and gloves are always a good idea.  Here are some shots of Fred at work, servicing the batteries.  He has done it 74 times in the past 18+ years, at both the house and the well, which has its own solar-electric system.  The process requires focus and attention to detail.

He holds a crank-wound flashlight in his left hand to point light into each of the cells, enabling him to see the water level.  As for me, I used my in-camera flash to fill the photographs with extra light.

Didn't really think you were going to get a Physics 101 lesson, did you?  I do need to take a physics course!

Thanks go out this week, to Christina, TTT, Victoria, Jean and Sam, Wayne, Sara, Ingrid, Barbara, Debra, Steve, and Dianne for sending your most welcome comments this week!  

until next Monday,


a passion for the [email protected]





Sara Woodburn(non-registered)
Well, that's serious comittment to solar energy and how to go about it geek style! Bravo, you two!
Very interesting coverage on your giant batteries and solar array. After coping with marine batteries for almost 30 years on my houseboats, and now for 2 years on my camp trailer, I am familiar with the critical need to keep them topped off. And I still have no idea at all how they work, only that they are exTREMEly heavy boxes that feed my outlets and are always awkward to get to. Thanks for sharing your huge system with us. Quite an accomplishment.
Wayne Gesterfield(non-registered)
So neat. Love the tracker idea.
Not practical on small house lots tho.

Anyone like me who grew up in the 50's rebuilding a car engine and doing your own oil changes, etc. , as I did, knows all about good battery maintenance.

Do you have solars on your Santa Fe house?
Steve Immel(non-registered)
What a fun and educational story, Daryl. Somehow I didn't know your solar panels are on trackers. Or I forgot. That's more than possible. How long does it take to fill 36 cells? You fill the cells four times a year. Is there a seasonal component to when you do it or simply every three months regardless of the weather or time of year?

Thanks for the lesson.
Dave Okerberg(non-registered)
Now I know how it happened that we were friends in the U.S. Navy......We are both Geeks. But my geekness is with other things, not solar but it looks fascinating.
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