Saturday, October 31, 2015

Paradise ponders...

Paradise ponders...  Well, the solar installers showed up yesterday morning – but only after getting lost, driving past our place three times, losing track of three of the four vehicles in the their caravan, and finally all assembling an hour late in front of our shed.  Then things went downhill from there :) 

My plan had been to spend 15 minutes or so talking over the installation details with the installers, then to hightail it over to Tim's to start trenching.  The weather was perfect for that sort of work: about 50°F, mostly clear, and no wind.  But such was not to be, as within 60 seconds we discovered that virtually nothing could be done as planned.  There were four major reasons why this was so: (1) our home's main circuit breaker panel is completely full, (2) we have a backup generator, (3) our shed has two stories, and (4) the shed doesn't yet have an Ethernet Internet connection.  All four of these factors were known by the fellow who came out last month to survey the job and generate the quote that I accepted.  Something went wrong between his survey and the quote writing, and I suspect that it mainly has to do with his prior experience being limited to homes in the city.

So I spent an hour with Alan W., the supervisor of the installer crew (which was ten people!), developing a new plan.  The panels are going on the second story, south-facing roof of the shed, as planned – but – the conduit carrying the high-voltage DC output of the panels will penetrate the second story roof and then run inside the barn to the first floor, then outside to the inverter.  The inverter (which we had previously planned to install in our home's garage) will be mounted on the south wall of the barn, outside.  The AC output from the inverter will then run underground from the south side of the barn to the north side of the outbuilding where our electric meter is.  That's 275' of underground conduit, with one crossing of our driveway.  They're going to bring up a trencher in two weeks to dig that out, except that going under the driveway they'll use horizontal boring so as not to wreck our driveway pavement.  They'll be crossing three Paradise irrigation 8" water mains, one 2" gas main, the 1" low pressure gas line running to the shed, our cable connection, our landline telephone connection, power to the old greenhouse, and the 1.5" low pressure gas line for the outbuilding.  What could go wrong?  That AC line, once they run it, will tie into the house's electrical supply inside the automatic transfer switch (ATS) for the backup generator.  That's because it must be connected directly with the meter, and not to the generator if it's running.  That solves all the actual solar power system issues, but it doesn't even resemble the plan we got a quote on!

Then there's the Ethernet issue.  I have CAT6 cable running underground between the house and the shed, but it's not connected to anything.  I was planning to do that this winter, when crawling around in the attic won't be so hard (the heat in the summer up there is very uncomfortable!).  But the solar system's inverter requires Internet access for them to monitor it, so they need all this to work right now.  So...they're going to find themselves a small wiring guy (to make it easier to work in the cramped attic space), and they're going to hook it all up.  There's a bit of cable fishing to do in the house, but that's the only real challenge.  None of this was anticipated in the original quote, though.


Finally, after that was all done, I headed over to Tim's house with my trusty Kubota, and we got started on the trenching.  We spent about half the day exposing the side of his well casing down to 5' deep, where the water line enters through the side and connects to the pipe going down the well to his pump.  This was made challenging by the fact that a fairly large tree has grown 2' from the well casing for 40 years, and the entire area is full of roots going down about 3'.  Also, it didn't help matters that starting at about 2' deep the soil transitioned from nice, soft topsoil into rock-hard compacted clay, bone-dry.  We used the backhoe when we could, but we had to do a substantial amount of that work with a shovel, iron bar, and (when we got very close to the end) a screwdriver to break up that clay.  We did manage to completely expose it though, and there was a bit of good news there that we didn't expect: the junction into the well casing appears to be in fine shape, and there's one critical piece that's brass – so it's completely corrosion-free.  We were worried that he'd need a new casing penetration, but that looks like one thing we don't have to sweat.

The rest of the day we spent digging about 30' of trench.  That doesn't sound like much for a half-day's work, but the first 4' or so was actually a tunnel!  We bored under that tree's roots, in an effort to save it.  We're not sure we succeeded, though, as we did break off 4 large roots on the well casing side of the tree, to get that well casing exposed.  If Tim's lucky, the rest of the roots (about three quarters of the root disk) will sustain his tree.  If not, we'll cut it down next spring and he'll plant a new one.

Tim was visibly cheered by the end of the day, because we'd made such fine progress, didn't find any new problems, and somehow managed not to break any more underground wires or pipes.  He's hoping to find some time today to keep trenching, so I'm “on call” for that :)

I was very tired late yesterday afternoon when we finished working, so we ordered a pizza from Pizza Plus, and I ran up to get it (the pizza shop is three miles north of us, in Hyrum).  It wasn't ready when I got there, so I ran over to Ridley's to do a little shopping.  Mo'i was in need of bananas and buttermilk, so I loaded up with that.  Shopping there was a little strange last night – the store was full of people in costume.  Not just kids, either – plenty of adults were in costume as well.  As I looked at all these people, I noted that it looked very old-fashioned: the costumes were all homemade, every last one.  They were also the traditional characters: ghosts, goblins, witches, etc.  Interesting, and I suspect a good indicator of the culture here.  In San Diego, the homemade costumes would be a small minority; most of them would be commercially made.  Then I picked up our pizza and drove home, where Debbie and I promptly demolished it.  Very little of it went into the fridge for leftovers :)

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