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Solar, so good!

Hello again. The last time we met, we discussed how a real professional goes about repairing a generator. This time, we are going to discuss how we are going to make that generator redundant.

If you have been with us for a while, through the various incarnations of this diary, you will know that the environmental footprint of our little business is something that we have become increasingly aware of. We have slowly worked our way to an almost entirely carbon free electrical home when finances have allowed and really enjoyed the process. I'd like to tell you at this point that our motivation for doing so is entirely environmental, but if I'm being completely honest, wringing every little bit out of our ragtag renewables has become a sort of benevolent addiction.

We have also developed some vague plans to make the heating and hot water happen with renewable energy. Which is to say that they aren't at all vague but will necessitate a large lump of money and a reasonably large wind turbine. And I don't think that I'm emotionally ready for installing another wind turbine. For the uninitiated, your correspondent is an unrivalled expert in installing wind turbines that smash themselves to pieces and deposit themselves over a wide area. That said, the wind turbine should also put us over the top for completely eradicating the carbon (the occasional go on a small generator) from the domestic energy supply, so I imagine that I'll get over my disdain for them at some point, which promises to be, ahem, hilarious.

Having decided that this was probably not the time for a ground source heat pump, we went looking for some lower hanging fruit.

Before our venerable winery generator forced our hand a bit, we had been having misgivings about relying on it entirely over harvest. Harvest is obviously the most important time of year here and we really wanted some redundancy in the system given that the generator had 20,000 hours on the clock when it came to us. In retrospect, having this conversation within ear shot of the old girl probably wasn't terribly respectful and it wasn't much later that she decided to sort of self-immolate, presumably after a period of depression.

The very first thing that we would need to make this happen was a lot more power. Most of the year, wineries don't need any power at all, well, ours doesn't. It is possible to over engineer one that requires really heroic amounts of power quite a lot of the time, you will no doubt be astonished to hear that we don't have one of those. Even the most parsimonious winery (read: ours) is doomed to require huge gobbets of the stuff intermittently at harvest, so we would need to be able to make that happen first.

To do this without using a generator, people without access to the grid must collect the power with a solar panel, store that power in a battery and have an inverter to convert that battery power into the type that comes out of the wall. We obviously had all of these things because it's good to have lights and the children very much enjoy watching television, but we didn't have enough of any of it.

Once the brains of the operation had allowed me to go on my favourite ever internet shopping trip, we were ready to start bolting the new solar panels to the roof of the house (the existing ones are sort of free range and live in the field, adjacent to the house). Being solar panels, this was obviously a simple operation and we had them on in no time. The really fancy new lithium batteries and inverter proved entirely idiot proof too, and we were excitedly powering it into life in no time.

Domestically, this was a big win, as it meant not having to rely on the generator to run the more power hungry equipment (washing machine, mostly) and we were able to run out and buy a toaster and one of those kettles that plugs in like normal people. As a fringe benefit, I am also able to see exactly how much electricity my children are wasting from anywhere in the world because the new inverter connects to the internet for some reason.

Extra-domestically, we were winning there too. We now had some spare equipment – the original inverter, battery and the solar panels that wouldn't talk to the new batteries – so we were able to re-home them in the wine tasting area; along with a big old pair of speakers and an amplifier because we don't have any neighbours and really enthusiastic late night wine tasting really needs a soundtrack.

When we weren't wantonly boiling kettles and making toast happen, we were then theoretically in a position to make the winery equipment work using only the power of the sun. I'll be honest, I didn't think that the whirring box that I borrowed for a proof of concept would be a goer - you put house power in one end, and wine press power comes out of the other end of it – so I was somewhat sceptical when I plugged our most easily replaced piece of equipment into it. That's the wine pump, in case you were taking notes.

As if by magic, it whirred into life and shifted the required amount of wine from one tank to another in virtual silence. I sense that there may be bumps in the road ahead, because there are always bumps in the road, but solar, so good!


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