Boomershoot prep and maintenance is essentially a year around job. Adding the weather station added to the maintenance part more than I expected. I did original power consumption calculations without the webcam. I purchased a cheap (but very low power consumption) webcam and it looked like the solar power system was marginal but should be good in the summer. At Boomershoot this year I swapped out the cheap webcam which was having problems for a better one which used more power. My spreadsheet said it should be okay during the summer but winter was going to be a problem.
Well… I was pushing the envelope too far and the system went down May 6th about 05:15. On May 7th my brothers helped diagnose the problem, gave the battery a little bit of a charge with jumper cables from their vehicle battery which got it back online about 16:51, and it ran until 18:35.
I purchased another solar panel and showed up onsite Saturday morning. I stopped at Boomershoot Mecca, picked up tools, and looked for a spare, very cheap, low power charge controller I purchased several years ago. I couldn’t find the charge controller and finally went over to the shooting line and the weather station.
I put the site on a temporary power supply and had it up about by about 11:15. I poked around with my meter and discovered the charge controller had power coming in from the solar panel but nothing was getting through to the battery. I concluded the charge controller was bad. I connected the solar panel directly to the battery, which was discharged down to 4.5 volts, and went looking for the charge controller again. It wasn’t at the Taj Mahal and I went back to Mecca and did a very deep search. I finally found it and went back to the weather station. The battery was up to about 10.4 V and I decided to try the existing charge controller again. This time it worked. It appears the charge controller runs on power from the battery. If the battery gets too low then it stops working and the battery will never get charged up even though there is plenty of solar power available. This seems to be a serious and easily fixed design flaw in the charge controller.
Installed the second solar panel and made sure everything was working as expected:
I left the temporary power installed in the hopes the battery would get enough charge by morning that I could switch over to the permanent supply without it getting into another death spiral.
I then went back to Mecca, straightened things up, moved some things to the Taj Mahal which had been left at Mecca, and did an inventory of target materials so I know how much to purchase for next years event (sign up here!).
About 02:00 on Sunday the site went down again because the temporary supply ran out of power. I arrived onsite about 07:15, found the battery was about 11.5 volts and slowing rising. I still had some time available onsite and decided to start charging the temporary supply from the inverter in my vehicle and run the station from it while the solar panel continued to charge the battery. The cables were too short to connect while the vehicle was parked on level ground so I tried to get closer:
I actually was a couple feet closer but slide sideways down the hill. The cables were just barely long enough. Another inch away and they would not have reached. But even after a couple minutes of charging my temporary power supply was still too low to run the Internet connection, weather station, and the webcam. I connected things to the permanent, solar powered, power supply, got it up and running about 07:25, and went about the other chores I had to do.
The original solar panel had a bunch of bird droppings so I cleaned it.
I moved the yellow fiberglass stakes we used to mark the parking area to a spot less likely to get lost in the grass. Then I picked up a garbage sack full of milk jugs ripped apart by explosives in the attempted fireball:
The webcam caught me doing various things
- Moving the stakes:
- Cleaning the solar panel:
- Picking up milk jug pieces: