A week ago, something mysterious happened to our solar power generation equipment, specifically to the “Deger”.
To begin, you should know what the Deger is. Deger is actually a company name, and they manufacture the whole physical support for the solar panels. This includes the post that keeps them off the ground and the rack that holds them beside one another. And it also includes the tracking mechanism and controls for following the sun.
The Deger arm (see image to the right) retreats, and the rack pivots more vertical to face the low-lying sun in the early morning and close to sunset. The Deger arm advances, and the rack pivots more horizontal to face the overhead midday sun.
When solar radiation is completely diffuse in a heavily overcast sky, or when the winds grow dangerously fast, the Deger “table tops” the rack. And when too much snow builds up on the panels, the Deger props the rack up as vertical as it can go to dump the snow off the solar panels (which sometimes works).
The Deger rotates on the post (you can see where this happens in the middle of the image) so that the solar panels face the east when the sun rises. It slowly rotates to keep the panels facing the sun on its daily commute across the sky, leaving the panels facing west when the sun sets. The system shuts down for the night, ready to wake up again in the morning.
Something went wrong with the Deger
As soon as there is a enough solar radiation to power the Deger, it kicks into action. I have been there when it happens – standing at the post, watching the system power up, listening to that now-familiar hum it makes as it rotates toward the sun, moving from facing west to facing east. I can tell you pretty much the exact moment it happens, as the sun just about clears the last branches of the tree line in the distance.
Until last Wednesday, one week ago today.
The sun was clearing the tree line around 7:30-7:40 last week. I can’t be more specific, because at that time I am busy packing lunch cans, signing agendas, prodding little girls to get dressed and brush their hair, and so forth. But I am watching, because I can see the whole scene pretty well from the kitchen window.
At 8:15, the girls on the school bus, I am wondering why the panels are still facing west – away from the very bright sun, which by now is well clear of the tree line. Are they somehow not getting the power they need to kick in? No, that’s not it. Despite facing the wrong direction, each post is generating 300+ watt hours (or about six percent of capacity).
Sometime between 8:30 and 9:00, the Deger did kick in and rotated the panels to face the sun. OK, that’s all fine and well, but in that hour or more, I probably lost about 10 kilowatts.
Thursday, the same story enacted itself.
Friday, a similar story. The sun was less strong and less consistent, so could cover might have delayed things. But even so, there was enough sun that any delays should have been minor. Still, we lost at least an hour of generating time.
Just a solar-powered ghost in the machine?
I cannot say what happened over the weekend, because we were otherwise distracted, but as the week kicked in, the Deger was once again kicking in, too. Today is so overcast, with huge flakes of snow falling, that I don’t expect anything to kick in, but based on the past couple days, I think I can safely call the episode a hiccup.
A ghost in the machine.
A self-correcting problem, like those things in our computers that make us bang our heads against our desks for day after day after day, until they vanish just as suddenly as they appeared, and with as little explanation.
But what if it had not vanished? This should be a BIG question for anybody buying an alternative energy system, be it solar, wind or geothermal. Car trouble? Call the garage? Water pipes burst? Call the plumber. The Deger acts up? Call…call…call whom?
And even if this is a self-correcting problem, I probably lost 25 kilowatt hours in the process. That is money out of my pocket. Is there a way to manually kick-start it when it is too lazy to get out of bed in the morning by itself? Is there a way to throw ice cold water on its head or put the alarm clock next to its ear?
The manual Deger supplies does not seem to provide instructions for manual operation. Maybe the folks as Deger can help respond to my questions. I think I’ll share this post with them, as it would be educational for those of us with the system installed and for those of you thinking of generating solar power, too.