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Here at Lackan Cottage Farm we like to experiment with technology, some of it very simple, such as our composting toilets and strawbale insulation, and some of it high-tech such as our solar pv arrays. We started off with just a couple of panels, and this has grown to suit our needs – we are running a conventionally wired home, albeit with very low wattage lighting (LED’s), and a general awareness of using less electricity. We still wanted to be able to run a fridge, a washing machine, and eventually a freezer, if we want to rear our own pigs for meat. When the offer of 3.2kw of used pv panels came along, we jumped at the chance, and the result is the array shown above, plus another 500w of panels that aren’t shown here. Managing this power takes a bit more than our simple controller could cope with, and we wanted to be able to share our data with others so that they could find out more about powering their homes with solar, so we’ve got all manner of kit to look after that –

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Which includes several controllers to take power from the PV panels to the batteries,  a MultiPlus inverter/charger to convert power from the batteries to 240v power for the buildings, and a control unit that talks to all the other equipment, makes sure it is all working, monitors performance and then talks to the outside world.  It shows very directly what all the components are doing –

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It’s a very clever bit of kit that means we can control our useage very closely, and see where we need to make changes so that we can live within our means, power wise.  We’ve gone with equipment from Victron, a company based in the Netherlands who specialise in off grid equipment. They are very forward thinking, open sourcing much of the software used in their equipment, and being available to help folk like us who are DIY installers.

The data is then made available like this, giving details for everything from solar yield, to the state of batteries, power used, power generated, and more. We’ll be making the live data accessible to all very shortly, as well as embedding live data about the solar PV performance here in the site.

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and by mobile device like this –

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All of which may look like electronic frippery, but which we believe is a good way to share information about what we are doing, so that it might be useful to others. We are very excited about the possibilities, and so far everything seems to be working well as we try and establish a balance between old and new technology.

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