Tag Archives: Iowa

Over 600 kWh of Solar Power in June, yet Left Wanting More

June 2018 ended with my home’s solar photovoltaic system have produced approximately 619 kWh for the month:

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This is about on par with May’s production, but several things are off.

See that really low production day on June 26th?  The weather was partly sunny or partly cloudy depending upon your weather vernacular.  That was also about the time that the monitoring data from the app that I use went all haywire.  One day it would show no production, but then update with crazy fluctuating production for that same day later.  I am liable to think that the numbers for the month are off as a result.  Since that period of hiccups everything looks fine, but I am suspicious.

Also, watch your meter readings like a hawk.  I received my electric bill from my local electric coop and it was way off.  How off?  Like someone switched the meter readings for production and consumption.  Instead of showing me positive approximately 500 kWh it was showing almost the same number as a deficit.  Granted, it was easy to figure out because I know how to read my meter but it was discouraging to have to go through the process with customer service.

Without telling me the electric coop replaced my bi-directional meter with a newer model.  It is no skin off my back, but I have lost my tracking of how well my system has done since being installed.  That being said I know that I am net positive more than 600 kWh since the system was installed and I am looking forward to a big month of production in July.

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Over 600 kWh of Solar in May

May was a good month.  My solar system produced over 600 kWh of electricity:

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Coupled with the mild weather I ended the month up approximately 284 kWh for the month and a total of approximately 348 kWh since my system was turned on in August 2017.  I am hopeful that the next couple of months will be big producers.  I am also hopeful that I can keep the air conditioning to a minimum, but it has already been extra hot in May with the Memorial Day weekend being just short of a blast furnace.  Damn you climate change!

I believe that the past several months show that we can move toward a 100% renewable energy future without sacrificing modernity, which is what naysayers would have you believe.  We can cut our energy usage a lot with smart use and efficiency so that the leap to renewable energy only is not so large.  It is a lot easier to produce enough electricity via solar panels for a house that uses 300 to 400 kWh per month versus a house that uses the U.S. average of more than 900 kWh a month.

Now, if I could just cut down on my commuting miles a little bit more…

 

A Quick Change of Tires Makes a World of Difference

Somewhere in Minnesota a long time ago a friend who worked at several bike shops around the Twin Cities told me, “Don’t buy the bike with the top flight component group.  Pick a similar bike with the next step down and spend the difference on a kick ass set of wheels.”

His contention was the even the best OEM wheelsets were essentially boat anchors and a lot of OEM tire choices were mediocre at best.  Over the course of the following twenty or so years—damn I am getting old—this advice has proven itself time and time again.

At the present moment, I am not quite ready to upgrade the entire wheelset and tire package on my new-ish Breezer Radar.  It is a combination of cost and indecision that is delaying any move to make a major upgrade.

While the metal may stay the same the rubber is in for a change.  The Breezer came with WTB All Terrain 700c x 37c meats:

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These tires are so non-descript as to be almost invisible.  I put about two hundred miles of mixed pavement and crushed limestone/early season sand riding on them before deciding that it was time for a change.  The motivation was mostly that the bike felt

My preferred tire of choice over the past few seasons was the Clement X’Plor USH.  Apparently, no one informed me that the company that used the Clement name—an old cycling brand owned by Italian tire giant Pirelli—was switching to its own brand Donnelly.  The good news is that the tread remains the same:

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Weight is a big deal here.  I am no weight weenie as an overweight middle aged white male, but reducing rotating mass is the one place where you can notice a difference.  The WTB All Terrains were wire bead and had an average weight of 18.5 ounces as measured on my own scale.  The Donnelly X’Plor USH are aramid folding bead and has an average weight of 13.3 ounces.  Of note is that there was a half an ounce discrepancy between the two X’Plor USH tires.  I do not know what that was about.  Over ten ounces of weight reduction at the outermost portion of the wheel is a big deal.

My prior set of Clement X’Plor USH 700c x 35c has thousands of miles on the odometer.  I found the tire to be durable and great riding for a variety of conditions that I find here frequently in eastern Iowa.

I am already over fifty miles into the new tires and loving the change.  Weight is one part of the equation when it comes to tire choice, but there is an overall quality of ride that also matters greatly even if it is highly subjective.  That is why there are so many tire choices from so many companies.  What I love to ride and what you love to ride may be totally different, but neither of us is wrong in our choice.  The minute we start making absolute assertions about what is the correct way to do anything on a bike other than ride as much as possible we become the worst characters in the sub-culture.  No one wants to be like the roadies of yore who would stare in disdain at anyone who came to a group ride in mismatched kit.

Interestingly, Donnelly has a slightly different version of this tire: Strada USH 700c x 40c.  The trade is a little more pavement focused with less aggressive lugs along the sides, but the smooth center track remains and with a wider casing this might make an excellent tires for those days when you spend a lot of time on pavement just getting to the untracked gravel.

Things are finally starting to get dialed in on the Breezer and the rest of the riding season looks bright.

April had a Solar Turnaround

Black Friday used to be a big deal in retail because it signified the moment during the year when the establishment turned “into the black” or profitable for the year.  The rest of the holiday shopping season was the profit for the enterprise for the year.  It seems a little doubtful that this story is entirely true, but in this age of Amazon let us give legacy retail its moment.

April was my Black Friday for solar.  Check out picture one:

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And compare that with picture two:

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What’s the big deal?  My bi-drectional electric meter is showing that I consumed (picture 1) less than I have produced (picture 2) since the meter was installed in August last year.  April was a really good month for solar and, just as importantly, a low month for consumption:

April 2018 Solar

April 2018 was the system’s best full month thus far and I am looking forward to the next four months of big production.  Based on my back of the napkin calculations, which are the best kind, I clawed back into net positive energy production by producing a little more than 270 kWh more than I consumed.  Assuming May is not extreme in any way weather wise I should be able to best my consumption from April given how brutal that month was with late season snow and cold.  You can see where the snowstorms rolled in last month when the solar production dropped off.

April was Brutal

It has been a brutal month of April for anyone who wanted to spend time on a bike in Iowa.  How brutal?  Here is what things looked like on April 8th:

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If you were thinking that this was an aberration here is what things looked like from the same vantage point on April 15th:

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Measurable snow on the ground in mid-April.  Icey road conditions, sub-freezing temperatures, and lots of wind into the third week of the month made this a brutal time to try upping my bike commuting miles.  Add in a hectic kids’ activity schedule and you have a month of me sucking to reduce my transportation emissions through two wheeled salvation.

On the bright side, the last week of April has been perfect.  Like high-60s in the afternoon, plenty of sunshine, and no significant precipitation perfect.  If you can deal with the joys of wind in Iowa you can enjoy some time in the saddle.

If I could just get my new bike dialed in…

There is a New Bike in the Garage

After much deliberation and the uncovering of a sweet deal at a Performance Bike retail location I have a new bike in my garage:

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It’s a Breezer Radar Expert.  All in, I picked it up for a little over $600 which seems like a steal compared to bikes I have bought in the past.  If you are a cyclist from the 1990s, especially a mountain biker, spending just north of six hundred dollars for a bicycle that is reliable and competent seems amazing.  I remember there being component groups that were cobbled together and barely worked when new let alone a few months down the road.

Also, if you are a historian of the bicycle industry the name Breezer should be familiar.  Joe Breeze, the name behind Breezer, was one of the founding fathers of mountain biking along with other luminaries like Gary Fisher.  The company that makes Breezer bikes today is not the same bespoke operation from the 1970s through 1990s, but it retains some of the mystique.

It checks off almost every criteria I had for a new bicycle:

  1. Steel frame—This is a personal preference. I ride steel bicycles.
  2. Disc brakes—One nod to modernity. One ride on a friend’s disc equipped bike converted me in an instant.  One ride in inclement weather with finicky cantilevers made me actively seek out a replacement for the dirt wagon.
  3. External headset—Chris King had a famous online post about why integrated headsets were essentially the devil reincarnated as a bicycle design trend. The world seems to be going to integrated and zero stack systems despite the proven longevity and maintainability of good ol’ external headsets.  Plus, is there a cooler looking component than a Chris King headset?
  4. Threaded bottom bracket shell—You can take your creaky press fit bottom bracket and enjoy the disharmonious symphony on group rides. I will take my old school threaded bottom bracket shell and its quiet labor any day of the week.
  5. Non-integrated seatpost binder—This seems like a trivial bit of frame design, but dealing with problems related to integrated binder bolts will drive even the most patient person to question the very nature of their existence. If the non-integrated seatpost binder starts giving you trouble just replace the damn thing.  Five minutes of work and no frustration.

The components are nothing special—Shimano Sora all the way around with some OEM wheels, WTB tires, SRAM crank, etc.  However, for a little more than $600 I am on the road riding which is in the neighborhood of what I was looking at spending on a frame and fork combo.  Sure, the frame is not as good as the model I was considering purchasing.  How great of a difference would it have been and would I have noticed?

Now I am able to upgrade the bits on the bike on my schedule.  This equates to buying the upgrades when I find them on sale and replacing components piece meal.  Thankfully most bikes these days do not spec pedals because it is such a personal choice.  I usually go with Shimano M520s.  I think that for an average price of around $30 you cannot go wrong.  However, for Christmas I was gifted a pair of Shimano PD-M8020s which are normally outside of my price range.  I am fairly stoked about the stainless axle and bearings that can be replaced because I have chewed through bearings on the M520s.

One change that I made immediately was to swap out the stock bar for a Salsa Cowchipper 44cm from my previous gravel bike.  The stock bar was quite narrow owing to the smaller frame size and not compatible with my broad shoulders.  I am giving the drop bar a second chance since the geometry of this bike is much less aggressive and I feel that it will put less stress of my hands.  Also, I put gel vibration pads under a cushy EVA bar tape to hopefully help out with some of the hand pain issues that I was having on longer rides.

Today was the first day that I have gotten out to ride and…it hurt.  I also forgot how much work it is to dial in a new bike.  It is going to take a few rides just to feel comfortable on the new bike but it is close as is right now.  A more comprehensive report is forthcoming.

Get out there and ride!

Friday Linkage 4/6/2018

The weather here in Iowa has been brutal for spring.  It actually feels more like winter than spring.  Temperatures in the teens, snow in the forecast, cold winds blowing…you get the idea.  It is also killing my bike commuting since the one thing I am somewhat unwilling to deal with is ice covered roads.  Cars and trucks already view cyclists as sport targets.  I do not need to make their passion come any easier.

On to the links…

Sinclair’s Pro-Trump News is Taking Over Local TV. See if They Own Your Station.—The Sinclair Broadcast Group is the propaganda arm of Trump and whoever is on the president’s good side this morning.  Nothing more and nothing less.  Do not support the stations that these half-baked propaganda ministers own.

A Running List of Wild Shit Scott Pruitt Hasn’t Been Fired For (Yet)—As I go to press with this I am holding out hope that I have to amend this headline.

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Too Crooked to Fail: Why Scott Pruitt Still Has His Job (for Now)—I am really starting to love that every article about Scott Pruitt is followed with a “not yet” or “for now” when discussing his employment within the Trump administration.

Scott Pruitt’s Rent was Half what it Costs D.C. to Shelter Homeless Families—The thing about Trump and his “best people” is that these people are not even very good at corruption.  It is like they are not even trying to hide their corruption and incompetence.

Leaked EPA Talking Points Tell Employees to Sell the Climate Change ‘Debate’—Here is the problem with this directive: There really is not a debate among actual scientists.  The debate is among hacks, political hucksters, and right wing ideologues.  No one with half a brain and an actual interest in seeing a habitable planet thinks this is a debate.  Plus, Scott Pruitt is doing this so he can line the pockets of his masters.

Why Trump’s Base Probably Doesn’t Care About Corruption—For all of the fire and fury during the campaign about the alleged corruption of the Clintons you have to star in amazement at the sheer chutzpah of the current presidential administration when it comes to corruption.  Too bad Trumpkins—I saw that label on another site and just love it—do not care what happens as long as the vulgarian keeps “telling it like it is.”

Stunning Drops in Solar, Wind Costs Mean Economic Case for Coal, Gas is ‘Crumbling’—Crumbling is a serious word, but the fact that it is tied to phrase economic case makes me jump for joy.  When the economics have turned, the markets will turn.  When the markets have turned, coal and other dirty fossil fuels will only have the corrupt politicians in their pockets left.

FirstEnergy Shamelessly Begs DOE to Prop Up Uneconomic Coal and Nukes—Oh wait, it has already begun.  Just remember, when you are rich and powerful you just get to rewrite the rules of the market so that you maintain your wealth and influence.  The actual free market is only allowed to work when it hurts poor people and minorities and women and…you get the idea.

FirstEnergy Files for Bankruptcy after Begging Perry to Declare Power ’Emergency’—Looks like even with friends like Rick Perry FirstEnergy’s business model is screwed.

First Floating U.S. Wind Farm May Be Built Off California Coast—Unlike previous offshore wind farms like Cape Wind, a floating wind farm can be built in deeper water farther off the coast.  Also, California has a lot of coast off of which to build these wind farms and a desire to be free from fossil fuels.

College in Maui Reaches for Net-Zero Status with Solar Plus Storage—The first places that will completely untie themselves from the grid will be those with very expensive electric power or very unreliable electric power.  Maui is on the very expensive end of the spectrum, but it also has a culture and community that is dedicated to getting off of the very dirty diesel used to power the island.

Study: Wind and Solar can Power Most of the United States—We have moved past the question of “can we be powered completely by renewables?”  The question is now “how do we transition to 100% renewables?”

Rio Tinto Sells Last Coal Mine, Has Now Completely Exited Coal—This is not Patagonia getting out of coal.  This is a steely eyed multi-national mining conglomerate seeing that the future is not in burning a black rock.

Dubuque Landfill Hopes to Convert Gas from Trash into Fuel for Cars—If this is even mildly economic, why aren’t we tapping landfills across the country for the gas that could be repurposed?

Who do GOP Voters Like for 2024 Iowa Caucuses?—You have got be freaking kidding me.  Who is even thinking about the Iowa caucus that comes after the next Iowa caucus?  We are talking about six years from now with more than two of those years being Trump years, which are like ten years of any normal president not named Warren G. Harding.