One night, about three weeks ago we had our very own Thomas Alva Edison moment. We went to the kitchen, flipped a switch and the ceiling lights went on. Eureka!
Indeed, our $30,000 solar electricity system came alive. Over the next few days the gauges reported more good news: The batteries were "floating," which in solar energy lingo meant they were charged, fat and sassy.
But then the "floating" message failed to show up. The screen registered "snoozing," "sleeping," "absorbing" and various other states of consciousness. But no more "floating."
More ominously, a couple of nights later we noticed a certain flickering in the lights throughout the house.
We called the guy who installed the system and he was out there the next day. Jim is nothing if not responsive. He says sometimes he loses sleep obsessing over some gremlin bugging one of his solar rigs.
He checked the specific gravity of the electrolytes in the batteries, a key signal of their health. The levels were near the "honey, get the candles and the flashlight ready" range.
Moreover, another indicator showed 22 volts in the system when then minimum was supposed to be above 24.
It could be that one of the elements in the system was defective, most logically the batteries. Or perhaps the wiring in the house was somehow faulty and the malfunction was sucking the air out of the batteries.
Or we suspect far more likely, the workers at the site had plugged their radial saws, sanders, compressors and other industrial-strength equipment into the nearest outlet instead of using the gasoline-powered generator, inconveniently located outside the house.
Jim had warned us about the workers tapping into the system out of sheer laziness.
We asked the workers and a consensus rapidly emerged: It was the other guy's fault.
So Jim brought his own gasoline-powered generator and plugged our system into it, in what looked like the solar power equivalent of an IV. It ran for several hours each day, for three or four days.
The vital signs of the batteries crept up, though there still was a difference in the electrolytes between the two batteries, and even among the cells in the batteries.
We ruled out a short circuit. None of the 22 breakers in the entrance panel had tripped. Stew tested the grounding of several outlets and that checked out too.
After several days of ministrations by Jim and his electric generator, yesterday the batteries were floating again. Voltage levels were normal and so were the readings in the battery cells.
Today, the voltage was up to 26 and change and by noon... the batteries were merrily floating.
The most hopeful sign though is that the house is nearly finished, and in two or three days, the occupation army of carpenters, electricians, iron workers and assorted others will finally float away, leaving us to enjoy our brand-new home.