East and West are Subject to Wandering

Archæologists have discovered that it is not just modern mankind that buries its dead with their feet to the east, it has been going on for a long time and in a lot of cultures.  They have also noticed that all of the bones in a particular ancient burial ground are buried in more of a loose version of east or sort of east, rather than on a true line.  The reason, they conclude, is that the sun is on a different arc at different times of  year, so folks got buried according to where the sun was at the time.  The ancient ones didn’t have smart phones with a compass app. 

I spend a lot of time with archæologists and never really thought much about that business of a wandering east and west until I got serious about solar.  The airstrip at my farm heads east-west along a section line and I just sort of expected the sun to rise at one end and set at the other when I installed my panels on the northern edge.  Sometimes it does.  Right now it rises over the blacksmith shop, which is more east-north-east than east.  Early in the morning, instead of those first rays hitting my panels and filling my starving batteries, they are lighting up the backside of the Solar Shed!  Man, that sucks.  Summer is supposed to be that special solar time of the year, with its long days and high angles.  Turns out, not so much. 

Well, no worry, early morning sun is at low angles and doesn’t give you much power, anyway.  Right?  Tell that to the batteries.

If Only the Sun Flew Right Down the Runway—Look at the Offset of the Plane’s Shadow in this Afternoon Shot

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 Then it gets a little higher and what happens?  THAT tree blocks the first two charge controller groups of sun until noon.  If the sun flew right down the runway, chasing the Airtractors, all would be well.  To make matters worse, the big oak has grown, moving closer to the solar shed.  Yeah, I have trimmed it, but there are limits as to how high I will climb a tree with a heavy chainsaw.  I’m not nearly as immortal as I used to be.  The solar shed is also 65’ closer to the tree, as it, too, has grown.  The crown of an oak behind the shed is growing and threatening to shade things and some pines on the west end, though well away, are catching the afternoon sun as it arcs back to the north. 

The moral of the story is to put your panels well away from the trees.  Even if you are a tree lover, some must die.  Best that this happens before you build your array.  Why don’t I cut down the trees?  Murphy’s Law says that anything that can go wrong, will.  Neal’s Law says that if anything goes wrong, it will go wrong on the most expensive stuff.  Neal’s Corollary says if anybody has a video camera running then the first two laws are a sure bet.  Go to youtube and look up videos of people cutting down trees! 

There are ways of dealing with trees.  The expensive way is to hire a pro tree crew to come in and take the tree down, starting from the top.  This is expensive, but usually safe.  Another way, and I get this idea from nature, is to just kill the tree and the limbs will start falling in small pieces, straight down until you have a manageable post.  I have 3 trees I am working on now and they are taking their sweet time about dying.  Take a chainsaw and “girdle” the tree by cutting all around, just through the bark and the layer that passes water and nutrients up.  That didn’t work.  Take a weed torch and burn the bark all around.  That didn’t work.  Drill a series of one inch holes around the tree and pack them with salt.  That didn’t work.  Super Oaks!  Fill the holes and grooves with Roundup. 

One of the trees is starting to look a little sick.  Eventually it’ll get the job done and the trees will slowly crumble.  Don’t worry, tree lovers, I’m a tree farmer and I’ll make more…just a little further away.  So, the moral of the story is that you shouldn’t just kind of nestle your array in with Mother Nature, because she will try to keep the sun to herself.  Plant your array clear of trees to the south, east and west and maybe just a bit to the north.  Stand in the middle of where your array will be, facing south.  Hold your arms straight out and bring them as far back as they’ll go.  That angle back should make a pretty good template for your arc of clear space. 

And don’t think that planting trees in front of your solar panels will make them twice as green, like these folks did in Japan!  How well do you think this is going to work out?  Photo is from Kyocera.

–Neal

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