It has been a couple weeks since my father-in-law helped install the solar panels onto the chicken coop.  Since then, I have modified a few things, added this or that, or replaced a component or two.

The first thing to get replaced was the waterer (or fount).  The existing one we had was a carryover from the coop in Proctor; it was not keeping the water free of ice on the two days we have had that were below freezing in that last two weeks.  I picked up a new waterer/fountain (I bought the new one at Mills Fleet Farm for much less than what it is listed for on – this one has a built in thermostatic switch that turns the heating element on at 35° F.

Looking at the reviews on this particular fountain, many of the complaints revolve around how the unit is filled.  There is a rubber plug on the underside that can be removed or you can simply remove the entire base.  I can see where the complaints of having to “flip” the unit after filling are coming from, but this style of waterer is all we have ever used.  I went with this model because it was the lowest watt-use fountain (100 watts) that I could find, and it could be hung.  All of the metal waterers that I have come across use a heated metal base.  I could imagine, with this setup, having ice-free water, but having all sorts of debris in the water from the chickens kicking bedding around in the coop.  In addition to the new waterer, I added in an electric timer.  This is a bit of an experiment, but my thinking is that water, when surface area is minimized, is a relatively good retainer of heat.  If the heated-waterer is adding heat to the water now and again – when the temperature is below 35° F – it will use less of the battery reserve than if only relying upon the thermostatic controller in the waterer.  That is my thesis, at least.  It is difficult, however, to control variables in the experiment when things like the ambient temperature keep going well above freezing, or there is not enough sun to charge the battery.

About a week into the experiment of solar panels on the coop, I noticed the battery was not holding a charge for very long.  It was not a new battery, but, I thought it should have been lasting more than 24 hours with little to no draw on the battery.  The sun had hardly been seen over this time period, but the solar panel charge controller was registering enough charge from the panels to attempt to charge the battery.  I installed a ammeter/watt-hour-meter inline between the battery and the power inverter.  I wanted to see if there were phantom load being drawn.

DSC_6164 - 2014-12-24 at 11-50-50 - Version 2 - 2014-12-24 at 11-50-50With no real sign of phantom loads, I replaced the battery.  This will be a bit of an experiment, too.  A few of the solar-related forums and articles that I read through had recommendations on using AGM batteries, but the cost – usually two to three times more than a conventional lead-acid battery – is a bit much for me at this point.

That last bit of modifications that I have made were to solar panel mounts.  I raised the panels to a steeper angle.  In my travels around the Twin Cities metro-area, I kept an eye out for solar panels on MNDOT equipment (traffic cameras and information signage, for example) that is located on roadsides and in ditches.  The angle that is used on much of their equipment looks to be around 40° to 45°.  I raised the height by about 8″ or up to an angle of about 40°.

I think all we really need now is freezing weather and some sunny skies.

DSC_6165 - 2014-12-24 at 11-59-06 - Version 2 - 2014-12-24 at 11-59-06