Friday, April 21, 2017

the new water heater

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(click graph to enlarge)

I had previously determined that my hot water heater was one of my top five largest electricity uses.

So I recently replaced my old electric water heater with a new electric heater of the same type, but 23 years newer. I now have data which shows less electricity to keep my water hot than before. The red line is the new water heater, the blue is the old.

I didn't get anything special. Mine is a GSW (AO Smith) base model but I will treat it with a bit of extra insulation. Even without the insulation I will add, so far I can see that the new heater has better insulation than did the old heater from 1994. It is ON less often.

The graph shows the percentage of the time that the water heater is ON. The new heater has the same standard 3000 watt heaters as did the old so it uses the same amount of energy when it is ON. The difference is that it is not ON as much as the old heater as shown by the %.

I am measuring the duty cycle % in the same manner that I did in the old water heater article then plotting the data points as I make them. The red regression line of the new heater data should grow towards the right as the temperature in the basement gradually rises with the coming summer.

A water heater will work harder when the temperature around it drops (lowering the ambient temperature). My water heater is in the basement quite close to the furnace which causes the temperature in the basement to vary by a few degrees as the furnace goes through its cycle so I have a fair amount of scatter in the data points the more the furnace runs.

Here is the new water heater on a sort of pedestal that I made from wood and 1-1/2 inch Styrofoam sheet that I hot wire cut to a disc shape to sit between the heater and the wooden base.

The old heater was sitting directly on the cold concrete floor. The base and insulation will help reduce heat loss through the bottom of the heater.

I plan to wrap the heater with a blanket layer of insulation. I have another circular disc to close the top.

Both the new and the old set points are the same, the recommended 60C / 140 degrees F to prevent bacterial growth. The new water heater is also controlled with an electronic timer to prevent it from operating during peak rate periods.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

reader questions - concentrator versus flat plate

Re article Summary/Conclusion - DIY Flat Plate vs. Concentrator Performance

On 4/17/2017 8:29 PM, Paul Arnold wrote:
> Hi. I came across your website via and was interested in your comparison of the flat plate collector vs concentrator. You don't mention cost and ease of construction factors. Could you say which is cheaper to build on average? You built both. Which would you say would be easier to construct? What about speed of construction when attempting to build a large array?
> I am also intrigued by the idea of running a steam engine with your concentrators. Would you be able to guess the cost comparison per watt of useful energy with solar panels? I'm assuming you would capture the exhaust from the steam engine for space and water heating so it might be close. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
> -Paul Arnold

Hi Paul. Thanks for your interest and your good questions.

Originally I built a concentrating pool heater array which was un-insulated. It worked well for that application for five years (until I had to move and I took it down).

In that situation, I thought the concentrator was less expensive than flat plate although more complex, especially since I would be doing it for the first time. I could not find a suitable design for a concentrator so had to come up with a design myself. (This resulted in my first book "How to Build ...").

For pool heating, I was trying to heat a huge quantity of water by only a few degrees which the concentrator did admirably. Insulation was not required for the pool heater application, so lower cost.

I continued to work on a set of improvements which I called Gen2 which is an insulated version. This second version of the concentrator with the insulated collector (The Home Experimentor's Manual) would be more expensive. The added insulation (primarily the glass evacuated tubes) would not be required for a pool heater but made possible higher temperatures and higher latitude use in winter.

I publish cost estimates for both my parabolic designs although these are only for guidance. Your approach may differ from mine. See Bill of Materials here.

The cost of building a flat plate will depend on the design and materials you use. Whether it will be insulated, for example. You will find many versions and Gary's recommendations at his site Determine your cost of making a flat plate after you decide on your favored approach for your application.

About making electricity from steam, I am not currently pursuing this nor do I know anyone who has demonstrated a durable, safe, long term approach. Since the price of PV solar panels has plunged over the past ten years, it seems that interest in doing the alternative, with solar generated steam and some sort of turbine/generator, has faded. Are you clear that you cannot make steam with a flat plate? You need a concentrator for that. The two are not interchangable.

Best of luck with your efforts. Let me know if you build something that works for you. If trying steam, be SAFE!


George Plhak

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

bad system drive

Without warning, the C: drive of my main computer quit a couple of days ago.

I was able to keep working on a backup machine which is physically the same as the main computer but without all the software.

Fortunately most of my work was on another drive which I backup regularly. I seem to have lost my sent mail however. My mail program data was on the failed drive. I should be able to retrieve my sent mail from my mail server? More learning.

I did not have a current backup to restore from. I have reloaded Windows 10 on a brand new C: drive, an upgrade from the failed 750MB to a new Seagate Barracuda 2TB.

The reload experience with Windows 10 was interesting. I had made a Windows 10 recovery disk (the CD in the picture) back in December and it did boot the amchine into Windows 10. It did offer to restore from a backup, if I only had one.

So I had to reload Windows 10 using the Microsoft Windows 10 Media Creation Tool. This makes an installer on a USB drive, a fresh copy of Windows 10 from the source and it automatically licenses somehow from my Microsoft ID.

Now I am reloading my programs: Adobe, Corel, LibreOffice, Thunderbird, Chrome etc and all their helper plug-ins. Apps in new speak.

Don't think this can't happen to you. Have a backup.

One piece of learning was that I had S.M.A.R.T. reporting turned off in the motherboard BIOS.The drive may have been trying to let me know there was a problem but I was not allowing it.

That system did seem to be taking a long time to boot and there was an occasional cryptic memory error message from Windows that I have captured somewhere. Also Windows Backup was nagging me that it had not completed (for some time now).

So maintenance was overdue, perhaps a system swap, test backup. I had the hardware but just had done none of those things.

The failed drive starts. I can hear and feel it start in my hand. The disk is turning, a few clicks and then it just spins. But it is not recognized on any of the live SATA ports I have tried it on. Maybe I can swap the circuit board if I can find another like mine. (click the picture to read the lable)

I had written about having twos of things.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

fresnel lens 3

Video from about Fresnel lenses. He discusses the question of which side of the lens should face the sun.

From about 2:20 to 4:50, he measures the focal length of his lens in both orientations. His is the same 32 inches both ways. He then does a heat gain test with both orientations (to 6:10) and finds that with the grooved side facing the sun, he gets significantly more heat. His test is to heat 150 ml of water by 20F degrees at the focal point and measure the time in minutes. Shorter time indicates better heating.

Grooves facing sun: 1:55 (one minute, 55 seconds)
Flat side facing sun: 4:40

He provides an explanation of why this effect occurs - spherical aberration. He goes on to explain the difference between a linear and a spot lens from 8:00.

A very interesting site is Have a look around at some of the other impressive work shown there.

I found this interesting at NTKJ Co., Ltd. (Nihon Tokushu Kogaku Jushi) Fresnel lens supplier: an illustration showing the orientation of their Fresnel lens for solar concentrator with the statement: "Our standard fresnel lenses can also be used for the same purposes but with the opposite facing design. Namely its plano side faces focus and the fresnel surface faces parallel light source."

Perhaps this applies only to NTKJ lenses?

Their website is a useful catalog of different types of commercially available Fresnel lenses. I don't know if this company manufactured either of my Fresnel lenses.

The Green Power Science store is a source of Fresnel lenses of different sizes and types.

A video description of my temporary optical test bench used for measuring focal length of Fresnel lenses.

I was able to show myself that both of the lenses I have (your mileage may vary) focus much more precisely if the parallel light enters the lens on the Fresnel side but this not always have to be the case hence you might consider testing your lenses in a similar manner?

Finally, I notice that many who work with Fresnel lenses tend to use stands similar to those in the picture.

It is easy to understand why this is the most common approach. You need a rigid frame around the lens to keep it straight and what better way to add a pivot than at the center point of the frame?

I would imagine that the movement of the sun over time and the wind would make the this type of stand problematic.

This is a sketch of my stand concept. Imagine two cylinders, one inside the other. The Fresnel lens would be in a frame but the frame would have arms which are pivoted at each side of the work surface on the outer cylinder. Each arm would carry an adjustable counterbalance. The length of the arms would be so that the focal point would always land on the work table (the top of the inner cylinder) with the lens pivoting around it in two axes (#1 and #4). These axes could potentially be motorized with tracking added later.

The other degrees of freedom are #2 which allows the work table to rotate so different sides of the work could face the sun and #3 allows the work table to be raised and lowered, moving the work vertically in the focus.

Sorry if that is not more clear but it is only a concept that I hope to refine as I build something.

For now, I need the benches free so I must finish with these focal length measurements.

Thank you for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Monday, January 23, 2017

interesting diy solar concentrators

I have been watching the progress of сергей юрко on YouTube with his very interesting solar trough project.

сергей юрко is Sergey Briskly according to Google Translate. He describes himself as "Sergey, Mirgorod, Poltava region" (Ukraine) and gives his phone number in the video description on YouTube. He has a series of videos in which he describes the construction method and progress of his split trough solar concentrator, intended for heat capture and electricity production. His videos I've watched so far show the progress of what is now a rather large array.

I am using Google Translate to understand what I can.

In this latest video, Sergey walks the viewer through the array and the process of building from ordinary building materials with ordinary tools. He even shows the fasteners he is using.

The reflectors are an interesting split design. He is located at almost 50N latitude so for winter use, his array would point fairly low in the sky.

Since the array does not seem to have provision for tracking, Sergey has probably oriented the array east-west with seasonality adjustment on the back legs of the frame (where the yellow back leg joins the blue)? The bottoms of the ribs are hinged where they meet the ground support so the array "tilt" can be adjusted to better match the season.

The construction of the collector assembly, with insulation and multiple copper collector tubes is interesting. Although glass wool insulation decouples the collectors from some wind and thermal loss from the front, it does nothing to decouple the collectors from heat loss to the ambient air. It should be possible although more complex to use insulated glass tubes in the design.

Sergey presents numerous charts in Russian text. I would love to understand more about his work. This latest video is from last week and fairly complete (31 minutes). I encourage you to look at his work. I have not yet had any correspondence with Sergey.

Sergey: you will have a wider audience if you edit the automatic transcription of YouTube CC (closed caption) text on the video so viewers better understand your narration in other languages, like English. The default transcription (voice recognition) is not very good and gives poor language translation results.

I heard recently from Ebrahim Hashemi in Shiraz, Iran.

I am Ebrahim Hashemi, from Shiraz, Iran and I have invented the new method of ‘fixed-focus solar concentrators’ which is a unique method of using solar parabolic dishes.
Now, please introduce my website to all individuals interested in the solar energy.
it is my site:
Respectfully yours

I found it interesting that Ebrahim is keeping the center of rotation of the dish the same as the focal point. This is essentially what I have done with my parabolic trough. It makes the tracking mechanism simpler. I did ask him how he accomplishes the bearing on the back of the dish.

Some ideas from the internet for your inspiration.

Thank you for your interest,

George Plhak
Lions Head, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, January 19, 2017

fresnel lens 2

I had written in fresnel lens about wanting to determine the focal length of a large Fresnel lens removed from an old rear projection television. I want to know the focal length to design a mount to aim the lens at a fire-proof adjustable work table in a safe manner.

I am using laser pointers to see where the light beam is bent. I have a measurement for each lens but I am confused about which side of the lens to point toward the sun. I am seeing an unusual effect that I wanted to explore further.

The simple test setup I was using showed me that I was on the right track but I realized that I could improve the setup to make the measurement more accurate and repeatable.

This is a picture (click to enlarge) of my temporary wood shop optical bench setup. There is one Fresnel lens lying flat on the left table. You can see the circular rings. The other is hanging vertically between the two tables. I have made some improvements which I'd like to tell you about.

I would like to use one of my lenses to construct a solar concentrator, primarily to fuse materials. An example by Dan Rojas of Green Power Science. Grant Thompson "the King of Random" shows how to remove the lens from the donor set.

A very thorough article on using Fresnel lenses for communications purposes.

I had read an instructable which suggested using two laser pointers resting on chairs. I am trying to use the same concept but using a more stable setup. I had some difficulty following the laser beam when I was manually holding the pointer.

As before I am using two benches with the lens suspended between them. Previously, the benches were about the same height. Now one bench is about 1 inch shorter in height. This difference allows space for a sliding cart to hold the laser pointers. The cart rides in a track so that I can smoothly move the laser pointer across the front of the lens.

There are two laser pointers on the cart. The yellow emits a red dot and the black emits a green dot. The pointers are held to the cart with hot glue. The height of the pointers is adjusted before gluing with a pair of tapered shims under each pointer to bring the dot high enough so that it just skims the out table top. If you enlarge the picture, you will notice the red laser dot just at the tabletop height of the out table (the higher one).

The red pointer has a rocker switch which allows it to stay ON. I must hold the button on the green pointer to keep it on.

A view of the side of the cart and it's track. The track is not fastened to the table and may be lined up parallel with the lines I have marked on the tabletop at 5, 10 and 15 inches back from the lens. The lens is on the left side.

You'll notice I haven't got the fronts of the laser pointers at the same distance but I don't think it matters. I have been using only one of the pointers at a time, not both of them. They are fixed down, the button on the green is over the beam so it is less tipsy and they can be slid easily.

I have the sheet to be tested hanging level with its focus (the center of the Fresnel pattern) at table top height (the height of the out table). I have two short strips of wood with hook eyes in the ends that I clamp to each side of the sheet.

In this way, I can easily unhook the sheet and reverse it so that I can send the beam into either the Fresnel side of the sheet or the smooth side. It is necessary to move the out table away to make some space to flip the lens. Normally I push the tables together to clamp hold flat the Fresnel lens at the desired height.

Here are my results so far (shown also in the first picture above):

Fresnel lens focal length
38x29in (96.5x73.7cm) Lens A30.5in (77.5cm)
35x27in (88.9x68.6cm) Lens B28.0in (71.1cm)

Note that my results are with the Fresnel surface of each lens facing the laser pointer (the top of the two illustrations).

I thought the lens performance would be approximately equal in the two orientations. In my observation, the determination of the focal length is less clear when the smooth surface of each lens is facing the pointer. I will do some more work and report shortly.

Thanks for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

Friday, January 13, 2017

fresnel lens

I have a large flat plastic Fresnel lens hung between two benches that are the same height, more or less. The benches are pushed together so that the sheet is sandwiched between them. The sheet is supported on wires from hooks in the ceiling. I can vary the height by adjusting the wires.

I have two of these sheet lenses, but they are different. I am trying to measure the focal length of each, the distance from the lens to the point at which the light converges. A Frensel lens is like a magnifying glass, except in thin lightweight plastic sheet form.

Mine both came out of discarded rear projection televisions. It does take a bit of effort to free one of these from the set and it isn't for the faint of heart. I generated quite another pile of waste by taking out every part from the frame but perhaps my separation of the waste helps with the ultimate recycling effort?

Both lenses came from the sets as an assembly of two sheets, the Frensel and another sheet with very fine vertical stripes, like a diffraction grating. The two sheets were taped together anong their edges and held in plastic frames. I removed the frames and tape to get the assembly apart to free the Fresnel sheet.

At any rate, I have the sheet hung from the ceiling so that the center is approximately at the table height. I am using a laser pointer to see the direction that the beam is bent as it passes through the sheet.

This is a series of pictures showing the bending at the back of the sheet. The metal ruler is perpendicular to the back of the lens lined up with the main axis (at the center of the sheet).

I have marked lines parallel to the laser beam near both edges of the sheet with a ruler and I find that the lines converge at a point that is 30 inches from the sheet. This is the Focal Length of this sheet.

The sheets are different and seem to give different results depending on which side of the sheet faces the laser pointer.

Fresnsel lenses have application in concentrating photovoltaics with some interesting examples shown by Green Rhino Energy.

Fresnel lenses can also be used as solar concentrators to reach very high temperatures, like this.

Not sure what I am going to do with mine yet.

Thank for your interest

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

The donor of one of my lenses, a Sony KP-43T70, made in Westmoreland, PA in February 2000.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

major appliances

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Now that I have one summer and a few months of winter electrical data, I am able to predict the relative usage of my major appliances in these two pie charts. My data is the percent of typical daily kilowatt hours kWh used by these major appliances.

The big light blue section of the chart is everything else (lighting, ovens, washer, dryer, dishwasher, computers, chargers, power tools, plug in heaters, garage door openers etc, etc). None of these are used often enough to deserve their own slice of the pie so I have lumped them together in one slice. I want to focus on my heavy electrical users, the other slices, for now. But the everything else category accounts for over half of my usage!

My spreadsheet (.ods format) is here.

Starting at the top left, water heating is the dark blue segment. My old electric water heater accounts for about 15% of my electrical usage both summer and winter. The water heater actually uses more during the winter because the ambient temperature of the basement, where my water heater is located, is cooler in the winter. My overall home usage goes up in the winter months as does the water heater so it is about 15% the total year round.

The refrigerator (orange) and freezer (yellow) together account for about 23% of summer usage, falling to about 15% together in winter.

The furnace (green) is not active in the summer but makes up a whopping 25% of winter usage. Although I have an oil burning furnace, it uses about 620 watts of electrical energy when running. I last wrote about my furnace here.

Finally, the base load (red), the things that are always ON, accounts for 17% of summer falling to 11% of winter usage. The base load is made up of a whole bunch of things which deserve their own category. I wrote about my base load here.

Thank you for your interest.

George Plhak
Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada

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