Some Solar Stats


After a lot of procrastination I finally wired in the solar panel we fixed in place last summer.

The final solar panel in place

It takes our panel capacity from 640Watts to 1kW. I’m pleased to see the difference it makes, so have some figures to share.

Solar panels supplied by photonic universe


With the easing of lockdown and the better weather, we are now cruising in a more normal pattern for us, which admittedly is slowly. I’ve been very encouraged by the results we have seen. So far the panels are providing a lot more power than we use for propulsion and over all 51% of all the electricity we have used in the past two weeks, and when you consider we cook electric I think that is pretty impressive.
These are the figures for the past 2 weeks, mid April, weather predominantly sunny with some light cloud.
Cruising stats
• 13:47 hours cruising
• 21.9 miles covered
• 6 days cruising, 8 days moored.
Electricity usage over past 2 week
• Total 92 kW hrs
• Propulsion 12kW hrs (14%)
• Domestic 79 kW hrs (86%)
Sources of electricity over past 2 weeks
• Solar 47 kWhrs (51%)
• Gen set 38 kWhrs (42%)
• Battery 7 kWhrs (7%)
(note – the 7kWhrs of power that came from the batteries means the batteries had less charge in them at the end of the two weeks then they did at the start by 7kWhrs, which is 13% of our battery capacity.)
Power required for propulsion
• Per hour cruised – 945 watts
• Per mile of cruising – 594 watts
• While passing moored boats about 600 watts
• At average canal cruising speed (2.5-3mph) 1.7-1.8 kW

Only once in the past 14 days did we use more power for propulsion than we generated that particular day from the solar panels. That was the day we cruised for 4.5 hours downstream on the River Soar and then upstream on the River Trent. Although the boat travels faster and is more efficient on rivers, it still requires more power than on a canal. But even so, we still generated 89% of the propulsion power through the solar panels, so only 11% came from our batteries.

Power sources

Based on the past 4.5 years records, we only cruise on average once every 2.4 days. So taking into consideration our non-cruising days alongside our cruising days, the solar panels will provide far more power than we need for propulsion. In the past two weeks it has been 3.5 times as much, or 363% which means that even if we doubled the amount of cruising we do, the solar panels will still provide more power than we need for propulsion.

It is also interesting to see how much the power gained is increasing week by week. Two weeks ago the peak power was just 11.5 Amps now, at the end of April, it is over 15 Amps. I expect those figures to continue improving throughout May and June.

For other boaters reading this, you might be horrified at how much electricity we use for domestic purposes. To be fair, we are a gasless boat. We cook electric, use a 240v fridge, an electric kettle and toaster, and the washing machine heats from a cold fill. We run a diesel boiler for heating and hot water. Not to mention the other gadgets that keep us connected to the wider world.

Previous post about our solar set up https://nb-firecrest.co.uk/taking-advantage-of-the-sunshine/

Can I also take this opportunity to apologise that our contact and comments options are still disabled.

A Hectic Week

Cheryl has been off the boat so I could have a quiet week working.  But this is boat life, and my social life this week has been hectic.  After a very enjoyable day helping Jo and Laurence down the Atherstone flight, they picked me up as they passed through Rugby hoping I’d help them down the 3 Hillmorton locks as well.  Jo was only a few hours from her new home so keen to get going so left Laurence and I chatting, it was nearly sunset before I arrived back on Firecrest.

Then I met Malcom and Barbara from Ampere, on their way to Crick to represent the Electric Boat Assosiation .  They kindly invited me to a BBQ, something Cheryl and I used to enjoy regularly when we were land based so this was a real treat. The next day I saw Laurence again.   Continue reading A Hectic Week

Burnt oak oiled floor

Cheryl has not been on the boat this last week so I have taken the opportunity to re-oil some of the floor.

We have a solid oak floor, which has been lightly burnt with a blow torch and then oiled with OSMO oil.  I like oil as a wood finish because it brings the grain of the wood to life, is easy to apply and can be reapplied without having to remove the previous finish.  It also penetrates the wood so gives better protection than a surface finish.

The entrance/utility room suffers badly from our wet muddy boots and was was looking particularly tired and dull, but as you can see now looks really good again, in fact better than the galley floor which is on the left.  (Photo above)

It was a bit tricky doing the bathroom with it being a walk through and in the middle of the boat but I managed it two boards at a time.

And while were talking about Burnt Oak, John and Martina cruised past yesterday so nice to catch up.  Having not seen them for a whole year were now wondering who’s stalking who.

Where the power goes – Part 2

In my last post I looked at the power usage on the canal.  This got me thinking about the data I collected while we were on the river Avon near Evesham last July.  It’s clear we used a lot less power to travel at the same speed.  This surprised me because we were travelling upstream against the flow.

I measured the flow on the river by timing flotsam floating down stream.  It was about ½ a mile per hour which is not a lot, but on the canals that much increase in speed requires a lot of extra power, so for us to use less power was initially a surprise.

Here is a chart that shows the difference between the two sets of measurements.  I have included a corrected line to show the effect of allowing for the river’s flow, which makes the result even more startling.

Chart showing the power required to cruise a Narrowboat on a |River ccompared with on a Canal
Power required for Canal vs River cruising

The difference is so stark I was left pondering.

A boat travelling forwards pushes the water out of the way, both to the sides and underneath.  This can be seen as a bow wave.  On a river there is width and depth to accommodate this.  On a narrower shallower canal this water creates more of a barrier because there is less space around the boat for the water to go.  The gap between the base of a narrowboat and the canal bed is sometimes only a few inches.  Whereas it can be a lot deeper on a river.

The effect was very obvious on the Macclesfield canal where the boat almost stops as it struggles to go under some of the very narrow shallow bridges.  It in effect acts as a piston pushing water through the bridge and raising the water level in front of the boat requiring a lot of energy.

As we go faster the size of this bowwave bulge increases, and the water rises further, so requiring more energy to lift it and push it out of the way.  The effect of this for the canal can be seen on the chart by how steeply the power demand goes up above 3 mph.  There is quite a noticeable “knee” at 2.5-3mph, which is why trying to travel faster than 3 mph increases the power and hence the fuel required out of proportion to the increase in speed.

Rivers are much wider and deep and so allow the water to flow round the boat easily instead of creating a bowwave bulge in front, and so requires a lot less energy.  The lack of what I call the piston effect, is seen on the power curve for the river because it is much smoother and lacks the knee where the power starts to rise rapidly.

The usual rule of thumb is that bottom effects can be ignored when the water depth is more than 10 times the draft of the boat.  So for us that is in water that is about 6m deep.  The same rule of 10 applies to river or canal width.  So on canals we are hit by both bottom and bank effects that we can ignore for on the Thames in London.

This is comforting because I was worried that going all electric propulsion might mean we were under powered on rivers, and a few naysayers told me as much.  We need so much less power to travel in deep water, that I am confident the boat is not underpowered.  The Avon is not as deep as the Thames in London, the river Tent, or the Ribble Estuary, all of which we hope to crusie.

 

 

Where the power goes – Part 1

We have travelled more miles in March than January and February combined – hardly surprising, Cheryl has been taking the helm a bit more.  Actually this has allowed me the chance to take some speed/power readings to gauge the performance of the propulsion motor on long straight stretches of the Grand Union canal.

I am pleased how little power the boat needs to cruise, less than I estimated when I was designing it and selecting the motor, batteries etc.  One thing that is obvious to me as I cruise is just how much more power it takes to cruise faster.

I can see second by second exactly how much power the motor is using, how much power it is pulling from the batteries.  It is really obvious just what a waste of power it is to try to go fast.  A good thing, because going slowly does less damage to the canal banks, and we have more time to enjoy the wildlife as we pass.

KW vs MPH for canal cruising

Cruising at 3mph feels nice.  3.5mph is really as fast as one should travel on most canals but it uses more than twice the power of 3 mph, so seems hardly worth it. The moral here is just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

When we pass moored boats we slow down and our power drops to under 1 KW.  When we travel through locks we use almost no power because the motor only uses power when turning the propeller.  The Stoke Bruerne 7 locks used just 14.8Ahrs.

For people who prefer figures here is the data as a table.  I have included Amps, because most narrow boaters think about battery power in terms of Amps.

Before and After – Job Done

Can you see the big smile on my face ?

I have finished the plumbing, cruised to the water point and spent 3 hours filling up. Cosgrove is a very slow tap that does not have enough pressure to expand our expandable hose to even half the boat length. Still at this time of year there are not many boat’s wanting water so it wasn’t a problem.

Full tank of cold water, full tanks of hot water, washing done – no leaks – I am a happy man.

Yes I will admit, I also did some clothes washing – purely in the interest of testing the washing machine plumbing you understand. I have to maintain my male chauvinist image, it could not possibly be so that Cheryl didn’t come back to a full basket of dirty laundry. But I don’t want to set a precedent here ! ! !

Not only am I pleased that the plumbing is done and our boat is back to normal, but now that I have hot water – I shaved for the first time in a few days.

Before

 

After

 

Has it been worthwhile – YES, YES , YES

  • No more hot water from our cold water tap and drinking water tap.
  • No more cold water pipes being hot when they should be cold.
  • No more struggling to get to the drain points.
  • No more water left in the pipes once they’ve been drained.
  • No more wasted diesel heating cold water unnecessarily in the middle of the night.
  • No more sagging unsupported pipework.

Ok it’s a bit soon to know for sure if I’ve fixed all the problems but so far so good and no leaks seen.

All I have done is follow the manufacturers installation manuals and used good plumbing practice. I find it staggering that people, both builder’s and customers are prepared to accept “it’s the way we’ve always done it” when clearly if Firecrest is anything to go by, it could be so much better, easier safer, more economical and durable.

I enjoyed my cruise to and from the water point, in the sunshine, watching the ducks, swans and canada geese – that’s what boating is all about. Not struggling to make sense of plumbing. But best of all, Cheryl will be back home tomorrow and I can’t wait.

No Water

That’s no water on the boat not in the canals.  Not because we have run out of water, but because I am fixing the plumbing.

We have been planning to moor in Wolverton (north Milton Keynes) for some months now so I could be close to DIY shops.  Well by close I mean a 3 mile round trip to Screwfix, 5 miles round trip to B&Q.  Still parts bought by click and collect, Cheryl’s gone home to leave me to it, and now I have started.  Its mothering Sunday so a good time for Cheryl to spend a few days with her mum, and allow me to spread bits all over the boat.

So why am I fixing the plumbing on a new boat?

We have often noticed the water coming out of our cold water tap is warm, sometimes hot enough to wash your hands under the tap.  What is worse the warm water also comes out of our drinking water tap.  I did ask my boat builder about this but was told my boat was plumbed how they always do it – so that’s it – not their fault.

After researching the issues, reading manufactures fitting instructions, thinking about it and examining the plumbing, the issue is there is no non-return valve between the hot water and cold water systems, as is recommended by the manufactures of many of the parts fitted, and other experienced boating people.  To make that problem worse, the pressurised expansion tank is on the hot side of the clarifier (hot water cylinder) so that pushes hot water into the cold water pipes.

While investigating I also found a cold water pipe that was as hot as a central heating pipe 24hrs a day.  It turns out that hot water from the top of the clarifier is self circulating though this pipe resulting in the heat lost cooling the tank.  This explains why I have noticed the boiler turning on in the middle of the night to heat hot water which it should almost never do.  This is easy to avoid with proper plumbing but now requires me to change even more of the system.

The third problem that needs fixing I did not discover until I tried to drain the system.  After 2 hrs of trying to get a tool to the drain point which was sandwiched between the 22mm heating pipes and the clarifier, I ended up having to undo another joint to drain the system.  This is particularly bizarre because if you leave a boat unoccupied in the winter it needs to be winterised, which involves completely draining all the water pipes and water tanks to ensure there is not damage from freezing, and subsequent flooding.

Hopefully I will have cold water back by tonight.  I have fitted an isolation valve between the cold water and hot water systems which will allow me to completely re-plumb the hot water side over the next few days, while still having cold water to use.

Looking back over 2017 part 4

For those of you who like statistics here are some from our first years cruising.

Cruising Stats 1/6/2017 – 31/12/2017

Miles – 536
Locks – 331
Swing Bridges – 5
Aqueducts – 109
Tunnels – 20

Propulsion Stats 1/6/2017 – 31/12/2017

Miles travelled – 536
Cruising time (approx.) – 265 hrs
MPH (including locking) – 2mph (average)
AMPs used for propulsion – 33A (average)
KWs used for propulsion – 1.7kW (average)
HP used for propulsion – 2.28hp (average)

Living Stats 1/1/2017 – 31/12/2017

Diesel used – 1,363 ltrs
Cost of diesel used – £971
Generator run time – 298 Hrs
Battery cycles – under 50
Shore power use –  11 full charge

Alternative energy

Miles walked – 1,467.24
Steps taken – 3,298,280
Daily average steps – 9,036
Pints drunk – too many to count

Notes

Cruising stats are for the 6 months after our boat was completed when we could finally leave the boat yard.  Since we lived on the boat from January the living statistics are for the full year.

It is interesting to see how little power we use to propel the boat – just 2.28hp.  If we did not use electricity for lighting, cooking etc. we could cruise for 32 hours on a single battery charge.

We use diesel for all our heating, hot water, and charging the batteries other than when charge from shore power.  It is noticeable how much more we use now the weather is cold.

Unlike a diesel propulsion engine our motor only runs when needed to propel the boat so it is only used for perhaps 10 seconds at low power in a lock and not at all while waiting for a lock.  So flights of locks use negligible battery power.

One full battery charge last us about a week, but in reality we prefer to run the generator several times a week for shorter periods.

 

I was told to go fast – so I did

Kidderminster Trip Day 3 – a technical perspective

Travelling through the 1.66 mile long Harecastle tunnel was an experience.  We had been warned to go quickly by the attendant, and that most people with new boats go too slowly and end up zigzagging, hitting the walls and scratching their paint.  I took the man seriously and took my first opportunity to see just how much power we have from out electric motor tried to see just how much power our boat has, my first opportunity.

We travelled through the tunnel in exactly 30 minutes at 580RPM, at 147 amps, (7.5kW).  In total we used 73.5AH (3.7kW hrs) traveling through the tunnel at an average speed of 3.3MPH.  That is the equivalent of less than 1.25 litres of diesel or 89p at the price we pay.

I was pleased with this because we were told that the normal time to do the tunnel is 40 minutes and we did it in 30 minutes.  Apparently one boat the day before 1 hour 15 minutes.

We travelled from the tunnel to Stoke at high speed because the canals were wide, deep and with very few boats allowing me to test how well the boat performed in wider canals, at higher speed.  The boat handled well and I had plenty of extra power in reserve.

Summary

Distance cruised – 15.3 miles
Locks – 11
Tunnel – 2,675m
Cruising time – 8 Hrs 40 mins
Battery used – 358 Amp Hours (33%)
Power used – 18.6 kW hrs
Average speed – 1.8 MPH

9 hours crusing for 1 hour generator use


Kidderminster Trip Day 2 – a technical perspective

We cruised for 9 hours and covered 13 miles, and lost 110 feet of altitude.  I was particularly interested to see how the electric propulsion working through the lock flight at Bosley.  12 locks in the space of one mile.

I have to say it was lovely coming down the flight, no noise of engine or exhaust reverberating around the stone lock chambers, no diesel fumes to breath as I wait for the locks to empty, and able to hear Cheryl from the lock side.  I think Cheryl would say it was B#### hard work – the locks gates weigh about a ton each but are surprisingly easy to move for their weigh.  But some of the lock paddles are really hard work to wind up.

We travelled 13 miles and used 198AH (10.4KWhrs) from our batteries, which means we used just under one fifth of our battery capacity cruising today.  That equates to just under 3.5 litres of Diesel and at the price we last paid works out at £2.50 for the whole days cruising.   We can replenish that much power in about 1 hour from our diesel generator.

I measured the power we used during the lock flight itself and in the 1hr 40 minutes it took us to do the 12 locks we used just 16AH (0.8KWhrs) from our batteries, so we used the equivalent of under a quarter litre of diesel to come down the flight.

I am closely monitoring our batteries to see how they perform.  We started the days cruise with the batteries at 52.4 volts and ended it at 52.3 volts.   For people who are used to Lead Acid or almost any other type of battery such a tiny volt drop after using a fifth of the batteries capacity is unheard of.  But our LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries have almost no voltage drop between 20% and 80% state of charge.

Over all I am pleased with how little power we are using to cruise, its is a little less than I had allowed for from all my research and calculations.