site  contact  history  index

Atem Power 250W solar panel is a dud

April 24, 2019 — BarryK

I posted about a 250W folding solar panel that I purchased from Vicoffroad, via eBay:

Very cheap, only AU$288 including delivery.

It arrived a couple of days ago. The sky was a bit murky yesterday, but today brilliant sunshine, totally blue sky, not even a wisp of cloud, ambient temperature cool, low 20s, location Perth WA, date Wednesday April 24 2019. I set it up about 10.00am, but was only getting about half of the expected current. Hmmm.

I am a retired electronic engineer, and I once worked in solar energy research, so I am competent in this field. Of course, I had to investigate further. This is a folding panel, and each side has a junction box. It is easy to pop off the covers by inserting a screwdriver:


Standing at the back of the panel, this is inside of the right-hand junction box:


...the left-hand panel is connected in parallel to the right-hand panel, and output then goes to the solar regulator:


...what I have done here is removed the wires from the regulator, bypassing the regulator. The solar panel now goes directly to the output cable. At the other end of the cable I used nichrome wire as a resistive load. A 150A current-voltage-power meter is plugged in:


I used a digital multimeter to confirm that the in-line 150A meter was reasonably accurate, yes it is. That is also a recent purchase, so at least that works!

The peak-power point was somewhere between 18.55V @ 5.65A (104.8W) and 16.87V @ 7.08A (119.7W). Yep, only about half what is should be. Obvious next step is to separate the panels. I disconnected both panels:


...with a jumper lead, I can now connect either panel to the load.

The right-hand panel gives about 3.5A at the peak power point. Drawing more, bringing it down to 11.64V get 4.69A.

The left-hand panel also gives about 3.5A at peak-power, and I loaded it some more, down to 10.98V at 4.69A.

As a final check, I also measured the short-circuit current out of each side, directly on the junction-box terminals, and yeah, only about 4.7A from each (measured mid-afternoon, with the sun a bit lower in the sky. Midday it would have been a tad higher).

So, yeah, they are crap panels, giving less than half of that claimed. They have labels on the back of each side, stating peak power at 18.4V @ 6.8A and short-circuit current of 7.09A.

What really bothers me about this, is that most people would not know. They would connect the panel to the battery, using the supplied crocodile clips, and think it is working. Well it is, except they are getting far less power than advertised.

The problem is, this overstating of power output is endemic to many of the cheap panels from China. What to do? Something should be done, I should report this somewhere, but what government dept would be appropriate?
The panel that I purchased was from an Australian business, and they have an obligation not to do false advertising. 

Tags: nomad

Planning a DIY solar water distiller

April 23, 2019 — BarryK

I posted recently about this Carocell 1000 solar water distiller, that was given to me about five years ago:

The problem is the size, 1.1m x 1.1m. I would need a roof rack, and preferably slide it under the rack, so would have to buy a roof rack with 45mm clearance above the roof. Well, there is such a roof rack, but currently that is the only purpose that I have for the roof rack.

I plan to create a shelving system in the back of the car, and can have a shelf into which a solar water panel can slide. But the width of the back door is only about 1m, too narrow for the Carocell.

So, playing with ideas for building my own. It will be a flat panel, with water trickle-down, through a cloth. I have ordered a special eco-friendly cloth to test, and also have corresponded with a chap in the US who has made a similar type of trickle-down panel. He advised a certain cloth that I could try.

I was thinking of making the frame from pine, pure pine, nothing laminated or chipboard. The danger is chemicals evaporating in the hot wet conditions inside the panel. But then, should the wood be left bare, or painted? If painted, same problem with dangerous chemicals.

It would be good to seal the surface of the wood, but it would have to be a "safe" product. I have asked for a recommendation on the "Green tech" thread of the Whirlpool forum:

Don't know if anyone will reply. Might have to take a punt on some product. Or, make the frame from aluminium. 

Tags: nomad

Donate button removed

April 21, 2019 — BarryK

I put a PayPal "Donate" button onto my "Contact me" page in October 2017. Have now removed it.

If you really really really want to make a donation, you can still do so, using paypal, pay to STARTbkaulerATgmailDOTcomEND

I have never been comfortable with soliciting donations. In total, since putting in the Donate button, I have received almost US$500, which I appreciate. However, my "age pension" is sufficient to cover expenses for the website and equipment (as well as food, housing, etc.!), so I really do not need donations.

Here is the "Contact me" page: 

Tags: admin

Young couple cycling around the world

April 21, 2019 — BarryK

I borrowed a book from the local library, "The road that has no end", by Tim Travis, which details the first leg of their journey, from the USA to Panama. I have not read the second book, which covers the segment from Panama to Argentina. fascinating, they took seven years to get that far, really getting to know each place they went through.

A lot of danger too, and in some places the locals hate Americans, due to US military support of dictactorships, and the young couple pretended they were Canadian.

A few days ago, I borrowed the third book. I would like to have read the second, but will do so when it becomes available. After Argentina, the young couple, well, not quite so young after seven years, now in approx late 30s, flew back to stay with family in the USA, then decided to change their original plan, flew to Thailand, with the intention of cycling through Cambodia, Vietnam, up to China.

Their experiences in Vietnam have brought back sad memories for me. I was in my 12th year of school when conscription was introduced here in Australia. Call-up was by a ballot system, and fortunately I missed out. Anyway, those going onto higher education would have had their call-up deferred. Some members of my class joined the "home guard", forget what it was called, a part-time military service, being a member of was a way of avoiding the military call-up and being sent to Vietnam. The war began in 1965, not sure when compulsory conscription was introduced, but it was in place in 1968 when I reached the 12th year of school.

Quoting Tim from his book:

The Vietnam war lasted eight years and killed 57,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese. It all but destroyed Vietnam, and came pretty close to wreaking America as well, with anti-war protests splitting the country in two. In 1975, two years after the war ended, Communists took over South Vietnam anyway, making the entire ill-conceived adventure for naught.

In Australia, we watched the horror of those millions getting killed, as the US carpet-bombed the North, as well as neighbouring Cambodia. Then there was the spraying of Agent Orange over vast areas. Tim wrote:

Agent Orange, the defoliant used by Americans to clear away Vietnam's lush greenery to prevent the VC [Viet Cong, the enemy combatants) from hiding. Even today, decades after the war, children are being born with no limbs, curved backs or other disfigurements due to the dioxin in Agent Orange.

And again:

It's hard to be proud of America's so-called high moral ground after riding through village after village with deformed and crippled children due to their parent's exposure to something paid for by American taxpayers.

Tim also made a very sobering comment on what he learned in school about the Vietnam war:

Growing up in America, studying history in public schools, and watching television, it was never clear to me exactly how the war came to an end. I tried to remember what I was taught about the Vietnam war, but it seemed fuzzy; possibly a tie.
Not only did the USA lose, we lost using some pretty underhanded tactics -- another thing that schools do not teach.

It is all very sad. More recently, we have the war in Iraq, where the US trumped up a story about "weapons of mass destruction", as they needed an excuse to invade Iraq. More massive bombing. I could go on. But, enough, it is all too depressing.

On a bright note, Tim and his wife found the people of Vietnam to be very friendly. Of course, they asked people about their feelings toward Americans, and the general response was of forgiveness. 

The authors have a website: 

EDIT 2019-04-23:
It was "Tricky Dicky" (Richard Nixon) who authorized the carpet bombing, and John F. Kennedy who authorized the use of Agent orange. This website documents the Agent Orange horror story:

Did they know in advance that the dioxin in Agent Orange and other herbicides (known as Operation Ranch Hand) was very dangerous? Yes, they did, and guess who manufactured it: mostly Monsanto, also Dow Chemicals. Quoting:

In 1988, Dr. James Clary, an Air Force researcher associated with Operation Ranch Hand, wrote to Senator Tom Daschle, “When we initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s, we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. However, because the material was to be used on the enemy, none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide.”

US servicemen mounted a class action, and were awarded compensation by the chemical companies, but when a group of Vietnamese people mounted a class action, it was rejected by US judges. Quoting:

Fred A. Wilcox, author of Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, told the Vietnamese news source VN Express International, “The U.S. government refuses to compensate Vietnamese victims of chemical warfare because to do so would mean admitting that the U.S. committed war crimes in Vietnam. This would open the door to lawsuits that would cost the government billions of dollars.”

Which reminds me, there was a class action mounted against Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the UK, for war crimes in Iraq, based on the trumped up "weapons of mass destruction", but it was rejected by judges. George W. Bush seems to have been immune from such action. Both men were religious zealots, making "faith based" decisions rather than logical, and not minding using "spin" (often considered to be euphemism for a lie) to achieve their goal of Western-style democracy in the Middle East. Then there was John Howard, our Prime Minister in Australia; I conclude that he was a weak man, who sucked up to Bush and Blair.

You might think from reading the above, that I am left-wing. But no, I have always been very conservative, and have tended to vote for the right-of-centre political parties. However, as I became more mature, understood more, I gradually came to understand just how sick the US is, in certain respects, not all. I am not exonerating other countries such as China or Russia either.

I know that Americans are patriotic, and that patriotism is for the principles established by the Founding Fathers. They are very noble. But, many things have gone wrong. Partly, I think, it is individuals and corporations having too much power, as per that old saying "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely".

This started out as a blog post about a young couple cycling around the world, but the book sparked old memories. Enough. Unlikely that I will post anything more about these wars, as there is enough already out there on the Internet. So, signing off, getting back to blogs about Linux, solar power and camping! 

Tags: ethos

Food from the ocean

April 15, 2019 — BarryK

My last camping trip, early 2019, was to the South Coast of Western Australia, a campsite managed by DPAW (Department of Parks and Wildlife), accessed by a very corrugated dirt road. No water, no power, no phone signal. I loved it.

Many who go to these places are fishermen (and women), but as I am a vegetarian, I have wondered what food I could source from the ocean.

Shellfish possibly. Some vegetarians consider these OK to eat, as they are barely rated as animals, not having a spinal cord. They are considered to be "plants that move". Hmmm, don't know.

Then there's seaweed. Apparently, most of the seaweed that washes up on our shores is edible. I do ask myself, though, if it is edible, why haven't the fish eaten it?

This webpage has some useful info:

Ah, recognise this, kelp, all over the place at beaches:


That page states that live seaweed cannot be collected, only dead. That is in NSW, but I saw on this webpage, the same applies to WA:

Licenses are required from both the Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Department of Fisheries for personal and commercial collections of live seaweed (an Other Prescribed Purposes Licence). Permission from the relevant land manager/s (e.g. local govern-ment authority) is also required. However, dead beach-cast seaweed is not protected and if only dead sea-weed is being collected and it is not being removed from a marine reserve, then no license or authorisation is required. However, another separate department, the Department of Environment and Regulation should be contacted to ensure that one does not undertake activi-ties that may constitute ‘clearing’ under the Environ-mental Protection (Clearing of Native Vegetation) Regu-lations 2004 made under the Environmental Protection  Act 1986.

I hunted, could not find information on those licenses. A search of Dept. of Fisheries returned zero hits for "seaweed" ...hmmm.

The problem with dead seaweed is that it rots. You would need to be able to identify freshly-dead seaweed. A bit like collecting road-kill!

This blog post is in a new category, "nomad", and there is also a new section on my website, 

EDIT 2019-04-16:
I found the "Other Prescribed Purposes Licence" form:

...doesn't look like DPAW will smile kindly on an individual wanting to collect live seaweed for eating!  A licence is valid for 1 year and costs AU$10. Here is some more information:

...what about the "personal enjoyment" category? img2

Tags: nomad

Legal declarations for EasyOS

April 14, 2019 — BarryK

Puppy Forum member 'scsijon' informed me of a project named "Easy Linux" registered on It had been registered many years ago, then nothing done, so a non-starter dead project. I contacted sourceforge and they kindly removed it.

However, it got me thinking, EasyOS does need a legal statement page up-front. There is one in the welcome-page at first bootup of Easy, and scattered around in various web pages.

I have put together what I hope covers my arse ("ass" if you are American) in all situations:

...maybe I should add something about this being a totally non-commercial project? 

Tags: easy

Beware the cheap MPPT solar regulators

April 13, 2019 — BarryK

...because they aren't, they are PWM regulators.

As posted a couple of days ago, I have ordered a 250W solar panel:

I currently use a very cheap PWM regulator, model CY1220, rated for 20 amps. Took a photo for the 2017 camping report:


An MPPT controller has a distinct advantage, that it draws from the solar panel at it's peak-power point. Say for example, that is 17.5V @ 13A. Whereas, the battery voltage, for lead-acid batteries, would be somewhere between 12 and 13.7V, let's say it is 13.2V. The MPPT regulator will convert to the battery voltage, and charge at a higher current. If the regulator is operating at 100% efficiency, the input power for this example is 17.5x13 = 227.5W (watts). Right, so the output will be 13.2xA = 227.5, where "A" is the amperes. Do the maths, A=17.2.

You see, 13 amps coming out of the panel, 17. amps going into the battery. A PWM regulator cannot do this!

One downside of the MPPT regulator, is that it does draw some idle-current from the battery, even when the solar panel is not charging. Meaning, if the regulator is attached to the battery, it will be drawing this current 24 hours a day.

The bad news is that most of the cheap Chinese solar regulators that claim to be MPPT are not. Tests have also shown that the idle current on those that are MPPT, is much higher then claimed, for example 50mA instead of the claimed 5mA.
Also, they are not 100% efficient. Some cheap ones claim 99%, however, I very much doubt this. I think, one tester on youtube reported getting about 95%.

One of the testers on youtube is Adam Welch. Here he tests one of the cheapest claimed MPPT regulators, model CPY-2410:

...yes, it is a genuine MPPT. Most unfortunately, however, later versions, in the same box, same CPY-2410, have a different internal design and are NOT MPPT! This is the minefield that you have to wend your way through, if you buy one of these.

After Adam had reported the CPY-2410 works great, and getting some negative feedback, here did a follow-up video:

This chap also, ended up being disappointed:

The electronic engineer in me has become intrigued (that's what I used to do, before retiring). So, I have ordered a couple of the 20A versions, the CPY-2420. Ordered two, with different model numbers...

This one, with voucher code, cost AU$46.71, photo shows "CPY-2420" but the specs show "CY1220-MT":


And this, cost AU$48.44, photo and specs both show "CPY-2420":

Keen to test these, and find out if they are true MPPT! And test other specs, such as idle-current and efficiency.

I have a 120W panel to test with. When the 250W panel arrives, will test with that, in fact, that is the one that will be used in future camping trips. But, it puts out up to almost 14A at peak-power point, claimed anyway, which could be up around 18A into the battery ... and perhaps that is flogging the regulator beyond it's capability. 

Ultimately, might have to go for a 30A or 40A rated MPPT regulator, and one with LCD display, and the cheapest is about AU$170. We shall see, will find out what these cheapees are capable of first. 

Tags: light

Fcubed solar water distiller

April 13, 2019 — BarryK

About five years ago, I mentioned to my daughter how cool these are, then, darn, she went and bought me one. For my birthday. Cool it is, but I did not have a circumstance to use it, so it has been in the shed ever since.

The manufacturer is F-Cubed, and here is their website:

In a nutshell, they manufacture a solar-powered water distiller:


They don't seem to make mine anymore. Mine is about 1.1 x 1.1 metres, very short. Much less efficient than the full-length ones. I can't find the water-output specs, but I do recall it is considerably less.

Fast forward to now, I have got it out of the shed and assembled it. There is now a potential use, for when I "go bush" for extended periods, where there is brakish/salty water available. Here it is:


The plan is to mount L-brackets to slide it under my car roof-rack. At the remote site, slide it out, attach the legs, and the water supply.

Curiously, the desalinator is made of aluminium and plastic, the legs of steel -- and the legs weigh as much as the desalinator. So, might just cut some marine ply for each side, something simple to sit it at the right angle.

An overhead water supply is required, but it will also handle pumped water. So, I could just bring brakish/salty water in a bucket, put a 12v pump into it. It would need a filter. Anyone reading this have experience, can recommend a product? Pumps used in fish tanks? 

If you want to see videos: 

EDIT 2019-04-14:
Ah ha, the F-Cubed Malaysian website mentions my panel, it is the "Carocell 1000", with these specs:

Temperature 20°C 5 Litres / DAY
Temperature 30°C 7 Litres / DAY
Dimensions: 1150 x 1150mm x 50mm
Surface Area: 1m2
Weight: 7kg

So, on a hot summer day here in AU, I should expect more than 7 litres. That's good. But, how much water would I have to put in?

I have decided against pumping, gravity feed is good enough, can easily put a water tank on the roof-rack of the car. Bunnings has a cheap 20 litre collapsible water holder. And, as 'scsijon' pointed out in an email, plywood sides is probably not a good idea, as it would restrict air flow -- so will rethink that. 

EDIT 2019-04-17:
My website now has a "nomad" section, and a webpage where I plan to document the water desalination project as it progresses: 

Tags: ethos