Wind Generator Problem Appears to be Solved

By , January 11, 2011

The day we had trouble with the wind generator got even weirder. However, we seem to have solved the problem!

Late in the morning, the generator just flat stopped working! It slowed down until it no longer charged, moving slowly as if the brake had been applied. We grabbed the generator manual, and began perusing the troubleshooting table. The symptoms we saw, once we eliminated the obvious (blades on backward? No! Bad stator winding? Not likely, after this long!) we were left with a fair range of possibilities. Narrowing those down involved some diagnostic tests. Soon, we narrowed it down to either a wiring problem on the tower, or a malfunction of the generator itself. I grew nervous anticipating a climb up the tower in freezing, 30-knot winds, and the likelihood of having to remove the generator from the tower, pack it to town, and mail it to the manufacturer for repair at a minimum cost of about $80, not to mention up to a month without electricity. Luckily, I began to grasp at straws . . . .

Since we’d had difficulty related to the homemade brake switch that morning, I went back to that in a last ditch effort to avoid the alternative. I pulled the face plate off of it, pulled out the heavy duty double pole light switch, and began tinkering. One of the wires popped out of the back wire slots. Immediately, the generator began charging again!

Aha . . . .

Briefly, the way to stop the generator is to literally short it out by connecting the three wires that run the unit’s AC current into the charge controller. By splicing into these three lines and leading each splice to the switch, with an arc of wire to connect the 4th post, then turning the switch upside down, we have a brake switch. It’s always “off” by the switch, unless we turn it “on,” joining the three lines and shorting them out. Simple, no?

I immediately began monkeying around, pushing the wire in, pulling it out, putting it back and tightening the screws mercilessly. The experimentation continued to be difficult, because the wind remained variable; I’d become convinced that what I did made a difference, then I’d see that it didn’t, after all. I checked and double checked, while the wind and the machinery made a fool of me again and again.

Eventually, we established that the brake somehow remained on even when it was turned off. At some point in the morning, it shorted out, or broke, or something, and stopped the generator. The switch had malfunctioned. It needed to be replaced. But . . . why? And, how could it be that it started out by being slow to stop the generator, then suddenly switch to being on all the time?

This, friends, is why I fear electricity so much.

The next morning Michelle and I went to town for a new switch. We didn’t take the old one, of course, and I have yet to find the information that led me to build the switch in just this way originally, so when we got to town, we fumbled, and bought a 4-pole switch. Two factors led to this: 1) even though I can’t recall where I got my information, I’ve been calling this switch a “4-pole switch” for 2 years now. The only difference between the two, to a layman’s eyes, is that the 4-pole lacks the words “on” and “off” on the switch, which the double pole has. 2) leaving Mud Bay, I broke the key off in the ignition of the car we’re currently borrowing. That’s a story for another day . . . maybe.

When we got home, just before the tide rose too high to cross back to make an exchange, I compared the new and old switches, and saw that I had the wrong item. I decided to go back to the old switch. It has both back and side wire connections; I’ve learned that back wire connections are considered unreliable, even dangerous, and are rarely used now. I reconnected the pigtails to the switch, using new wire on the side connections, and tried it out. So far, so good!

We’re relieved to have the brake back and functioning. There was a 60-knot storm (close to 70 mph) in the forecast the day we fixed it! That’s backed off to a “mere” 50 knots.

Through it all, the generator has been stuck in full furl, so we haven’t been able to tell if the vibration is gone or not. And, even though this time the problem was with the homemade side of the system, it bothers me that the breakdown anniversary has once again been observed . . . .

3 Responses to “Wind Generator Problem Appears to be Solved”

  1. Derek says:

    I can only imagine the nervousness of losing power up there, Very glad to hear you got it fixed! Any Solar power?

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Yes, we have a solar array that helps somewhat, although we’re on the shady side of the ridge. If you plug “solar” into our search feature toward the top of any blog page, you’ll get a lot of information on our set up. Enjoy!

  3. Nance says:

    I can only imagine the nervousness of having to climb that tower with the wind blowing. or not blowing. Wow. Glad you got that switch rewired.

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