Saturday, May 18, 2019

solar banking

Some things are true even though they may not be factual. Take my discussion yesterday about how my solar energy system works (moving to mexico -- cutting costs).

I switched into Classics Illustrated mode when I gave the impression that I do not rely on the electrical grid until I use more energy than my solar provides. That is true, but it is not factually accurate. What really happens is only slightly more complex.

During the daylight hours, my solar panels generate energy. Right now, I am not using all of that power. It is transmitted to CFE to sell to other customers. And I am credited for my power generation to the grid.

When the sun goes down, my panels effectively sleep. They are no more productive than your niece's husband who you hired only under family. My home system then draws on the power that CFE produces from all of its resources -- including me.

My meters then calculate how much power I send to CFE and the power that CFE sells to me. That daily calculation has (so far) meant that I produce more power than I use.

And on that point, I was both true and factual: "If I do not use all the credits at the end of my fiscal year, CFE will cut me a check that I can deposit in my new Mexican bank account."

My pal Rick Noble has annotated my CFE bills to assist all of us in understanding just how many credits I have in the power bank. His notes are at the top of this essay.

Adding both bills together, I generated 1,064 kWh that went into the grid and I used 403 kWh of CFE's power, giving me a credit of 670 kWh. The bottom line is that I have banked about 60% of the power I generated.

Those are the kind of facts that make me a true believer. And I thank those of you who do not have solar panels for buying my power.

Friday, May 17, 2019

moving to mexico -- cutting costs

I did not move to Mexico to save money.

And it is good that I did not, I ran a comparative budget about a year ago. The results were a bit surprising.

Before I moved down here, I was told that my cost-of-living would be about 50% (or less) of what it would be in The States. That number was suspicious. The cost-of-living in Huron, South Dakota is not the same as living in Central Park South on Manhattan. I knew I would not save 50% over my living costs in Salem, Oregon, which is somewhere between those two American communities.

It turns out I was correct. I am saving money by living in Barra de Navidad, but my living costs here are about 80% of those in Salem. So, I am saving some money. But certainly not 50%.

Not that that matters. Because I am living a far better life style here than I would in Salem, and no amount of money saved would make up for that.

Today I received a piece of news that would have had me beaming from ear-to-ear if I cared that much about living costs. And even though I don't, I am grinning.

You have already seen the news. At the top of this essay.

It is my CFE (electric) bills (one for each meter) for the past two months with my solar array in full operation. The total of $93 (MX), or less than $5 (US) is only the connection fee to be part of CFE's grid.

Compare that to more than $5,000 (Mx) (about $570 US) bills that started this whole process. Ignoring the installation cost, that is a big drop for the electricity line of my budget.

The only power I used was generated by the solar array. Plus I have generated excess credits that I can draw upon if my usage this summer increases. If I do not use all the credits at the end of my fiscal year, CFE will cut me a check that I can deposit in my new Mexican bank account.

As I have written before, I wanted solar because I thought it would be cool. It turns out that it very well may be good for my budget -- as I recapture my capital investment every two months. 

Thursday, May 16, 2019

moving to mexico -- seeing it all with new eyes

Some sights are not what a pilot wants to see.

Yesterday afternoon I was on my way to the Manzanillo airport to pick up my house guest -- Cailin Maccionnath, Josh's mother. One of my favorite parts of the drive is when I crest a hill and a large expanse of coconut palms planted on an alluvial flood plain stretches to the horizon. For good reason it is called el mar de cocos (the sea of coconut palms), because that is exactly what it looks like.

But there was a disturbing site yesterday. The Manzanillo airport is built at the edge of the plantations. When I glanced over that way, there was a large cloud of smoke billowing into the sky.

Fires are common this time of year around here. Just before the rains come, farmers and other property owners burn off the dried grass and bushes on their property.

The practice is ancient and has its roots in early farming practices around the world. The theory is that the burning will sterilize the soil for new crops or, at least, give crop seedlings a fighting chance.

Most of the fires are purposely set. And, because the vegetation here is intermixed with green plants, the fires almost always meet a natural firebreak. But, often, they don't, and another property owner's fields are burned, as well.

That should have been my first thought. It wasn't. I started fumbling with my telephone to check on the status of the Alaska flight I was to meet. It was still listed as arriving in another half-hour. Thoughts of what I would tell Josh danced through my head.

It turns out the fire was not from an airplane that had met an untimely end. It was just another grass fire. The wetlands bordering the airport were in full flame -- on both sides of the road. There was certainly no apparent agricultural reason for the fire, but I do not know if it was accidental. Perhaps, it was set by the airport.

The photograph at the top of this essay was taken on the highway as I approached the fire. The cloud almost made me feel like an Exodus-mode Israelite fleeing Egypt.

So, I picked up my guest and brought her to the house with no name.

I recommend entertaining people who have not been to Mexico before -- or not to the part of Mexico where you live. It is refreshing to see what has become commonplace to me through the eyes of someone who is open to enjoying new experiences.

On the drive from the airport, Cailin was like a cop in a doughnut shop. "Look at that." "Did you see that building?" "That little girl is darling."

During the next ten days, I hope she will enjoy this part of Mexico I have chosen to call home. I may even learn something myself along the way.

From the airport parking lot

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

my norma desmond closeup

Some essays generate the most interesting email.

When I told you about cleaning my new solar panel array (paul harvey redux) earlier this week, I received several email and messages pointing out that I had not yet published any photographs of the installation. I thought I had. Looking through my past publications, I haven't.

So, here it is.

The system is divided into two sections because the house was built with two separate metering systems. The system on the west side of the house (the smaller array) provides power to the water pump, the appliances in the kitchen, and two seldom-used bedrooms.

The larger array provides power to two permanently-occupied bedrooms (one that uses air conditioning for two or three months each year), the electrical devices in the library, and the pool pump (probably the largest consumer of power in the house).

To maximize output, the panels were installed on what is essentially the third-floor level of the house, on the pavilions above the two northern bedrooms. It is the "third-floor" descriptor that makes cleaning the panels a bit problematic.

Not the small array. It is easy to hose it down, rinse it, and then clean it with a soft cloth.

It is the large array that is more difficult. Because it fills the roof, it is necessary to stand on a narrow ledge at the edge of the house to clean the panels. That is where Omar was standing when I shot him the other day.

Elke commented that Vern uses a telescoping handle with a microfiber mop. That sounds like a good solution. I would not want to lose my newly-acquired son in a reenactment of los niños héroes.

So, there you have it. A project that started in February and was wrapped up earlier this month.

As of this morning, the CFE bill has not yet arrived. That should give me some additional pleasure. I hope.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

can you spare some change?

If there are two categories of people (a trope on which I am agnostic), there are people who welcome change and people who detest it.

I would be in that first category. Like Bill Buckley, my politics are conservative, but my temperament is not. I like to see things change.

The trick is noticing that they have changed.

Yesterday I recovered enough from my mysterious bout of whateveritis to have enough strength to take a short walk to the beach. At a rather shambling and moderate pace. My neighbors, who thought I had a terminal disease when I was losing weight, are undoubtedly convinced I am one day away from a traditional rest home.

Lopez de Legazpi (named after the leader of the expedition to The Philippines that left from Barra de Navidad in 1564) is the street that runs along the beach until it ends at the start of our malecon and jetty. Where the street meets the malecon, there once was a building.

I would like to tell you what that building is. Or was. But it is no longer there. I am not certain when it was taken down, but it was sometime during my Zacatecas-Zamora-Australia trips. And I simply cannot conjure up an image from my memory.

It was merely one of those buildings that is part of our daily landscapes. When they are gone, they are difficult to recall. Similar to the guy you once saw at your daily breakfast place. When he is no longer there, it is hard to remember what he looked like.

I could have asked what was once there. My neighbor Jaime is a fisherman who is often stationed right across the street from what is open enough to accommodate playing deer and antelope. He was not there yesterday. I will ask him later.

Speaking of change. Do you remember my inaccurately-titled putative daughter Laura, her husband Josh Szurszewski, and their son Jeremiah? The traveling trio on the BMW motorcycle (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). They were an intricate part of Mexpatriate for several weeks in 2017.

Tomorrow, Josh's Mom, Cailin Maccionnath, arrives for a brief stay from Washington (the state, not the dreaded district). She will be the first visitor to stay in the house with no name this year. 

If all goes well, there is plenty of fodder there for tales of change. Sledge-hammered buildings. Newly-opened spaces. Visitors from afar. Who knows what else.

We'll find out. Together.

Monday, May 13, 2019

paul harvey redux

Story-telling old men often get distracted before they get to the end of their tantalizing narratives.

Apparently, that is the role I fell into last February when I told you in put that cow on a boat to india that my solar power array was about to go into operation. "When the full array is up, I will let you know. I may even show you a wallet-full of baby pictures."

Well, it is. And I didn't.

So, as one of my two favorite deceased commentators would (and did) say: "Here's the rest of the story."

When we left off, the crew and I were awaiting the delivery of the solar panels that would get my solar factory ready for connection to the local power grid.

As I explained earlier, my system does not include a bank of batteries to store the power I generate from Señor Sol. If my panels generate more power than I am currently using, it slips into the local power grid, and I get a credit. Essentially, I have turned myself into a mini-Edison.

But there are times the system will not generate enough power to meet my needs. For instance, at night. Then, I buy back power from the grid. The hope is that I will generate enough excess to make up for my down hours. (The reality is little more complicated than that due to retail and wholesale calculations of costs. But let's work with the simple model.)

None of that, of course, works unless my system is hooked up to CFE, our local power supplier. For that to happen, I needed my two conventional meters to be replaced with digital meters that could read the flow both ways. That happened with minimal fuss. It was probably 13 days after the array was in place that I was set to go.

And I have been operating on solar power ever since. But, the installation was not yet final.

Rick Noble, my pal and local representative for Solarbay, told me that through the wizardry of modern electronics, I could buy monitors for each of my arrays. No matter where I am on my journeys throughout the world, I can monitor the output of my system. The cost was minimal.

Not being one to pass up any new electronic toy, I bought a pair. Solarbay delivered them within days, and the technician started the installation.

This is where the only glitch popped up.

He could not get the monitors to connect with my internet because the signal was too weak. If someone had asked, I could have told them that. Because of the number of concrete barriers in the house and the inherent weakness of Telmex modems, my internet signal does not reach from one side of the house to the other -- let alone through two floors of concrete where the panels are located.

So I ordered a router to boost my signal. By the time it had arrived, I was off on my series of three trips to Zacatecas, Zamora, and Australia. When I returned this month, I informed Rick I was ready to roll.

Solarbay appeared, installed the router, and programmed it to show usage on an app on my smartphone. I should have been able to do all of that on my own. But I am glad the technicians did it. Even with the knowledge of how the system worked, it took over an hour to get everything connected, loaded, and putting out meaningful data.

Just as Jaqueline was getting ready to leave, she informed me that my panels were very dusty. Rick had told me that the panels need to be cleaned monthly to get optimum power.

Jaqueline then informed me of a service Solarbay offers. One of its employees will come to my house monthly and clean the panels.

Before she got into the details, I cut her off. Cleaning panels seemed to me to be a rather simple operation. Water. A squeegee. Some elbow grease. I could do that.

While I was in Manzanillo last week, I bought a new hose and sprayer, and told Omar that if he was not working on Saturday, we would climb to the third floor and increase the efficiency of our panels. I wanted to do it early in the morning before the sun had warmed the glass. Even Sisyphus would not undertake cleaning sun-heated windows.

So, early Saturday, we pulled out the painter's ladder, set up the new hose, and toted everything to the only place in my house where what might be called a view can be enjoyed.

Jaqueline was correct. The panels were filthy. It was not really a surprise, Barra de Navidad is one of the dustiest places I have ever lived. Of course, I never lived in Depression-era Oklahoma. The dust was further encrusted with a fine array of bird droppings. I had the good start of a guano mine.

Between the two of us, it took nearly an hour to clean the panels. And I have been feeling the effects of dragging the hose and stretching my aging back. My walking does little to strengthen my back muscles.

But, it was effort well-invested. I checked the output after our cleaning, and there was a marked improvement.

So, there you have it. The rest of the story.

Or almost. I have not yet received a two-month electric bill since the array has been in full operation. When it arrives, I guess that will be the rest of the story -- even though I did not install it because of cost. I installed it simply because it is cool. And it is that.

It took us a bit to get here, but there it is.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

bumping the grinder

Yesterday my telephone rang.

That is news only because it almost never does. And, when it does, it is usually a wrong number -- or news of another death. My smartphone serves duty primarily as a mobile computer. Three calls a month constitute heavy traffic.

But it was not a wrong number. It was Ramon, the Barra de Navidad postmaster. After the usual pleasantries, he informed me I had a package at the post office, and I could pick it up whenever I liked. Apparently, delivering it to my house was not an option.

His call was not a surprise. I had ordered several items from Amazon last month. Everything else had arrived long ago at my house through the great services of DHL.

For some reason, though, Amazon had dropped this part of the order into the sloth-like hands of the United States Postal Service who had then passed it off to the Mexican postal service.

Amazon has a very efficient and timely tracking system for my DHL deliveries. I always know where my package is. The postal service tracking system hearkens back to its pony express roots. I often do not know which country my mailed package is in.

I had calculated from the scant evidence I had that my order should arrive this week. When I checked with Ramon on Monday, it was not in his office. That changed yesterday.

Through the passage of time, I had almost forgotten what I had ordered. Then, it came to me. It was a traveling pill container.

I do not take much medication. But, what I do take, I like to sort for daily doses on Monday, the first day of each week.

I bought my current pill container in Bend a couple of years ago. And it has served me well. It has seven daily containers that stack on one another. It is a perfect fit for my backpack.

It turns out the plastic it is made of is not quite as perfect a match. When the back pack flexes, the plastic does not. The result is cracked containers and spilled tablets.

I saw a replacement (or, at least, I thought it was a replacement) on Amazon. And the labels for the days of the week were in Spanish. A double bonus. Because of my past experience of breakage, I ordered two.

When Ramon handed me the package, I was a bit surprised how large it was. It felt as if I had been shipped two flashlights. And I was not far off.

The pill containers I ordered were almost as thick as a soda can. If I wanted to open up a pharmacy, I had the perfect place to store my inventory. But, as  traveling pill containers, they were not up to the job. There is not enough space in my backpack (where it would share space with my electronic companions) for a container this large. I will need to buy something else.

Now I had the problem of what to do with these new containers. Then, it hit me. When life serves up lemons, cook up a veal piccata.

Just before I left on my last round of trips, Amazon delivered a spice grinder. Jennifer Rose is the godmother of that purchase. She re-ignited my love of cooking with seeds.

Over the past few months, I have gleaned a healthy inventory of whole seeds. They are far more common here than I originally thought. At least, for some seeds. Cardamom pods are still as rare as fresh legs of lamb.

Grinding one's own spices completely changes how foods taste. That is not news to cooks. We get in the habit of buying pre-ground spices because it is convenient. And the quality of of our cooking is sacrificed on the altar of Kronos.

I can grind individual spices (coriander, cumin, fennell, Sansho pepper, Szechuan pepper) in small quantities. And I now have a place to store them for short periods.

The reason I bought the spice grinder initially was to make my own garam masala. There are plenty of recipes; some being better for specific dishes than others. I will grind up a batch to occupy another container in my spice condominium.

Maybe my telephone should ring more often.