Fantasy Solar Cabin

Here's how a sprawling 19th century hunting lodge became a modern 20th century solar cabin with the addition of several PV arrays.

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    The fantasy solar cabin became a reality in 1990. Selway Lodge's solar array can see it through 10 sunless days.
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    A bird's-eye view: The Selway Lodge (two houses, a dorm, and many cabins) serves as a summer hunting and fishing retreat.
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    Sunelco's Dan Brandborg checks the battery power of the Selway Lodge. The 16 batteries yield 1,400 amp-hours of storage

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Over the past 93 years the Selway Lodge has gone through several transformations. Built in 1898, the lodge was the centerpiece of a 100-acre cattle ranch and sawmill deep in Idaho's Bitterroot wilderness area, reachable only by fourteen miles of trail or a rather exciting bush plane ride. By the 1920s, the many cabins scattered around the property (regularly visited by bear, cougar, elk, and deer) served as a summer hunting and fishing retreat. Though the property shrank in size when a good chunk was sold off to the Forest Service, the housing complex expanded: Two houses, a dorm, and several outbuildings were added to accommodate the growing number of visiting outdoor enthusiasts.

Despite the growth, the lodge continued to rely on a primitive hodgepodge for its energy needs: gas generators: kerosene lamps: and propane-powered refrigerators and stoves, the fuel for which had to be flown in regularly at great expense and danger.

Last summer, the Selway Lodge initiated a solar cabin project to enter the 21st century. Owner Pat Millington sprang for a $22.000 solar array (including a couple of Sunfrost refrigerator/freezers) to provide all of the lodge's (minus the two houses') energy needs. The entire package was installed over the course of a couple of days by Sunelco, an alternalive-energy company located in Hamilton. Montana.

The project got a running start before it even got off the ground: Several weeks of preparation and pre-assembly assured success before some seven plane loads of equipment took off into the wilderness. The Millington's chose a system using Solarex 60-watt solar modules. These modules (what we see as "panes" of solar-activated material) were mounted on Solarex mounting structures. Four six-module structures were then bolted together with a set of top and bottom plates.

Soon the arrangement was moved into place and bolted securely to the building's rafters. The array was divided into two subarrays, each with its own individual charge controller—important for preventing overcharge of the batteries. Two fused disconnects (fused on/off switches) provided complete flexibility and safety—both the array power and battery power can he individually disconnected.

Sixteen batteries (350 amp-hour fork-lift type) were employed—four in a series to yield 24 volts with four sets in parallel to yield 1400 amp-hours of storage—but because of the distance involved between the cabins and the battery bank, all of the loads were designed to operate on 120 volts AC

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