Well, it took 6 months of researching, designing, building and testing my Electric Brewing Cart (EBC), but it was well worth it, and I certainly enjoyed every step of the process, including running my first batches yesterday. Those of you familiar with electric brewing and what's on the internet websites like electricbrewing.com will notice a lot of similarities in my system, but I made a number of modifications to suit my situation.
Here is the full setup:
[attachment=2]The Full Setup.jpg[/attachment]
I built the control panel directly onto a cart I modified because like most of us, I do not have a dedicated brewing area. I installed a 4 prong 50 amp outlet in my kitchen which is powered by a double pole 50amp GFCI breaker in my main panel. This is a lot of power, and safety has to be on the forefront always. The 50 amps of power feeds into a small electrical panel bolted to the bottom of the control panel seen to the right of the picture. I have 2 double pole 30 amp breakers feeding each heating element. The BK is controlled by a 40 amp SSVR from Auber Instruments. Great company to deal with. Highly recommended. The rheostat dial can be seen to the right of the picture. The 10 gallon BK has a 4500 watt heating element.
The other 4500 heating element (on the other 30 amp circuit) is in a 5 gallon pot (seen on the kitchen stove) controlled by a typical PID and SSR setup but with a twist. I installed a timer relay (same size as a PID) that is wired into the DC output circuit of the PID. Why did I do this? I too am very short on time with 2 young kids at home. I too wake up early on a Saturday morning to brew. I can set up the night before with cold strike water in the HLT and wake up the next morning with hot strike water at the exact temperature I need for the mash. It used to take me 45 minutes to an hour to heat that strike water up outside on a propane burner. I add 10 degrees to the strike water temperature, open the drain valve to move the water to the cooler mash tun, and wait about 5 to 10 minutes for the cooler to heat up and the strike temperature of be reached. I can literally be mashing 10 minutes from waking up which means I got to sleep longer. I know some of you might think this unsafe. I have plenty of fail-safes built in including a heavy duty contactor wired to one of the PID alarms that opens the circuit at both hot wires. Below is a picture of the control panel face. The timer is in the middle. The other PID on the right is a very cheap ebay one that I have hooked up to a thermocouple just to monitor cooler mash tun temperature:
[attachment=1]Control Panel Face.jpg[/attachment]
Why did I go with 50 amps instead of 30? I want to run both heating elements at the same time some of the time. Think about what a time savings it is to start heating up the wort in the BK while still draining the cooler mash tun. I can literally have the wort boiling within 5 minutes of collecting the last of the runnings.
You'll notice a smaller kettle under the cooler mash tun. I find it handy to drain the wort into this kettle and then transfer the wort via the small DC pump pictured to either the cooler for vorlaufing or the BK. The pump is powerful enough to hook right to the BK drain ball valve and pump all the wort into the BK. So no hoses running over the top of and into the kettle that at times come loose and make a mess. There is certainly a lot less hot side aeration this way as well, if we are to believe this is a problem.
A couple other thoughts: You don't need to buy fancy clad bottom kettles for electric brewing. These are the cheapest ebay kettles I could find. I bet I set up this whole system for about the same money it costs to buy those expensive kettles. Since the heating element is inside, no need for a fancy bottom to protect your wort from scorching. Also, since the heating element is inside, all the energy is converted to heat that is actually being absorbed by the wort or water. Also, since I don't brew in warm months of the year, being able to brew inside the comfort of my home means all that heat is retained in the house, and on those very cold dry days, the moisture from boiling off a gallon of water off the wort will be kind of nice.
One cheap work-around for the thermocouples that worked great for me is to just buy cheap ones off ebay and connect them like is shown in the pictures below:
This is the inside view, but what I did is insert rubber grommets through holes in the control panel wall and then connected the PID wires to it with little bolts that have wingnuts on the outside. I just attach the thermocouple prong connectors to these bolts, tighten the wingnuts, and I get an instant and accurate reading of my HLT water and mash temperature. Much less costly than buying the thermocouple plugs and connectors.
On the back of the control panel (not shown), there is two 30 amp outlets for the kettle cord plugs and a 120 volt outlet to plug in the adapter for the DC pump.
Here's a few more pictures including one with everything all cleaned up and put away while the wort is boiling. The transfer kettle and pump shelf is on hinges and folds up so it takes less room in storage (wouldn't fit through the doorway otherwise). The pump is screwed in place to this shelf:
Of course, anyone attempting this has to have a solid understanding and experience working with electrical wiring and circuitry. Don't even attempt this without someone who knows what they're doing. This is a lot of power. I really enjoyed building this and using it yesterday. I can see myself adding more automation to this system, but I easily cut 1.5 hours out of my brew day the first time I used it and can see saving at least another hour once I get used to it. I see myself doing more batches just because this is so much faster and easier than it used to be.