Back up power.

Coming out of last weekend, the network news guy told us how many HUNDREDS of THOUSANDS of homes were without power in the wake of a big snowstorm, which included a lot of area where people were not accustomed to dealing with such.  It looks like a little more of the same this weekend.  Here on the coast, we have to deal with hurricanes knocking out power every few years, on average, but we aren’t big on ice.  In the north, you hear about it several times a year with the snow and ice and I wonder, “WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE HAVE BACKUP POWER SYSTEMS???”

Sure, some people do have generators, but that is not always the best way to go, even the automatic whole-house generators.  Don’t get me wrong, those are nice and Mom loves hers, but there are better options.

I have seen these headlines and repeatedly started to write this article, only to get frustrated about which way to go with it. There are so many options and maybe that makes the decision process more complicated.  On this try, I will go with just a general outline and talk about some of the equipment.  Hopefully, that will help you select the right system for your house.

First, do you want something that will take over normal operation of the entire house?  Or would you be  happy with something that will keep some lights on and maybe power the fridge and microwave so that you can have some comfort food and a hot cup of cocoa as the cold wind howls outside?

Let’s start with generator vs. battery.  I visited a popular generator maker’s website and, by golly, they can solve all of your problems, they say.  They tell you that a highly-touted lithium battery system will only last 2 hours and only put out a paltry 2kw, while they can power the whole house for days.  Oh, marketing guys!  This is the same generator Mom has.  Twice it has failed to start because the service tech left the switch set wrong.  Once it failed to start because the battery had exploded (which corroded a hole in the bottom of the cabinet).  Every time it starts it burns a lot of expensive (in her town) natural gas and makes a lot of racket, regardless of load.  Still Mom loves it, but I get aggravated when I have to drive 32 miles in bad weather or storm debris to get it running… 92 year old ladies don’t want to be troubled with mechanical issues, but they are good at sending their sons on a guilt trip.  She bought her generator after a 2 week power outage and it usually works pretty well.

The marketing guys at the big battery company have a different story.  They say their wall-mounted thing will make life grand for two weeks.  Maybe so, if your idea of a grand life is operating a table lamp for a couple of weeks.  Their battery system costs more than the generator, more even than a couple of homes I’ve owned.

Is there a compromise?  Sure.  First, you need to consider what a typical outage would be.  Yeah, there are exceptions to “typical”, like the time mine was out for 5 weeks and the MONTHS that the folks in the Florida panhandle are looking at, but usually the number is just a day or two.  My number was 4, because I live at the far end of a rural line.

Then, consider what you want to keep running.  The fridge, microwave, Mr. Coffee, and some lights are probably on your list. In the north, maybe you need to run the blower and igniter circuits on an oil furnace.  YOU CAN RUN THE WHOLE HOUSE, but it will cost more.  Even a portable box you keep in the garage to provide a few lights can be a great comfort!  Once you have decided HOW MUCH POWER you need by figure how much the devices use and how many hours you will use them, you can start looking at the components and number of batteries you need.

Let’s talk about inverters.  These are gadgets that turn the DC voltage of a battery into the AC voltage that your fridge eats. They are commonly found with an input voltage of 12, 24 or 48volts.  12 volts is usually used on lower power systems and have the advantage that you can charge the batteries with your car, that 4000 pound generator in your driveway.  48v inverters are used on high power systems because the battery current is lower and you don’t have to use huge cables.  24 volt units are a good compromise and a good choice for a system for basic comforts.

The basic inverters just do one thing, they invert.  Nothing automatic is going to happen.  You connect it to the battery bank, turn it on and run a cord to whatever you want powered.  You could plug it into a generator plug, if you have one installed in your house.  From the basics, you then have all kinds of deluxe units. For an automatic system, you have inverter/chargers with automatic transfer switch (ATS).  These would typically be installed between a main breaker and a sub-panel that feeds power to whatever you consider your critical or nice-to-have loads.  The big ones can run the whole house.  With these, on a normal day, the utility power passes straight through to the house and a little more goes to keep the batteries happy.  When a squirrel leaps to his death on a power line transformer, your neighbors’ houses go dark and you notice a slight flicker in the lights as the inverter takes over.  Maybe the ceiling fan has a slight buzz, but that’s it. Sweet.

And you know?  Once that is in place and paid for, it is a simple matter to bolt a few solar panels to the roof to charge the batteries and power the loads.  An outage that runs beyond the “typical” one won’t run the batteries down!  That’s right, the backup system is the first step to a full-on solar power system. That is where my system is now as I gradually work toward total independence from the power company.

Since this is starting to run long, I’ll stop here and let this soak in, then move on to other considerations in a day or so.  If you are not technically inclined, don’t worry.  This is just to introduce you to some of the basics.  After you know enough to ask the right questions and decide what it is you feel you want and need, you can call Sun Electronics.  John’s crew has guys who can translate your needs into a package that will fit your budget. They design tailored systems all the time and it doesn’t cost extra.

Neal

PV efficiency

Going through my morning email newsletters, I came across a press release from a company called LONGi, announcing a new record of solar module output efficiency of 20.41 percent!  The exclamation mark was theirs, because another tenth of a percent doesn’t get me all that excited.  Last week some outfit announced their record output of over 40 percent.  A close read of that announcement showed that their output was achieved with concentrating lenses. Concentrating lenses in turn require that extra effort must be made in getting stuff pointed straight at the sun or everything goes to pot in a hurry.

Any solar module will output more electricity if you put more light on it.  The problem is that in addition to the extra complications and power, you get extra heat.  Some years ago somebody was selling used panels from a concentrating solar farm and they looked like trays of fresh-baked cookies, all warm and brown.

Sure, somebody with special limitations on weight or available space may benefit from superduper efficient panels, but you can count on special panels having a special price.  For my solar boat, the standard “B” modules I used were cheap, but heavy.  I compensated by just making the roof a little lower instead of spending way more for lighter modules and the boat has so far stayed right side up.  Always have the bottom of the boat heavier than the top!

If you have the space, though, the real efficiency in a solar power system is how many watts you can get for your dollars.  More solar sellers seem to be using that criteria in their advertising nowadays, showing a price in $/W.  This is seems to be a trend that John started with Sun Electronics, as I have always seen his panels priced that way.

Many of the panels in my array are, shall we say, not “Grade A” and I am happy if they put out anything close to the label rating, regardless of theoretical efficiency.  I’m building power levels by shear quantity of modules, counting my efficiency in pennies per watt.  As for improving efficiency, blowing the fallen oak leaves off the array helps and it would probably be a good idea to break out the long-handled scrub mop every now and then… it helps!

So, if your idea of efficiency is getting the most for your money, give the Sun Electronics crew a call.  They almost always have deals that are even better than the published prices.

Neal

PV recycling

Seems like a tough racket.  The aluminum frames are easy.  The silver is valuable, especially in older modules, but is probably a bitch to extract. The rest is broken glass and plastic…no value there.  I guess getting paid to take the panels is something, if people will go for it.  Sounds like he is charging a lot to take the panels.  People probably put them in the dumpster.

Neal

—–Original Message—– From: jk@sunelec.com
Sent: Monday, December 03, 2018 7:45 PM
To: Neal Collier
Subject: Re: solar panel waste

Neal
I know this guy pretty well. And, he’s having a very hard timé succeeding
With this.

Thank you.
Best regards,

John

John Kimball
Owner and CEO
SUN ELECTRONICS INT. INC
CELL: (305) 322-1086 best
(305) 498-1863 / (305) 710-9645
www.sunelec.com

On Dec 3, 2018, at 10:55 AM, Neal Collier <neal@ncollier.com> wrote:


This email has been checked for viruses by AVG.
https://www.avg.com 

Solar history:

When my grandfather came to this country over 100 years ago, he worked his way around the US and Canada learning English and looking for just the right spot to establish a farm. About 1920, or so he found the right spot on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, in Palm Beach County, Florida.  It was heaven for a Danish farmer, with a climate that allowed year-round crops.  Solar power was already a big deal in South Florida back then, even before John started Sun Electronics!

You think I’m making this up?  I’m not, but I’m not talking about solar electricity, either.  I am talking about solar water heating and it was a big deal in Florida.  In the late 1800s, a guy in Baltimore, MD, invented the self-contained Climax Water Heater.  It first caught on around Baltimore, as you might expect, but was a hit in Florida.  Why?  My best guess is that South Florida has plenty of sunshine and, in those days, was very cut off from the rest of the country, causing fuel to be expensive.  Until Mr. Flagler’s railroad, a ship was the best way of getting to the budding paradise.

A Climax Solar Water Heater cost around $25, back when that was some real money.

Solar water heating kind of fell by the wayside at some point as gas and electricity became common, but guess what I saw in the Sun Electronics warehouse when I visited a few weeks ago?  Solar water heaters!  They are a lot more sophisticated and efficient than the early ones, using heat pipes and evacuated glass tube technology.  They look kind of like this.

The tank is stainless steel with a thick foam insulation layer.  Those blue tubes are magic!  Not really, but they work like magic, pulling in the heat.  Sure, you could use one of these babies on your suburban home to save on the power bill, but imagine the luxury of hot showers at your remote cabin or house in the boonies or on your own personal island.  A remote abode would have you in pretty much the same situation as old Coral Gables when you couldn’t just call the propane truck to stop by and top up the big gas tank to fuel a water heater.

I also saw solar ovens in the warehouse.  Most of us would probably think of these as a novelty and only use them for camping, but I am thinking they’d be handy in case of an emergency, like for those folks camping out at Mexico Beach, where their houses used to be.  There are places around the world where peoples’ health is ruined by the smoke of cooking fires.  I bet they’d love one of these.

The real surprise on the water heater, though, is the price.  Sun’s prices are about half what some other places charge, just like with their solar panels.  I wanted to figure how that compares to the prices a century ago when they paid in silver dollars.  Looks to me to be about the same, now, as buying 25 Silver Eagle coins, even though the modern heaters are more efficient and durable!

Solar thermal power has been put to use for a long time.  Even Mom’s old black cat sits in the window of the sun porch and uses it.  Why not us?

Neal

PV Efficiency:

Going through my morning email newsletters, I came across a press release from a company called LONGi, announcing a new record of solar module output efficiency of 20.41 percent!  The exclamation mark was theirs, because another tenth of a percent doesn’t get me all that excited.  Last week some outfit announced their record output of over 40 percent.  A close read of that announcement showed that their output was achieved with concentrating lenses. Concentrating lenses in turn require that extra effort must be made in getting stuff pointed straight at the sun or everything goes to pot in a hurry.

Any solar module will output more electricity if you put more light on it.  The problem is that in addition to the extra complications and power, you get extra heat.  Some years ago somebody was selling used panels from a concentrating solar farm and they looked like trays of fresh-baked cookies, all warm and brown.

Sure, somebody with special limitations on weight or available space may benefit from superduper efficient panels, but you can count on special panels having a special price.  For my solar boat, the standard “B” modules I used were cheap, but heavy.  I compensated by just making the roof a little lower instead of spending way more for lighter modules and the boat has so far stayed right side up.  Always have the bottom of the boat heavier than the top!

If you have the space, though, the real efficiency in a solar power system is how many watts you can get for your dollars.  More solar sellers seem to be using that criteria in their advertising nowadays, showing a price in $/W.  This is seems to be a trend that John started with Sun Electronics, as I have always seen his panels priced that way.

Many of the panels in my array are, shall we say, not “Grade A” and I am happy if they put out anything close to the label rating, regardless of theoretical efficiency.  I’m building power levels by shear quantity of modules, counting my efficiency in pennies per watt.  As for improving efficiency, blowing the fallen oak leaves off the array helps and it would probably be a good idea to break out the long-handled scrub mop every now and then… it helps!

So, if your idea of efficiency is getting the most for your money, give the Sun Electronics crew a call.  They almost always have deals that are even better than the published prices.

Neal

Pelicans

Hi John,

I’m glad to hear you are back in the water.  Sounds great.  Somehow I didn’t get to the water all year.  Now it is too cold to stay out on the boat overnight.

I like pelicans, too, from a distance.  It is funny how they almost always travel in squadrons.  8 or 10 of them will sit on a floating log or do a fly-by.  Sometimes you see solos sitting on a navigation marker or an old piling and sometimes you’ll see a busted up dock with dozens of them.  Out in the Gulf of Mexico there are some large channel marker structures that look like pelican storage units or maybe condos.  UWF has a dive barge over a 1559 Spanish shipwreck.  First duty after a hiatus is to fire up the dredge pump to wash the thick, foul layer of pelican  crap off the deck.  OMG that stinks!

In Mobile Bay, I saw a little tern land on a pelican’s back to try to steal food scraps.  The pelican was having none of that and snapped at the little guy!

If you are in a solar-powered boat, though, you yell at pelicans and wave a life jacket.  Pelicans look at a solar boat and think, “aircraft carrier.”  No way you want pelicans doing to all those solar panels what they do to the dive barge!

The range of pelicans amazed me.  I thought they were coastal birds.  Not so, they go where there are water and fish.  I saw them on the Mississippi River in Illinois, of all places!

I don’t remember them in Pensacola, as a kid, but now they are everywhere, as are gaudily decorated pelican statues, in downtown.  Somehow the pelican has become the town bird.

Enjoy the art show.

Neal

I’m leaving for the government cut Jetty it’s 5 mi. Away, sobe, it’s 7:22am high tide, no wind.

I always see something incredibly beautiful on the Jetty:

Ok it’s almost 10pm and here’s what I saw.

First thing I saw : A school of young lookdown fish. Here’s some photo:

Their so silver it’s hard to believe.

The best thing was when I was next to a school of 40 or 50 Tarpon 4 ft. away!

It looked like this:

Here’s one up close:

I was at the tip of the Jetty for nearly 4 hours from 8am to noon!

I can’t describe all the other beautiful things I saw during this morning because there’s not enough time and I’m too tired. It was an epic day for me that I’ll never forget. The only thing more I could wish for would be for you to have been there with me. It was all the better because I had full Sun 🌞 the sunlight combined with the full moon and incoming high ebb tide created perfect underwater conditions. It will be the same tomorrow!

John

My wife and son thought I’d been killed by a shark or drowned. They came to the beach looking for me around 1:00 and found me celebrating at Smith and Lowenski’s eating oysters, steak tartare and bread and butter, I drank cherry wine spritzers and for desert had the best drink i ever tasted! Then I lost my wallet but went back and they had it in the resturant safe. No one knew who returned it. I tried to give them a reward.

Honest people still exist!!!!

John

John

Next to my downtown Miami Sun office and across the street:

Fine Art and Nature.

When I look out from my 14th floor home to the East, I see different sun rises and beautiful cloud formations every day, once in awhile, water spouts can be seen in the distance, (once one came within 100 yards of my balcony.) They’re pretty spectacular.

I look at all these things and the animals in Biscayne Bay and realize even near the center of downtown Miami, nature is surviving pretty damn well.

I constantly watch the direction of the tide and wind, (that tells me if I can go snorkeling or body surfing over at the Miami jetty. “Thank you God”, I say for my aquarium, just 5 miles away. I’ve snorkeled out to the end of it so many times I’ve lost count). I can see a million fish before going to work at 9am some mornings. That Jetty should be a protected park. It’s so full of wildlife.

From my balcony I see Manatees ( I might even see one with a little manatee). Did you know they’ve been taken off the endangered list?. That’s rare. One day I went down to our marina where people were feeding lettuce to a Manatee. It was about 600 lbs. I decided to see if I could ride it. I very carefully lowered on its back (this is illegal, I think, and held on. After about 8 seconds, one sudden flap of its tail, it was over). Sometimes I see lots of big Tarpon, and Amber Jacks attacking schools of Mullets. I can also see many types and of boats. Sailboats are the most beautiful, Catches, Yawls, Sloops, Schooners, even a Tall Ship. We have flocks of Seagulls in the Marina below and it’s fun throwing bread off my balcony, they almost come right in the sliding glass doors of our home.

About 30 some years ago Kyocera America forced me to leave San Diego (where I got to live in Del Mar !❤️ OMG, and move to Miami, and then no one from Kyocera came to see me for 6 years!) . Sometimes there were hundreds of Black birds that would gather at just before dawn dawn in the Marina and then take off at the same time after the sun came up. I see lots of birds, Cormorants (amazing birds that can hold their breath and swim underwater (I counted to 21 seconds but they can probably stay under for 40, maybe more, and they’re faster than the fish, they have to, because they only eat fish. You can see them down below under the water. Once I was standing inside the office and a Sea Osprey (it’s an Eagle) landed on my balcony railing about 4 feet away from me, I’ll never forget the way his eyes looked, incredible! Formations of Pelicans fly by often, again, hard to describe how neat when 15 come by in formation just a few feet from me. Their big and beautiful.

I have to stop here because I’m falling asleep, it’s 2:50am.

But the FINE ARTS are on the corner across the street from me in the Miami Performing Arts Center and the Architecture is excellent by the way. Google it. (I went there tonight with my wife and little boy to see “Hello Dolly”. I thought it was going to be terrible. WRONG! It was great!!!! The big international art show starts Dec. 4th and it’s right in front of my Sunelec home/Office. Right below my window. It’s awsome. Sculpture, all kinds of Paintings mostly good, to too hard to believe anyone could paint like that!

Now I can sleep.

Once again I don’t want to go search for typos and mistakes because I know I will start rewriting it and not just make the corrections, I’m just too tired . In a dark room laying down, writing all these blogs on my cell phone. No wonder I can’t see well anymore.

Later alligator 🐊

John in South Florida

46 years trying to do what I can to promote and just help more people to use solar energy. Its good for the environment. To be honest I care a lot about nature and especially our Oceans. It makes me feel real good every time I get in the Ocean or even our pools. It’s been really cool to see it first starting back in 73. PV didn’t exist for us earthlings yet. Just satellites had solar panels. You know I don’t think aliens 👽 use them for spaceships 🚀 because they’d weigh too much, I wonder if whatever it is causes an air pollution problem. What could it be?

Good night. Or good day!

John