Fountain at James Houston Jones Park, Century, Florida

A Little Late

Hopefully, not too late. Last time I promised a series on emergency backup power, with and without solar. I also promised it would take a while because I’d need to take some pictures and make some drawings. Writing a column isn’t just writing. Writing is easy, like running off at the mouth, but people like pictures. And a picture is worth a thousand words. We’ve had a good year, from the standpoint of hurricanes.  Summer […]

Go Big or Learn to Make Do

Solar isn’t just for hippies anymore. You won’t see many 12v systems, powering just a few bulbs and a radio salvaged from a car. Nope, solar is powering the American Dream home. 3BR, 2 Bath and every electrical device you can imagine. Trying to run everything at once is where you can run into trouble. Tom powered his home, shop and hangar with a 10 kw inverter.  It did well.  He and Jane had to […]

Slow Down! Think Ahead!

A week or so ago, the big news was that California has banned gas car sales after a certain date.  Many of the car makers have announced they will be all electric by a certain date.  Did anybody stop to think they might be getting ahead of themselves?    You know, where’s all the electricity going to come from??? Here we are, just days later, and California is asking residents to NOT charge their electric vehicles […]

FREE-E-E-E!

How would John do this? FREEEEEEE STUFF. No, he’d probably expand that a bit. Make it a bit more grand. A company in the solar training business sent me a cool solar tee shirt. It has a house with solar panels on it and the slogan “Savings Through The Roof.” Cool. It had been so long since I’d filled out the form that I forgot who was sending it. They wisely put their name on […]

Fun With Microinverters

What is a microinverter and how can you use it? You have solar panels and you want to do something with the DC power, you’ll often need some kind of inverter. The microinverter was designed as a grid tie inverter to pump your solar DC into the power grid. There’s more. In the beginning there was a thing called a synchronous inverter. It was a big box on the wall that took all of your […]

EVs and Solar Charging

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have been around over a century and have been very popular and practical in some areas. In other areas, not so much. They are perfect for forklifts, golf cars and neighborhood vehicles. Even delivery vehicles with a fixed, predictable route. Electric automobiles were tried early on and their usefulness was limited. The same goes today, but they are becoming more practical. Good thing, because the government seems Hell bent on forcing everybody […]

Used Panels?

Junk yards like to say that all cars run on used parts. It is true. The same is true of solar installations. There’s a solar farm being built just up the road and there are 180,000 panels sitting in piles in the field. They are soaking up dust, dirt, rain and humidity while waiting to be mounted. And they’ll work. What about panels that have been installed and running for 5 years? They are likely […]

One Moment, Please

I called John to fuss about the website and email. Yeah, there’ve been problems. In his John’s Blog, you never know what kind of crazy stuff you’ll find, but there’s really useful info, too. He mentioned a recent email blast and I didn’t get one. I live 700 miles from Miami, so it isn’t like I can just drop by and see what specials he has going or what kind of leftovers might be in […]

It’s That Time Again

Hurricane season had an ominous start this year, though nothing much has come of it, so far. Still…. So what about preps? Generators are a good start. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to find your generator won’t run. My main backup generator is a diesel. Not much problem with diesel and I give it a monthly (more or less) exercise to keep up the battery and equalize the system batteries. Mom’s […]

What Voltage Should My Battery Be?

As a rule, the Direct Current (DC) side of an off-grid or backup home power system will be 12, 24 or 48 volts. Some equipment is available for the archaic 32 volt system and there are maverick higher voltage systems. I think most of you will best be served by one of the big 3 systems because you have better availability of hardware at a better price. First, let’s understand power. Power is measured in […]

The President’s Analyst

I watched an old movie the other night. Re-watched it, actually. Gee, you’re getting old when you can remember a movie from 1967. The story revolves around a psychiatrist who is chosen to be the president’s personal shrink. Now, why on earth would Americans elect a president who needs a shrink? Come to think of it, we’ve probably elected a bunch of them who could use a shrink! Or maybe we need an analyst for […]

That Black Box

What’s that black box on the back of most solar panels? Is it just a place for the wires to come out? There are all kinds of panels, but the usual 60 or 72 cell module in an aluminum frame is going to have the black box. This is usually called the junction box. Yes, it is a handy way of getting the power out of the panel, but there is more to it. If […]

Combining

Where I live, you use the word combining, the emphasis will be on the first syllable and folks’ll think you are harvesting the crops. In solar, the emphasis is on the second syllable and we are talking about connecting solar panels in parallel. If you read my Tuneup post, you know that I have been working to squeeze all the watts I can from my system. We are expecting about 5 hours above 100 degrees […]

Neal's Solar Shed

Time for a Tune Up

I have been off grid for a while. Mostly. Things are great when the sun shines, but it doesn’t shine every day. The next 9 days are forecasting rain, in fact. Last night I came out to the cave and discovered the batteries were down to nearly 50%. Uh oh. If you want lead acid batteries to have a long, productive life you don’t go below 50%. It seems that SHE-Who-Pays-No-Attention-To-My-Edicts ran the clothes dryer […]

John’s Rants

John’s ranting about the shortage and price of solar modules over on his blog. He can get pretty entertaining at times, but he is also very serious. This guy wants everybody to have a roof or backyard full of solar panels. I find it amazing that the government creates a full tilt initiative to promote solar and then puts all kinds of roadblocks in the way. It must be working to some degree. We know […]

There’s An App for That

In early summer of 2015, I was on my solar expedition launch Sun King. Cruising up the Tennesee-Tombigbee Waterway. It was raining and getting dark as I approached the lock and dam at Aberdeen, Mississippi. I don’t like to run in the rain and there are limitations to running in the dark in a solar-powered boat. Nonetheless, I pressed on. I had a rendezvous the next day. An important one. My wife and Mom were […]

Firmware Update and New Capabilities

Back when I worked for a living, I was the hardware guy and my partner was the software guy. Tom and I would get together and spec out a new product. I would design and build the circuit board, then hand it off to him to program in the features. Knowing each other well, it worked well. Back when I was doing field service, I did not intimately know the hardware that someone else designed […]

Fountain at James Houston Jones Park, Century, Florida

Pump it Up, With Solar

I told you when I was working on a couple of small solar projects for The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society’s park. We had our Sawmill Day Festival and fundraiser this past week and all went well. The blacksmith shop/mill/tool museum building had its solar-powered lights on for 2 days straight with no issues. The lion’s head fountain, with solar powered pump delighted young and old. The trolley to bring folks to and from the parking area […]

Solar Laminates?

Every now and then I cruise through John’s inventory to see what he has in stock. Solar panel availability is getting tight around the country, but John always seems to come up with something. Sometimes it is something strange! Like solar laminates. He has them! What’s a solar laminate? Well, take a look at a PV module, or solar panel, and most often you see an aluminum frame with the glass stuff mounted in there. […]

EJ’s Solar Dilemma

Florida’s governor just vetoed a bill that would have made solar a really stupid choice, at least with grid tie. The bill had been watered down a good bit, but it was still very much anti solar. A similar, but much worse, proposal is still up in the air for California and there are bad deals all over the country. Just this morning I read a story of folks in Mississippi who spent a bunch […]

I Pulled the Plug

It has been a long time coming, but I finally pulled the plug on the power co-op. I have long had enough solar power and more than enough inverter power, but battery was lacking and so was buried copper. Then there was the matter of the Round Tuit. I finally got around to it. Batteries came to me last year. 3000-4000 amp-hours is a good place to be, but for how long? The batteries are […]

Brad's garage and many kw

Lowering Brad’s Power Bill

27 kw of solar panels, 3Tesla Powerwalls and a power bill still over $300. What went wrong? We are at a weird time of year when we are using very little heating or a/c, if any. Bills are usually low. Brad’s have never been low. First of all, the power company changed the rules. They added a bump in the basic fee for grid-tie. Second, they lowered the pay rate. He has a basic rate […]

Beware of Solar Sales Pitches and the Whims of Your Power Company

Two of my neighbors got solar power systems. They were completely different setups and the results were very different. Neither neighbor is very happy about his situation. Brad’s system is BIG. 27kw, with 3 Tesla Powerwalls and a propane generator for backup. The modules are all facing west, because of trees on the neighboring property. It is a hybrid grid-tie system, meaning sun power fills up the batteries, runs the house and then any left […]

Solar Blacksmith Shop?

One of our museum buildings needed power. Solar was the right choice. I am a trustee of The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society. We formed to preserve the memories of the sawmill heritage of the town of Century, Florida. We started with stories. And more stories. We discovered Indian and Spanish colonial history in addition to the sawmill era. History is interesting when it happened here! Then we acquired property. Then artifacts just started showing up. Our […]

Recycle, Reuse, Repurpose

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. That was the family motto of a friend’s crew. They were of Scots descent, so you know they were tight. How tight were they? Well, they had a Willy’s Jeep, a ’55 Ford station wagon and a John Deere tractor. Among them, there was one good 6 volt battery. Dad took the Jeep with the good battery to work. Mom would say a […]

Meanwhile Back at Cory’s Farm

Armed with new info from downloading a couple of newer versions of the inverter manual, I returned to Cory’s farm to try some new settings. I was confidant I had the answers. Somewhere between the time of the last blog and this trip I had made some setting changes and the reaction was not as I expected. The newly downloaded manuals showed some extra menu levels not indicated in the original manual. With the strange […]

You Gotta Write The Book!

John’s on my case, again. “Neal, you’ve gotta write the book on DIY solar power!” He gets this way, sometimes. It starts with flattery. Continues with pleading. Sometimes he promises, “I’LL PAY YOU, I’LL PAY YOU!” If you know John, the phrase, “I’LL PAY YOU, I’LL PAY YOU!” is usually only uttered when he is running from a knife-wielding cabbie he’s stiffed. Honest! That’s a story best told by John, himself. I have written books […]

Don’t Have An Ugly Roof

Solar panels on a roof can blend in and be hardly noticeable or they can stand out just enough to be bragging. On the other hand, some folks manage to make it really ugly. Don’t have an ugly roof. I am on the mailing list of a lot of solar newsletters. They include a lot of pictures of roofs. Some are pretty ordinary and some are strikingly clever…artistic, even. Then there are the ones that […]

Form 5695

I finally started gathering forms and am evaluating who has and has not sent me all the stuff so that I can do my taxes. Seems like something is always late and now I hear that if you have a farm you need to file by March 1st. Yikes! Since this is a solar blog, I thought it best to remind you to download Form 5695 and Instructions if you bought any solar gear this […]

Other Batteries

A reader wants to know if I have any knowledge of Nickel-Iron or NiFe batteries. See? I read the comments. Eventually. I just don’t let them post because not everybody is nice or on topic. Anyway, let’s just say I’d love to have a trailer load of NiFe batteries, aka Edison batteries. Thomas Edison wanted to build electric cars. Seems like every body does, today, but about a century ago things were kind of up […]

The Dirt on Solar Electronics

If you are looking for a scandal, sorry. I’m talking about actual dirt. Just about any serious piece of electronic gear comes with a manual, which I am certain you read cover to cover 3 times before attempting to install…right? Somewhere in there you will usually find the admonition to “mount in a cool, dry place with temperature range X to Y, and humidity below 95%, non-condensing.” Or something like that. If you just paid […]

Boxcar Solar Revisited

We were having problems with the lights in the “boxcar”, so I decided to rethink it’s solar-powered lighting. It isn’t really a boxcar. It is a 40′ shipping container that looks like a boxcar without the wheels. Very handy. Initially I did a full blown install and it worked well. 4 panels, charge controller, battery, inverter and LED strip lighting. Then it got to where it didn’t work too well. It would cut off after […]

John’s Back on the Air

He’s blogging again. Watch out! John Kimball, founder and bossman at Sun Electronics, stepped away from blogging for quite a while, but he’s back. I generally try to stick to something along the idea of how to make solar power work for you. John often talks about things going on in the industry, but sometimes he might show you pictures of a colorful Arizona desert landscape or stunning fish off the jetty in Miami. Sometimes […]

Greener?

If solar power is green, can we make it greener? Yeah, and a lot of folks are going that way. More directly to the point, is what do you do after you get a ground mount panel rack installed? Put down gravel? Mulch? Grass? NextEra or FPL is grinding up all the pallets on which the 200,000 panels came to our neighborhood solar farm to make mulch. Ok, but, given what those pallets cost, couldn’t […]

Battery Rejuvenation

Anyone who has batteries in their backup or solar power systems will eventually have a battery go bad. Can it be brought back to life? Maybe. Of course you want to take good care of your batteries in the first place to put the dreaded day farther down the road. Let’s start with lithium, briefly. The Lithium Ion or Li battery packs are usually made of scads of little cylindrical cells welded together. Lithium Iron […]

NOLA Solar Update

A while back, I wondered if all the PV gear installed after Hurricane Katrina was grid tie, or if some of it came through after the more recent storms. The answer is there was some with battery backup. I remember reading in my morning solar newsletters a while back about an apartment complex that was equipped with solar and battery. That one was working after the storm. Sort of. Two very important things about life […]

Racked Up

The 10 panel rack mount is done. 2500 watts of panels are secure and producing power. There are plenty of ways to do this, but this was my way. A few posts back, I did a blog called Rack ’em Up. That was the beginning of the solar rack project. To recap, I used string as a guide to keep everything in one direction, surplus oil drill stem as the mount with conduit clamps to […]

Solar to the Rescue!

I still have not heard any word on whether or not the post-Katrina solar power systems are helping out while the lines are down. The solar trade journals report that solar is on the job, though. A New Orleans solar company caught their breath after Hurricane Ida, checked on their employees and then came out swinging with instant temporary power plants. Put a bunch of solar panels on the ground, connect to a battery bank […]

Power Tools

Ahhh, autumn! The first week or two of September brings us cool weather, with lows in the 60s and highs in the 80s. Some of you might not call that temperature range cool, but we do. It’s a fakeout, though. We’ll get back to weeks of blazing hot weather if we don’t have any hurricanes to keep us cool. The real cool weather comes during Fair Week, in October. The real prize of September is […]

Solar in New Orleans

Just Curious

6 years ago, I cruised through New Orleans aboard my solar launch, Sun King. This was the only place I saw solar panels on my 1920 mile outing. Most of the new construction in the Lower 9th Ward, post Katrina, seemed to have solar. New Orleans came up with some pretty good solar incentives, for a while, and if you took a satellite view along Interstate 10 or the Industrial Canal, you’d see a lot […]

Other Batteries

A reader wants to know if I have any knowledge of Nickel-Iron or NiFe batteries. See? I read the comments. I just don’t let them post because not everybody is nice or on topic. Anyway, let’s just say I’d love to have a trailer load of NiFe batteries, aka Edison batteries. Thomas Edison was a childhood hero of mine, until I learned what a jerk he was. Still, you have to be impressed by all […]

Bad Moon Risin’

If you are a newcomer to the Florida Panhandle, Coastal Alabama or Mississippi, you are learning what we mean by “the wet side” of a hurricane. If you you are in Louisiana, you have my sympathies. For us natives, it’s the price of living in paradise. The wet side is the right or eastern side. Everything spins around the eye, counterclockwise, bringing in moisture off the Gulf and dumping it on the land. By the […]

Hodgepodge or Matched Set?

You can build a fully integrated solar power system using matched components or you can mix and match from a variety of manufacturers. Which is the best way to go? What are the advantages and disadvantages? My solar power system was not designed as presently it is. It just sort of happened and kept happening over 30 years, or so. It continues to happen and it would come under the heading of a hodgepodge. That […]

Can You Dig It?

Maybe you should use caution. A little reminder can help you determine if you are going flat out or being extra careful. I hate to dig, I really do. Grad students at UWF archaeology digs have offered to put dirt on a shovel and hand it to me so they could get a picture of me “digging”, but it hasn’t happened yet. At home, though, that’s another matter. Sometimes you have to do it. I […]

Pay Attention!

I guess that bit of advice applies in a lot of areas, doesn’t it? Here’s a quick example of what can go wrong if you don’t. Mike came up with some nifty (that’s a 1960’s term, meaning awesome) adjustable solar panel racks. 2 rows of 5 each. He had several and talked me out of the one I had. Originally they held panels in the neighborhood of 250 watts, but some folks were hopping them […]

Why Won’t She Put Out?

There’s the power you think your solar power system should put out and then there is the actual amount and they are not the same. You can usually do something about that. What’d you think I meant? My new 10 panel, 2500 watt, solar array is just about finished. I need a few clamps and I’m going to add a quick disconnect, but it is running and stable. It isn’t putting out 2500 watts though. […]

Generator TLC

In June, I headed up to North Carolina for a few weeks of solar projects. And motorcycles. Have you ever driven a Russian Ural with a sidecar? What could be a better combination? No sooner than I leave town, though, a tropical storm heads for my house. Just the usual damage: the driveway is gone and a few more trees are down. MY power stayed on, of course. Via the wonders of SMS texting, Bro […]

Rack ‘Em Up!

They’ve gotta go somewhere! A while back I mentioned that I had a glut of solar modules. That does not mean I have too many, they just are not all up and running. I am in the process of getting another 10 panels up, this time on a ground mount facing a bearing of 260 degrees. That’s almost west! That’s not where most people point them, but I like to mix it up a bit […]

Are You On The List?

Do you get the email blasts from Sun Electronics? If not, you might need to go to the HOME page and sign up to find the latest bargains. I am not in the sales department at John Kimball’s solar wonderland. I live 700 miles away and I find out about the latest deals via the emails, like everybody else. Right now I have more solar modules than I know what to do with. Honestly, I […]

don't try this at home

STILL Not A Generator Plug

I used to get a magazine for electricians, EC&M, I think. Every month they’d have a photo layout of scary stuff that electricians and inspectors had come across. Our recent “not a generator plug” photo would have gone well in that feature. While I was concentrating on the dangers of having the shiny bits electrified in a bootleg generator lashup, electrician Michael spotted a couple of other problems. Note that either side of and below […]


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