You Snooze, You Lose–Savings From the Sunelec Email Bulletins

Are you on Sun Electronics’ mailing list? John does not send out many emails, but when he does it can be worth your while. The last one offered used PV modules at 12 cents a watt, which is awesome. However, if you had jumped on the previous email you could have gotten a stack of panels for 10 cents a watt, like I did! If you just went to the web page you’d see a […]

Daly BMS app view

Lithium Battery Upgrade V: Gone to the Island

After much shifting of plans, The Sun King, newly equipped with a semi-massive Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery stack, cast off in search of adventure and battery performance info. For review, Sun King was the next progression in my quest for electric boating.  Knightmare, my first effort, was successful, but limited in range.   No solar.  My goal was to be able to do sonar mapping of the river in quest of archaeological sites, but the […]

Sawmill Day and Solar Power 1

Sawmill Day and Solar Power

The Alger-Sullivan Historical Society, in Century, Florida, has its annual Sawmill Day coming up May 6. This is our annual open house and fundraising event to help keep the museum complex afloat.  Membership dues of $5/year (if you can’t afford that we can finance it for $1/month) just don’t cover it all. What does this have to do with solar?  If you’ve read all the blogs, you’ll recall that I have mentioned work in our […]

BMS app screen

Lithium IV, Cottonmouths and Gila Monsters

I think where we were last time was I had the starboard battery assembled and was going to try for a run on the one lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery bank and one of the old lead acid banks in reserve.  Then we had a run of inclement weather, the river flooded and the other battery boxes came in.  Well, they came close, left by the side of the road a quarter mile from the […]

You Can Do This, Too 3

You Can Do This, Too

Lunch for two today at Arby’s cost 35 bucks.  Can you believe that??? For that you can get 350 watts of solar panels from Sun Electronics.  Just switch to raman noodles.  In a month’s equivalent you could have panels equal to the typical installation those pesky solar installers put up. That’s enough to cover a typical grid-tie system, if that is a good option for you. Solar for the price of lunch. Think about it.   […]

BMS app screen

Lithium III….It Lives! Converting from Lead-Acid to LFP in an Electric Boat

It isn’t made pretty, yet, but the Sun King’s starboard battery bank is now a functioning Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) high capacity unit. Let’s look at the difference. Here is the old battery: three 8v golf car batteries in series for 175 amp hours (ah).  Since we try to only use 50% of a lead acid battery’s capacity, this will give us 3.5 hours of cruise at 25 amps.  Weight is a total of 195 […]

Lithium II...The Journey Continues 7

Lithium II…The Journey Continues

When I went to bed last night I was anticipating spending a Sunday afternoon working on my new Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) battery system for Sun King, the solar-powered expedition launch. It didn’t work out that way. I woke up knowing something wasn’t right and it evolved to the realization that I was sick and was going nowhere.  It’s one of those weird ones, so I am trying to ride it out and figure out […]

Everything I Don't Know About Lithium Batteries 8

Everything I Don’t Know About Lithium Batteries

And a few things I do. Lithium batteries are everywhere and you probably have some.  I know I do.  Seems like, though, the more I learn about them, the more I know I need to learn.  Isn’t that usually the case?  I have an archaeology project like that, right now. We know they are lightweight and pack a punch for their size.  They are way better than the old NiCads they used to put in […]

Such a Deal 10

Such a Deal

John Kimball, owner of Sun Electronics, proclaims to offer the best deals on solar panels. Have you considered the best of the best deals? Throughout my long life I have mostly bought used vehicles and for cash.  I probably paid twice for the new Corolla my wife insisted on getting back around 1981.  Interest rate was 18%!  However, I kept the car for 200,000+ miles.  Her current car, also bought new, is approaching 300,000 miles, […]

Don't Forget Solar Thermal Power 11

Don’t Forget Solar Thermal Power

It is easy to get all excited about making electricity with solar panels, but electricity isn’t the only thing the sun can do.  It makes heat.  Using a solar water heater is a whole lot simpler and cheaper than making enough electricity to run an electric water heater.  Online, you can find plans to build a unit that fits into a window that will help heat your house.  With a solar oven, you can even […]

Mystery Dust 12

Mystery Dust

I laughed this morning as I read a news story about West Virginia and Maryland residents wondering about a “mystery dust” that was coating their cars and homes. We have it here in NW Florida, too, but it is no mystery. Really, it’s SPRINGTIME, y’all.  I hear tell that up north it is still cold and snowy, so it may be some of OUR pollen has blown up there.  My pickup trucks are crusted with […]

How Does Solar A/C Work? 14

How Does Solar A/C Work?

A few years ago, John and I and another friend of mine looked into solar a/c .  It wasn’t ready for primetime. I experimented with some schemes, but just went with brute force to run my old-timey Rheem the old fashion way. Here’s how the new-fangled contraptions John is selling work.  BTW, check out his posts at First we’ll look at how the old-timey units work.  Outside, there’s a big box with a motor […]

A Good Way to Get Started 15

A Good Way to Get Started

A few posts back I went out in the shed and dragged out some examples of ways you could put together a small solar power system for camping or to get you by after a storm. They are functionally equivalent to some of the systems you may see in the corner of the page when browsing the internet, but cheaper. They are also a good way to get started in solar.  Gain some experience.  Learn […]

John's Gone Bonkers! 16

John’s Gone Bonkers!

That’s nothing new. He gets excited about things, especially solar. At the top of some pages you’ll see a link to John Kimball’s Blog. Take it. I don’t know why, but you have to scroll down and wait a few seconds for the blog to appear. I like to check his blog.  Sometimes, like me, he will go a while without posting, but then it is a furious storm.  I like it when he posts […]

Keep It Simple 17

Keep It Simple

Simple cable management solutions are available locally.

Solar Farms Banned! 18

Solar Farms Banned!

In recent news, some solar farm projects have been rejected for environmental reasons! Bear with me a while. In 1815, William McVoy petitioned the Spanish governor for a grant of land at Chinmele.  The grant was first denied because that area was listed as Indian lands.  McVoy’s countered, “What Indians?”  The Indians had seen the Spaniards, like McVoy, moving up from the south and the Americans moving in from the north, with Andrew Jackson just […]

Troubleshooting II 20

Troubleshooting II

Last time I wrote of dealing with one of two recent issues that have come up in my system. Michael C. wrote to me regarding an alternative to the water heater dummy load to test or calibrate inverter power. He pointed out that the air handlers—the box in the hall closet– of heat pump and a/c systems usually have a big resistive heating coil built in. When systems get replaced the air handlers get chucked, […]

My homebrew inverter


Sometimes things just don’t go right. Sometimes it is an easy fix. Sometimes it requires test equipment. Usually a simple multimeter will do, but not this time. My main inverter bank has developed a problem.  Maybe it has been there as long as I have had it and it just hasn’t shown itself.  It happens at about 27 degrees and, this being Florida, we don’t get many dips that low.  This showed up in our […]

Poly, Mono or Thin Film? 24

Poly, Mono or Thin Film?

My lifelong friend Courtney, based in North Carolina, is gradually retiring from his job and having fun developing a line of solar equipment.  I think he is missing the point of retirement, but to each his own.  For one project, he bought a pickup load of panels from a nearby dealer and was surprised by a couple of things. The panels he bought were of the noncrystalline variety, very common these days and usually what […]

Emergency Power, Part 2--My First System 26

Emergency Power, Part 2–My First System

I have been promising Part 2 for a long time. In fact, I meant to write this one before what ended up as Part 1. Life has been bizarre and hectic, here on the farm. So much so, that backup power has proved itself and I have questioned why I even have a connection to the power company! Here is a recount of the latest disaster.  Last summer I got the power company to snug […]

Fake Solar News 28

Fake Solar News

After Hurricane Ian, John and Rich and I wondered how the massive solar farms held up in Florida.  I forget how many Rich calculated were in the path, but it involved millions of panels.  Florida Power and Light has said nothing that I have heard on the subject.  Yeah, they were busy restoring power.  I get it, but seems like they’d like to brag if it went well. A story came out on a community […]

Emergency Power, Part 1 29

Emergency Power, Part 1

We are spoiled when it comes to power. When the lights go out, there are plenty of ways to get them back on.

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 30

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! 34

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! 35


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 36

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 37

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? 38

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 39

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 40

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? 41

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 42

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 43

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 44


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 45

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 46

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 47

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? 48

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 49

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 50

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 51

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? 52

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 53

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 54

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! 55

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 56

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 […]

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