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 […]


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 […]

don't try this at home

This Is NOT a Generator Plug

It is getting to be that time of year, when a lot of people think about getting a generator in case there is a hurricane. Even if you have solar, it is a good idea to have a generator for times of extra load or for equalizing batteries. There’s also no guarantee all your modules will still be where they were before the storm, once it all settles down. The thing about generators, though, is […]

July solar arc at the Solar Shed

A Different Angle

Traditionally, we’ve been told to point our solar arrays to the south.  There were guidelines on the angle from horizontal, too.  Pretty much all of this is open for question, now. You may have noted my recent posts on the arc the sun travels and my experiments with a vertical array.  There’s more to it.  Instead of my next expansion of the Solar Shed being linear along the airstrip, I’ve decided to make a portion […]


AMPACITY. That’s our word for the day. If you think it sounds like a mashup of “ampere” and “capacity”, then give yourself a gold star. That’s exactly what it is. So, what’s it all about? If you are moving electricity around with wires, then you need to understand that you need to choose the wire of the right ampacity. Really thin wire could melt and start a fire. Too thin wire would work safely, but […]

Various and Sundry Items

I have not forgotten you. I’ve been upgrading my own system, while hot rodding one of my solar powered electric farm vehicles, getting Turbo Beast stuck on archæology expeditions, cleaning up hurricane debris and goofing off when possible. I have another kilowatt of solar connected and 1500 watts more waiting for a mounting rack. The 12kw inverter set is connected to the transfer switch to the house, leaving the old inverter on standby. The new […]

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

(I wrote this in December and somehow it did not get posted until April!) This morning it was about 50 degrees. Tomorrow morning we are expecting 28. The constant temperature swings make it difficult to dress. Layering is the key. Temperature changes affect your solar power system, too, particularly in battery charging. Is there any action you need to take? Depends. Lead acid batteries, sealed or flooded, need a higher charge voltage in cold weather. […]

What’s a Shunt?

Let’s talk about shunts. That thing in the picture is a shunt.  As in when your Momma said, “Y’all shunt be pokin’ that possum ’cause he’ll bite you!”? No, not that kind of shunt.  For the record, my Mom was born in Massachusetts and raised in Palm Beach County, Florida, with a Danish father and a Down East mother, so she never did learn to speak proper Southern. A shunt is actually just a resistor.  […]

Stephen is Thinking Solar

And 2000 pound monsters. I got this comment from Stephen. I’ll let you take a look at it and then I’ll comment, OK? “Well I’m a new-b, & an old fart, I wanted to start this process a long time ago, but for the dollars…I’m interested in learning more of the availability of these 2000lb. Monsters, though I really need some education on the basics like …If I Install 11,500 watts of panels on my […]

Does Anybody Have a Fire Extinguisher?

It is only natural to want to improve or hot rod your system. Know the limits, though. Despite all the political controversy, Facebook remains a useful tool, especially the “groups” if you are into a special interest. I don’t have a FB account, but I hijacked my wife’s account to join a group of folks who also have the mobile solar generators, like the one I bought. (See TurboBeast story). There is a wealth of […]

Batteries–Bigger is Better

Sometimes bigger really is better. It is raining, today. What to do? I’m in the middle of a huge upgrade of my solar power system, but most of the work will be outside and I don’t care to get wet. Wet, as in a hot tub is ok. Being cold and wet does not appeal to me. I guess I can water batteries. It is time for some of them. In my various independent and […]

I’m Declaring a Holiday

Hmmm, I guess it already is a holiday, today, Presidents Day, but tomorrow is a good day, too. Some might think I have been on a long holiday, already, but the hiatus has been a combination of clunky WordPress blogging platform and sharing my internet tower with school kids and work-at-homes. I have been to the peak of my hurricane-battered roof and moved my antenna higher and rotated it to a different tower. This has […]

Solar Security

Some people go with solar power to provide energy security to their home or business, especially in areas with a crumbling power grid. But what about the physical security of your solar equipment? I have given a little thought to protecting my solar investment, but it does a lot to protect itself. For example, the main batteries weight about 250 lbs. each and there are a bunch of them. You’ve gotta be dedicated to haul […]

Neal & Turbo Beast’s Big Solar Adventure

Buying prefabricated mobile solar power plants at auction and quickly spiriting them away.

It Pays to Know Your Stuff

Some people build their own solar power systems. Some people pick up the phone and then write a check for theirs. It’s ok, either way, but I advise that you at least have a basic understanding of how things work. If you have to ask why, I can give you a recent example from my neighborhood. It isn’t what a lot of people would call a regular neighborhood. It is nearly a mile to the […]

I’ll Bet the Neighbors Wish…

When it is raining buckets and the wind is howling, it is very comforting to have the lights stay on when the power lines go down.

Solar at Florida Governor's Mansion

Where the Politicians Stand

You may have noticed that it is political season. What have the politicians personally done for solar? Jimmy Carter put solar-thermal panels on the White House roof. They came down the next time the house was reroofed, though they were still working. One is in the Smithsonian and another is in a science museum in China! Bush 2 put solar on the White House, again, as did Obama. What? Did Obama add some or did […]


Oh, will they ever come up with the perfect battery? Super capacity? Super cheap? I’ve met one guy who has learned to adjust his pace to make it from Pensacola to Miami in a Tesla. Maybe adopting a more relaxed pace would be good for most folks! Solar Jorge, down in the Keys, likes the discontinued Chevy Volt. You can do your daily commute on electric and charge it with solar, but if you want […]

Saving a Battery

If a terminal is broken or melted on a battery, you may be able to save it with a simple fix.

$7 Panel Update

Why not cover a carport with $7 solar panels?


We take a look at post-hurricane emergency power after Hurricane Sally.


I recently had to burrow into the entrails of my new 21 year old truck’s transmission. It is sort of a rite of passage with the old Dodges. Specifications for putting the various pieces back together are very specific. I remember what my little brother did to his Plymouth’s transmission 45 years ago and I didn’t want it to happen on my Dodge, so I bought a new torque wrench. I had one I bought […]

I Don’t Know What It Is, But I LIKE It!

Every now and then you need to tidy up a bit. I’m bad about that sort of thing. I needed to take a truckload of batteries up to the recycler in Atlanta, but the Chevy just won’t carry enough. Then I inherited, sort of, a Ram 2500, which can carry an additional ton without any problems. I loaded up and got on the computer to plot a course to the recycler.  The GPS course used […]

Don’t Be a Post Hurricane Statistic

It makes me mad to see that people die after the storm. You buy a generator to keep the lights and fridge on, but the thing can kill you. Here are some thoughts. First of all, have a battery backup system in place.  This can be a building block for a future solar power system or it can be a quick solution.  More on that later. When you buy a generator, also buy a length […]

Fun Fact

This was in the morning newsletter from the American Solar Energy Society. “A household rooftop solar panel system can reduce pollution by 100 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in its lifetime—and this includes the energy it took to manufacture the solar panels. Solar panels can improve future air quality for humans as well as the millions of birds, fish, and mammals that are negatively affected by pollution each year.” Save the planet! Screw the power […]

Still Looking…and Finding

When adding an upgrade to your solar power system, consider what other components may need to be upgraded as well.

Take A Look Around.

Don’t be afraid to look around and borrow ideas from the other guy’s system!

Put an End to Snap, Crackle and Pop

Have you connected a battery, a charge controller or an inverter and had rapidly charging capacitors make a loud pop and maybe even a welding arc that messes up a bolt? That can be really annoying and it can be dangerous, too. I have never had it blow up a battery but I have had it mess up threads on a battery terminal. The large capacitor bank in my inverter always makes an unnerving POP! […]

Deconstructing a Solar Power System

A widow has asked me to dismantle her 4 year old 10kw PV system. It isn’t that she didn’t like solar power, but she has to sell the house now and mortgage inspectors are brutally thorough and her husband had overlooked the business of permits when he installed the system. In the process of going through Tom’s system I am finding some things of interest. Here are the good, the bad and the ugly. First […]

Look West Update

I have been observing the performance differences of my west wall array and my conventional south arrays. Arrays still pick up a lot of power under cloudy conditions, but the south arrays are doing better. I think I know why. The current situation is that the west wall will do pretty well with direct afternoon sunlight. However, it is pretty much facing a dark wall of trees, which reduce diffused and reflected sun from the […]

What’s with these $7 Solar Panels?

Have you seen the $7 solar modules on the Sun Electronics web site? They are 70 watts, so that’s only a dime apiece for a whole watt! Can they be any good??? I admit it, I am a tightwad and bargain hunter. I didn’t need 50 more solar modules, but I saw where John was advertising these solar panels so cheap and I could not resist. Apparently a lot of people have reservations about these […]

Scoundrels and Scalawags

There are good deals. There are bad deals. There are scoundrels who will try to tell you their bad deal is good. If you don’t want to deal with all the razzle dazzle in solar power systems, do it yourself and you will know exactly what you have.

Look to the West

The rule is that solar panels have to face the south. Some of us break the rules.

What’s a Combiner Box and What Do I Want to Look For in Mine?

It is a weather-tight box that combines the outputs of a number of solar panels before sending the power to the next level of equipment. It can be simple or very elaborate. I was recently looking at them for a project I have. Solar panels are sometimes used as singles in parallel or in multiple series strings. Running a wire from the roof or backyard from every one of those panels or strings would use […]

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