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 […]

Miscellany

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?

Aftermath

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

Torque

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 […]

July solar arc at the Solar Shed

What Do Cemeteries and Solar Arrays Have in Common?

A Cultural Resources Management (CRM) firm recently had a question about an old water-powered mill in our county. You don’t think much about water power in a state as flat as Florida, be we had lots of them. US 29, through Escambia County, could have been named “Industrial Boulevard” there were so many. The firm contacted the University and the query was forwarded until it got to me. I worked on the mill survey a […]

Thar She Blows!

Fuses offer cheap circuit protection, but there are some precautions you may need to take. The H-Bridge locked up on my inverter recently. It blew a fuse. It blew it with a lot of self assurance, too. There was no dilly-dallying. Never mind what an H-Bridge is, but in this case it can handle 1200 amps, so when it locks up, something bad could happen. That’s why there’s a fuse. Usually, you kind of work […]

That Time of the Month

You know, the time when you do your preventive maintenance. Unless you have sealed AGM, Lithium or other such batteries you need to check the water at least once a month. Even if you do have sealed batteries, there are other things to check. Back to the water, this is a rehash, but in case you missed it, keep a supply of distilled water and a box of baking soda handy. A rubber apron, gloves […]

Zero Export Grid Tie

They keep changing the rules on grid tie. Avoid dual meters, special fees and changing deals by mixing your power with that from the power company, without backfeeding to the grid. Many years ago, a fellow came up with a gadget he called a synchronous inverter. Today we call it a grid tie inverter, and it changed everything. It allowed you to mix sun power DC current with the utility AC current. If you were […]

What’s a DIN Rail?

And why would I want one? No, DIN does not equate to a cacophony. It means for German Institute for Standards, or National Standard, bearing in mind that Germans spell things differently than we gringos do. There’s all kinds of DIN stuff, so it isn’t just rails. DIN rail is a metal rail, usually aluminum or steel, about 35mm edge to edge and pretty much as long as it needs to be. I first saw […]

It’s Raining

And Tropical Storm Cristobal is on the way. It looks to be heading to Louisiana, but Florida is getting the bulk of the rain. As far as storms go, this should be pretty mild, but you never know what tornadoes might pop up. Driving could be tough. Trees can fall on power lines. Hopefully, those of us in the storm zone just get some soaking rains and our solar power will keep the lights on […]

Danger, 10,000 Volts!

Ok, you know I like to talk about safety, often based on experience, so here is a quick one I bet you haven’t thought about. I am planning to try some of those 10 cent FS70 solar panels that Sun Electronics is selling and then write a review. I have actually used 4 of them in the lighting system in my “boxcar”, a 40′ boxcar-red shipping container. At the Solar Shed, some space freed up […]

My Latest Power Bill Came

In it was a handout touting the cooperative’s dedication to service to its members. The coop power had been out for over 3 hours at that time, owing to a car vs. pole incident. A neighbor had power because I could hear the generator buzzing. I had power, too, but nobody could hear it. Back to the power bill. I have been waiting for it with glee. How often to you hear of that? Pretty […]

It’s Always Something!

Last week, during my morning coffee and internet infusion, I read of a very large solar power plant being planned for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Nevada. Then, this morning, I read about a 6.5 earthquake in Nevada. Man, it’s always something going wrong, isn’t it?  Then I heard Puerto Rico had one! It just goes to show that normal, everyday conditions are not the only ones to plan for. Here in Florida, […]

Size Matters

Reassessing capacity. I read online solar news journals every morning while the coffee soaks in. Most of it is grid stuff, but those guys are in it for the money and have the bucks to pay for the research, so I pay attention. I also paid attention when I lived very closely with my solar power during my 44 days aboard Sun King. What I learned there was that we waste an awful lot of […]

Basic Skills

Let’s build some cables I told you the other day I had reached the limits of what my homebrew 5500 watt inverter could do. I had a 10kw driver module to install, but it was bigger and was going to need some more cables. One night I switched the house to grid, ran a power cord from the Sun King for lights and I shut down the inverter for a recon. What I found was […]

Why Can’t I Tell Sea Stories?

John tells of the glories of swimming with the fish in Miami’s bays. Then he tacks on something solar. It’ll be a while before I get back into the water, but I have some solar sea stories. I built an electric boat and it was great, but I couldn’t travel with it. I could easily do a 20 mile day trip, but I wanted to go places and explore. That is how Sun King came […]

I Finally Overdid It

What happens when you outgrow your solar power system? Plan ahead for upgrades.

Innovations

They are now making solar modules with power output in excess of 500 watts! Wow, that’s what I need for the Solar Yacht, instead of the 330s I have now. The thing is, you just can’t buy them, yet. The superest, duperest biggest and bestest go to the solar farms. Don’t worry, by the time the Gopher sets sail they will be available, but you’ll be wanting the 600s. A few years back, someone came […]

Chasing Phantoms

I chased one and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. A big part of living off grid or keeping the power bill down if you are on grid is efficiency. Try as you may to get everybody in the household to turn off unused lights or to not leave the fridge door open, there can still be waste. Some of this comes from “phantom loads” from devices that still use power, even when […]

Time to Change the Battery

Sooner or later, you gotta do it, whether it is the clock, the smoke detector in the hall, the car or your solar power system. Oh? You have grid tie and don’t have to change the battery? We’ll talk about that, too. The batteries that I had on the main bank were in great shape, but there weren’t enough of them, especially now that the brutal air conditioning season has begun. One of the auxiliary […]

Spares

Spare, extra or redundant, call it what you like, chances are you are going to need more.  Oh, yeah, there’re fuses and connectors and such as that, but I’m talking about wire and cable, here. When I was a young broadcast engineer at WCOA, Pensacola, I engaged in a total rework of its broadcasting facility. It was tricky, since the station had to stay functional while the new stuff was being installed. An important part […]

New Projects at the Solar Shed

I wrote the material below quite a while back and it somehow fell through the cracks.  I have since gone through a couple of variants of a Zero Export Grid Tie system, including a new one this past weekend…and the power company’s meter hasn’t budged since!  Read this to get up to speed and there will be more on the latest changes. The season is changing and so are the solar connections at the Solar […]

Feeling “Isolated”?

We have some new buzzwords in our vocabulary and a new normal. Self-isolating and social distancing. Miami is kind of a hotspot in Florida, so John has the store closed so everyone can stay safe. Roberto is manning the phone, though, so if you need something you can still get it. The phone transfer mechanism leaves a bit to be desired as far as sound quality goes, but I had a chat with Roberto and […]

Plan For More. We Always Want More

The homes of my grandparents were special places when I was a kid. Bro and I went by the former Collier house on a recent trip to Lake City, Florida. It was a sad sight. The big camphor tree, where Dad had his tree house is now just a stump. The yard is grown up. The house looks shabby and gutted. The old houses of Lake City had a great architectural element in their pressed […]

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn…There’s Another One at My Place

Did you ever read, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn?” I can’t remember if I ever did, but I know I had the book. If there is a tree there, I’m sure the dogs appreciate it. There probably isn’t much solar power on the neighborhood level in Brooklyn, so all is good. There are lots of trees at my place. It is a tree farm, after all. The blooming Paulownia grove is a delight to the […]

A Hot Time Tonight, Hotter This Afternoon.

Wait a minute.  Time for definitions.  My 5kw inverter is the big box that turns the solar DC volts into household AC volts.  The inverter in the a/c is a variable speed controller.  Got that? You either make it easy on your solar equipment or you buy more of it.  Maybe better to spend a little more on the a/c than a lot more on everything else. Here is a curious thing.  A/C guys don’t […]

Way Down Upon the Suwanee River

My brother and I drove across Florida from Pensacola to Lake City on business. It was good to put faces to the voices we knew from the phone calls. What we were not expecting to see were thousands of solar panels. The last few times I’ve been across Interstate 10, all you’d see of note on I-10 was the devastation of Hurricane Michael. Suddenly, I realized something and told Andy, “Hey, we own that!” At […]

Tie Me Solar Down, Mon

I don’t watch much TV, beyond the network evening news. I was in the kitchen eating when my ears perked up about something solar on 60 Minutes. Then I heard Rocky Mountain Institute mentioned. I had to watch. You’ll recall that a Cat 5 hurricane clobbered the Bahamas and just smashed the Dickens out of parts of it. Traditionally, power in the Bahamas comes from a Diesel plant on every island. Fuel deliveries are ever […]

Why Me?

Kris Kristofferson had a big hit with a song on that theme. Instead of moaning about why things had gone so wrong, though, he was wondering why good things had happened when he felt he didn’t deserve them. Well, things can go wrong in your solar power system, just like anything else, and you’ll have to get off your wallet to fix them.  You can ask, “Why me?”, but if you are just feeling sorry […]

Will Has A Question, Part 4

You might thought I have forgotten poor ol’ Will. No, I have been busy and I think Will is now leaning toward grid tie. He has such a big load and the whole purpose of going solar was to save money when he retires. Grid tie can be a whole bunch cheaper than going off grid. In his case, if the grid goes down, he has a whole house generator that kicks in automatically. That […]

New Products to Watch

Going through this morning’s online solar newsletters, I saw some new products that are on the way. This is not at all unusual, but a couple of these things made an impression. In solar modules, Trina is using bigger cells, but slicing them up and arranging them so you can get 500 watts from a panel the same size as a standard 72 cell unit! Wow, and to think I was drooling over 435 watt […]

One Bad Apple…or Battery

You know the old saying about one bad apple causing the whole basket full of them to go bad. The same thing applies to batteries. I am there, now, and so is Mark. Like me, Mark seems intrigued by the Simpliphi lithium batteries, but is also interested in getting a little more life out of what he has. Here’s his note. Ok, since my 8 Rolls L 16 batteries are 8+ years old, all but […]

Solar Rescue update

Stan called and he was happy. His old 12v system, pictured above, is really getting tired. It consists of nearly 50 mismatched modules and two windmills in parallel on a single overworked charge controller!  His new 24v system is running, but only half-installed and there have been issues. After our little troubleshooting session the other day, Stan-the-Hermit left the cabin on the creek for a few nights on the beach. He’d returned to the creek […]

Solar Rescue Mission

Stan-the-Hermit Needs Help I knew there was trouble as soon as I saw the Caller-ID. Stan’s system has been under performing, partly because he doesn’t have a decent battery and partly because half of his panels never got connected. Well, more than that, it turns out. I loaded up my big spool of solar cable and a fistful of connectors and adapters and headed for Canoe Creek. You can’t get to his cabin in a […]


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