Home Power Magazine Update

Hi John,
 
I agree that Home Power Magazine is a great resource for solar enthusiasts.  It has gone out of business with the recent last issue, HP188.  There is good news, but first let me talk about the magazine.
 
In the beginning, the magazine was all do-it-yourself hacks for making your own power any way you could.  The publishing was very crude as these were the days of literal cut-and-paste layup, photos were done in ham radio RTTY manner.  Solar panels cost an arm and a leg 30 years ago, so everything was geared toward efficiency and budget.  You could keep up with the latest gear in both the articles and the ads.  Ian Woofenden, one of the editors, told me a couple of years ago that they were making an effort to move the message from the “backwoods to the backyard.”  I think that was their undoing.
 
Nevertheless, the later issues are still good for code info and all the issues have very good diagrams of all the systems they have featured.  Find one you like and copy it, if you haven’t a better idea! 
 
OK, the good news is that MOST of the issues can be downloaded for free at https://archive.org/details/home_power_magazine .  The plan is for all of them to be open for download soon.  AND there are still plenty of useful articles at https://www.homepower.com/  Read them all…it is good info and entertaining.
 
—Neal

Nice going Neal

Thanks,

John

PS the punch line for me on this story is exactly as you said, “OK, the good news is that MOST of the issues can be downloaded for free at https://archive.org/details/home_power_magazine .  The plan is for all of them to be open for download soon.  AND there are still plenty of useful articles”. I have a collection of nearly every one ever published, somewhere in my old file cabinets as well as a CD 💿 of 90% of them. Feel free to come browse thru them if anyone ever needs some great ideas”. It sure is sad to hear about them ending the magazine. We ran tons of helpful ads in it. Before that I ran my solar ads in the classified section of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. I also have 80% of those back into the 1940’s. They came with the Peterson Museum home I recently purchased furnished in Tucson. The front half of the six bedroom home was built in 1874. Almost everything in it is remarkable. Certainly the Peterson family and their parents were as well. It was the famous and loved by so many Tucsonians, Mrs. Cele Peterson, who sat me down at the dining room table face to face and looked at me, 22 yrs. of age, and with a straight face asked me, “Johnny do you really believe this solar energy thing will really work?” I answered, “yes”. “Then do it.” She replied. That was a long time ago but maybe if she hadn’t said it, I know I might not be where I am today and, perhaps Solar would not have evolved quite as fast as it did. You can read all about this woman Cele Peterson, when she passed away at like 102, you could have filled the Tucson Convention Center with her friends. Go on look at her and read a little about this little woman who was a giant among men.

Just Google her name, Cele Peterson, she saved my life by the way.

John

What is the avg. cost per kilowatt hour of electricity in Ca., Az., Or., Nv., and Wa.

Just thought you’d like to see this from WSJ last Thursday. Without Solar incentives it doesn’t look like PV is economically sensible. I’m sure there are exceptions to these retail prices but you have to admit electricity is fairly cheap in America according to this WSJ article. Of course it’s old data from 2017. But I keep hearing the big solar electric farm power wholesale cost is cheaper than coal. Giant solar farm generated power often sells for just $.025 cents per kilowatt hour. So what’s going on. Prices for solar generated electricity should be going down to customers but this article went on to say all the fires in these states will cause rates to go up. It’s confusing, I think.

John

The free solar panels.

Hi John,

I was thinking about the solar roof tiles we talked about.  So what’s the deal?  The guy is going to pack them into containers and ship them free?  What a deal!  How many….did you say 30,000?

Even I can’t build a shed big enough to use that many, though a thousand or so to reroof my barn might be handy, even duds.

The restrictions on them are an issue.  No house roof and no grid tie.  What about a small solar farm?  That many shingles would run 150 homes, but I am not sure they could hold up to string voltages required by the big inverters.  That almost restricts them to sheds or maybe developing nation donation.  I am going to donate some of my leftovers to our local museum to run lights in the Blacksmith Shop and to run the fountain.  Yahoos keep cutting our underground wiring!

FYI, I started testing/grading tile panels from my last load.  So far, I have set aside about a third, many of which likely work. My test is quick and simple.  I point the panel at the sun and plug in an ammeter.  Clean and pointed at the midday sun it should make around 8 amps.  I usually don’t clean them initially and prorate the amps downward.  I have kicked a few for no output. Mostly I kick them, without electrical testing, for broken glass, missing connectors or delaminations on the edge that might cause failure later.  So far, only ONE has had no cracked cells and works, meaning almost every one of them was stomped and tossed off the roof.

This was a concern of mine, but I read a paper on intentionally fracturing cells to get higher output AND another on using lots of smaller cells (same difference) to increase output.  As long as the tiny silver lines are intact they work fine.  I had intended to cherry pick my old stacks and the new ones to put up premium groups, but they are not there.  Each 60A charge controller would require parallel/serial groups of 84 panels.  Doesn’t look like that will happen, not with perfect ones.

One last day, today, before the rain returns, so I guess I’d better get out on the shed roof and hang some modules.

Oh, one last thing, have you tried Orange Goop or GoJo hand cleaner on your 26 cent panels?  The stuff is solvent and the paste would let it soak into the pores without drying out or running off.

Let me know when you are coming for a visit.

Neal

In defense of crappy free solar roof tiles

John’s right, the quest for attractive and practical rooftop solar with these tiles was a flop.  Some of it was design flaw and some of it was improper installation.  I hope Mr. Elon Musk, who is marketing solar roofs, has investigated this matter lest his quest should fail as well.
 
Stan-the-Hermit poses with 10 conventional panels for his cabin power upgrade and 300 roof tiles at the old Miami Gardens store
I know about the tile problems because I have hundreds of these tiles.  No solar panel works well when it is hot.  Screwing them to a plywood deck leaves no space for cooling air circulation, inviting poor performance, at best.  The heat also affected the wiring, some of which was made with insulation that lacked the proper plasticizers, so it just crumbled away.  The heat and a poor choice of sealant caused the glass to separate from the cells, on some, allowing moisture to corrode busbar connections.  The way roof shingles are installed, you can’t just pull out a bad one and replace it.  You have to remove everything above it to get to its 4 screws.  If one of a string of 200 goes bad, then you have no power.  And, let’s not overlook a worker’s ability to screw something up.  Many of the tiles I got never had all of the screws installed and some had pinched wiring.  Combine high heat, 600 volt string potential and bad or crimped insulation and you are just asking for trouble.  While none of these tiles ever burned down a house, there were a few smokers.
 
Then, consider their deinstallation.  Very few I have received did not have the imprint of a size 11 boot in the grime on the glass.  They were walked on, stomped on, thrown off the roof and piled high, sometimes with screws still in them.  A few were hit with hammers.  The result was some broken cover glass and most have cracked cells.
 
Some recycled roof tiles may require adjustment before use.

So, why would anyone want any of these?  For one thing, they are pretty much free.  For another, even if they don’t work, you can cut off the wires and make a good roof for a shed or carport.  I’d reroof my 50×64 barn if a container of duds showed up at my place.  The thing is, though, a lot of them do work and making a few changes in how they are used can make them practical.
 
First of all, don’t put them on your house.  That is a contractual term of acquiring them.  A shed, lean-to or outhouse is ok.  One guy was going to mount them on a radio tower!  In shed construction you don’t need to use a roof deck.  Put up trusses or rafters (the sloping bits) and string 2×4 purlins across them at the appropriate spacing and start screwing down the panels with deck screws.  This gives cooling air circulation underneath.  It also gives access to the wiring so you can simply bypass one that fails with an MC3 jumper cable.  No muss, no fuss.  
 
This is how I’d do it.  Just sayin’….  Solar Shed, phase one.  If you don’t need a shed, use shorter posts.

Easy access to the wiring.  Easy construction.

Then, connect a modest number of these low voltage modules in series as appropriate for your charge controller.  In my Solar Shed project, I use strings of 21 on the 30 amp MPPT controllers on my 24v system and 4 strings of 21 for my 60 amp controllers on the 48v system to which I am transitioning. 
 
For a barn power supply and a water pumping station, I install two 4×4 posts about head high and two shorties, with 2×4 inclines between the tall and the short.  The shingles are screwed to those.  3 shingles make about 100 watts at 12v with a cheapo on/off charge controller.  You can add blocks of 3 to your heart’s content.
 
This easy setup runs my backup water pump at the far reaches of my property.  24 volt pump and no battery.  A similar setup, with battery, lights my barn.

Back at the Solar Shed, on the first 16′ section I learned to avoid the panels with delaminated edges.  They are trouble.  I did not put up any with broken glass, but accidents happen and I have a broken one.  It does not leak and it makes electricity.  Because I have access from below, I have been able to jumper out two of the delaminated ones that quit.  Their bypass diodes should have done this automatically, but it seems the heat was not good to the diodes.  A $20 infrared thermometer gun lets me check for hotspots underneath.
 
The second 16′ section has had no failures.  The new 38′ section, so far, does not have a single panel that does not contain cracked cells.  Want to know a little secret?  As long as the silver strands are intact, cracked cell perform better than whole cells?  Will they last?  Who knows.  Live for today!
 
Phase 3 of the Solar Shed in progress, as of last week.  The big panels are for the Solar Yacht project hardware evaluation.  Yeah, a Phase 4 is planned.

 
Is it practical?  You decide.  I charge my fleet of two electric farm vehicles, reworked golf cars.  They allow me portable electrical and mechanical power over the entire farm.  I run lights and tools at the solar shed, even a 2hp air compressor.  I welded up the solar jalopy with this power.  All construction on the shed was done with solar power (the first section power came from my solar boat).  A line goes underground to the house to the emergency power circuit I had for the generator and battery backup, so my lights, office and kitchen are powered by these crappy plastic roof tiles.  That’ll be 11KW of cheap plastic power when the current section is done, which means free air conditioning this coming summer!
 
Take your solar power with you with an inverter-equipped solar-charged electric farm jalopy.

Building the bridge to nowhere with portable solar power.

In the unlikely event that all of the panels quit, I’ll still have a useful shed with a free roof.  There are plenty of others who dragged these home.  How are you using them?
 
–Neal

Thank you Neal,

John

Free PV modules.

Yep it’s more roof tiles. Finally a reasonably esthetic solution to some of the most abhorrent looking rooftop installations. But what a lousy idea. PV roof tiles are small 1′ x 3′ ft., 34 watt, and have flexible plastic backs and frames. Walk on them to replace one with broken glass and you’ll break the bus’s bar interconnections on even more of them. Since their lying flat on the roof they get really hot in the summer especially. So you have hundreds of plugs to cause short circuits meaning hundreds even thousands of short wire interconnects. The worst thing is their substantially higher operating temperature due to heat buildup since they lack any space for convection underneath. because they lay flat on the roof their nearly impossible to fix if they fail. And since the voltage is so high, 600 volts or more, all these problems make the chance of a fire very very high.

The worst design and just the opposite of roof tiles was Solyndra. Evacuated glass tubes on ping pong table mounts that begged to become kites in the wind.

Lithium batteries aren’t only rediculously expensive, their not recyclable and are classified as hazardous waste.

These designs weren’t innovation their just plain stupid.

Yes smart engineering types Can make good use out of them they can’t be sold because it’s illegal to sell recalled modules by the CPA.

We’ll donate them to Haiti, DR, and poor island countries if the owners /installers would pay for the shipping but their not even worth the shipping, palletizing and handling cost cost!

Im just having fun here. It’s more fun for kids to tear down sand castles than to build them. What a huge waste of money. It’s all for the tax credits

A solar boom is in the works.

More efficient than ever, lower cost and highest wattage. Combined with efficiency records in household appliances are going to convince the world independent, not grid connected is the way to go.

Lithium Ion Batteries suck because of the astronomical cost.

Learn how to buy and install solar system and save 75%.