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 […]

Will Has a Question, Part 3 1/2

Here is an interesting battery for Will. Yes, it HAS been a while since the last post. This time of year just seems to keep me busy. Last update on Will’s system we essentially concluded he is going to need a huge battery. Batteries should not be a system afterthought. They are probably the most important and expensive part of the system. Do it right and you can minimize having to do it again, unless […]

Save Money on Electricity…Buy the Power Company

If you have your own solar power system, you literally own the power company. Heck, you ARE the power company. It can be a big chunk, at first, but over the long term you should save some big bucks. Like the big power company, you’ll have maintenance costs, but at least you won’t have to replace 10,000 poles next time a hurricane or ice storm rolls through. The big power companies know that solar is […]

Will Has A Question, Part 3

Will needs a big solar power system for his big house. We figure he has the perfect slab of roof for installing enough solar modules. Now, since he wants an off-grid system, we are going to think about a battery. A really BIG battery. No, I have not forgotten about Will and his new solar power system. It’s just, well, holiday season, firewood cutting season and working on my own system season. I have been […]

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I’d have done this a little differently. Take a good look at the photo. These guys are going to lose space for an entire panel because of a vent pipe poking up through the roof. Why are there vent pipes? Because when you use a sink or any other water source in the house, it needs to be vented to drain properly. The vents stick out the roof because clean water is not the only […]

Buy Plenty of Wire

And connectors, and terminals and adapters and… Just a quick tip coming from experience. I was out in the Solar Shed, today, pulling wire to add a couple more panels to my Non-Export Grid Tie experiment. I’ve been running 1200 watts, being shared by two GT inverters. Now it is 1800 watts. Soon, it’ll be 2400 and live on the grid instead of in the lab. I have the giant spool up on a rack […]

Will Has a Question, Pt. 2

We now know a bit more about Will’s roof, his power consumption and what he wants to do. Let’s get started…on some Texas-sized solar power. I’ve been in contact with Will and he supplied some more information.  If you read Part 1, you know he wants to go with solar power, but that leaves a lot out.  We now know that he has a big house, 3700 sq. ft., and pool.  He also has a […]

Reverend David’s Solar Freezer

Using the hot sun to keep the groceries cold. Awesome!

Will Has a Question

Actually, Will has several questions, but they all boil down to “how do I get started?” ” I am looking into installing solar panels on my roof. I have a straight gable roof that the back slope faces South. I have a 200 amp breaker box and would like to keep that amount of power when I go solar. Looking at solar panels, they come in different amounts of watts per panel. How many watts […]

Tiny Solar Power for a Rainy Day

Tropical Storms in the Gulf, tornadoes in Alabama and lots of rain. That’s not a time when you’d normally think solar power, except how little the panels are putting out. It IS a good time to hole up with a small project. In the last post, I mentioned the Tiny Watts group and their tiny projects. And I mentioned that Solar George had given me an idea. I had a couple of small solar panels […]

In the News

Just a few notes on solar in the news. Click in the parentheses for the links, since I can’t seem to make them show up in some browsers. A really biased (headline) blames California power outages on climate change. The actual cause of PG&E outages is PG&E pulling the plug when it gets breezy! Proper powerline maintenance, line stabilizers and right-of-way maintenance to reduce fuel would go a long way to prevent fires from powerline […]

Meters

When installing a new power system or doing a little troubleshooting, an appropriate meter can be just the thing to make the job easier.  For example, with the analog voltmeter and the digital ammeter, we were able to determine that the panel above was a little low on output.  What could possibly be wrong? There are analog meters, which you don’t see much, anymore, and the digital meters which seem to be in favor these […]

Troubleshooting Solar

Some folks have big systems and some have small. A small solar power system is pretty easy to wring out if there is a problem. Use your multimeter (You DO have a multimeter, don’t you???) to tell if you have volts getting to your charge controller, or if you have it up to that fuse that blew, but not beyond. A bigger system can be a little harder to keep up with. My system has […]

Little Solar Projects

My first solar project was to put 4 tiny 6 volt solar panels on the top of the instrument panel of my old Piper TriPacer.  The panels were little more than experimenter toys made from solar cell scraps in a plastic frame.  40 years ago you took what you could get in solar.  Old airplanes have tiny batteries, crappy starters and high displacement engines. Add in flying them only on the weekends and you can […]

Show Time!

John was just about worn out when I talked to him, yesterday.  He’s at the big solar show in Salt Lake City.  Sun Electronics does not have a booth, there.  He’s there to hobnob and network, catching up with old friends and keeping up with the latest offerings. All of the panel makers are there, including the Chinese, who are not selling a lot of modules owing to the tariffs.  I’m sure each maker is […]

So Your Power Bill This Month Was $497

It Doesn’t Have to Be! My neighbor Connie got her power bill yesterday.  It was $497.  That was just the one for the house, she has another for the well.  I got my bill today and it was $67.  Mind you, $27 of that was for electricity and 40 is for taxes, fees, waste and corruption.  So Connie only used $457 worth of electricity, but she gets mad when she hears about my tab.  Well, […]

Don’t Do This!

This morning, going through the email editions of American Solar Energy Society’s Solar@Work and  PV Magazine, I came across an article on things found wrong during inspections of photovoltaic power systems, both at home and commercial installations. You might want to take a look at the article and then take a look at your own system! https://pv-magazine-usa.com/2019/09/19/solar-power-installation-techniques-dont-do-this-w-pictures/ –Neal

Louisiana Screws Up Net Metering

Don’t Worry, We Can Fix This After Hurricane Katrina, solar power took off in New Orleans. Long nights without power left folks wanting a little more control of their situation and rooftop solar took off. How much of that was actually usable when the grid is down and how much was grid tie? I’m betting there was a lot of grid tie. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you get real net metering. Figure up […]

Solar Air Conditioning Recap

John called the other day for some solar chit chat. He asked if I was still using my solar air conditioning and I replied that I was. It was holding up well in the blistering heat. He said, “You should write a blog about it.” Well, gee John, don’t you read this stuff? There are 3 articles here in the tech blog, I think, about air conditioning with solar power, but maybe that isn’t obvious. […]

A Hot Time at WalMart

Don’t Try This at Home Did you hear about the solar panel fires on the roofs at various WalMarts?  Don’t let it happen to you! Little bits and pieces of this story have been coming out in the solar trade press for a few weeks, now.  What I have gathered from this is that the rooftop solar power systems at 7 WalMarts have caught fire.  The roofs were steel and the stores were not extensively […]

Evolution of Hurricane Survival

Survival Stories 460 years ago, a Spaniard named Tristan de Luna y Arellano sailed into Penscola bay to establish the first European settlement. A few weeks later, before they even had all the ships unloaded, Luna and his 1500 colonists discovered the hurricane. I can only imagine the shock and terror as these folks held on for dear life as their makeshift houses blew away. It got worse after the storm was over, because one […]

John’s Home Office Solar Backup Power System

Condo Solar As promised, I am passing along John’s description of the emergency backup system he put in his condo, years ago. Battery backup, with solar and a generator. The power does not usually stay off very long in big cities, but it doesn’t have to go off at all! When I started Sun Electronics 35 years ago, I used my home office, it had been my Kyocera America East Coast and Latin America office. […]

Let us know how it goes

If you are in the storm zone, we wish you all the best. If you have a backup power system that survived or can cobble something up, let us know what worked. If your system failed, let us know about that, too, so we can learn from it. I spoke with John Sunday night. The blogs have been getting an overhaul and he is having trouble making posts, so I thought I’d let you know […]

Getting Grazed by a Cat 4 ‘Cane Will Leave a Mark

I was working on a new series of posts on the basics, but something has come up…a hurricane.  The projected trajectory has it going over Puerto Rico, where they’ve still got a lot of PTSD from the last one, then pass by John’s balcony in Miami and maybe come ashore somewhere between West Palm and Jacksonville.  I have a friend in St. Augustine who has had chest deep water in his living room twice in recent […]

Can I Do It Myself?

So you’ve been thinking about solar power or battery backup and wondering, “Can I do it myself?”  Well, let’s stop for a moment if you really meant, “May I do it myself?”  Those are two different things and I’ll talk about both, separately, but I wanted to point out both considerations.  Without any more information, I’d say, “Maybe” to both.  Can you?  Let’s talk about the physical requirements.  I’m 65 years old, am 30 pounds […]

Quick and easy emergency solar

John and I have been talking about using solar power to survive in relative comfort after a storm.  In my efforts to mostly eliminate my old 24v solar power system I realized I was putting together what would make a good example for survival power.  Why did I not eliminate the 24v system completely?  My solar electric launch, Sun King, is in the Solar Shed and needs to be kept charged up in the dark […]

East and West are Subject to Wandering

Archæologists have discovered that it is not just modern mankind that buries its dead with their feet to the east, it has been going on for a long time and in a lot of cultures.  They have also noticed that all of the bones in a particular ancient burial ground are buried in more of a loose version of east or sort of east, rather than on a true line.  The reason, they conclude, is […]

Think Outside the Box

The purpose of this post is mostly to stimulate thought and open up some possibilities for you.  Many folks would find these ideas impractical or even impossible if you live in an apartment or have a strict homeowners association.  Wild stuff, but maybe there’s a mad scientist among you who could make it work.  If you know John Kimball, Sun Electronics’ fearless leader, he has been on a crusade for decades to bring affordable solar […]

Microinverters!

What is a microinverter and why in the world would you want one?  The first answer is easy.  Whereas a regular grid-tie inverter takes the power from a bunch of panels and injects it into the powerline,  a single microinverter bolts onto the back of each panel.  The solar panel’s MC4 connectors plug into one side of the microinverter and a connection to the 240 ac power line plugs into the other side.  This makes […]

Power Use Optimization and Free Energy Storage

In my last post I talked about some seemingly off the wall, but doable, energy storage contrivances.  As for the compressed air storage, apparently some pretty clever people have already thought about this.  Follow this link to a pretty thorough  discussion of the subject. https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/05/ditch-the-batteries-off-the-grid-compressed-air-energy-storage.html. There are some pretty neat pages at Low Tech Magazine and No Tech Magazine. Speaking of energy storage and No Tech, how about storing energy with NO equipment?  This is […]

Show and Tell

I wanted to show you a couple of examples of some really nice solar work I have seen lately. I’ve known Courtney for 60 years.  Back then Courtney was a guy name and, in his case, it still is.  Courtney has gone nuts for solar in the last few years and he is at it again.  In addition to our joint solar a/c schemes, he decided that his curved solar pergola grid-tie is not putting […]

Cool It

I never thought I’d be happy about a tropical depression starting to spin up in the Gulf, but it has been really, miserably and mind-numbingly hot around here and the rains have helped in that department.  We’ve topped 100 degrees for days, usually hitting 103-105 after lunch.  It has been so hot that I have been wearing welding gloves to handle modules I am remounting.  Of course, inside the Solar Shed, it is even hotter […]

RTFM!!!

RTFM!!! That stands for Read The Fine Manual. There are variants on that acronym, depending on your vocabulary. That’s what we used to say when a customer wanted to know how to work something he bought from us, but was unwilling to read the instructions. This happens a lot with solar stuff, too. You may have products that can do more work for you, saving you from having to buy other gear. Wouldn’t you like […]

Cool Running

We surely do get spoiled by some of our modern comforts, don’t we? When I was a kid, we didn’t have air conditioning at the first 3 houses in which I lived, nor at school. Our first car with a/c was a ’65 Pontiac. Although I don’t crank the thermostat down low, I still like to have it to knock down the humidity and cool down on those muggy Florida afternoons. One of the goals […]

Battery safety tips

Bring a big truck when you visit and work safe when you get home.I write this stuff for fun and to be helpful. I’m not an employee of Sun Electronics, I’m a customer. In my role as customer, I set out the other afternoon for my third visit to Sun’s Miami headquarters and my first visit to the Miami Lakes facility. This place is a lot nicer than the Miami Gardens warehouse, though it lacks […]

Sharing Resources

In my last post I mentioned that I had gotten carried away at Sun Electronics’ Miami warehouse and had filled my trailer and truck to the point that I decided to leave some batteries behind. I shredded one tire at one A.M. and only had one spare, so maybe that was good that I didn’t try to overdo it. Will I have enough battery power to get by until my next trip to Miami? Probably, […]


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