After playing phone tag the other day, John and I were having a conversation about all things solar and my Solar Shed phase 3 performance. He asked how well the modules were performing as these are all recycled salvage panels in the form of roof tiles.

I replied that they are doing well, having seen around 8kw with a 10kw nameplate rating. That concerned him and he seemed a little surprised when I made the point that modules never seem to make full rated power…not in the real world anyway.

You see, panels are tested and rated at an industry standard under conditions that are rarely encountered at most sites. It isn’t exactly a lie, but neither is it the real world. Never mind that mine are panels that have a permanent grime on them and were stomped and thrown off the roofs of their original installations. I have seen some panels with a second set of numbers on the label that represent a more likely scenario. These lower numbers are closer to what most folks will see.

First of all, there is the matter of the sky sometimes being reluctant to provide the industry-standard level of irradiation. In our area, we go for days at a time in winter with clouds and gloom. In the summer, with 95 degrees and 95% humitidy, we have a 10,000 foot layer of humidity that looks sorta like blue sky, but it blocks some of the sun. My Phase Two version of the solar shed had plenty of power on sunny days, but not enough battery to ride through the gloomy ones. After 4 days, I’d have to switch back to grid to save the batteries. Phase Three has enough modules to charge the larger battery pile, even on cloudy days. Getting the right balance of relatively cheap solar and expensive battery is tricky, but I think I have nailed it and have added more loads to the new 48v system.

Electrical resistance can take a small toll. Keep your cables fat and short for lowest resistance. Long skinny wires and parallel strings will give you a power loss. Each connector loses a little power. Since my system uses relatively small 34 watt modules, there are over 700 MC3 connectors up there!

Then there is the matter of the sun’s angle, relative to the panel surface. They test with the sunlight coming dead-on square with the panel. Tracking racks are available, but I don’t think they are worth the extra expense. If you have a fixed installation, then you will get that max output for an instant, twice a year. Right now, the sun is a little low to be hitting best power on my array. This summer, the sun will be high, but the days will be longer, so I am looking forward to sun-powered central air conditioning! Don’t let somebody tell you that you have to have your rooftop panels at a really ridiculous and ugly angle to improve your performance. I saw photos of a system mounted on an otherwise picturesque barn at such an angle as to make the image hideous. Mount your panels at the roof angle and just use more of them if you need to. Keep solar beautiful and fashionable. If I remember any of that sine and cosine stuff correctly, you’d have to be 60 degrees out of alignment to drop the output to half and on a cloudy day the diffusion of light by the clouds would make up for some of that loss.

I mentioned that these modules of mine have a permagrunge. Nothing cleans them! Then there is the layer of pollen that the pine trees are presently giving them between rain showers. In May, cropdusters at my place will give them a coating of red clay dust as they go roaring back and forth. That’s right, anything that blocks the sun blocks the power. The big solar farms are now playing with the use of robotic panel washers to keep the modules clean. One of those long-handled RV brush/squeegee thingamajiggers will probably do well enough for you.

There is also the temperature factor. Note on your label that your panels are rated at a certain temperature. Mounted close to the roof or even out in the open you are likely to find much higher temps on a sunny day. Output goes down as temperature goes up. The solar roof tiles I use probably benefit from being mounted on open purlins instead of a sealed plywood roof deck as code dictated in their original residential installations. Let your panels breathe!

So, if you use your panels on a cold, dry Himalayan mountaintop with sun trackers, you might come out even with the rated output of your modules. The good news is that they start making power as soon as the sky makes light, even down here in the hazy flatlands. My batteries are usually bulked up by 9:30 and it just keeps getting better until mid day. You’ll end up with 5 hours equivalent at full rated power if you live in Florida and a little less as you move northward up the map. Your mileage may vary! Since solar panels are no longer the expensive part of the system, add another string of 3 modules modules (John’s 305 watts special) for about a hundred bucks, each, for a little extra insurance and peace of mind. You won’t regret having “too much.”

(Update: Since this was written, the sun arose to a perfect angle on the Solar Shed’s roof. We’ve even had some unusually clear days. I isolated one bank rated at 2500 watts and actually saw 2475 watts on the meter at noon. Close enough! This will drop off as the sun continues toward a higher arc, but the days are getting longer so there will be plenty of power.

By: Neal Collier

Increased output from fractured cells

I looked for that article we were talking about, regarding fracturing cells for greater output. I found lots of articles on how fracturing can reduce output, but not the one for which I am looking. I did find a patent for manufacturing cracked cells to increase output.

Patent for fracturing cells. Link

Here are my observations on the subject. I test my panels with an ammeter instead of a voltmeter. A tiny section of a broken cell will give the same voltage as a full cell. Testing with an ammeter, I feel, gives a better indication of the power capacity AND gives a bit of a stress test. That assumes finding a sunny day here in the alleged Sunshine State.

Virtually all of my 34 watt, 6 volt panels have one or more cracked cells, at least in the later pallets. This worried me, at first, but I have come to embrace them and have enjoyed studying them. These tiles have much thicker glass than you find in standard modules. That allows a great diversity in crack modes without breaking the glass. The cracks that concern me the least are longitudinal ones across the fine silver traces between two main bus bars. There is no degradation at if the tiny silver wires are intact. If they are broken, the current still flows to the nearest bus bar. Outside of the main area, A crack with broken wires would eliminate a small amount of current from reaching a bus bar.

The ones that really concern me are the ones made by someone really serious about destroying a panel. These cracks fan out over the entire cell, looking like lightning bolts or, perhaps, a fern. The cell ends up in lots of pieces with the potential that several of those fine lines will fail, drastically reducing output. Given the choice, I choose the panels with the simpler cracks.

That being said, label-rated short circuit current should be around 7.5 amps, if I remember correctly. In practice, I have observed as much as 9 amps on these modules with multiple cracked cells. With such variation, I feel it is probably important to sort the panels for similar outputs, even as simply as Hi, Medium and Low, to maximize the overall production of power.

Have any failed? Hard to say, because I run in strings of 21 and they have bypass diodes. I do know that I had 2 with the edge delamination problem and their diodes were bad. 3 foot jumper cables allowed me to bypass those and continue operation with the rest of the string.

Some of the tiles were received with the glass smashed. That usually resulted from screws being left in the tile above. There were also some piles that were simply stacked too high and cases of probable malice. Not surprisingly, cells were damaged, too, when the glass was smashed. Usually, these modules work! I have one on the solar shed that has broken glass from a tree strike after installation. I tried to seal it with some of that miracle AS-SEEN-ON-TV clear sealant. It did not stay clear more than a few days and ultimately crumbled off. It turns out, though that the sheet of sticky plastic between the glass and cells maintained a seal and the tile with the broken glass still has good output, though in Phase 3, it is not presently connected.

This is not to say that all cell fractures are benign or beneficial. You’ll recall the panel I blasted with the shotgun. That did not really affect that module, but then it was already somewhat handicapped by having been bent and bowed by Tom’s front end loader getting “just a little too close.” (Right. Basic laws of physics indicate that two things can’t occupy the same space at the same time, for every action there is a reaction, and while matter can neither be created or destroyed it can be smashed to bits.)

While I am still a bit shaky on the physics of less-than-perfect solar cells, I am fully aware that my lights are on because around 350 previously discarded panels are keeping my batteries charged! If they work, use them, but please don’t take a hammer to them! Or a tractor.

By: Neal Collier

Basics

I started taking old radios apart as a very young kid, began my career in electronics at 16, was a licensed broadcast engineer at 19. That led to computers and all kinds of electronic gimcrack design. Having been making sparks for so many years it is easy to forget that some of the basic stuff might seem scary or mystical to folks just getting started. Today, let’s look at a couple of very basic and very important terms: series and parallel.

You will run into the use of series and parallel connections in solar power work, most importantly, perhaps, in the connections of the batteries and the PV modules. We’ll start with batteries.

Series: Have you ever seen a picture or video of a bunch of elephants walking in a line, trunks wrapped around the tail of the beasts in front of them? If you can conjure up that image, then you can get the idea of a series connection. Let’s say the trucking company just delivered 8 Trojan T105 batteries that Roberto sold you when you called Sun Electronics. What do you do with them?

They are 6 volt batteries, meaning there are 3 cells of 2 volts each connected in series. Now, 6 volts is not terribly useful in most solar power arrangements, which are usually 12, 24, or 48 volt systems on the DC side. So if you take 2 of the 6volt batteries you can make 12 volts. With 4 you can have 24 volts. 8 X 6 makes 48 volts. Easy, right? BUT, how do you connect them?

In series connections, you connect a cable from the first battery’s “+” positive terminal to the next battery’s “-” negative terminal. Just like the elephants, but not as heavy. Now, if you take a meter and put the black lead on the first battery’s negative terminal and the second battery’s positive terminal, you’ll find that the meter should read something over 12 volts. Ta Dahhh! You’ve just made a series connection. Add two more batteries in the same fashion and you have 24 volts. Add the rest of the batteries, trunk to tail, just like the first 4 and you end up with over 48 volts. If you put one in the string of batteries backwards, the 6 volts of that battery will be subtracted and the voltage will be below 48v. Pay attention to what you are doing!

Note: These cables need to be pretty fat because you may be dealing with hundreds of amps to feed your inverter. We’ll talk of that another time, but if you ordered a kit from Sunelec, you’ll have properly sized cables.

Parallel: Ok, you have 8 batteries and you have a 24 volt system. You placed 4 of your T105s in series to make 24 volts, but you still have 4 batteries left. What to do with them? Simple. Just make another 24 volt series of batteries right next to the first set. Make sure both lines have the “+” at the same end and connect those positive terminals together. Same thing with the 2 negative terminals. Now you have 8 batteries and 24 volts. This is called a series-parallel connection because you are connecting series strings of batteries in parallel to increase POWER (not voltage).

If you only have 24 volts and you can get that with 4 batteries, why do we use 8? We double the storage capacity this way. Let’s say the T105 is rated at a capacity of 220 amp-hours (AH). With one string we can multiply 220 AH X 24 Volts to discover a capacity of 5280 watt-hours. Let’s just round that off to 5000 or 5KWH (KiloWattHours). When we add the second set of 4 batteries, we double our storage to 10KWH. 10’s gotta be better than 5, right? You betcha.

Wait a minute, you are saying, I have a 12 volt system! You know you get 12 volts from two batteries, so do you connect 4 sets of two batteries? Exactly! With this connection, you now have 880 AH of storage and still have the 10KWH power capacity of the 24 volt system, just at a different voltage. If that’s confusing, don’t worry about it…it’s a good thing.

Here are some tips.

  1. Take a can of white paint and mark the POSITIVE corner of your new batteries. Trojans are dark red and the Sun batteries (and most others) are black, so the white paint will stand out better to avoid confusion.
  2. Have a multimeter. Even a cheap (or free with a coupon) one from your favorite Chinese tool store is all you need. Check each connection as you go to avoid sparks later.
  3. Wear safety glasses…some batteries can make sparks and hydrogen and under certain conditions that can be a bad thing.
  4. Cables that are too big are better than cables that are too small.
  5. Put shrink wrap or tape around the transition of where your cable goes into the terminal.
  6. Don’t make your cables any longer than they need to be. Big wire costs big money and long wire has more resistance.
  7. Put a coating of grease or battery spray on the connections to avoid corrosion.
  8. Cheap bolt cutter make dandy wire cutters when working with large battery cables.

If connecting that last cable to an inverter or other device containing a large capacitor, you WILL get a spark, so tap the cable to a flat spot on the terminal and not the screw stud (if applicable) to avoid making a weld burn that will make it impossible to tighten the battery nut. A better plan is to make the last connection at the inverter or fuse/breaker. Good Luck

By: Neal Collier

More Parallel and Series Stuff

The other day we talked about series and parallel connections of batteries. You know, getting 24 volts using four 6 volt batteries in SERIES and getting lots of amps at 24 volts by using 2 of those 24 volt strings (8 batteries total) in parallel. What about connecting your solar modules? Yes, it applies there, too. These roof tiles John is giving away, put out about 4 volts under load, so you use 3 of them in series to charge a 12v battery. I use 6 in series to run my 24 volt backup water pump. If you have a battery system and use an MPPT charge controller you might run 3 modules in series to get a good efficiency and stay under the 150 volt limit of the controller. If you are connecting a grid tie system with a string inverter, like a Sunny Boy, you may connect lots of full size panels for a voltage around 600 volts!Six 4v panels in series to run a 24v water pump located near my spring.

Connecting your solar panels in series is super easy and it saves money on wire, because several panels are connected using a single pair (positive and negative) of wires to the controller. Your modules probably have MC3, MC4 or Tyco connectors on them. Pick one connector on the first module and it will plug into the right one on the next module. The other one gets plugged to the next module. (If you use John’s free solar roof tiles, you might want to buy a sack of MC3 connectors because there will likely be some missing.) You can’t just do this forever because those panels are usually good for around 40 volts on the big”24 volt” panels and 18 or 20 on the “12 volt” panels. You could get some scary or damaging voltage added up in a hurry.Let’s say we have a 60 amp charge controller on a 24 volt battery. I don’t have particular specs handy but, generally, you’d say 60 amps X 24 volts = 1440 watts. Some controllers are real fussy about input wattage and even fudge a little bit on the specs. Some are rated higher and seem to just ignore a little extra power. Just remember 1440 for now.If you take three 300 watt panels and put them in series, you’ll have a max voltage of 120v, which is fine for this controller. Of course, 3 X 300 watts = 900 watts, so that being less than 1440 watts, you are safe to go. Sometimes, though, you have lots of cheap solar panels and want to get the most out of your BOS (Balance of System), so how many of these 300 watt panels can we use on the single 60 amp controller on this 24 volt system? Take your 1440 and divide by 300 and you get 4.8. You’ll have to round that down to a whole number, so that gives you 4 panels you can use.If you hook all of these panels in series, that’ll give you 160 volts on the input, so that is a no-no, as it exceeds the 150volt rating. TWO of those panels in series make 80 volts and that is ok. So if we take two in series and two MORE in series and connect the two sets in parallel, we can run 1200 watts (4 X 300) at 80 volts (2×40) into our charge controller and all will be good. If you have more panels you’ll have to have more charge controllers, or bigger ones, and calculate the optimal connection.TIME OUT! If you are getting scared or confused about 80 or 150 volts from your panels charging a 12, 24 or 48 volt battery…relax! MPPT controllers are magic! They detect the battery voltage and squeeze that higher voltage into your battery and get 20-30% more power out of the panels in the process. Don’t worry about how. Like I said, it’s magic, like using a 120 volt outlet to charge your 3.7 volt cell phone battery. Trust me.Now, there are exceptions to this general plan and that comes in the actual specifications of the controller you are using. A FlexMax 60 is rated at 1500 watts instead of 1440. This is from a real-world example at Stan-the-Hermit’s cabin. He has ten 300 watt PV modules and two 60 amp charge controllers. What he planned to do was put 5 panels in series on each charge controller. NO! Stan, don’t do it!!! The watts would be fine, but he’d have 200 volts going in, which would cause the smoke to come out. You never want to make the smoke come out of electronic stuff. (According to the Leo Ginn theory, electricity operates by the circulation of smoke molecules, so don’t let the smoke out.)The old 12 volt system was all wrong…and worked great.

What should Stan do, then? I don’t normally recommend sacrificing the low light capabilities of MPPT charge controllers by operating all of the modules in parallel, but that is what he will do on the new system because he’d rather spend the money on his girlfriends than charge controllers (which are less expensive). 5 panels in parallel on each charge controller should work fine. There are MC4 adapters that allow parallel connection of modules, saving wire and making parallel connection easy, but watch out for the current capacity of the wire you are using. A single 10 AWG pair will safely carry 30 amps, but will lose a little power in the wire. I buy a 1000′ roll of cable (wire gets cheap on the big rolls) and every string gets its own wire. This allows me to isolate a string with a bad panel, if one should fail in my system of all recycled salvage modules.Stan poses with his stack of 300 watt panels and my load of solar roof tiles in Miami.

Is there any other way of doing this series/parallel stuff to save money? Yes! A SINGLE 60 amp charge controller will handle all of his panels if he goes to a 48 volts system, because it still handles 60 amps. At twice the voltage you have twice the watts. On the old 12 volt system, he’d have to have twice as many charge controllers to run with all of those new modules! He’s going to stick with 24 volts, though, because he already bought the inverter.Stan’s solar shed. 2 old men, one rickety ladder and 600 lbs. of panels.

Here is something important to note and it has to do with MIXING panels sizes. Normally, you’d buy all the same modules and assemble your system, but there are those of us who are scroungers and have all kinds of stray inventory. When connecting in parallel, you need to connect modules of the same voltage output. Don’t mix 12 volt and 24 volt panels and don’t mix 60 and 72 cell panels. In series, if you have panels of different ratings, there is a chance of letting the smoke out, but it is a sure bet that you won’t get the full added output from the modules. You CAN use a hodgepodge of panels, but group similar panels on their own charge controllers. For example, if you have four 270 watt 60 cell panels on one charge controller and four 330 watt 72 cell panels on another charge controller, then everybody will get along fine and the smoke will stay where it belongs.By: Neal Collier

Enough is enough? Nah!

Can you get too much solar power? Spend too much time on Pensacola Beach and you’ll think so, and have a red face to remind you. But, no, I am talking about photovoltaic power. In the case of grid tie, it has gotten to the point in some places that they are having to add battery storage systems to balance things out. The lack of battery saw the advent of the “duck curve” in utility power production. Look it up.

On your OWN independent power system, can you have too much? In phase two of the Solar Shed project, I had gobs of power on a sunny day, but not having enough battery and reaping only 10% of rated power on a cloudy day (we have them a week at a time in winter) made me wish for more power. Phase 3 gave me LOTS more power as the shed went from 32′ to 80′ of solar roof. Now, I am finding some interesting conditions to which I must adapt.

In addition to more power, now around 10kw rated, there is more battery storage and more on the way as I get to the detail work. The flooded lead-acid batteries are fine, now 3 days into a cloudy spell, though next year’s Phase 4 should keep them really topped.

What about sunny days? If the day starts out clear, I see what I saw on my solar boat expedition, the batteries start charging at the crack of dawn and ease into a full charge without any stress on the system. (When not on the boat I make a point of sleeping too late to see what my system is doing at dawn.) What happens, though, if the batteries are low and the day starts out cloudy and suddenly the clouds part to reveal full, noontime sun? OH CRAP! Think about that for a moment. 10kw at 48 volts amounts to 200 amps of charge current into my 635 amp battery. That comes to a C3 charge. Batteries love a C20 charge, or a rate of about 1/20th of the A/H rating of the battery. They are ok with C10, but they will use a little more water. But C3??? Bubble bubble, toil and trouble, to misquoteThe Bard. If you have sealed AGM batteries, they will soon die a horrible death at that rate.

My system has big knife switches I can pull to disable strings of panels in sunny weather, but that hardly seems a good way of doing things. You really want this to all be automatic. So far, the only issues I have had is when the batteries are topped and then the sun abruptly comes out. My inverter blinks the power off and back on! Why? Well, the charge controllers, which are set fairly close to the overvoltage trip on the SunKing 5548 inverter, take an instant to react to the increase solar power and the inverter trips. So, what to do?

The inverter is very adjustable, but everything is working the way it is set up and it really isn’t it’s fault, so I will leave it alone. BTW, you can’t buy a SunKing 5548…I built it out of the ruins of my lightning-killed previous inverter and some driver hardware I found. (Note that the Sun Electronics kits include the lightning protector that I NOW use.) The next place to look would be the charge controllers. I have 4 and three different models. I don’t recommend having a bunch of mismatched hardware, but I ended up with leftovers from evaluating hardware for my Solar Yacht project. As I noted in a previous blog, each has a different personality and each is adjustable. The two least active, get satisfied early in the day and shut down. They are not a problem. The twins are very active and are where the trouble originates. I dug through my literature stack and found the manual and went through the setups, dropping the maximum on one and dropping it some more on the other. I’ll know if this did the trick sometime in May, when the sun comes out again. I will just tweak them until the maximum charge current is at a rational level under full sun.

Are there other remedies? Glad you asked! Yes, there is a gadget called a Diversion Load Controller. I think these were first used with wind generators because you can’t just disconnect a windgen in a stiff breeze or it might fly apart. It used to be that the cost of solar guaranteed that no one would have too much solar power, but that has changed. You can use the DLC to dump power into a giant resistor, but that is wasteful. A better plan is to find a 12, 24 or 48 volt water heater element, as appropriate, and dump the excess power into your water heater. It just screws in. Everybody likes a free hot shower, right? That won’t do in my situation because, first of all, the Solar Shed is 200′ from my house and, second, my water heater is wood-fired.

The way I will use the DLC, if needed, is to pull in a relay that disconnects some of the PV strings.So, can you have too much solar power? I’ll let you know next year when Phase 4 brings another 5KW online, because, so far, I am reveling in what I have and adding more loads.

By: Neal Collier

I want to talk about the Solar Lifestyle and what that means. Elsewhere, I have given links to the Home Power Magazine Archive. That is a treasure trove of information and each issue is a time capsule of where the state of things was at that time.

Early on, solar panels were small and expensive. I have paid up to $11/watt for solar panels and I was not exactly a pioneer. Early adopters would have a single panel of maybe 30 watts and whatever batteries they could scrounge. Battery scrounging was easier back in the day, with a choice of Edison Batteries from the railroad or a forklift, NiCads from military surplus or L16s from department store floor scrubbers. They quickly found that an old car battery was not a good choice.

Systems were 12 volts, borrowing car tail light bulbs for lights and car radios for entertainment. If you wanted to get fancy you could use light fixtures from RV or marine sources. Primitive? Yes, but if you’ve ever lived with light from kerosene lamps, then you’d think it was great.

Inverters? What inverters? The first ones were square wave and didn’t get along well with some appliances, but even those were rare. The solar power was mostly used for light. You’d cook with propane and your fridge, if you had one, used propane too.

As systems grew, low voltage appliances were added. You could get a 12v coffee pot or popcorn popper at a truck stop. Specialty houses developed super efficient refrigerators with DC motors. John still sells the fridges because there are still a lot of low power systems out in the boondocks. People found that keeping up with the loads was a struggle for the solar panel. Maybe they’d eventually add more as the budget permitted, but most also maintained a backup generator, often a homemade DC rig using a gas engine and a car alternator. This was necessary, not only to keep up with the load, but because batteries need equalizing and that takes a lot of power.

Inverters evolved, rising in power and dropping in price. John’s recent email blast had an inverter at 1/3 the cost of a similar one I bought 30 years ago, wholesale, and the money was a lot stronger back then. They keep getting better and adding features. I just saw a brochure for the Midnite Solar MNB17-5 and I WANT ONE!

So, what is the state of the solar lifestyle, today? It is a wide range. Some folks are in pretty much the same place early USA users were 30 years ago. I know a guy who brings solar power to remote South American villages and John gives a lot of stuff to folks in Haiti, where just having a light and a way to charge a phone, a modern necessity, are luxuries.

I know a fellow who is a little more advanced than that, having to fire up his generator to run the water pump to fill his tanks. His stove and fridge are gas. Beyond that, he has CF lights all over the house and a big screen TV. If he has a big party and everybody falls asleep with everything turned on, he may have to run the generator to get the batteries back to speed. His batteries, by the way, were scrounged from a phone company for $5 each and have been in service with him for years.

Another fellow has a grid tie system. In his large modern, all-electric home, he is oblivious to any lifestyle changes. If he needs more than he makes, the grid supplies it, but as a rule, the solar power covers his needs. If the grid goes down, he’ll be in the dark like his neighbors.

In my area, we can’t have grid tie. One fellow uses a hybrid system that runs on solar, when he has it, and switches to grid when the batteries get low at night. That is an automatic feature of many modern inverters. A bigger battery stack would probably allow him to go full time off-grid. A lifestyle change would, too, but his house uses a lot of power for HVAC and there are always computers and home entertainment devices running. There have been a few lifestyle changes to maximize the use of the solar power. Big power users like the clothes dryer and the oven, for baking, are used during the day. When he had a single 5kw inverter, care had to be taken to not run the A/C, oven and clothes dryer all at the same time. Under pressure from his wife, he called Sun Electronics and bought a second 5kw inverter (I think he uses the Radian series) to run in parallel and now there are no restrictions on using stuff at the same time. If a hurricane takes out the grid and spares his array, he can conserve power and get along fine on solar alone.

On my system, at Phase 3, I am gradually getting to where I want to be, adding loads. I KNOW my wife is not going to deal with lifestyle changes, so I am working toward 100% off grid with operation being completely normal, except for the size of the power bill. In Phase 2, I had a crappy inverter with nowhere near the capacity it claimed, so I had to be very careful. I bought a 12kw inverter, a real one, that was going to solve all of my problems, but then lightning took it out. I am now running a 5500 watt inverter I built. I am still learning what it can do, wondering if it will handle the A/C load when I bring it on.

Battery life was a problem with Phase 2 in cloudy weather, but I have added batteries and incorporated other sources from my 2 electric farm trucks and my electric boat. That, along with an extra 5kw of solar and the batteries have been fine, even when we go for days without sunshine.

My goal is to have no restrictions on my use of solar power. Current loads are all the lights, computer, satellite, TV/DVD, 2 refrigerators, a freezer chest, 2 coffee pots, microwave and dishwasher. If the grid goes down, the clothes dryer and the stove won’t work, but I can get by without them. If I have any problems with the A/C then I’ll just have to build or buy a bigger inverter, won’t I? Another option would be a second inverter just for HVAC. Out at the Solar Shed, I run all manner of power tools, including a 2hp air compressor and a welder. It doesn’t sound like I have too many limitations, does it?

So, you see, today the solar lifestyle is only limited by your budget and covers pretty much the entire evolution of home solar power. Solar is now the cheapest form of power generation. It is only the up-front cost of going solar that holds us back, and John is doing his best to make that cost ever-lower. Looking at some of his kits, I am wondering if maybe you could borrow money to buy the kit and pay it back with payments similar to what you’d make on your power bill. Better yet, save up and then give the power company the boot.

(Update: I did get the upstairs central a/c connected and it did not work. There was too much surge load at startup with this 30 year old machine. I installed a soft starter on the a/c compressor and now the

18,000 BTU compressor works without so much of a blink, even with other heavy loads running. Trademarked names for these gadgets include Smart Start and Sure Start. They are not cheap, but cheaper than a bigger inverter!)

By: Neal Collier

Cut Out The Middleman

Utility power began with a fight between AC and DC systems. Thomas Edison promoted DC distribution. His ex-employee Nikola Tesla, the real Tesla, came up with the AC system for George Westinghouse. Both sides advertised how dangerous the other way was! What a way to promote a new industry!

Power stations were not the huge plants of today. They’d be tucked into a building on a corner and lines would run out a few blocks in each direction. There was no grid. The first microgrids?

DC lost out because you just couldn’t send it very far without a voltage drop. AC could counter the drop with transformers to boost the voltage. With this extended range, The power plants could be bigger and send the wires out further. Plants were also interconnected and the grid was born, making for more reliable power…except for country folks.

Country folks had to make their own electricity, usually using a gas generator like the Delco Light Plant, a Jacobs or Wincharger windmill, using battery for storage, or even a small hydro plant. Henry Ford had a hydro plant on his estate. These systems were the forerunners of the independent power plants you and I are building with the clean and quiet solar systems. They fell by the wayside when the Rural Electric Administration began subsidizing power cooperatives for the rural areas.

The power companies started dabbling with solar when they saw how many of their customers were adding solar. Prices dropped and then solar became cheaper to build and WAY cheaper to produce power, even when they had to buy batteries, which are now all the rage. The power companies began building solar farms. Then they started a campaign to discourage or even prevent US from building solar capability for ourselves. Recent power industry sources now openly admit this.

Here is something a little funny, though. They seem to be on the verge of dismantling the grid system, at least on a small scale. Recently, an Australian power company was faced with upgrading a line to the boonies. Instead, they cut that project and installed small solar plants at the far end of the line. The customers saw no difference and the power company both saved money and still retained control of the power. You have to wonder why the ranchers didn’t just make their own solar plants and be done with power bills. Closer to home, a long line in the Appalachians avoided an upgrade by adding battery. This morning, I see a report that ConEd, Mr. Edison’s company, is working on alternatives to upgrading lines that are struggling under peak conditions. It won’t surprise me if they eventually add solar in the mix. Puerto Rico’s thoroughly screwed up system seems to be moving to solar and microgrids.

So, the question is, if the power company admits that solar is the way to go and solar is cheaper than conventional generation, why isn’t everybody doing it? Probably because of the upfront costs or maybe the word just hasn’t gotten out that the upfront costs aren’t that bad. John’s sales guys have payback examples for their package systems. Take a look and you may decide it is time to cut out the middleman, or at least have some backup and independence in the event of a utility power failure. My lights don’t go out. Ever. Not for 25 years. NICE.

By: Neal Collier

New System, Problems, Solar Daiquiris

Stan-the-Hermit called Friday, needing some bits and pieces to finally get his 24v solar power system running. He’s had his panels for well over a year, having accompanied me on my final run to John’s old Miami Gardens warehouse. They’ve been mounted for months. He left my place happy with an armload of switches, breakers, fuses and solar wire. If I had more friends like Stan I could open a solar hardware store.

I expected to receive a triumphant phone call within 24 hours, but that didn’t happen. He was in a panic when he called Saturday. He’d hooked it all up right, he claimed, but the voltage on the batteries had gone from 17v down to under 13 overnight. What could be wrong? The answer is right there, but let me give you some background.

A while back Stan told me he’d found a Great Deal on some used batteries that came out of a motor coach. “Great Deal” and “used batteries” can, but do not always coincide. Given the voltages he quoted at the time it was clear that they needed a good charging and equalizing and that one might have a dead cell. He did not charge them, resulting in 4 six volt batteries adding up to 17 volts when he connected them in series. I suspected I knew what the problem was and asked if he had read the manual.

“I hooked it up right,” was the answer, but not to what I had asked, so I asked twice more. No, he had not. I braved 4 miles of bone-crushing gullies, terraces and switchbacks to get to his cabin to take a look. He had hooked it up right, as he’d claimed, but it was settled in on 12.8v, which is fine for a 12v system and a real problem for 24v. He could not find the manual, of course. I suspected the charge controller had autodetected the system voltage as a well-charged 12v system and proceeded to run the battery down to 12v overnight.

We hot wired two panels directly to the batteries to get them charging. I left him with instructions to let them get up to a bit over 30v so they could equalize and desulphate and to keep an eye on the water levels. Batteries that dead should have taken a few days, but he was impatient. By Sunday morning the voltage level had come up to 27 volts and he was ready to hook up the charge controller and inverter. That is not what I had prescribed, but it would not hurt anything and might save some damage that could occur if he went away, leaving the batteries unregulated.

I stopped by about 6:00 Sunday afternoon and Stan was a happy camper. I poked at the charge controller and saw that the battery was still taking

50 watts, even as the tall trees up the valley slope were shading his panels. He’d had some of his inner circle over and they’d inaugurated the new 24 volt power system by making daiquiris! It was clear they’d been successful in that endeavor.

He still has 8 more panels and another charge controller to connect before it is done. When he moves his Flexmax 60 over from the 12v system it will be just the ticket for getting those batteries equalized because it can be manually set up for a thorough job, unlike a lot of other controllers that give a mild boost on a daily basis.

By the way, I found the manual online and his charge controller autodetects a 24v battery in a range of 18-30v, so it really did think it was dealing with a 12v battery. Whether you buy your batteries new or used, charge them up before storing and again before putting them into service. Just sitting around discharged is bad for them and confusing to a charge controller. RTFM (read the fine manual).

As for what you use to test your new power system, a blender is as good a start as any.

By: Neal Collier

Time to Hang it Up!

I like wristwatches, especially ones with classic art deco styling. I quit wearing them when I had my hands in commercial radio transmitters a lot. Other people got away from wristwatches for a while, having their phone has an accurate timekeeper, but watches are making a comeback. They are becoming quite the investment, too.

If you have a Patek Phillipe Grand Complications Celestial model, you probably have your people work on your solar system. I leave the Girard Perregaux Gyromatic in the watch box when I am just knocking about, preferring one of my big Timex Weekender variants because I can see the contrasty face with my iffy eyes. Whatever is on your wrist, maybe it shouldn’t be when you are working on your solar power, or any electrical equipment.

One of my pieces of safety equipment is a long screw on a low rafter, off to the side of my control panel. You could use a nail or, if you have a finished room, maybe something civilized like a Shaker peg. That’s to hang the watch on, along with any rings or other metallic accessories you might have.

Whether it is a Timex or a Tourbillon, hang it up when working around power.

Getting a watch into solar string voltages will make for a real nice conductor, allowing you a fairly quick, if agonizing death. A 12v battery might well weld you into the circuit and give you an awful burn. The nylon or leather straps on two of my Weekenders make them smaller targets, but targets just the same. Getting into a 24v circuit with a Twist-o-Flex you might be able to save the hand if you are fast enough. The heavy stainless bracelet on my Wittnauer or my Lord Elgin in contact with a 48v circuit might well just burn the hand off as the band vaporized.

Sorry to sound so gory, but safety is no accident. In this case, prevention costs a couple of cents for a nail and a few seconds of your time. Hang up that Portugieser and get to work!


By: Neal Collier

Why not?

I figure anybody who has built a solar power system has good reason to take pride in their work. I know I am proud of mine, but now I am a little dismayed. My system is just a solar-roofed shed. It is practical and it works, which is fine, but now I have seen that others with a little more room and a bigger budget are also having fun with their systems. I am jealous.For example, there is a Duke installation at Disney Orlando, like you couldn’t figure that out for yourself.

And what is the national symbol of China? The Panda. There are over 100 panda-themed solar power stations in the works. The photo below is a design rendering, but this station is now on line. They use different panel coatings to get the shading.

Fiji is getting in on the panda craze, too, though this one looks crudely photoshopped.

And here’s a nice one in the “heart” of New Caledonia.

Y’all make some solar power, but let’s have some fun with it, too!By: Neal Collier

Waiting my turn in Nawlins

Is that a smile or did I just put my elbow down on a hot PV module? I’m catching some rays through the sliding module hatch of my solar expedition launch, Sun King. This is at New Orleans, home of the weirdest lock and drawbridge combination I have ever seen. 1620 watts of “B” panels on the boat.

Are you afraid of “B” panels? I’m not. I put six of them on my solar-powered expedition launch Sun King and travelled up to 1000 miles from home. My longest trip was 1920 miles in 44 days. Lots of rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. These days I don’t wander so far off and only have 3 modules in the middle and rounded edges on ends. 9 big 335 watt panels are going on my solar yacht project and I plan on taking that on a 6000 mile trip around The Great Loop. “B” panels are reliable and cheap, so you can afford more solar stuff, like batteries and charge controllers, all of which Sun Electronics has, of course.

Just planning to keep the batteries charged on your sailboat or cruiser? Save money with so-called 24 volt panels instead of 12 volt panels. Use an MPPT charge controller and the 24 volt panel charges your 12 volt battery bank at top efficiency. By: Neal Collier

Solar everything, even the honey dipper!

If you spend much time around boats you know that you can’t just flush overboard. The holding tank has to be pumped out on occasion. Now there is a solar-powered roving pump station.

http://www.solardaily.com/reports/The_worlds_first_solar_electric_sewage_pump_out_boat_is_powered_by_Torqeedo__999.html

In my opinion, they got this wrong. There is way too much motor on this thing, probably because it was set up by the motor maker. Or maybe they can actually get that rig up on a plane, for speedy service. Torqeedos have a fair reputation if you can tolerate the noise they make. Where it is underpowered is up top.

They are going to have to plug this thing in at night if they use it much or if it has to travel very far. It is a FREE service for boaters and won’t use any gas, so I shouldn’t be too critical.

By: Neal Collier

Photo credit to http://www.solardaily.com

Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

Over the weekend we really went to extremes to show just how tough solar panels can be. Today we’ll tell you the results.

We started with a Suntech STP280 that had been hit by a tractor. The frame was bent, wires were ripped loose, glass was shattered and many of the internal cells were broken. Short circuit current of a shiny new panel should be around 8 amps. Open circuit voltage should be 44V. In the “as found” condition, we had 4.5 amps and 43 volts. Connected to a load we could get about 68 watts. Not bad for a module someone had thrown away.

Especially for a panel that looked like this.

And to recap what happened next:

After the shooting, I measured output under varying conditions. The hole sure was a handy place to put a voltmeter!

And the open circuit voltage was….39V.

Next I added a 24V driving light as a load. The lamp pulled .961 amps at 24V or 23 watts. That’s all the lamp needed. Was there more?

Next, I added a 12V battery, to be charged, and an ammeter.

Now we have 2.508 Amps at 13.8 Volts for 34 watts.

How about 2 batteries in series and the light? 26.2 Volts X .880 Amps = 23 watts

Here’s a look behind the scenes…no trickery, just honest destruction.

Conclusions? Obviously, PV modules work better if you don’t smash them with a tractor, shoot them with a pistol and shoot them again with a shotgun. The worst damage appears to have been done by the tractor. That hit took it down from 280 watts (rated) to 68 watts. The first two shots, from a .45 and a 12ga. slug, had no effect on the output. It was the huge hole from the shotgun when I backed up that cut the output in half. The point is that the panel continues to output usable power and it did a good job of topping up those batteries.Oh, and remember “Don’t Try This At Home.”By: Neal Collier

Here’s a handy idea for after a storm

You know those little solar sidewalk lights? You can put them outside during the day and bring them in at night. I wouldn’t read by one, but you can find your way around the house with it and it is safer than a candle. Most of these have a AA or AAA battery in them, either NiMH or NiCd. You can put regular alkaline AA or AAA batteries in them if you want them to run all night.

Just keep them inside and they will last for days, if you don’t want to worry about someone stealing them or have them submerge when it floods. Whenever I remove a battery that won’t run the blood pressure machine or other small gadget, I put it in a box if it has any life left in it. They will still last a long time in a super low drain application like running that one tiny LED in a garden light!

This works in a condo, too!

By: Neal Collier

Battery Connections Illustrated

Elsewhere in the blog page is a post about battery safety. I have a couple of battery photos to illustrate what I was talking about the other day, easily making battery polarity easier to see.  The old 24v battery strings have decent cables, grease to seal out corrosion, but they are a bit dirty and it is hard to see the polarity, should I need to reconnect anything.  You can see where I marked the 2 gauge cables + and –. 

The batteries do get cleaned up every time I add water and it is about that time.

 Here’s the new set for the 48v system, with painted corners to mark polarity, color coded heat shrink on the 2/0 cable terminals, dates on the batteries, grease on the seal and the terminals.  This is much easier to identify things.  In lieu of shrink tubing, you can get electrical tape in different colors, too.  Batteries are the SUN230 golf car style from Sun Electronics. 

 When the new wall goes in for the power room, I will build a proper battery box to keep out the dust and dirt.  I use plywood and 1×2 strips painted with latex paint.  My last battery box was nearly 30 years old with no acid damage because latex paint is acid resistant!  The original battery rack was steel and was in pretty bad shape after those years.  I have gone to wooden racks and they seem to work well.  I’ve never had any worry about fire, but lining the box with latex painted drywall will ensure that nothing burns. 

The floor gets painted with latex, too, and I put in a layer of vinyl flooring.  I leave a dusting of baking soda on the floor, just in case, and keep a box or two of baking soda around to neutralize any acid spill.  Of course, John sells sealed batteries if you want to avoid that issue. 

By Neal Collier

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.

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 

You could void your warranty doing this stuff

It’s a beautiful, cool sunny day here in NW Florida and you’re right, John, you can knock a hole in a solar panel and it’ll still work.  Just don’t try it with a hammer, because there is a tough plastic layer under that glass and another on the backside.  You need to be forceful to get a hole. I started with a Suntech STP280 that got hit with a tractor.  Yup, that’s a busted one!

 The frame is bent, the glass is cracked, the J-Box and all the wires were ripped off, the cells are cracked and it has been left out in the weather for a few years.  I soldered on some wires and new diodes, then I took it down to a safe place and wired it up to some batteries on the solar jalopy.  It was making a decent charge 

 I had a little test in mind.

 So I shot it with a .45 pistol and it was still making a charge.

 So I thought I’d try to make a bigger hole with a 12 gauge “ring load”.  Nice, but no change.  So I went with straight bird shot and that was better.  Then I backed up and gave it some more bird shot.  Then I shot it some more with the .45.  Hey, I could go broke on ammo before this thing quits!

 Since I was out of ammo, I unhooked the batteries and connected an offroad driving light to it… it still works!

 Now it is really busted up, but still runs.  Hey John, is this still under warranty for output? 

 Now we know.  Look for test results under the “Inquiring Minds” post. 

By Neal Collier 

Here we go again. Hurricane Michael is projected to hit our vicinity as a Cat 3 storm. Get ready everybody!

Hi John, John, you live in a glass tower, but out in the neighborhoods you can hear the generators buzzing after a hurricane has taken out the lights.  200 watts for the fridge and 50 watts for a ceiling fan and they’ve got those darn 3500 watt generators blasting away at 3600rpm.  Dumb.  Well, maybe not dumb, they just don’t know any better. 

At my house, the ceiling fans have a slight buzz from the inverter in my backup power system, but I can’t hear it because I have the windows open and hear those generators a quarter mile away at the neighbor’s house.  Listening carefully, I can make out 3 or 4 of them.  Most are those loud, cheap ones from Home Depot or Lowes and most people don’t realize that you have to change the oil in them every 25 hours (50 hours for the better ones with a filter).  That’s an oil change every day or two!  Cheap air-cooled engines use a little oil, too. Do people buy a case of oil and some filters when they go out and buy 2 cans of gas in preparation for the storm? Nope.  

After about 3 days the generator will probably quit, assuming enough gasoline has been found to run it.  If it has a low oil safety shutoff, like most Hondas, the homeowner will scratch his head and wonder why the generator won’t run anymore.  If he checks and adds oil, he will be back in business.  A lot of engines do not have the low oil shutoff and they will soon die a horrible death. 

That assumes, of course, that the owner bought enough gas to keep it running.  How long will 2 cans of gas run a generator?   Not that long.  Maybe a day, depending on model and load.  Try buying gas after a hurricane.  I know of exactly one gas station with a backup generator.  Some will have power and some will rig something up.  Back around 1960 I saw a gas station owner running a gas pump with a Maytag gas washing machine motor.  Yes, Maytag made gasoline-powered washers!  The owner took cash for the gas.  Who has cash today?  Credit card readers and ATMs don’t work without power.  Oh, and every one of your neighbors will be in line with you, so you will be spending some time getting those two gas cans refilled.  Maybe you need more than two cans.

Don’t think I am knocking gas generators, here.  What I am knocking is how they usually get used.

One of the most perfect home power systems ever made, made before power lines came to us country folks, was the Delco-Light power system.  Everything in the house ran on (usually) 32 volts DC.  When the batteries got low, you started the generator (some models started themselves) and it ran until it ran out of kerosene or gas (they’d run on just about anything) or the batteries were charged.  The engine was a low rpm machine that would run just about forever.  I have a half dozen of them and none are worn out.  Moreover, engines have an operating range where they are most efficient and that is with a good load on it.  A fridge and a ceiling fan do not load your generator at a  point of high efficiency and, remember, it takes a certain amount of gas just to buzz that thing along at 3600 rpm, even if there is no load at all. 

The Delco-Light power system.  One of these used to power my blacksmith shop.  I love their battery rack plan for those 2v cells.

So why do I seem to be drifting off subject.  I’m not, I’m just setting the scenario for you to do a modern recreation of the Delco-Light to power your AC world, use less fuel and make the night a quieter place. 

Here’s what you do.  Take appropriately sized inverter/charger, a bunch of batteries and add them to your generator.  (If you want to add in some solar panels, then good for you.)  You can have the inverter wired in through a transfer switch or you can put a plug on it and plug it where you would have otherwise connected the generator.  Now take the output of the generator and connect to the input of the inverter.  4 golf car batteries (I prefer 24v configuration, but 12v will do and your car can be the generator in a pinch) will run your lights and fridge for 24 hours.  There’s probably enough power left over to fire up Mr. Coffee to wake you up and nuke something from Mrs. Stouffer’s kitchen to fill you up.  Run the generator in the morning before going to work (or before you begin removing the tree from your roof) and again a bit in the evening, as needed, maybe even getting a little TV or A/C time in, too.  The generator will run under load and not for many hours.  Now you only have to change the oil every week and maybe the power will be back on by then. 

There is a security side to this configuration, too.  After Hurricane Katrina, many people in the city were afraid to show any lights and run the generator at night because predators would know where there was somebody with food, light and comforts.  The generators were ok in the day because there was lots of activity to mask the noise.  Do NOT run the generator in the garage…it will kill you.  If you don’t want it stolen, chain it to the tree in the backyard when it is running and put it in the garage when it is not.  BTW, a padlock and a piece of chain should be considered a standard accessory if you buy a new generator.  DON’T refuel when it is still hot.  Buy some extra oil and get more than 2 cans of gas.  At the end of the season, put the gas in your car so it won’t sit until next season and get stale.  No-alcohol gas is best and running the generator dry by turning off the fuel valve or just running the tank dry will save your carburetor from an early death.

Just some things to think about.g Update:  Michael went east of us and just made an awful mess from the coast up to Georgia.  Hopefully the rebuild will include solar, as happened with New Orleans after Katrina.  Unfortunately, some areas were so devastated there was nothing left for solar to power. 

John and I have been discussing options and strategies to have a stormproof shelter incorporated into your home. 

By Neal Collier


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