Ode To A Power Inverter

The usual disclaimer that I love my solar power system but my power inverter seems to have fallen victim to either myself or the elements and it just makes for good material. The metering is confusing so I’ve underlined the syllables you put emphasis on.

You once sat so proud upon the top shelf of the rack

Your spot above the batteries the leader of the pack

Then one fateful rainy night I went out to go ground you

I raised the lid and God forbid a drop of water found you

I flipped your switch there was a glitch as I dealt the death blow

That was the end can’t comprehend Be missed more than you know

You failed the test you weren’t the best now all I have is scrap

To Amazon where you belong you sorry piece of crap

I bid adieu I feel for you it just might be my fault

Made a mistake you I did break was a form of assault

Now I’m stuck and out of luck no microwave, TV

Back to the gen where I began for electricity

Rant Poem On DIY Solar

A venting I must go

Bought a freakin’ solar kit

Thought it’d really be a hit

Catch the sun rays from the sky

Found out different tell you why

First you have to wire it right

Clamp them hard and do it tight

If you don’t they break in two

When you strike them with your shoe

Get it all set up and goin’

Plug it in and nothin’s showin’

Check it all with a volt meter

Skip a wire and you’re a cheater

And when you still don’t get power

Throw a wrench go take a shower

Next day when you’re at it still

Find out your controller’s ill

Then redo it put together

Hope that rain’s not in the weather

Find out that your cable’s wrong

Wow this’ now taking too long

All I want is my TV

Tools all over skinned my knee

Cables came redid them all

Will my power come on at all

No of course not that’s too easy

Batteries fried and I’m uneasy

Check the RV for the problem

Breakers sockets test all of ’em

Turns out that we’ll be just fine

Only use it at night time

What to do now what is next

Send the comp’ny email text

Hit the troubleshooting checklist

At the bottom and now I’m pissed

What the fuck did I do wrong

That I can’t turn my lights on

Feel so mad like I’ve been jerked

Bought a gas gen cause it works!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overwhelmed

Trying to keep up.

I feel so overwhelmed right now. We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day (see picture below for current status). There it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark hitting earlier hasn’t helped.

Our little matter with the neighbor over the cul de sac kind of derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct, firm letter for him and his wife on one of the fence posts he erected stating we had checked and confirmed that the land survey was correct and recorded and asked him to respect our private property signs going forward. He’d previously gone onto our property, past well marked posts, and spray painted the ground while he was planning his cul de sac. We weren’t too happy about that.

I wonder what he’s thinking right now? My husband and I have wondered whether he made a gargantuan mistake in his surveying or thought he’d just see if he could get by with us offering no resistance to his grand plans. That’s purely speculation but one thing isn’t; he never mentioned a word about moving his road onto our property in advance. That baffles us.

He was up here with his chainsaw today cutting down trees again but we couldn’t tell if he was cutting them down along the easement or further out on his property. It was a bit disconcerting to keep hearing the “thumps” as they came down. I might walk down the easement road a bit tonight and check.

We didn’t get the covenants from the recorder’s office the other day and are still not sure where we stand legally in the decision process about making changes to a shared easement. Common sense says that we should be consulted and have to agree to any such changes. Still waiting on the attorney. There was a conflict of interest and we were referred out to another attorney.  Tomorrow morning we go and comb over those covenants.

The neighbor said he was planning on adding a lane to the easement road and a lot of gravel to a steep portion to level it out. This is OK with us but we’re not OK with not being consulted.

We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property and exchanged antique ax heads for cash off the delivery. Very nice guys. One of them also does handy work so we may have our guy to help with some work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game. We can do it ourselves but the time….

I insulated the battery bank tonight as the inverter wouldn’t turn on the past couple of nights in the cold. Some research told us that with the battery temperature sensors now in play, the charging voltage is probably way up and the inverter is most likely protecting itself from over powering. We’ll see if the insulation helps. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.

The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve our son more in responsibilities around here for the benefits those things offer a young person; a sense of responsibility, confidence, ownership, a sense of independence, family time. 🙂

Work in progress photos:

It was time to refill the huge water tank we bought about a month ago but alas, the freeze sneaked up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us about an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into the tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out of them. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after use from now on.

I moved the ever growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago but still haven’t installed out of the trailer. We want to put all the extra stuff in the shed but it still needs to be built! Uhggg.

We need to clean up from all of  our projects too. It never ends around here.

I also have a million administrative type tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of things to do. I’m a list person and I decided to get this stuff out of my head where it’s a giant whirlpool of thoughts and feelings onto paper where I could organize them. I drew a big mind map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done, along with every sub category attached to it until I’d gotten it all out.

The page looks like a mess unto itself but everything’s there in bubbles that I can look at and know I at least don’t have to keep trying to remember what needs to be done. It’s still a lot but I feel like I have a semi handle on it now.

At least the main mission of the week is handled. The most terrifying to our sense of peace; the issue of the cul de sac. We are so relieved and there will be fallout surrounding the dispute but it sure wasn’t our fault. We simply had to respond to this threat to our land and our peace of mind in an assertive way.

Tomorrow is Monday. Another week starts but for the most part, my husband and I look forward greatly to our future here and have a concrete list of goals to grow in every way.

Writing my blog helps me to just get it out when I feel overwhelmed (between appointments with my counselor). It’s nice to talk at people

It also helps me avoid the bubble list.

 

 

HUGE Industry-Wide Problems With Solar

This and some other issues need to be addressed.

It’s taken a couple of months since we bought our first solar power system kit to realize where the problems lie and that one of them isn’t being addressed well enough yet. I can’t speak for systems that are professionally set up as I don’t have any knowledge about them. I’m talking about the ones you order and set up yourself.

The first problem is absolutely critical to the life and functioning of the battery array. The battery array stores all of that sunshine for your use.  Deep cycle batteries that are used in a battery bank must never be discharged below 50% or 12.1 volts as it can damage them and shorten their lifespan and storage capabilities. It can ruin them necessitating a replacement of the whole bank.

You need a way to monitor the voltage level of the batteries and way to shut off the power draw when they hit that 50% depleted level.

Important here is that solar power systems can run an AC or alternating current system (120 volts) and/or the DC or direct current system.  The DC is more of an auxiliary system.

If you live in an RV you have a DC system built in that runs the smaller appliances such as the lights and the water pump either off of the 12 volt house batteries or through a direct connection to a solar setup. The DC system is what you would use while out camping but RVs incorporate both a DC and an AC system for use if an outside source of power is available at a campground, for example. The AC is a 120 volt system that supplies power to larger appliances such as an air conditioner, a ceiling fan, washer and dryer etc.

Our main goal and most folks, I imagine, when buying a solar power system, is to run the BIG stuff with an option of also plugging in those smaller appliances.

When we bought our first set of solar panels, we saw that the control charger that came with the kit (the brains of a solar power system) could be programmed to disconnect the power draw from the batteries at whatever depletion level you set. By doing that, it would theoretically prevent the batteries from being discharged below the 50% (12.1 volt) level (recommended) thus preventing over discharge and the resulting damage to the batteries.

It took us this long and a conversation with the solar company we bought from to find out that the controller they sent only monitors and controls the AC or auxiliary system. The one we never used.

There was no way to program it to monitor and shut off the power draw being funneled through the primary AC system.  This particular charge controller was effectively useless to us in protecting our main power storage asset; our battery bank. I have no idea why it would have been designed this way. It makes absolutely NO sense!

The only way to prevent battery damage as we use the system, is to visually look at the voltage level display on the power inverter itself (the component that converts the 12 volt power from the battery bank to usable 120v energy) and turn it off/or unplug the extension cord to our trailer when the batteries get low on voltage. Stupid.

I had to search the internet for a special low-voltage disconnect relay that I bought from another company and I installed it. It worked for awhile then something happened and it started to shut down the inverter altogether and to this day, we can’t figure out why.

We had to remove the relay so the inverter would work again but now we are back to square one. We now have no way to watch the battery voltage levels but we kind of don’t care right now. I could press forward in getting the answers but for now, we’re back to using just two gas powered generators.

Inverters that are programmable to actually work properly with a solar setup are 700.00 and up. The rest (the ones that come with DIY solar panel kits) are preprogrammed to disconnect from the battery bank at 10.5 volts; after your batteries are already dead and/or damaged.

My understanding of why they are set to disconnect power at such a low voltage is to prevent the inverter from tripping off with a load spike when first plugged in. I can’t believe someone hasn’t come up with a work-around for this.

By the time we got a clue as to what was going on, we were worried about our batteries as we were having HUGE problems getting any kind of significant power out of each cycle (day of sunshine). Our batteries had been over depleted so many times by now they were almost surely damaged. We had them tested and although we believe their performance has somewhat been compromised, they are supposedly good.

Here’s another issue I noticed about the planning stage of going solar. This is specifically for those living in an RV.  Logically, you have to figure out how much power you’re using in order to estimate the size of the system you plan to purchase. I consulted website after website on how to do this. You make a list of appliances and the amps and/or watts each one uses, total it up, and size your setup accordingly.

We did this and still had a huge problem with a power drain that we couldn’t account for. We would plug in the solar at night, for example, and we would be lucky to make it through the entire night before the solar would shut down.

We came to suspect that our RV had some sort of parasitic drain so we flipped the breaker switches one by one while the solar was plugged in. We watched the voltage readout and noted the drain as we went from one to the other.

Finally we found the culprit: Our RV house battery recharging system. If you live in an RV, when you plug into an outside power source, your house battery charging system automatically kicks in and starts to charge your RV batteries. This turned out to be a HUGE extra energy user that not one website had mentioned. We were charging one set of batteries off of another set of batteries.

To make it worse, we discovered our house batteries were bad. We’ll replace them and either disconnect them from our RV charging system and charge and monitor them independently, install a separate charge controller for them, or just flip the breaker switch in our RV that controls the battery recharging system when we plug our solar into our RV.

The last issue was completely our own fault. Our batteries are getting cold with the onset of lowering temperatures. The charge control units came with temperature sensors that attach to the batteries and they send more power to them when recharging at low temperatures as needed. If it’s too warm, the sensors tell the charge control unit to send less power to recharge. It makes the charging system more efficient.

I attached the temperature sensors to the batteries yesterday and the bank is now charging faster and more completely.

I also found out that a Maximum Power Point Tracking or MPPT type of charge controller is more efficient than the ones we have (Pulse Width Modulation-PWM)  so I’m considering switching those out too.

The moral of this story is that a lot of factors contribute to how well or IF a solar power system works.  Added together, they can have a profound effect on performance. Solar power is a fantastic concept but until the industry makes these kits more failsafe, they’ll continue to be riddled with problems and users are going to keep going through batteries like disposable razors.

Believe it or not, we are still completely sold on solar energy. Our plan at this point is to double our panels and battery bank, switch to MPPT controllers, and invest in a programmable power inverter to preserve our battery array. This is going to take a little more cash so we’re waiting for the sun to come back out in the spring.

Until then, here’s a poem I wrote: Rant Poem On DIY Solar

 

The Monolith and Some Quick Updates

Our upgrades and fixes.

We’ve been slammed the past few days; hence no blog. Thought I’d post of couple of photos of one or our most impressive “looking” upgrades: Our new solar panel rack!

Took us a whole day and we just got our tent/shed today. Although not a structure of wood, it’s snow-load worthy. I hope it does what it says it does.

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We have a new sweet addition to the family. A six month old kitty! Took him to the vet today. All is well. Getting snipped in a few weeks.

We discovered through a process of elimination, that, as I suspected, recharging the RV house batteries is taking up a huge chunk of our energy consumption. I have not seen ONE other person mention that when calculating their energy load for their solar setup.

We’ve also learned that almost ALL inverters shut down the battery bank WAY too late after the batteries are almost dead. An industry wide problem almost NOBODY is addressing, except Missouri Wind and Solar. They are the ONLY company that makes a low voltage shutoff relay. It turns off the power to the inverter when your batteries are at fifty percent or you can adjust to your preference (at your own risk).

If you value your battery bank you should order one here Low Voltage Disconnect Relay Switch. Ours is working perfectly so far and it was easy to install.

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Catch up some more when I have a minute or two. Have a shed to put up tomorrow.

Progress!

How Many Is Enough?

A solar poem.

One two three four five six seven eight

How many solar panels does it take?

Nine and ten and eleven and twelve

Now you’ll have to buy some shelves

Thirteen fourteen fifteen sixteen

This is really getting extreme

Seventeen eighteen nineteen twenty

Quick the generator’s empty

 

 

The Rainbow Connection

The solar battery bank can be so confusing.

Five o’clock this afternoon, we get home in overcast weather and I, as usual, check the status of our new solar power system.

To my dismay, the voltage is only showing 11.9. Definitely not any sort of a charge. In fact, that’s about a 40 percent state of charge (SAC) of the batteries. Great big sigh. We thought we had everything up and running smoothly as of the other day; but not so fast.

Unless you have a professional or someone who’s experienced in solar technology do the job for you, be prepared for an onslaught of information in setting up your battery bank.

The battery bank or array is the place where all of that free energy will be stored until you use it. If it isn’t working properly, all of that sunshine is going somewhere besides your refrigerator. Setting it up and diagnosing problems can be overwhelming and confusing.

In my quest for guidance online, I’ve learned that the most talked about and hotly debated subject is the battery bank or array. I think it’s the Achilles Heel of most systems.

There is an overwhelming list of variables to consider and possible issues that may come up such as:

  • How to wire the batteries correctly
  • How many solar panels at how many watts are needed to recharge the bank in a day?
  • How many batteries will you need to meet your power needs?
  • How to calculate your power needs
  • How to equalize the batteries in your array or does your controller do that for you?
  • What type of battery is best and how much of it’s charge can you use to prevent rendering it useless?
  • How to tell if it’s useless (If even one battery is toast, you’ll have to go out and buy another four or eight, or however many all at once because they need to be put into commission at roughly the same time)
  • The energy losses inherent in the system also need to be factored in when either calculating your usage or production of electricity.
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Photo by John Daines on Unsplash

Try browsing any forum with a question and you’ll most likely discover that for every one asked you’ll find multiple answers from varying personality types such as:

  • The guy with the overly scientific approach who posts mathematical formulas broken down into several categories depending on the type battery, panel, geographical location and whether or not you like peanuts
  • The guy who just slams in a one-liner that “your batteries are dead, done, depleted, sulfated” (death sentence for a battery).

Which answer is right?

Since it appears we aren’t able to maintain a charge once we plug in, our next step is to check the batteries themselves to see if they are only carrying a surface charge. That is a temporary false state of charge that quickly diminishes after either a pull is introduced or it just sits for an hour at which point a second reading reveals a significant drop in voltage.

We’ve had batteries tested at various dealers while still carrying a surface charge and were told the battery was good. Then, upon asking for them to be retested later, they were found to be bad.

A properly working battery bank is crucial to a solar power system. They hold the juice until you need it but they can be complicated. Learn all you can about them and how to take care of them if you want to get the most efficient use of your solar setup.

Where does the rainbow connection come in? An old RV repairman recently barked at me after I asked how him how to do the wiring on a water pump. He snapped “red is red and black is black”. My ass it’s that simple. Electrical wiring might as well be rainbow colored.