My solar project
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My solar project

This is a discussion on My solar project within the Alternative Energy (Wind, Solar, Hydro etc) forums, part of the Off-Grid Lifestyle category; There seems to be a lot of interest in solar power here so I thought I might post my experiences. This will be a long ...

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  1. #1
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    My solar project

    There seems to be a lot of interest in solar power here so I thought I might post my experiences. This will be a long post done in several installments.

    This all started when I decided I needed a battery backup for my pellet stove. These backup systems are very expensive and of very limited capacity. I decided to go big and build a solar system for emergency power to the stove and anything else as necessary.

    I started with a Grape Solar 400 watt kit from Home Depot. These are currently about $1200 with free delivery. I won't quote specs here. You can look them up on line for yourself. The quality of the components is pretty good and I think this kit is a fair value for a starting point.

    My solar project-img_0026.jpgMy solar project-img_0036.jpgMy solar project-img_0040.jpgMy solar project-img_0043.jpg

    This is my first post including pics so I hope this works.

    My first try was with the original 4 panels mounted on a 2x4 frame. The frame was made to tilt on a metal conduit pipe and the whole assembly sat on 2 4x4 treated posts cemented into the ground. This was unstable and too flexible in the wind.

    I decided to upgrade to 6 panels (600 watts). I built a new frame from 1-1/2 steel angle bolted together with 3/8 cap screws since I don't own a welder. This frame also tilts on metal conduit. The mounts are all home brewed with scrounged materials and a little help from some talented friends. The supporting structure was upgraded to 6x6's and this new arrangement is very strong and stable.

    Because of shade trees in surrounding yards these panels had to be mounted some distance from my house. In order to save money on wire I connected the panels in series. The 2 extra panels and higher voltage from series connection required me to buy a better/larger
    charge controller but more on that later.

    I installed one ground rod but another is soon in the works. I also installed a local disconnect box as shown in the photo. This setup has been in service for over a year and survived 2 winters without problems.

    I will post more installments to cover the charge controller, inverter, and battery setup over the next day or 2. I am happy to answer any questions as best I can.

    Please understand that this project is NOT cost effective. It will probably never pay for itself as built. But I did it as a learning experience and I wanted to have some quality off grid capability under my own control. Ya can't put a price tag on peace of mind!

  2. #2
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    Nice construction, is the angle adjustable, how did you do that? I think I would have used a schedule 40 pipe for the pivot pipe instead of the EMT, unless that's rigid conduit.

    edit: Never mind on the pipe question, I see it is not EMT.

    Did you get the 30% back off your taxes for the construction and panels and controllers?

    Rancher

  3. #3
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    Nice tilting stand.

    Safely grounding the system is almost more of an art than a science but with only a few exceptions you are almost always better off using a single ground. This is because if you have a short going to one ground and touch that section you are safe because the power is going to ground instead of through your body. But if you have a part of the system on a separate ground and you touch both sections at the same time you become the conduit with the shorted power jumping through you to get to the 2nd ground.

    There are also some advantages with lightening strikes using a single ground assuming the ground wire takes a fairly short path to ground. If the ground wire winds all over the place before connection to the ground rod the lighting energy may jump off the ground wire so keep the ground wire from the panels fairly short and minimize sharp bends. For lightening protection I use several of these on my larger system. https://www.solar-electric.com/midni...protector.html They come in different sizes for both AC and DC power.

    My system has 2 grounds; one for the ground mount panels and rack which run at 360v and the 2nd ground runs from the combiner box, breaker box, inverter, and controller through the house ground. This is because I didn't want to risk bringing lightening into the house.

    You can find discussions on proper grounding here. Recent Discussions ? northernarizona-windandsun
    MountainGirl likes this.

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  5. #4
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    Look at the pic of the back side of the panels. There are 3 steel plates about 5 x 4 x 1/4 inch. These are bored so they can rotate around the conduit. I took some 1/2 conduit to form the braces that hold the panel frame at the correct angle to catch the sunlight. I adjust the angle in spring and fall...... due next week or so. I considered heavier pipe, but the whole thing isn't really that heavy. Yesterday we had gusts to 50 mph and nothing moved or bent. Thanks for the tips on grounding. I need more education on this subject and will read your recommended articles. No tax credits. My understanding is that you need grid-tie for that. This is completely independent. Currently I am really only using it to power a small chest freezer. But it can do much more. It can only power one or two items at a time but in an emergency
    I can rotate the freezer and fridge if necessary and I could pretty much survive indefinitely. You will get a kick out of my home brew control center pics tomorrow. Entirely functional but not very pretty and a few code violations too. Definitely a work in progress. I am also considering a small wind turbine to supplement power in the winter during extended overcast days.

  6. #5
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    Interesting, I have also made the case Solar is not cost effective until you have no other option. Then coast becomes a different issue. I will be watching the thread thanks for posting it.
    In Wisconsin 10 degrees during most of the year and 20 degrees in winter for the angle
    New life as a house husband, major shift in duties.

    Karl Marx said, "Destroy their culture, rewrite their history. Ruin their art and literature, and defame their heroes, by offering fabrications to scandalize that which they considered good.
    After reading this Obama said I am on it.

  7. #6
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    My solar project-img_0046.jpgMy solar project-img_0047.jpgMy solar project-img_0048.jpgMy solar project-img_0051.jpgNext up, batteries.
    I wanted quick and easy so I bought a plastic tool box from TRACTOR SUPPLY. I drilled and installed two conduit pipe vents into the battery box to vent charging gasses to the outside. I also applied foam rubber weatherstrip around the rim of the lid to try to seal the box from escaping hydrogen gas. This arrangement wasn't perfect, but it has served me well so far at a reasonable cost.

    I started with 4 6-volt golf cart batteries at 205AH each. There are better quality batteries but not available locally. So I bought local to save on shipping costs. I added 2 more batteries when I installed 2 addition panels. 6 solar panels and 6 batteries. I feel the batteries are the weak link in this system. They don't really provide much storage capacity. The panels easily keep the battery bank charged. But battery technology isn't really that great and larger storage capacity is very expensive.

    These CROWN batteries cost me $105 each locally.

    As shown yesterday, I installed a disconnect on the wiring at the panels and another inside just before the input into the charge controller. The disconnects are simple and inexpensive. The ones you get at LOWES for use with outside air conditioners or pool filters. Rated 60 amps.


    Everything is wired for 12 volt. The cable run to the solar panels is 110 feet so I used #8 AWG on recommendation from GRAPE SOLAR customer service.

  8. #7
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    My solar project-img_0049.jpgMy solar project-img_0050.jpgMy solar project-img_0053.jpgMy solar project-img_0052.jpgMy solar project-img_0051.jpg

    Now the final installment.
    The wiring comes in to a disconnect just before the charge controller. The original kit from HOME DEPOT included a PWM controller rated for 400 watts. Since I added 2 panels and wired them all in series, I needed to upgrade the controller so I bought this MORNINGSTAR unit. This is a really nice piece of gear. It's MPPT so it is supposed to be more efficient than PWM controllers. The readout gives me lots of info on the overall system performance.

    I fused the batteries with a scrounged fuse block and 150 amp fuses. I need to devise a cover or box to protect this bare fuse wiring.

    The inverter is the 2000 watt ZANTREX unit that came with the HOME DEPOT kit. Works great!

    I added a 55 amp battery charger to give me the ability to charge the batteries from my portable generator if necessary. This IOTA charger will charge my battery bank with my HONDA inverter/generator on low idle. Of course the charger has it's own disconnect.

    I plan on installing a lightening arrester as described above in this thread. (Thanks for that input). I'm very satisfied with this project. It's given me zero problems. I only wish I had a bit more battery capacity but that is beyond my price range right now. I also plan on installing a 12 volt lighting circuit in the house with one 12 volt led bulb fixture in each room. A 12 volt freezer would also be nice at some point.

    That's it! My solar project. Please feel free to give guidance or input. I need all the help I can get!
    Oh yes! Last point. I haven't kept detailed records but I have somewhere between 2500 and 3000 $ invested. Definitely NOT cost effective. But a real education.
    Michael_Js, sideKahr and ntxmerman like this.

  9. #8
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    I have recently started looking into solar on a larger scale for the same reason as you guys. I currently have small solar but it is limited. Capable back up power for lights, power tools, etc. Lots of research to do. I will watch this thread to check on the progress. Thanks.
    " All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: Freedom, Justice, Honor, Duty, Mercy, Hope" .Hidden Content

  10. #9
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    FYI. When I needed a set of Crown batteries I called their national number and they had the local distributor deliver the batteries at a fair price and no shipping charge. I specked Water Miser caps on the batteries and they added them for about 1/2 the price if I'd ordered the caps separately online.
    dwight55 likes this.

  11. #10
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    I like it. 12 volt lights is also my plan as it requires no inverter. If you look at Solar on a cost VS return Solar loses . Same with hybrid cars. The battery replacement will exceed any fuel savings over time. I have a hybrid car and was fully aware of that when it was purchased. But just because something is not cost effective does not mean it has no value.
    Last edited by Smitty901; 03-11-2017 at 08:02 AM.
    New life as a house husband, major shift in duties.

    Karl Marx said, "Destroy their culture, rewrite their history. Ruin their art and literature, and defame their heroes, by offering fabrications to scandalize that which they considered good.
    After reading this Obama said I am on it.

 

 
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