Author Topic: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here  (Read 31604 times)

Mach10

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Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« on: November 13, 2008, 10:36:45 PM »
I sell and design all types of solar electric, and solar hot water systems for a living here in sunny Reno, Nevada. Don't hesitate to ask any renewable energy related questions and I'll do my best to give you an accurate answer.

Offline archer

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #1 on: November 13, 2008, 10:52:29 PM »
Great! Thanks for offering your help Mach10!!!

kimrpeterson

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2008, 10:10:34 AM »
My husband and I are looking for our survival retreat and have found a home on several acres "off the grid".  We have always been interested in solar, but the cost has prevented us from any further research.  If we find a great OTG home, can we power 220/3 phase machines (lathe and mill) with the backup generators or is there any solar setup that can give that much power?

Pokethis

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2008, 05:35:24 PM »
I've dreamed of living off the grid but my family would never go for it  :P

That sounds great. 

I'm looking to build a small solar power plant to run a few things that don't need to be on all the time but are convienient.  Any favorite sites regarding something like this or do you have a set of plans?

a few years ago I had a single battery trickle charged by solar to run some lighting and stuff when the power would go out but thats as far as I got with that.
« Last Edit: November 30, 2008, 05:38:27 PM by Pokethis »

Offline ColdHaven

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2008, 10:10:07 PM »
I asked this in another topic and then realized there is this one here. So let me repost it here:

"I am not sure if anyone has seen one of these. I was in Wal-Mart the other night and I saw a Solar Panel charger for a Car Battery. It says that it helps keep it charged so that you don't have to worry about if the alternator went bad, lost charge due to not being used in awhile, ect. I wonder if one of these could be attached to a Deep Cycle battery to charge it. Any thoughts on this? Or has anyone ever tried it?"

Pokethis

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2008, 10:42:29 PM »
Well, if Mach10 would return maybe he could answer my question.  It can be done I just need some guidance!

Mach10

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #6 on: December 02, 2008, 12:54:09 AM »
My apologies for the late reply. I was traveling with the family and have had limited access to a computer.
I like to explain off-grid solar systems like this. There are basically three components to an off-grid system. 1) Solar array 2) Battery bank 3) Inverter
The solar array is the water shed of the system. The size of the water shed determines how much rain can be collected and funneled down into the reservior. The same goes for your solar collectors. The reservior is your battery bank. A reservior can only hold so much water before it begins to overflow. It is important to match the size of the battery bank with the amount of solar to keep it topped off. Next is the your orchards, vegetable crops and domestic water demands. These are like the appliances you use around the house. Some of them run consistently, on a daily basis and draw very little and some are used intermitently and draw significantly. It is also important to match the size of the first two components with your personal consumption. The sizing of each of these components is highly dependent on what you plan on using it for, how big the household is, what type of appliances will be used. I just designed a system for a guy who has a 30 X 40 ft workshed/compound out in the boonies. He is going to need to keep his cordless power tools charged, run a table saw and drill press on rare occasions. He will also be running motion sensor lights, normal lighting, (all CFL) in the evenings. There will also be a small energy star refrigerator running about 4 hours a day, and a small electric heater for his beloved pet Bobcat, Katrina, who apparently is in love with me. Seriously, the domesticated wild animal jumps into my arms and does not want to be put down. This system is expandable by adding more solar and more batteries. This system includes 4 top of pole mounted 170 watt modules, 4-6 volt deep cycle batteries, Xantrex sine wave inverter system;  4000 watt inverter, distribution panel, conduit box, charge controller, auto generator start switch. He does have generator back-up so if he ever needs to draw heavier amps from the system he can. The system is probably a little overkill for 90% of the time but he will have a very reliable source of electricity for a building that is many miles from the nearest utility pole. He is planning on building a house in the future and this system can be expanded to accomodate this. This system will end up costing about 18k fully installed. He will get a 30% tax credit worth about 5k when he files his taxes in 2010, so the net cost will be around 13k.

This system is not large enough to run 220/3 phase machines, but off-grid solar systems can easily be designed to do so. Running a generator to run bigger equipment is far cheaper than designing a large enough system to run big machines on sporadic occasions.

ColdHaven: To answer your question about trickle charging 12 volt batteries is that it is cheap and easy. All you need is a small solar module (8 - 100 watts) and a charge controller. These can easily be purchased from many online stores and they start at about $100.

http://www.batterystuff.com/solar-chargers/BSP1012-LSS.html
http://www.campingworld.com/category/solar-power/221
 



 

Pokethis

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #7 on: December 02, 2008, 06:25:17 PM »
Yes coldhaven, that is what I used  I had a tiny (12" x 4") solar panel, a deep cycle battery and a charge controller like Mach10 said and could probably have powered more than just lighting but I never had the occasion to use for more than that.

I'll need to check the stuff I want to be able to run for wattage use and let you know so you can tell me what I might need.

Thanks for the topic!

kimrpeterson

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #8 on: December 06, 2008, 11:23:04 AM »
I have another question about being "off the grid".  If you had a choice to be totally off the grid without the option of city electric, would you choose that as a good survival homestead (as opposed to a combination of solar and city electric)? Most of the totally OTG homes we have noticed are really out in the boonies and our real estate agent said they are harder to sell if we decide we aren't happy with the area.  I would like to know others thoughts on this.

Pokethis

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2008, 11:59:43 PM »
Can you get something with the option?  Like electric grid is there but the new owners would need to pay to have it hooked up?  It doesn't look good for alternative energy now with the bail out money for auto coming out of green energy money. 

Offline CT9A

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2008, 12:04:59 AM »
I've been thinking about solar for smaller things, like outdoor lighting in a greenhouse and maybe to help some with the electric bill (can't afford that 10's of thousands of $$$ right now).  Also, I rent, is there a portable/easily transferred system?

Mach10

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2008, 10:11:32 PM »
Living "off the grid" is an investment and should only be made until you have found that perfect spot that suits your personal criteria. Access to water, whether it be a well or other natural source is of utmost importance. If the homestead does not have grid power going to it sometimes the land owner can pay the utility to run a line out. The cost of doing this depends on the distance from power lines, and cost are normally very high averaging 30k+. A good small solar system can usually be purchased for less than having the utility install lines. If the homestead has access to grid power I would certainly take advantage of a grid tied/net metered system. Using the grid as a battery is far cheaper than a comparable off-grid system. Grid tied solar systems are about 30-40% cheaper than off-grid battery systems. Once a grid tied system is in place you can always change out and add components later switch to an off grid system. Another advantage to grid tied systems is that you take ownership of the power source and are no longer subject to pay ever increasing electricity rates. The solar energy tax credit begins Jan. 1 2009 - 2016. You can receive a tax credit of 30% of the total cost of a system, grid-tied or off-grid. 50k system = $35 system to you.

Domestic hot water solar systems also offer a high level of independence to any homeowner. Hot water (Solar Thermal) systems can be designed to offset 70% of a gas/propane/heating oil/firewood bill. This can be achieved even in areas where the winters are very cold as long as there are a lot of sunny days in the winter. Homes with hydronic floor heating systems are perfect candidates for Solar Thermal systems. Whats happens when the propane guy stops delivering propane? Firewood and the Sun is all you need.

The most reliable energy is energy you don't need. Smart building design can do more to save you money in the long run than any solar system. That's a whole other topic though. Efficiency and conservation are your two best friends when living off grid.

Offline CT9A

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2008, 02:37:54 PM »
Do you have any links to how the hot water system works and what is needed to put together/install something like this?

Mach10

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2008, 04:21:55 PM »
Search "solar thermal systems" on google and you will find many others like the following link.

http://southface.org/solar/solar-roadmap/solar_how-to/solar-how_solar_works.htm

kimrpeterson

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2008, 05:06:38 PM »
Thanks so much for the info Mach10!!  Since we will be looking this month at properties that are "off grid", I might have more questions later.

Offline Spamity Calamity

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #15 on: December 17, 2008, 05:33:42 PM »
Hey Mach10 how about us people stuck in Suburbia? Lets say I go and buy this panel http://www.solarhome.org/evergreen195wattsolarelectricpanel.aspx and hook it up to my house how much of a difference would I see in my Electric Bill?

Offline Spamity Calamity

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #16 on: December 18, 2008, 06:00:11 AM »
I guess I should say how many killowatts will a single panel produce in a month in a central texas location. I can compare the number to how much electricity I use every month and see how much it would reduce my electric bill.

Mach10

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #17 on: December 21, 2008, 11:37:59 PM »
A 195 watt module will produce about 1 killowatt hour per day averaged over a year. Higher in summer, lower in winter. It wouldn't make any sense to tie just one 195 watt module to your meter. I don't even think anybody makes a grid-tie inverter small enough for a  1-195. You wouldn't want to go any smaller than 11-195's, which would be a 2.14 killowatt DC /1.8 kw AC system. This system would produce about 313 killowatt hours per month.

I'll get back to you with more explanation when I have more time.

Offline Spamity Calamity

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #18 on: December 22, 2008, 04:54:21 PM »
A 195 watt module will produce about 1 killowatt hour per day averaged over a year. Higher in summer, lower in winter. It wouldn't make any sense to tie just one 195 watt module to your meter. I don't even think anybody makes a grid-tie inverter small enough for a  1-195. You wouldn't want to go any smaller than 11-195's, which would be a 2.14 killowatt DC /1.8 kw AC system. This system would produce about 313 killowatt hours per month.

I'll get back to you with more explanation when I have more time.

Awwwww see this puts things into perspective for me. See, I had this idea of building a solar panel system on the installment plan, you know get a solar panel, then get another a little later, then another etc.

Mach10

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #19 on: December 22, 2008, 11:33:18 PM »
I was wrong! You can actually do exactly that. There is a new type of inverter on the market called a micro-inverter. Enphase is one such company that makes these micro-inverters. Solar panels produce a direct current (DC). In order to use that energy for typical appliances that plug into a grid generated source (an outlet), it has to be converted into alternating current (AC). These little inverters do that and clip onto the back of each module. A certified electrician has to do the tie in to your breaker box, which requires a separate meter, AC disconnect, and a few other doodads. Once that is done you can basically wire the micro-inverters to a combiner box, and then onto the net metering equipment and finally the grid. Add more modules and inverters as your budget allows. These little inverters are not cheap. They range from about $200 bucks on up, each. Another feature of the Enphase inverters is that each one has it's own IP address. Each module can be monitored in real time from any computer in the world. This is for those who really want to nerd out on their systems. It is nice to know what the system is doing though. 

http://www.affordable-solar.com/enphase-m200-32-240-s02.htm

Solar is not a cheap upfront investment, but it is one that guarantees a return on investment, and ends up being cheaper than utility power. After incentives, it works out to be a little better than 6% rate of return. That number rises as energy prices rise. After about 18 years, the system pays for itself and you pay nothing for electricity while your neighbor is paying out their ass. I'm hopeful that prices on modules will begin to come down soon. The main reason they are so expensive is simple supply and demand. Low supply, high demand. Not good for prices. Germany and Japan are cheifly fueling this demand and solar manufacturers are quickly gearing up to meet it. Many plants will be coming on line in the coming years. There is also a whole family of new technologies being developed that will reduce the complexity and expense of production as well as making them more efficient. There are a few bugs that need to be worked out. Namely, some of these new thin film products are very susceptible to damage caused by ultraviolet light, which is not good if you're a solar panel. Right now your basic, Evergreen, BP, Sharp, Sunpower, Sanyo modules are proven technologies that will last 35+ years with minimal degradation.
« Last Edit: December 22, 2008, 11:37:44 PM by Mach10 »

Offline ColdHaven

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #20 on: January 10, 2009, 07:00:32 PM »
I know this may seem like a silly question, but do solar battery rechargers store energy just from the sun, or from any light source. I thought about this in regards to a calculator which has solar power. If it stores any kind of light energy then it would be less of a waste when you have your lights on and it recharges at the same time, wouldn't it?

Offline Spamity Calamity

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #21 on: January 10, 2009, 07:45:53 PM »
I was wrong! You can actually do exactly that. There is a new type of inverter on the market called a micro-inverter. Enphase is one such company that makes these micro-inverters. Solar panels produce a direct current (DC). In order to use that energy for typical appliances that plug into a grid generated source (an outlet), it has to be converted into alternating current (AC). These little inverters do that and clip onto the back of each module. A certified electrician has to do the tie in to your breaker box, which requires a separate meter, AC disconnect, and a few other doodads. Once that is done you can basically wire the micro-inverters to a combiner box, and then onto the net metering equipment and finally the grid. Add more modules and inverters as your budget allows. These little inverters are not cheap. They range from about $200 bucks on up, each. Another feature of the Enphase inverters is that each one has it's own IP address. Each module can be monitored in real time from any computer in the world. This is for those who really want to nerd out on their systems. It is nice to know what the system is doing though. 

http://www.affordable-solar.com/enphase-m200-32-240-s02.htm

Solar is not a cheap upfront investment, but it is one that guarantees a return on investment, and ends up being cheaper than utility power. After incentives, it works out to be a little better than 6% rate of return. That number rises as energy prices rise. After about 18 years, the system pays for itself and you pay nothing for electricity while your neighbor is paying out their ass. I'm hopeful that prices on modules will begin to come down soon. The main reason they are so expensive is simple supply and demand. Low supply, high demand. Not good for prices. Germany and Japan are cheifly fueling this demand and solar manufacturers are quickly gearing up to meet it. Many plants will be coming on line in the coming years. There is also a whole family of new technologies being developed that will reduce the complexity and expense of production as well as making them more efficient. There are a few bugs that need to be worked out. Namely, some of these new thin film products are very susceptible to damage caused by ultraviolet light, which is not good if you're a solar panel. Right now your basic, Evergreen, BP, Sharp, Sunpower, Sanyo modules are proven technologies that will last 35+ years with minimal degradation.

Well thank you very much for that informative post. Provided that the economy doesnt completely collapse I might try and wire together my own solar panel, get one of those micro inverters, and get a coworker who is also a licensed electrician to install it for me.

raeben

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #22 on: February 16, 2009, 08:38:02 AM »
I'm interested in setting up small "portable" solar chargers such as a "Waterproof SOLAR POWER PANEL 12V MARINE BATTERY CHARGER" I found on Ebay recently. Priced at $48 plus shipping, it seems like a reasonable price. And, this interests me more than hooking up my existing AC appliances to a costly whole-house solar system. Although that might be nice at some point, it's rather a lot of money to spend on to support my already over-electrfiied lifestyle.

In SHTF scenario portability might be a very nice option to have and even if we stay put, I think some of our usage of appliances will have to go.  Don't you?

Regardless, how do I find a converter to transfer the power stored in 12V batteries to the battery packs in cordless power tools?  Power tools are something I'd like to be able to keep using. Are there DC chargers that I can hook up to my 12V batteries or to the solar panel that will charge these battery packs?  Or how about hooking up a 12V battery directly to a cordless tool, making it a corded DC-powered device? Has anyone created that connector?

Thanks for your help.


Offline CT9A

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #23 on: February 24, 2009, 01:29:35 AM »
I'm a complete noob to the solar stuff, but I would like to try it out on my greenhouse.  I was thinking something small, but large enough to run the space heater for the cold days and nights and maybe a light bulb or two.  What do I need, and how much is it going to cost?  An even better question is, where do I buy this stuff?

stevenstrangeways

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #24 on: February 28, 2009, 08:50:25 AM »
Hey Mach10 (or anyone else),
Have you heard of a new player called Nanosolar. I heard about them on the "How Stuff Works" podcast and it said they are really shaking things up with price drops due to new metods of manufacturing. Any reviews?

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #25 on: March 03, 2009, 10:42:00 AM »
I've heard of Nanosolar, but don't have a lot of details.  They are the company that came up with a way of creating the PV cells that are extremely thin.  The one article that I read about them said the process was kind of like screen printing.  The end product is flexible like a transparency.

Nanosolar

Offline gigaJack

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #26 on: March 03, 2009, 04:05:14 PM »
The following is our little setup.

2 Xantrex XPower Powerpack 1500

    * Used for mainly lighting and small appliances. The 4 converted lamps will run at 12v instead of using the 120v converter on the battery packs. There is no loss converting then.
    * We will charge the solar panel during the daytime. Then at night or when the heater is running off the generator we will charge up these packs. One will be used while the other is charging.
    * These have a converter built in.

1 Sunforce 80 watt solar panel
1 30 amp Digital Charge Controller

4 converted 120v lamp to 12v - converted with 4 12vDC Car Power Adapters

    * 2 12 volt fluorescent light bulbs 40 watts
    * 2 12 volt fluorescent light bulbs 25 watts
    * 1 10 foot 12vDC extension cord
    * 1 3 outlet 12vDC Power Adapter


gigaJack

Offline fritz_monroe

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #27 on: March 04, 2009, 09:41:26 AM »
gigaJack, interesting setup you have there.  What do those solar panels cost?

Have you considered using LED instead of compact fluorescent lights?  I use this type of LED array in my camper for overhead lighting.  LEDs are not as good for area lighting as compact fluorescent, but they are improving.  Might be worth a look.


Offline gigaJack

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #28 on: March 04, 2009, 07:43:34 PM »

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Re: Solar Energy System Questions Answered Here
« Reply #29 on: March 05, 2009, 12:15:20 PM »
Now that's an expensive light bulb.  :o

In an enclosed space, like a camper, the LEDs work great.  They are also really good for a spot light.  The other benefit is they are 12V.