OB VFX inverter and nearby lightning damage - possibly repairable?

RandomJoeRandomJoe Solar Expert Posts: 472 ✭✭✭
I'm wondering how serviceable an Outback VFX inverter is, or if it's worth the effort to try...

This morning I was awakened in the middle of a thunderstorm by an almighty BANG from the front of the house and the room went dark.  Not so great since my solar system was supposed to prevent that from happening!  I got up and headed for the garage - and noticed that, in fact, the grid power was still on (circuits not on the inverter were fine).  In the garage no smell of cooked electronics but the inverter (Outback VFX-3648), FN-DC monitor and the hub were all down.  The FM-80 charge controller was still on..

It's still raining cats and dogs but a quick walk around the house in the dark revealed a fairly large tree limb on the ground with - apparently - the bark blown off of it.  Don't see any damage to the roof, and (yes I went up to check!) no smoke or other smells in the attic.

So back down to the inverter to disconnect the power leads and wire the subpanel direct to the incoming feed and power is restored in the house.  I have since found my 24-port ethernet switch is also dead, which leads me to suspect what killed the inverter may be induced voltage in the control lines in the attic.  (The ethernet cabling and the line between the Mate and hub are in a bundle in the attic.  Mate is at the other end of the house from the garage.  Also no other devcies in the same closet and on the same circuit as the switch were damaged.)  

I also found a string of LED christmas lights in the bedroom (my "night light") were damaged, some of the LEDs flicker on and off others are dead.  Those were on a circuit fed by the inverter, but they are also stretched out right at the front of the house very close to where I suspect the lightning hit.

All other AC-powered stuff seems to be fine though...

So, is it possible there's just a damaged control board in the inverter?  I've never dismantled a VFX so don't know how serviceable it is...  Since there was absolutely no smell of cooked electronics I'm slightly hopeful that it might not have been anything too catastrophic...

Once there's a little sun I'll find out if the panels and CC are still working - at least the CC is still functioning (though sleeping) right now.  I tried moving the CC to slot one of the hub and that didn't work but it's been ages since I last read the manuals so can't remember if that should work or not.  Will need to try the Mate direct to the CC and see if that works.

I did try cycling DC power to the inverter, nothing at all happens, no LEDs no fan no AC out.

Comments

  • RandomJoeRandomJoe Solar Expert Posts: 472 ✭✭✭
    Ah, I found the major casualty - and it lends more support to my control line theory.  A Mac Mini in the kitchen, connected via ethernet, is toast.  The ethernet connector was actually blown out of it and the energy clearly arced about 1" between the case of the computer and a grounded metal box!
  • EstragonEstragon Registered Users Posts: 1,449 ✭✭✭✭
    There are a couple of boards in the inverter that are reasonably straitforward to replace. A video is available from outback with instructions. I had a unit fail inexplicably, and outback supplied boards under warranty. There had been no recent electrical storms though, so lightning damage was unlikely. The symptoms were the same though. It just stopped one sunny afternoon. No blinking lights, self test, fan - just dead.

    In your case the damage may not be just boards. Maybe lightning came in on AC grid to inverter then to data cabling connected to the inverter? Maybe check with outback to see if there are any diagnostics (eg continuity test on internals) you can do to see if other components are damaged. The boards are probably the most sensitive parts to the static charge from lightning.

    If you think about it, lightning travels a long way through free air to get to ground, so jumping a foot is kind of to be expected.

    I've read about lightning damaged equipment apparently surviving, then failing in the weeks following. If you have anything really critical, you might want to consider getting access to a backup for a while just in case.
    Off-grid.  
    Main daytime system ~4kw panels into 2xMNClassic150 370ah 48v bank 2xOutback 3548 inverter 120v + 240v autotransformer
    Night system ~1kw panels into 1xMNClassic150 700ah 12v bank morningstar 300w inverter
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,775 admin
    I would send the unit to the factory/repair center--You probably have multiple failures in the unit.

    Realistically, if this is a critical piece of gear--I would replace the whole unit. As Estragon says--The electronics have been stressed and you may have more failures weeks/months in the future.

    The AC output of the inverter is a common failure from lightning strikes--More often than on the DC side of the solar power system.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • RandomJoeRandomJoe Solar Expert Posts: 472 ✭✭✭
    Well, this took a lot longer than I had intended...!  But I'm finally running off solar energy again! ;)

    Waffled around a bit, trying to decide whether to try to fix or just buy another Outback inverter or try something new.  I opted to buy, and when I narrowed my desired options down the Outback was considerably cheaper so I went with it.

    Got a new FXR3048, also needed a new hub and Mate (ouch, that Mate 3 is sure pricey...) but had hoped my charge controller would be okay as it's still functioning.

    Once the hardware showed up and I had time to install - nothing happened!  Finally saw the inverter and hub seemed to be okay - inverter had an LED for "battery full" and the power LED on the hub was on.  The brand new Mate 3 did nothing at all! :(  Had to call NAWS and get a replacement sent.  

    That showed up yesterday and today I got it installed - it worked fine but the web interface was lousy.  Both units shipped with firmware 3.15.0 and it apparently has some serious bugs in it.  The ethernet connection constantly dropped and reconnected, I had OpticsRE disabled but it would reenable and try to connect then go disabled repeatedly.  When I tried to open the internal web interface I got one or two pieces of info and a banner at the top "enable javascript" even though it WAS enabled!  Argh...

    Updated firmware to 3.15.5 and the web page works but I noticed it still reenabled OpticsRE, tried to connect, then went back to disabled.  Hm...  Haven't stood out in the (hot!) garage long enough to be sure the ethernet link is staying up.


    Unfortunately it appears the FM80's interface is also dead, so while it's charging just fine I can't see it remotely.  Will have to decide whether to replace it, and with what...  I've long wanted to try a Midnite Classic, this could be my chance... :)  


    Lightning is such fun...

  • Raj174Raj174 Solar Expert Posts: 429 ✭✭✭✭
    @RandomJoe ;
    I have an Outback inverter with Mate3 and am using a Classic 150. The OpticsRe web app works well for managing the inverter. Although network connectivity was an issue initially, giving the Mate3 a static IP address seems to have solved that problem. The Classic works great and management / monitoring with the local app and the "My Midnite" web app is a pleasure. I had thought about getting the FM80 so I could manage everything from one app, but I like the classic too well to give it up. I do recommend the Classic if you're considering a new controller.

    Rick  
    12 x 300W Renogy PV, MNE175DR-TR epanel modified, MN Classic 150, Outback Radian GS4048A, Mate3, 51.2V 195AH HI Power LiFePO4 no BMS, 4000W gen.
  • RandomJoeRandomJoe Solar Expert Posts: 472 ✭✭✭
    I did some more troubleshooting on the FM80 and dead HUB this morning.  I was reluctant to plug the FM80 into the new hub in case it damaged something else and initial testing suggested its data connector was dead.  Turned out the old hub had failed such that the power rails were shorted, which understandably the FM80 didn't like!

    After a little tracing of the HUB circuitry I was confident that the FM80 couldn't do anything that would damage other devices so I measured voltages on the unplugged cable and was pleased to find they were similar to what the inverter has when unplugged.  So I screwed up the courage to plug it in to the rest of the system - and it works!  :)

    Unfortunately the FNDC is definitely dead.  Not sure I'd get very far trying to troubleshoot it without a schematic so I broke down and ordered another.  (It has a very dark PCB so I can't trace tracks very well - may be multilayer too, the HUB is just dual-layer.)


    So with the system functioning well on the Mate I turned my attention to the network interface.  It is NOT working well, I'm having several issues that I posted to the Outback forum, we'll see if I get a response there...  I may start a new thread on that here in case someone here has seen the issues.  In a nutshell, the LAN connection drops regularly.  It comes up for about 1.5 minutes, then drops for about 30-45 seconds.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Not very useful!  Also, the web interface is still flaky.  Now it says "wait while loading config" but never finishes.  Some of the text data does appear, but not all, and the graphics never do.  And finally, I wanted to use the LAN "data stream" with my home automation system but it is only sending data for the charge controller (port 2), nothing for the inverter!

    My initial impressions of the Mate 3 have not been entirely positive!  It looks nice, is easy to use, but sure seems to be buggy...  The Mate 1 on my original system was rock solid - "Just Works"!

  • Bill6226Bill6226 Registered Users Posts: 1
    I agree with RAJ174. the Midnite Classics are very good, I have 3 Classic 150's, they are very versatile and easy to use with a much better screen than many of the other controllers of comparable price, I never had a problem with online upgrades either and their tech people are great.

    I have had (2) FX2024 Outbacks damaged by lightning this year (two separate incidents), nothing else, computers, controllers, LED lights, nothing was damaged. I was disconnected from the grid with two separate breakers plus one blade disconnect both times (do not use the mate 2 that I have, no Ethernet cables, nothing except for the neutral/ground that is common to the grid), so I presume the lightning came via that mode. I also have a friend that lost the same model to lightning last year. In all 3 cases no obvious damage was ever discovered. My friend bought new boards, all 3, and has his FX working, but the waveform is not perfect like before. In my case, this year, Outback has a new price on circuit boards, the 3 boards now cost $1200.00 and no credit for the old boards whereas my friend paid only $441 after receiving credit for his old boards.

    Outback inverters are great functionally, economically, very simple to replace the boards also, and SEALED which is a great feature. BUT;
    Bottom line is; Outback FX inverters are very sensitive to lightning and can not be economically repaired. In the meantime I am using a 2400 watt Kipoint inverter from Taiwan, and have a 2000 watt Cotek inverter on order now.
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    Some balance to the previous post. I have about 10 Outback power systems and none have had any problems.
    They all are Offgrid and have surge protection. The users have been informed to shut down if they are home when the lightning strikes get close. The oldest system is from 2004. I would not repair any equipment that has been involved with lightning for an offgrid application.
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

  • jonrjonr Solar Expert Posts: 846 ✭✭✭✭
    Someday I should build a device that detects lightning in the area and uses a latching relay to disconnect AC power.   But a close hit would jump even that gap.      Always use surge supressors (on power and control lines).
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    They are on Amazon already.... I have been using an AM radio for 30 years :)
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

  • jonrjonr Solar Expert Posts: 846 ✭✭✭✭
    Great, send me a link for the model with a latching AC relay.
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    If you really want to protect from lightning, the latch better be about 8 feet when open. That is what we do on nasty lightning prone mountain locations with a long conduit that is unplugged and then moved to get a good gap! 

    Relays, removing breakers, using  a disco with big  "open" gaps are better than doing nothing. Once you have seen the destruction in bad places you never forget it. You need about 8 feet....
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

  • EstragonEstragon Registered Users Posts: 1,449 ✭✭✭✭
    @Bill6226 - may not be relevant, but I have two Outback 48v inverters.  One has had zero problems.  The other had two boards go bad last year (first full year in operation), and the third go bad this year.  In both cases, there were no lightning issues.  My location isn't really lightning prone to begin with (in a bit of a valley with lots of nearby trees), and the weather had been clear for some time.  In both cases, Outback replaced the board(s) under warranty with no hassle.

    The twice failed inverter had a much smaller serial number than the other, which makes me wonder if there might have been a run of bad boards.  With N=2, it's not statistically significant, but...
    Off-grid.  
    Main daytime system ~4kw panels into 2xMNClassic150 370ah 48v bank 2xOutback 3548 inverter 120v + 240v autotransformer
    Night system ~1kw panels into 1xMNClassic150 700ah 12v bank morningstar 300w inverter
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    That is what I was told Estragon. A bad run. One of my Wrench buddies was buying from outside of Outback for a period of time to avoid the issue. I can look it up if you remind me.

     Trying to get it all done before winter. The freaking smoke all over this state is a total pain for outdoor work. The Wine country and the 45 knot wind driven fires are blowing smoke 350 miles to Mariposa. The normal inversions we get are not helping either.
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,775 admin
    There are lightning detection systems out there--Probably not cheap, but here is a summary of the technology:

    http://www.lightningsafety.com/nlsi_lhm/detectors.html

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

  • BB.BB. Super Moderators Posts: 26,775 admin
    1/2 way down the bay (San Mateo, south of San Francisco)--It is not bad. Enough in the air to smell and cause a little bit of coughing if you walk around 15 minutes outside. The day before, we had less than 1/2 mile of visibility from haze... Today >20 miles. But not near as bad as everyone else north of us (they have ash settling outside their homes (from what I have heard). Let alone the folks living (and dying) with the fires in northern California.

    For me--I have something akin to the flu right now--So I cannot smell and I am hacking and coughing anyway.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • Dave AngeliniDave Angelini Solar Expert Posts: 3,258 ✭✭✭✭
    I am working with some native Indians and they keep wanting to pray for me. I keep telling them it is beyond prayer.

    I will tell them to pray for your Flu like symptoms. And also the people in the wine country. We were there for a wedding 12 days ago and now the place is gone. It is going to be nasty here this winter with the erosion on the main roads once the rains hit.
    "we go where power lines don't" Sierra Mountains near Mariposa/Yosemite CA
     http://members.sti.net/offgridsolar/
    E-mail offgridsolar@sti.net

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