Just getting started...

VikelfVikelf Registered Users Posts: 21
Greetings,
I'm brand new to solar tech and this forum, and I recently purchased the "infamous" HF 45watt Solar Panel Kit. How many more kits do I need to power a 2700sqft house with a 5ton AC, PCs, TVs, appliances, and 120 Saltwater Reef? 3 or 4?

Just kidding...well, I did buy the HF kit for a sample to learn hands on. I have been reading the forum for a few days now, and I have discovered that I am more ignorant about this technology than I thought I was. Shading affecting whole string output? Huh? Full rated output for only a few hours in a day? What! Multiple angles in strings on one inverter can cause issues? How!
The more I read the more ignorant I feel, here the whole time I was thinking I would just spend $1-2K, set up a simple solar array over a weekend, and have it power all my external lights...I was very misguided by the advertising! I now realize that there is a lot more to this than I initially expected.

So now I have to really plan it, I enjoy DIY so I will give it a try. I feel the cost is part of the learning and I don't mind spending a little extra to learn a valuable lesson.

My initial goal is to have about 3-5kw rated system with micro inverters on the ground for backup/supplemental power. I have a much bigger goal of off-grid with wind/solar/hydrogen but that's years and years away.

I guess that completes my introduction.

I really enjoy the wealth of information on this forum and I am trying to sift through it.
That being said, any suggestions on following:

Solar Panels
Micro Inverters
Charge Controllers
Misc items to deal with A/C from Micro Inverter to house and chargers
Batteries

Comments

  • NorthGuyNorthGuy Solar Expert Posts: 1,913 ✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...
    Vikelf wrote: »
    I'm brand new to solar tech and this forum, and I recently purchased the "infamous" HF 45watt Solar Panel Kit. How many more kits do I need to power a 2700sqft house with a 5ton AC, PCs, TVs, appliances, and 120 Saltwater Reef? 3 or 4?

    Just kidding...

    Good one :D
    Vikelf wrote: »
    I have a much bigger goal of off-grid with wind/solar/hydrogen but that's years and years away.

    If you're serious about this, it may be a good idea to plan for off-grid transformation from the beginning. Off-grid system is totally different. It's much more expensive, requires totally different inverter, and also requires battery. You still can integrate it with your grid power.

    If you go grid-tie first, then decide to go off-grid, you will be able to re-use your panels, but most of everything else will need to be replaced.
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 5,653 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...

    What the Panda said, Micro inverters are for a grid tied system, so you would want to start with a visit to your power company.
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Magnum MS4024, Prosine 1800(now backup) and Exeltech 1100(former backup...lol), 660 ah 24v Forklift battery(now 10 years old). Off grid for 20 years (if I include 8 months on a bicycle).
    - Assorted other systems, pieces and to many panels in the closet to not do more projects.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 32,007 admin
    Re: Just getting started...

    We usually push conservation first... It is almost always cheaper to conserve power than to generator power.

    This thread has lots of random information and links to projects and such... Take a read through it and see what strikes your fancy:

    Working FAQ

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,183 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...

    And before you get to the SIZE of your Arrays you will need to do a load analysis since as you must have read here, All systems are based on their loads.

    keep reading, there is a lot here...

    hth
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
  • VikelfVikelf Registered Users Posts: 21
    Re: Just getting started...

    Thanks for quick replies! I did know about the load analysis, but I was going for the cart before the horse plan. ie "I have this PV array, I wonder what I can run?"

    I am very serious about getting involved in a PV system, but I have a fault in my methodology. I would prefer to educate myself by not just reading but by doing...I have to have project...I have to make some mistakes...It's an old fart thing.

    I didn't realize that you couldn't use micro inverters for anything but grid-tie systems. I was thinking a combination...eventually getting to something like the hydrogenhouseproject and was curious about using his method of storing energy vs the battery method. Yet, I can see that costing over 100K to setup minimum nowadays.

    Thanks for input and welcome, I look forward to educating myself and planning my build.
  • PNjunctionPNjunction Solar Expert Posts: 762 ✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...
    Vikelf wrote: »
    I am very serious about getting involved in a PV system, but I have a fault in my methodology. I would prefer to educate myself by not just reading but by doing...I have to have project...I have to make some mistakes...It's an old fart thing.

    While you are reading up on the big stuff, how about putting that HF system to work? It makes a very easy target to bag on, but follows the same solar rules as the big stuff. By far the biggest mistake is to use a very large battery with it. Something in the range of an 18ah agm is more like it based on your insolation and and perhaps a worst-case 50% DOD.

    New Orleans lists out as somewhere near 3.5 hours solar insolation in the winter, and 5.5 hours in the summer. The 45 watt panel under the very best of conditions will net you 2.5ah of charge current - although losses will take that lower - lets be optimistic and say 2ah. If you keep that 18ah battery doing loads smaller than 50% DOD, about 9ah, you might make it in just one day.

    One improvement would be to replace that HF controller box with a decent pwm charge controller - like a Morningstar Sunguard 4.5a unit. Perhaps pick up a Stanley 500 jumpstarter that already has an 18ah agm battery inside and charge via the dc cigarette lighter jack. It might even prove to be more useful than the HF controller box....

    Some may laugh at it, but at this end of the range, the experience trying to maintain a small agm battery is far more valuable than the product itself.
  • VikelfVikelf Registered Users Posts: 21
    Re: Just getting started...
    PNjunction wrote: »
    One improvement would be to replace that HF controller box with a decent pwm charge controller - like a Morningstar Sunguard 4.5a unit. Perhaps pick up a Stanley 500 jumpstarter that already has an 18ah agm battery inside and charge via the dc cigarette lighter jack. It might even prove to be more useful than the HF controller box....

    Just to clarify, If I was to use the Stanley 500 jumpstarter I wouldn't need the following:
    1) HF Charge Controller
    2) Morningstar Sunguard 4.5a

    Just connect the 3 panels directly to a Male 12V cigarette lighter plug and insert that directly into the Stanely 500 socket?
  • PNjunctionPNjunction Solar Expert Posts: 762 ✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...

    It would be the three panels in parallel to the solar side of the Morningstar Sunguard 4.5a charge controller, and then the output of the charge controller to the cigarette lighter dc jack. The cigarette lighter jack is just directly wired internally to the battery, although there appears to be a 5amp breaker/fuse inline. No problem with the 45 watt panel. If the ms sunguard is hard to find, then the 6A "SunSaver" would be just as nice and easier to wire up with just screw-down wire terminals. With the 4.5A sunguard you'd have to crimp/solder connectors. The Stanley comes with a dc-dc cigarette adapter cord which you could cut to make things even easier - just watch your polarity. Time to get a decent multimeter.

    Panels > Charge Controller > Battery

    Strictly speaking, when you combine more than 2 panels in parallel one wants to fuse each panel, but in this case, the wiring may already be able to handle the current from the other two if one shorts out.

    This is just a quickie example of an easy upgrade - the most important being the quality charge controller. And for the price, you get battery, dc outlet (solar charge input), float charger for when there is no sun, usb port, compressor, spotlight, and oh yeah jumpstarter cables. Sure beats my homebrew box I threw together. The only variable is to not get an old/abused one - fortunately these seem relatively new and wrapped in plastic internally. Build quality was quite modern inside and not a total rats nest. Charge only via AC or solar - but not both at the same time to keep things safe.

    Without sounding like a salesman, you could add the Stanley 100W mobile msw inverter (fanless and quiet) and run a 10-13 watt cfl light for about 7 hours before reaching a 50% DOD if you miss that feature from the HF control box. Be careful - I like spending other people's money. :)
  • PNjunctionPNjunction Solar Expert Posts: 762 ✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...

    WARNING!

    If you go chopping up the typical slide-on SAE connector jumpers to make your own custom connections, be aware that not all manufacturers follow the same polarity convention, so it is VITAL that you confirm the polarity with your own multimeter. For instance, the HF panels that I have use SAE connectors that when used with another manufacturers jumpers is backwards in polarity! Even though it *looks* and fits ok, mixing and matching from different makers requires polarity confirmation from end to end, especially before making your very first connection to the charge controller. Some controllers are reverse polarity protected, some aren't.

    On a general note to all HF panel users - manufacturing mistakes happen. I would advise confirming the polarity of each panel individually, especially if you see one out of the set that seems to be discoloring at a much faster rate than the others.

    By far the cheapest way to go would be to just use the high-quality Morningstar charge controller (either 4.5A Sunguard or 6A Sunsaver) and a bare 18ah agm. Note that when I speak of AGM, I'm talking a ups-style (UB12180, PowerSonic, Amstron, etc) and NOT an Odyssey agm. Odyssey agm's are a different breed that require much more charge current to stay healthy. We also are not talking about gel either.

    panel(s) > morningstar charge controller > HF control box < bare agm battery

    With the Stanley as the battery source, you have TWO options:

    1) panel(s) > morningstar charge controller > HF control box < Stanley jumpstarter
    2) panel(s) > morningstar charge controller > Stanley jumpstarter

    Also note that the "low voltage" alarm on the HF control box is an idiot light. While it will help prevent you from totally killing the battery, by the time it goes off, you are well past the 50% DOD point - which for an AGM battery that has been at rest (no charge, no load) for about 4 hours, should read about 12.2V for 50% DOD.
  • VikelfVikelf Registered Users Posts: 21
    Re: Just getting started...

    PN,

    Thanks for the tip...I'm pretty sure I would have been back posting here asking what I did wrong if you hadn't pointed that out! lol
  • PNjunctionPNjunction Solar Expert Posts: 762 ✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...

    No problem at all. If you really get into it, resist the temptation to upgrade much further piecemeal with the low end stuff.

    In other words, if you wanted to upgrade to 90w of panel, get a crystalline panel and not another set of the HF thin-films. Aside from a quality difference, you are also saving a lot of space since crystalline panels are more efficient and about 2/3 the size of the thin-films. But now, the 4.5a Sunguard controller wouldn't be recommended. Then you want a bigger battery to draw bigger loads and the cycle starts all over again.

    It is at this point when you outgrow the simple HF panel setup that doing all the power calculations for your desired loads, selecting a system voltage and all the other infrastructure requirements really pays off before you open your wallet.
  • VikelfVikelf Registered Users Posts: 21
    Re: Just getting started...

    Got it. I figure I needed to start somewhere. Once I have this up and operational and understand some more fundamentals, I will begin the planning process on the larger scale. The state tax incentive is huge in LA(not to be confused with the West Coast), I hear between state/Federal it's about 80% here...will need to look into that one.
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 5,653 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...
    Vikelf wrote: »
    ...The state tax incentive is huge in LA(not to be confused with the West Coast),
    ...or Lower Alabama...
    Vikelf wrote: »
    I hear between state/Federal it's about 80% here...will need to look into that one.
    When looking at the credits and incentives understand that they are not both off the total. almost always it's a percent of the total and a percent of what's left... Say Lousyana has a 50% rebate and the federal goverment has a 30% credit. You invest $1000 you get a $500 rebate and you can take 30% of the net investment in solar or $150 as a Federal credit (30% of $500)
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Magnum MS4024, Prosine 1800(now backup) and Exeltech 1100(former backup...lol), 660 ah 24v Forklift battery(now 10 years old). Off grid for 20 years (if I include 8 months on a bicycle).
    - Assorted other systems, pieces and to many panels in the closet to not do more projects.
  • HairfarmHairfarm Solar Expert Posts: 225 ✭✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...
    The more I read the more ignorant I feel, here the whole time I was thinking I would just spend $1-2K, set up a simple solar array over a weekend, and have it power all my external lights...I was very misguided by the advertising! I now realize that there is a lot more to this than I initially expected.

    ...welcome to my world.

    I'm just starting out too. As it goes, every time I turn over a rock, there are 20 more rocks - but it gets easier. Two solar training dvd's later, dozens of online solar resources, dozens of hours researching, one book, and dozens of posts on forums like this one, a dozen calls to various solar product manufacturers, trying to create synthesis from many differing and opposing opinions, dozens of pages of notes, all with limited time and a full time job. From my experience, this forum has pushed my knowledge further than any other resource to date. Lot's of experts here.

    Before you know it, you'll be at the local electrical supply blathering about dc-rated breakers, the merits of tinning (or not) lugs, proper wire sizing, breakers vs pullboxes, pull-fuses vs cutoff switches, grounding vs floating etc ...not that I've done any of that, of course;)
  • SkippySkippy Solar Expert Posts: 308 ✭✭
    Re: Just getting started...
    Hairfarm wrote: »
    ...welcome to my world.

    I'm just starting out too.

    Before you know it, you'll be at the local electrical supply blathering about dc-rated breakers, the merits of tinning (or not) lugs, proper wire sizing, breakers vs pullboxes, pull-fuses vs cutoff switches, grounding vs floating etc ...not that I've done any of that, of course;)


    I think I understood most of that . ;):p
    2 - 255W + 4 - 285W PV - Tristar 45 MPPT CC / 3 - 110W PV -wired for 36V- 24V Sunsaver MPPT CC / midnite bat. monitor.
    1 KW PSW inverter 24V / 2.5 KW MSW inverter-24V ~ 105 AHR battery.
    3 ton GSHP.- 100 gallon warm water storage / house heat - radiant floor / rad
    9 -220W PV - net meter - Enphase inverters and internet reporting system.
    420 Gallon rain water system for laundry.***  6" Rocket Mass Heater with 10' bed for workshop heat.
    Current project is drawing up plans for a below grade Hobbit / underground home.
Sign In or Register to comment.