Solar problem

jogbinjogbin Registered Users Posts: 5 ✭✭
I have solar panels on my house. In November I was outside and noticed that one of the junction boxes on the conduit running from the solar panels in the the box for the solar production company has a gasket that was bowed out and water was dripping from the junction. I tapped the junction box with my finger and water poured out of the box. I stopped messing with it and called my install company and they sent someone out and replaced the gasket. Then I got my electric bill and it shows that I used 1059 kWh of electric from the electric company and the solar company says I produced 812 kWh of electricity for a total usage of 1,871 kWh of electric for the month of November 2018 as compared to 1056 kWh of electricity for the Month of November 2017 when I didn't have solar panels. I decided to let it go another month to see if it was just a fluke and it turns out I got the same result. December 2017-1486 kWh vs. December 2018 2073 kWh total (1346 kWh electric company & 727 Solar production). I had the electric company out yesterday to test the meter and I watched; its running at 99.86% accuracy. The solar company says everything is working great on their end.

The only things in my house that have changed is that I have a freezer that is at least ten years old. I have since unplugged it but it has been plugged in since March of 2018. I do have sump pumps that run almost constantly but I had them last year also. I didn't have a bunch of Christmas light plugged in and my family's routines haven't changed since last year except that my wife bakes cakes; about 7 a week but they go in the oven together or in two bakes.  

So my question is what do I do? Could there be a short in the line? If so why is the solar company saying that everything is fine and my internet readings from my account are working? Any tips or points would be appreciated. 


  • mcgivormcgivor Solar Expert Posts: 2,583 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Welcome to the forum 

    Very difficult to speculate, the oven use along with the freezer would add significantly, but one thing not mentioned is home heating and weather. Do you have electric heat? and if so has the weather been colder this season than last?
    1500W, 6× Schutten 250W Poly panels , Schneider MPPT 60 150 CC, Schneider SW 2524 inverter, 400Ah LFP 24V nominal battery bank 
    900W  3 × 300W No name brand Poly panels, Morningstar TS 60 PWM controller, no name 2000W inverter 400Ah FLA 24V nominal as a backup system. 
    5Kw Yanmar clone single cylinder air cooled diesel generator for rare emergencies and welding.
  • jogbinjogbin Registered Users Posts: 5 ✭✭
    I have gas heat and the only thing that has been different is the amount of rain we have had. This year in NJ we had about 6 inches more rain in Nov. 18 then Nov 17. The temperature has been normal. 
  • mcgivormcgivor Solar Expert Posts: 2,583 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Water in a junction box is unlikely to cause a consumption issue of that magnitude without causing other faults, would the rain be related to the sump pumps in any way?
    1500W, 6× Schutten 250W Poly panels , Schneider MPPT 60 150 CC, Schneider SW 2524 inverter, 400Ah LFP 24V nominal battery bank 
    900W  3 × 300W No name brand Poly panels, Morningstar TS 60 PWM controller, no name 2000W inverter 400Ah FLA 24V nominal as a backup system. 
    5Kw Yanmar clone single cylinder air cooled diesel generator for rare emergencies and welding.
  • jogbinjogbin Registered Users Posts: 5 ✭✭
    Well with more rain the pumps run more often. That's the only thing I can think of.
  • mcgivormcgivor Solar Expert Posts: 2,583 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Pumps are heavy consumers, time will tell, less rain will identify if the pumps are indeed the problem.
    1500W, 6× Schutten 250W Poly panels , Schneider MPPT 60 150 CC, Schneider SW 2524 inverter, 400Ah LFP 24V nominal battery bank 
    900W  3 × 300W No name brand Poly panels, Morningstar TS 60 PWM controller, no name 2000W inverter 400Ah FLA 24V nominal as a backup system. 
    5Kw Yanmar clone single cylinder air cooled diesel generator for rare emergencies and welding.
  • jogbinjogbin Registered Users Posts: 5 ✭✭
    Oh one other thing. I checked the electric line to see what my house was pulling yesterday with the pumps running and it pulled around 9 amps
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 28,455 admin
    edited January 18 #8
    Assuming you are in the US, and have a 120/240 VAC utility connection... The 9 amps could be
    • 9 amps * 120 vac = 1,080 Watts
    • 9 amps * 240 vac = 2,160 Watts
    Let's assume 1,080 Watts... If you used "800 kWH per month extra):
    • 800,000 WH per month / 1,080 Watts = 740 Hours of pump operation per month (guess)
    • 741 Hours / 24 per day = 31 Days of 100% pump operation
    I would suspect that you are not really running the pumps 24x7... But if you are, that does account for for you "extra energy".

    But, you said that was the whole house consumption... And if that was 240 VAC and really ~2,160 Watts, running that 24x7 would almost account for your 1,800 kWH per month electric bill.

    What I would do... Make sure I don't have anything running in the home that would cause issues if I cut the AC power for a few minutes (desktop computer, DVR recording, etc.)... And I would go outside to the meter and see if I can read the actual Watts or kWatts being consumed (my electronic utility meter will read 0.100 for a 100 Watt loads).

    Then start turning off circuits and see what each one contributes to my total usage:

    2,160 Watts all on
    1,000 Watts circuit 1 turned off
    1,000 watts circuit 2 turned off
    500 Watts circuit 3 turned off

    Or, if you do have an AC Current Clamp meter, you can measure the current from each circuit breaker. For 120 VAC circuits, the Watts is X.X amps * 120 VAC=Watts.

    For 240 VAC circuits (double pole breakers), you need to measure each wire seperatly. If one reads 5 amps and the other reads 5 amps, then you have a balanced 240 VAC load and the math would be (either is works):
    • 5 amps * 240 VAC = 1,200 Watts
    • (5 + 5 amps) * 120 VAC = 1,200 Watts
    If one reads 5 amps and the other 1 amp, then the math would be:
    • (5 + 1 amps) * 120 VAC = 720 Watts
    That is a fair amount of energy usage for a non-electric heating home... Typical is around 500 to 1,000 kWH per month for a home that has natural gas/propane for water and space heating.

    More or less, you have a ~1,000 to 1,500 Watt set of loads that are running 24x7. That sounds like an electric space heater in the family room, or 3x desktop computer systems, or a lot of electric heat hot water usage (like 2,400 Watts running 50% or the time, or an electric dryer that is being used a lot due to lots of wet clothes).

    If you have not done a conservation pass through your home--Things like lots of filament lighting vs LED, entertainment system running all the time, a couple of desktop computers left on 24x7, etc.... It is not unusual for somebody to go through the home and changing to more efficient devices and simply turning unused stuff off, that can cut the electric bill by almost 1/2.

    Using a current clamp meter on the main breaker panel (assuming you know what you are doing and don't electrocute yourself), a Kill-a-Watt type meter to measure each 120 VAC outlet/load for kWH per day, and even a whole house AC monitor:

    In general, things that run a relatively short period of time (electric oven running 2 hours every week is only ~1-3 kWH per week) vs a lower power device running 24x7 (desktop computer 300w*24h=7,200WH=7.2kWH per day) which can use much more energy.

    You are looking at an average load of:
    • 2,000 kWH per month * 1/30 days per month * 1/24 hours per day = 2.78 kWatt average load = 2,780 Watt average load
    That is running 24x7 average load. That is a lot. You need to figure out where your energy is going.

    Energy usage is a highly personal set of choices. You have to figure out what is your set of energy needs that works for you. If you have electric hot water, you may not choose to go with gas water heating (in our area, natural gas is about 1/3rd the cost of an electric water heater).

    If you have natural gas heating and plugged up air filters, that can cause the fan to run much longer in your central heating system. If you have single pane windows and not enough insulation, that will run the central heat much longer (~300-500 Watts or so for typical fan), and run up you gas bill too.

    Anyway--Some starting places to look/explore.

    And regarding the water in your conduit... That is most likely because your system was installed without a proper drip loop (a drip loop has the wire go down, then up, into the conduit fitting). The water simply follows the wire into the conduit without the loop.

    It is also possible that you do not have water tight fittings and some water is coming into the fittings.

    I would suspect that the water is not getting in through the gasketed j-box. What you are seeing is the water collecting at a low point in your conduit and filling the j-box and local conduit with water.


    Besides addressing the drip loop and water tight fittings issues, at the low point of your system you want to let the water out. On my system, I removed the gasket so that the water can come out. Even drilling a small hole in the low point of the box is a good solution (obviously, be careful not to nick the electrical cable insulation). Otherwise, the water can come into the home and eventually migrate to the other places in your system (like the main panel) and cause corrosion/electrical failures.

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • jogbinjogbin Registered Users Posts: 5 ✭✭
    edited January 18 #9
    Wow! That's a lot of information Bill and I thank you for your time and explanation I just wish you lived in Southern New Jersey. I would make you some BBQ while you figured out what the deal was lol! I did speak with the solar company and they seem to be willing to help but until then. I have the Freezer unplugged and I am raising the floats on my pumps so they will hopefully run less. I don't think I am technical enough to figure out what to do in your post buy I get the just of it. I just want to know if I am crazy or do these numbers seem legit or out of whack.  
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 28,455 admin
    Hmmm BBQ...

    9 amps at 120 VAC is around 1 horsepower, 9 amps at 240 VAC is around 2 hp. In either case, that would be a big pump (or set of pumps).

    In theory, changing the float levels would save only a nominal amount of energy--Making the range larger (higher high, lower low level) would have the pumps cycling on and off less (starting surge is not efficient, and cause the house lights to dim when starting). But I am not sure it would save much energy unless you pump much less water (and where is that water that remains is going, is always a question).

    The Kill-a-Watt type meters are cheap ($20-$40 each)... And you just plug your load into the meter, run for about a day (for cycling loads), and read the kWH per xx hours... Say your pump uses 1 kWH over 36 hours, then per day that would be:
    • 1 kWH per day * 24 hours * 1/36 hour measurement cycle = 0.67 kWH per 24 hour period.
    You can do this for all of your plugin loads... You are not going to worry about cell phone chargers--Those will be something like 0.010 kWH (10 WH) per day. Laptops are around 0.5 kWH per day (if used 12 hours per day). Desktop computers (add display, laser printer, networking stuff) can easily run 5 kWH per day (if always left on, and don't go to sleep when not used).

    And you can make good estimates for appliances that have a Energy Star Tag... Here is a 50 gallon electric water heater:

    Looking at the bottom, that is 3,493 kWH per year... Per day:
    • 3,493 kWH per year * 1/365 days per year = 9.6 kWH per day
    A full size modern refrigerator:

    365-~693 kWH per year or:
    • 693 kWH per year * 1/365 = 1.9 kWH per day
    Electric Dryer--Maybe 2 kWH per load. etc...

    Back to what you are looking at with 2,000 kWH per month:
    • 2,000 kWH per month / 30 days per month = 66.7 kWH per day
    Just measuring/estimating your major loads and see what they add up to... I would guess your electric meter has a display where you can get the average Watts or kWatts being used at that moment in time. You can cycle a major appliance to see what your usage is (for example, turn off your central heat, check display, turn on central heat to 85F, wait a minute for it to turn on and stabilize, and see what the new power reading is).

    During the day, with all the major stuff off, read meter and see how much you are using. Then, turn on all the lights you use in the evening and see the measurement again.

    Turn off all your optional loads and see what your base loading is (any loads you did not know about...).

    You can get a start on your energy usage... 

    In a couple of hours of turning stuff on and off (have one person turning stuff on and off, a second person at the meter recording values--use cell phones or 2 way radio to coordinate)--It's a start.

    Note that many larger loads cycle... Like your refrigerator may use 120 Watts for 50% of the time. And may even use 600 Watts for 1/2 hour per day (defrost). The water heater may use 4.5 to 5.5 kWatts for 2 hours per day. Using a Kill-a-Watt or TED (the energy detective) meter over 24 hours will help you figure that out.

    Note that the Energy Star Tags are currently using $0.12 per kWH to figure out cost... I think N.J. is similar to California where you may be paying $0.25 to $0.45 per kWH:

    It looks like New Jersey electric rates are not bad (around $0.12 per kWH or so)... That amount of usage would "kill me" in California (upwards of $600-800 per month--Yours closer to $240 (2,000 kWH * $0.12=$240 per month, without taking into account your GT solar credits).

    I think you could reduce your energy usage a lot--But what needs to be done, you really need a "site survey" of energy usage and any heat loss (insulation, windows, weather stripping, etc.). Again, this is highly personal, depending on where you live, climate, number of teenagers in the home, etc.

    Many utilities have energy audits or audit contractors (some that are subsidized) and may be of interest to you. A couple of quick search results:

    If you can find a friendly electrician with an AC Current Clamp Meter and find out how much he would charge to install a TED, all would be useful.

    If you have a friend that is reasonably 120/240 VAC knowledgeable--It is not difficult and in a couple of hours, you will know a lot more than you do now.

    You are using a lot of power at this time. But to make any progress, you really need to understand where you are today. Just buying a new refrigerator and unplugging the freezer in the garage may save you 2 kWH per day... You still have the other 66 kWH per day to address.

    For ~$110, an AC (and DC) current clamp meter and pulling the cover off of your main circuit breaker panel (with knowledgeable help)...:

    Good luck,

    PS: My links are suggested starting points. A couple items I have and use, others just points to start your research. I am not connected with any of the websites or products.

    As always, make plans first (and ask questions here), before you go out and spend a much of $$$$.

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
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