portable solar setup

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mshen11
mshen11 Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
ive got a real nasty HOA and to make a long story short - they wont allow me to install solar panel and they quoted me various violations/reasons:

* disrupts the "harmonious look and feel" of the nieghborhood - aka, all cookie cutter look
* one neighbor may not approve
* they are not saying solar is not allowed because it would be the unPC thing to say, so they tell me things like 1. put it in the back (where it gets 2 hrs shaded sun) 2. put it on the roof on the back side (not enough real estate, it is over 50ft tall, position faces north, i would not be able to get up there, etc...)

this is in NoVA. anyways, im thinking of a portable solar setup. my charge controller, inverter, batteries would be inside in the garage (because they can be). my panels would be mounted on dolly/cart and be placed on my drive way (i have 4 and want up to 8 kyocera panels). my reasoning is this:

* of course im going to fight this even though it is a losing battle. if i win i can easily convert this set up by building a solar awning over the garage.
* if i lose, im sure VA or the federal govt will have a law against such HOA policy soon (fingers crossed). one federal bill is in the works but has been for 2 years.
* short term at least during the weekend i can charge my batteries. they would be hard pressed to say i have a mounted solar setup - its just an oversized/overkill "trickle-charge system".

now the real questions:
1. im not very handy is there some sort of easy foldable mount (think transformer the cartoon/movie) where the panels, once mounted in the contraption, can fold out to appropriate configuration with easy and would hold 2-4 panels. a friend of mine gave me this link

http://www.iedu.com/DeSoto/Projects/PanelCart/

the only comment i have is this is a bit bulky for storage in the garage.

2. im also afraid of the panels walking away. with a portable contraption, what are ways to make it stay in one place? i was thinking of localized motion and seismic sensors to start with. but i would still need something to "chain" it in place. of course this setup only comes out when there is someone home (which is annoying).

3. any other elegant solution around my problem? trailers/golf carts have been tossed around but i dont have the extra space (plus its not allowed on the driveway).
and please dont say 'move' or 'lawyer' - i dont have that luxury in this economy.

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  • BB.
    BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,476 admin
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    Re: portable solar setup

    Solar is that way... You need full sun for it to work efficiently, HOA's don't want the hassle from either side and just say no to everyone.

    The question is what/how do you want to use the solar... Emergency power, Grid Tied, or what... Portable/Grid Tied is probably not going to get approval by the building department or the utility (if your location requires utility approval).

    Portable is not going to be very fun--and at some point, a panel is probably going to get broken.

    If this is to save money and for environmental reasons--you might consider solar thermal hot water/space heating. For the same amount of energy, the panels will be about 1/4 the size (may fit in a smaller/sunny area where solar PV won't).

    Problem with solar thermal, you may end up hitting other HOA restrictions (can't mess with common facilities like plumbing, may have common meter/hot water/no access or room to install storage tank, etc.).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • mshen11
    mshen11 Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    i would like to use solar as backup - quiet generator. but i get laughed at because in the urban setting im in... we have maybe 1 power outage a year for 1hr. minimally i would like to power one or two rooms (DIY), but eventually work my way to the entire house (when there is more money, also requires contractors/permits/county/utility company - aka, nightmare).

    i am in townhouse setting where i own everything (utilties, plumbing, etc...) but wierdly am not allowed to do alot of things - even put panels INSIDE the house.

    lets brush questions of HOA aside (because that wont go away and ive already exhausted my options), i believe i can get away (in a court of law) with a mobile setup... hence my questions
  • Cariboocoot
    Cariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    I'd be looking to move if I were you. Seriously. Nothing worse than paying money for a place and then finding out it isn't really "yours". Went through the Strata Council crap with my mother-in-law for years. She finally moved. They were such a bunch of arrogant, lazy, know-nothings that she lost $60,000 on the sale because of the rotten council.

    Otherwise, I have had the idea of mounting a solar set-up on a trailer so that I could make use of the PV power even when I'm away from the cabin. Trouble is, they don't like being driven down a road - vibration and other risks of traveling. In your case, it'd fill the garage when not in use so that's no help.

    No, moving sounds good. :D
  • BB.
    BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,476 admin
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    Re: portable solar setup

    Going Off-Grid (panels, charge controller, battery bank, off-grid inverter) is the only "legal" way to do it.

    Normally, Off-Grid power costs in the range of $1-$2+ per kWhr (must include the the costs to replace a battery bank every 3-8 years or so). And, you still need to follow best practices (fuses, breakers, wire size, vented battery bank, etc.) to avoid fire hazards.

    In the end, how much power are you expecting (watts peak and watt*hours) and how much do you want to spend?

    In reality--you will not be saving any money with trying to run your home off of a few off-grid solar panels and an inverter. The HOA requirements that pretty much dis-allow fixed mount solar panels kills even a small solar array+battery to play with and use the power. You can always put a wire through the panel frames and connect it to a an alarm (wire cut/broken, beeps inside the home).

    I too like emergency backup--but my power (urban area) is also reliable... The best I could justify was a Honda eu2000i (quiet and fuel efficient 1,600 watt AC genset) and a few 5 gallon cans of fuel for storage (if allowed by your HOA) and/or siphon the car for an emergency.

    Perhaps a small Yamaha (or Honda conversion) to natural gas/propane would make sense for you. I don't like the Emergency Power Gensets--they typically start at 10kWatt output--which is way too much power for my needs. And they drink the fuel (can be $1.000 per hour of operation--even to power my 400-600 watts of load). The smaller genset only costs me (roughly) $0.20-$0.30 per hour to operate my loads (from gasoline).

    The added costs for batteries and their replacements for an emergency off-grid system (or hybrid Grid Tied / Off Grid) just did not make sense for me.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • mshen11
    mshen11 Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    well i have 2 *old* trojan 105s (for play), charge controllers, inverters and 4 Kyocera 130s. i dont want to spent too much more for now - just need money for fuses, wires and maybe battery monitor. im pretty much done spending money - i just want to put things together to learn/play/tinker/experiment. cost is not an issue because its been allocated already (i scrounged around so the setup is very cheap - ~$4 per watt including ALL the accessories).

    with HOA in the way, im sure they will be getting in the way of any money saving schemes. even w/out them, VA lacks the proper rebates for reasonable near term payback. primary reason? to learn/experiment, and want to use it actively (1 or 2 rooms) as a successful proof of concept. and in the future, expand to a hybrid grid-tied/battery.

    already have a yamaha ef2800 - that was my original backup plan. i agree the added cost of battery doesnt make sense for backup, thats why i havent purchased any batteries (just inherited old batteries from friends)... until i have a setup in place [currently blocked by hoa].

    if i can get the idea of a moving panel setup implemented, i think a few hundred dollars in batteries are then worth it. what would be the recommended minimal battery size for 4 panels? 7amps * 4 panels * inverse(C/ 8 ) rate ~ 225amp-hr battery?... which is close to what i have.

    if we can get back on track on building such a system...
    do you have examples of this wire cutting alarm system? what if they know what the wire is and unscrew it from the proper point (vs cutting the wires)?
    thanks for the idea.


    another question is this: what if i am successful in detecting theives (they are in the process of cutting the cord, moving the panel)... how do i stop theives that doesnt want to be stopped. [im hoping "guns" is not included in the answer]. the police (no offense to them) dont care and will never get there in time. only positive is that my neighborhood is currently pretty safe but nevertheless...
  • niel
    niel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    you actually can use an inverter/charger to charge and operate from batteries with or without solar connected to it for backup power as it will get it from the utility. in an emergency you could setup the pvs on the device you have shown or get a used hand cart from lowes or something and build that to hold a few pvs. an alarm and even cameras can be put onto the cart to help thwart any thieves as well as odd hardware to slow them down in dismantling it. if the thieves are determined enough there's nothing you can do short of shooting them to stop them.
  • mshen11
    mshen11 Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    if a theif wants something badly enough... you are right.

    HOA will not allow cameras. but i can hide seismic sensors with the portable panels. i guess im here asking for any other ideas...

    hopefully more ideas towards "transformer"-like mounts for panels?
  • BB.
    BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,476 admin
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    Re: portable solar setup

    Most "real" alarm systems use a current loop to detect problems (aluminum tape around window, door contacts, etc.). A broken circuit means problems--can be a simple as a small relay... Current loop holds contact "open"--break anywhere cause contact to close and set off anything you want. If you already have an alarm for your home--they can probably provide a "plug" for you to connect to your movable array.

    Mounting the array... Basically, the aluminum frame on common solar panels requires a solid frame to mount to (typically, if the "panel" is "vertical", two horizontal back rails, 1/4 in from each end for the panel frame to be affixed to will be just fine).

    Your rails must be rigid and have no flex that can be transferred to the glass panels (pretty much just a fragile as an aluminum framed window).

    You can mount them on a wood frame (pressure treated lumber)--but probably would be better off with an aluminum frame. Easier to move (lighter) and would be "smaller" so that the mounts would be less visible to the HOA.

    One interesting place you may be able to install panels is as a sun shade/patio roof--some version of those may be allowable.

    You could possibly find a south wall, mount the panels flat against the wall (look like windows) and you can swing them out for sun (done on RV's)--make sure that they are fixed (latch or screws or wing nuts) so that a gust of wind cannot pick them up and drop them against the wall.

    If you have young kids--having solar panels in the "yard" next their play area--they can be easily broken. Solar panels (the good ones) are tempered glass and on little nick/hit will shatter the whole panel (the rear plastic will hold all of the glass together--like safety glass).

    Charge controller wise--you are right in the area where a good PWM or a good MPPT controller will work for you... If the panels are close together and the run back to the battery bank/charge controller is fairly short--stick with a good quality PWM controller.

    If the panels are "far away" and/or have to be spaced out (more than ~50+ feet of wire run), you might need to go up the a MPPT controller ($500+) so that you can run the array at "high voltage" (~100 volts) so you can keep the current low, and the wire gauge small for cheap/easy wire run back to the controller.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • mshen11
    mshen11 Solar Expert Posts: 185 ✭✭✭✭✭
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    Re: portable solar setup

    thanks for the really good tips...

    as for security system, my house came with ADT but i am no longer a subscriber. however i managed to reset all the codes and am making full use of the system (minus monitoring). do i need to go to a specialized alarm/ADT forum to ask how to plug into this kind of setup (i have no idea how/where to begin), or do people here know?

    based on your description of mounting the panels, a "transformer"-like panel is probably out of the question then? unless i can find some sort of locking hinges. not knowing how to weld, where would i find suitable mounts (and what kind) for kyocera 130 that can fold? my last back up resort would be building something out of wood which i probably can muddle through.

    i thought of solar awning up front... they are resisting to that idea. HOA plain simply dont want panels in view (kind of a contradiction - panels has to be in view to get sun). if i am stuck in the back, there are basically privacy screens all over - think of the resultant sun like rays shining through leaves of a big tree... mostly shaded with tiny dots of sun. if upfront, then i have full sun, no shade. i bought the outback mppt because im limited in real estate and also because i might need to run 20, 30, 50+ ft of wiring and dont have deep pockets for wiring.

    dont have enough yard space for kids to play with.

    "make sure that they are fixed (latch or screws or wing nuts) so that a gust of wind cannot pick them up and drop them against the wall."


    ooo. i didnt think about wind which sometimes we have high gusts. can you go into more details? fixed to what?
  • BB.
    BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,476 admin
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    Re: portable solar setup

    "Fixed" just means not movable by wind. (latch, bolt, etc.) to prevent the panel from blowing around in wind.

    I would look at RV mounts first and see if any of them are of use to you. There is a small Mounting FAQ here too that you can read to understand some of the issues with mounting panels.

    As you can guess, any kind of shading/dappled sunlight is going to kill the panel's output. Normally, you should try for 9am to 3pm minimum sun.

    Regarding your alarm system, unless you have the installer conifiguration codes and installation manual--you probably will not be able to add a new "zone". You could try and splice in a series loop to an existing door contact--but I cannot help you with that... Alarms are of varying complexity and I have no idea about yours.

    You could go by a "home center" or Radio Shack type place and buy a stand-alone system (buzzer and external contacts) to protect your arrays.

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