learning to troubleshoot broken parts

I have been a lurker on this forum for a little while now, but I have never had the resources to build my own system. You guys have impressed me with your knowledge and practicality and I have seen you help a lot of people with solar questions, so I was hoping that now you could help me.

I am a mechanical engineer with some experience in electronics. I spent a few months at avocational school in Missouri where I disassembled and reassembled an off grid 900W system using all Outback components, so I have some experience with putting systems together.

I am going to Papua New Guinea soon to provide general technical support to Missionaries and Nationals in the north coastal regions. I will be flying into villages and doing everything from water purification to waste treatment to tractor repair to building houses and installing solar systems. Most people in that region who have power of any kind have small off grid solar systems, and most people in that region can't easily afford replacement equipment when things break.

It is almost inevitable that I will be asked to repair broken inverters and charge controllers for people who cannot afford replacements, but I do not have a lot of experience with this sort of thing. A friend of mine who is an electrical engineer, and highly experienced in the renewable energy field (all be it wind turbines), has graciously offered to spend time teaching me how to troubleshoot this type of equipment.

I think he will be able to teach me much more quickly if we have broken equipment to practice on, but I have no idea where I would get broken solar equipment to troubleshoot.

If anyone has any broken equipment that they would be willing to part with, or if anyone knows of a good source for this sort of thing, I would really appreciate any help you can offer. Equipment damaged by lightning or power surges would be particularly good because there are lightning storms in that region almost every night of the year.

I realize that some people are strongly supportive of what I am doing, and some people are strongly critical. I welcome comments of ether sort, but the purpose of this thread is to discuss damaged solar equipment, repair, and troubleshooting, so please be courteous and try to stay on topic.

Thank you.


  • mike95490
    mike95490 Solar Expert Posts: 9,583 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: learning to troubleshoot broken parts

    Look for used / broken gear on ebay.

    Try to get schematics for many types before you depart.

    Try to get an understanding for Buck/Boost circuits. (charge controllers)

    Having spare parts (FET's and fuses) woudl be good, but there is no standard

    Good Luck
    Powerfab top of pole PV mount | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
    || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
    || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

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  • niel
    niel Solar Expert Posts: 10,300 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: learning to troubleshoot broken parts

    this would be great for your experience if you find enough broken stuff and even some that you manage to get working could be used there. some stuff would not be very fixable as for example morningstar likes to epoxy everything. that is how they keep out the weather, dirt, and bugs.
    i'm sure there is some bz junk out there too, but i'm not sure if you'd do much good with one of those unless reworked altogether as they don't work when they work.:roll:
  • BB.
    BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 33,476 admin
    Re: learning to troubleshoot broken parts

    Your major debugging will probably be mostly limited to finding broken wiring, blown fuses, and perhaps reparable panels. Much of the electronics will be random units (I would guess) and it would be difficult to bring spares and try to repair them.

    If you could figure out what the "average system" was--and then bring inexpensive charge controllers, inverters, batteries, etc. and get them running that way....:confused:

    Perhaps some literature in the local languages + pictures on how to take care of systems (keep panels clean, don't break glass, keep bugs and water out of electronics, using filtered rain water to refill batteries, etc.... Perhaps some simple tools (cheap digital voltmeter) to help keep batteries properly charged.

    Do you have any information from previous trips on what they found would be useful (parts, components, training, tools, etc.)?

    It is very nice of the E.E. to help train you on repair. I hope that you find it useful in the field.

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