Product Review - MidNite Solar E-Panel

crewzercrewzer Registered Users, Solar Expert Posts: 1,832 ✭✭✭✭
This review was originally written in December, 2006. I had intended for it to be published in a popular renewable energy publication, but my submission was declined. It will hopefully be of some use here.

Regards,
Jim / crewzer


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I decided several months ago that I wanted to increase my solar energy system’s efficiency and power capability. In short, improving efficiency of both my MX60 controller and an inverter meant changing from a 12 V battery system to at least a 24 V system. Improving power capability meant a larger inverter. Combining the two requirements lead me to procure an OutBack FX2524T sine wave inverter (2500 VA, 24 VDC in) and to rewire my battery bank from 12 V x 800 Ah to 24 V x 400 Ah.

The FX2524T is not only a 2500 VA inverter, but it also includes a 24 V x 55 A multi-stage battery charger and has the external “Turbo” cooling fan. That makes for a big package, one that is much, MUCH larger than the 600 W Exeltech inverter. Allowing for a (hopefully) NEC-compliant installation, the combination of the inverter and the required AC and DC disconnects presented a space problem in my garage corner “lab”.

My old Exeltech sine wave inverter was a high-quality product. I used it for several years to power my home AV system along with an attic fan in the summer or the fan in my wood burning stove’s air-to-air heat exchanger in the winter, always without incident. I hope its new owner is equally happy with it. The AGM batteries, BTW, are all doing very well. As they approach their first “birthday” each tested recently at 12.9 V after resting for ~34 hours. Cool!

I was vaguely aware of Midnite Solar’s new “E-Panel”, so I decided to give it a closer look. When I understood that the AC breakers for the inverter, the DC breakers for the MX60 controller, the BIG DC battery breaker (175 A for my model), a battery monitor shunt and other odds-and-ends would all fit inside the E-Panel, and that the Outback inverter would attach to its front “door”, I decided to give it try.

I ordered a 175 A gray steel Outback version E-Panel and several additional breakers I needed from a variety of sources. In general, the assembly and final installation went as advertised. It’s unusual to combine AC and DC wiring in the same cabinet, but it’s apparently OK with the ETL listing agency as 600V rated wire is used. The E-Panel is delivered with its basic AC wiring pre-wired, so that part would be hard to mess up.

My system ended up including the standard equipment AC breakers, an extra AC breaker for a GCFI duplex outlet, five DC breakers for the PV array, controller and DC ground fault system; the big 175 A DC battery breaker, AC and DC lightning arrestors (mounted on top, wired to the inside), a shunt for my Link-10 battery monitor, and connections to the PV array, the MX60 controller, the battery box, the battery monitor, and to the Hub. I ran conduit to a small external AC sub-panel, but I saved the external AC wiring as a project for another day.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about bolting the heavy FX inverter (56 lbs.) to the front panel and then lifting that subassembly into place by inserting the four “Tab A’s” into the “Slot B’s”, all of which serves as a hinge mechanism. I did a test fit with the bare front panel before attempting it with the inverter attached. Happily, with the inverter attached, the front panel hooked onto the cabinet without any trouble, and it looked and felt secure! This unconventional arrangement allows for final AC-, DC- and data connection between the cabinet and the inverter before the front panel is closed and secured with the supplied hardware.

I’ve opened and closed the front panel several times since the initial install, and I haven’t seen any problems caused by the flexing wires. In fact, the integrated unit has worked flawlessly since it was first fired up about three months ago. And, yes, it can indeed handle larger loads. We’ve successfully used the upgraded system to run the washing machine several times, and we use the system to occasionally power our big ol’ extra fridge that’s 13 years old.

The E-Panel is very well thought out and equipped. For example, the kit includes heavy 2/0 X-Flex® cables to run between the inverter and the supplied shunt and battery breaker. The 175 A breaker is a single-pole Carlingswitch F-series model with a 50,000 A interrupt rating.

There are, however, a few assembly steps that require a bit of extra attention. For example, the instructions suggest using a stainless steel screw from the supplied hardware kit to tap the front panel mounting holes for the inverter. Since stainless steel is bit soft, I decided to use a different screw for each hole, and I applied a small drop of 3-in-1 oil as cutting fluid to each screw before insertion. Similarly, I used my own hand tap to cut the threads in the shunt’s recessed back panel mounting holes.

I also elected to not mount my MX60 to the side of the E-Panel cabinet using the supplied bracket and hardware. To do so would block the MX’ right side cooling vents, and there’s just been too much forum chatter about “excessive” cooling fan noise from the MX60.

In summary, I like the E-Panel. Robin Gudgel of MidNite Solar has a lot of experience in this business, has he’s clearly put a lot of thought into the E-Panel’s design and extensive kit list. I think it’s a space efficient-, operationally sound- and cost effective solution for small system integration, installation and operation. Variations for other battery breaker ratings, a left-handed hinge, Magnum inverters and “universal” applications are available.

More info on the E-Panel, including installation instructions and a suggested wiring diagram, is available at www.midnitesolar.com. The E-Panel is available for sale from NAWS, The Solar Biz, and other others. I have no financial interests in any of the companies mentioned.

Comments

  • System2System2 Posts: 6,290 admin
    Re: Product Review - MidNite Solar E-Panel

    sounds cool Jim thanks. I too had an article from a popular re mag turned down last year, as it was deemed too technical for the general audience (pc's and conservation, an extreme approach such as my website - this is probably true- not too much general interest). anyhow its great that we can come here for a variety of experiences that run the gamut of technical. some popular RE mags are pretty repetitive after a while, so its really nice to find some specfic product details as found here!
  • halfcrazyhalfcrazy Solar Expert Posts: 720 ✭✭✭
    Re: Product Review - MidNite Solar E-Panel

    We have used several of the epanels i really enjoy them as i can do everything here in the shop and power it up and programm it so when i get to the jobsite it is as simple as screwing it to the wall and doing the rest of the install. Really enjoy Robins work and the Classic is going to be very COOL there is a lot of cool stuff they are doing with it and it will be capable of doing some great stuff but it is still clasified :-D
  • Robin GudgelRobin Gudgel Registered Users, Solar Expert Posts: 58 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Product Review - MidNite Solar E-Panel

    Crewzer and Half Crazy. Thanks for the kudos. Bob and I will try to keep the cool stuff coming. The Classic and MidNite Clipper should end up being one of those industry break through products, much like boB's last controller. The MX60 was and is a very good product, but technology marches on and so have we. Stay tuned!
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