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solar panel expertise here?

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by Froley1, Dec 6, 2008.

  1. Froley1

    Froley1 New Member

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    I need alittle help if anyone here has experienced this problem..

    I purchased a chinese 4 panel 60 watt solar system off amazon. I realize it's not the world's best system but as a start, it is what i can afford. It came with 4 panels, pvc tubular frame system, invertor, battery charging regulator and 12 volt adaptors, clamps blahblahblah.
    I assembled the panels to to base of the pvc frame and mounted the 4 panels on the roof of a small garage/storage building at the back of my driveway and ran the lines into the shed. Using the 12 volt adapters that came with the kit, i hooked the panels to the supplied 110 volt invertor...the inventor works...at least the fan runs..no low power alarm sounding, i've got all the right lights....but i cannot seem to get power from the 110 plug in outlets on the invertor---can't even light up a regular table lamp with good sun (i live in new mexico good sun almost all the time).
    What am i doing wrong?
    I'm not an electrical guy so if we get into volt meters etc i'm lost. I just wanted to do what i could to generate my own power for charging my lawnmower and my segway and to do my little bit to help the world and maybe add on additional panels as i could afford it...so i am definately lost ...
    has anyone here got a system like this working and could advise what i may be doing incorrectly?
    thanks so much in advance for the help
    regards
    Froley
    my new solar panels installed on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
     
  2. KK6PD

    KK6PD _ . _ . / _ _ . _

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    Hello Froley1 how ya doing? Well first ff, you need t figure how much power the solar panels are capable of putting out. X volts at X amps. Snce the panels came with a inverter there should be some ratings on how muh power it can put out, wattage. I would be surprised if the system could put out more than 200 watts of usuable power.

    How are the panels connected to the inverter, in "Series" or "Parallel" or is it a combination of both. Make sure you have the Positive and Negative correcty wired.

    Are there any switches you have to set on the inverter for proper operation?

    I checked your Flkr page, NICE installation, very neat!

    Lastly, and I hate to bring this up, but the inverter could be bad, of course thats worst case option!!
    Can you post a link to the Mfg, or where you got them. I wuld lke to read the system specifics and installation instructions
    I installed a smaller system to top off the battery on my 4Runner. It actually works rather well!

    If I lived a little closer, I would love to stop by and help out. But with a little feedbak from you maybe we can troubleshoot over the internet!!

    73 de Pat KK6PD
     
  3. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    In general. panels of this size shouldn't be wired to the inverter directly. Your 60 watt panel, MIGHT put out ~40 watts on an ideal day. (160 watts total) The general practice is to wire the panels into the charge controller, and then charge the battery. Then wire the inverter (with the proper fusing!) to the battery.

    I suggest that you go to the following forum and do some reading:Solar Electric Discussion Forum - Powered by vBulletin

    Get your self a cheap digital volt/ohm meter, ~$25. You can test the out put of the panels individually as well as the array in total. With the panels in full sun, disconnected from the battery should read ~20vdc depending on the spec. (Assuming that these are 12 vdc (nominal) panels, and that they are wired in parallel.) Then change the scale on the meter to AC and check the output of the inverter. If you have proper voltage going in, but none coming out, I would suspect the inverter. It is possible that it gets a high voltage shut down, since the panels with no load can put out >20vdc. I it possible that you have toasted the inverter if you have wired it without the battery. If nothing else, a battery should always be in the circuit to serve as a voltage regulator.

    As a side note, you are probably running a Modified Sine Wave inverter (MSW). Be careful what you plug into this inverter. Certain electronics can be fried instantly, or quickly, with MSW inverters rather than the True Sine wave inverters that mirror grid power. Many portable tool chargers do not like MSW. I would be very cautious plugging in the Segue with out knowing. It would be one thing to burn up the lawn mower,,, but the Segue would be a bit more frustrating.


    Testing the voltage with the battery connected will reflect the charged status of the battery. Full charged battery in full sun, depending on the controller, could be as high as ~17vdc. Much depends on the size of the battery bank relative to the size of the panel array, and the state of charge.

    Tony
     
  4. Froley1

    Froley1 New Member

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    hey KK6PD
    thanks so much for the response---
    well the cool thing about this set up is that all the wiring has those male/female plug together thingees--the panels wired together that way and although the instructions are sort of chinese vague, you know, i believe that they are wired in series.
    The included inverter says 200 watts all over it---you hit the nail on the head there perfectly and is supposed to be the offical invertor for the system so to say---being ideally prepackaged was one of my reasons for purchase you know, everything was supposed to be selected to work with everything else--like i said i'm not an electric guy. I think you may be right about maybe the inverter being bad or i found a fuse on it, maybe in shipping the fuse became broken---i am somewhat focused on the inverter being the problem since everything on it is somewhat idiot proof which is the only reason i could get this far--
    thanks for the help and for your comments on the photo's. i did try to make everything as clean as i could you know?
    thanks again and i'm focusing on the inverter.
    regards
    Froley
     
  5. Froley1

    Froley1 New Member

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    thanks Tony---

    you may be right---looking at the directions i thought that since i was not going to be charging a battery bank kinda thing i could go direct to the inverter? Maybe that's my problem--the system came with a 7 amp? regulator but i thought that should be installed only if i am charging a battery bank or something---i do have one of those battery--things with 110 plugs you know the emergency power things--maybe i should wire in the regulator then go the the battery which has it's own inverter and charge stuff from there?

    Well my plan was to get something started with solar---something that i could afford and maybe build onto---add to later---but make some kind of contribution to the way i want to live smaller and cleaner. My thoughts were to use this system to do all my recharging, my newton lawnmower, my segway, my power tools and then maybe down the road way add onto it with another of the same packages blahblah and maybe get to the point where i could join the payback electric program----but a step at a time as money allows...so that was my plan for a limited system for recharging to start with.
    thanks for the help and I'll try out your recommendations
    regards
    Froley
     
  6. KK6PD

    KK6PD _ . _ . / _ _ . _

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    Hey Froley1, I did a little digging and found the website for yur system. Sunforce Products Inc. - Solar Products Solar Panels, Solar Products, Alternative energy sources, wind energy products, 12 volt products, wind turbines, lawn and garden products Your panels are capable of putting out 4 amps at 15 volts under optimum conditions. They did not have any info on the inverter. I am assuming it was the 175 watt model. They have a 1kW unit SunForce Products - 1000 Watt Pure Sine Wave Inverter . This one requires a battery to operate so I assume its going to draw more that the 4amps you are currently generating. They do not list the minimum current required to make the unit operate however. If we knew that we could figure how many extra panels you would have to purchase to make a viable system. As Icarus indicated this package would be great for topping off batterys. Sharp lad there!! I agree check out the solar site.

    You know there are no problems than cannot be overcome depending how much cash you throw at it!!

    Hopefully a couple of ideas can be gleaned from the Solar site.

    Good Luck de Pat KK6PD
     
  7. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    Forgive me if this is something you already know but FYI. Series wiring is wiring the panels together +to- like a flashlight so that each time the VOLTAGE doubles. Picture your flashlight. Each battery is 1.5 volts, put two together and you get 3 volts. Add a third, you get ~4.5vdc.

    Parallel wiring is +to+ -to-. like you are jumping your car from another. Wiring this method keeps the voltage the same, but doubles the AMPERAGE of the battery.

    It is very unlikely that your panels are wired in series, (assuming that the inverter is 12vdc, the most common voltage for a small inverter) Without looking at your panels, I know of none that have operating voltages under 12vdc.

    Solar is interesting, fun and useful, but is fraught with ready, fire, aim possibilities. Welcome to the community, but spend as much time as you can reading and learning. The above referenced site is populated by some very smart folks who have spend their lives inventing the wheel so that we don't all have to reinvent it.

    Icarus

    A few more random thoughts on a dreary Saturday afternoon!

    I like to use a rule of thumb of ~ 50% of the advertised rating of any solar array in an off grid/battery charging system. ( You can run real number, but 50% comes pretty close) This takes into account the efficiency of the panel, the wiring, the charge controller, and the charging efficiency of the battery. (Most batteries take ~120% of the watt/hours (amp/hours) to charge for any given discharge amount).

    So in your case, with your 240 watt system, you should, given ideal conditions, 120 watts of power. Now none of this means anything unless you figure in a time factor. (Both for the charging and for the loads) So let's assume 4 hours of ideal sun/day, leave you 480 watt/hours of power available to use. Your real world experience will tell you whether this is reasonable of not. Tilt angle, latitude, length of solar day etc all have an effect on performance. (One issue not often well understood is the effect of even tiny shadows on an array. Even a small shadow, say from a utility wire, falling on a panel can drop the output of that panel to near zero. If the panels are wired in series, the effect is to drop the output to near zero in ALL the panels in that series).

    It is also very important to understand the relationship with the battery (ies) in any system. The myth that "deep cycle" batteries can be drawn down to near zero state of charge (soc)is just that, a myth. In the real world, drawing batteries down to even 50% is shortening their lives considerably. Experts recommend that batteries be drawn (routinely) down no more than 20% (80% soc) I suggest the following links:http://www.rpc.com.au/products/batteries/car-deepcycle/carfaq4.htm#charge http://www.rpc.com.au/products/batteries/car-deepcycle/carfaq4.htm#charge http://www.batteryfaq.org/

    I guess that is enough to chew on for an hour or so!
     
  8. andyprius

    andyprius Senior Member

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    I can only add to the suggestion, get a multimeter, a medium price comes with instructions and all types of basic info in search. You have done a nice job mounting. Think of it as your initial education to basic electricity and solar panels. You can only go up from here. One caution nobody mentioned, read and heed all warnings. Good Luck!
     
  9. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    I can't agree more. Also read up enough to know what is dangerous and how. Panel and battery voltages are (generally) not dangerous for shock, but very dangerous for fire. Higher +50 volts at higher amperages can be deadly! Learn enough so that you can put your probes on a contact without getting zapped.

    Learn enough so that you understand enough to know about wire sizes/amperage/capacity/fuses etc. You don't have to become an expert, but learn enough to be safe.

    It may not seem like much but for example. 500 watts of load draws 4.1 amps at 120 vac (household voltage), but if you are are drawing that out of a 12 volt battery it will draw ~41 amps at 12 volts. If you have sized the wire for the 120 volt amperage, say #16 gauge wire, you could burn it up drawing the same load at 12 volts through the same wire.

    Point being here, most people are aware of the dangers of household electrical voltages, (120/240) for shock, but fewer are aware of the danger of batteries for fire! A 12 volt car battery for example has a HUGE capacity to heat up something to the point of fire real easy. A decent size car battery of say 100ah has the (rough total) capacity of 1200 watt/hours. Think of what you could burn with an uncontrolled toaster for 1 hour! ( Said car battery wouldn't run a toaster for an hour, but you get the point!)

    Another thing to be very careful with with large battery banks is shorting between the terminals with tools. I nearly blinded myself by dropping a wrench across the poles of a car battery,,,and it exploded! Not so rare an event.

    My large off grid batter bank is very carefully fused, vented and protected from inadvertent shorts. I always wear protective glasses when ever I am working around it. (I lie,,I should wear glasses, but don't always!)

    Good luck,

    Icarus
     
  10. jimnjo

    jimnjo Member

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    There are basically three options: Grid-tie without batteries (requiring a really fancy and properly designed inverter), grid tie with batteries (requiring the same inverter, but having battery backup in case of power failure) and stand-alone with batteries. There must be a battery(s) in the simple system you describe. Golf cart are generally considered minimum (I have been using GC batteries for 20 years, though not the same ones...)
     
  11. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    For pure efficiency, both for KWH production as well as cost per KWH, grid tie is far an away the cheapest. An off grid system (battery bank) is the next, at about 2 times the kwh cost of grid tie, and a hybrid system is the most expensive because of the need both for a grid tie inverter, but a battery bank as well.

    Contrary to myth, the gird is a very cheap source of power, AND , it is a very huge, efficient "battery" in which to dump our excess generating capacity, even if we have to buy it back at night.

    If your goal is to be as "green" as possible, build a grid tie system. If you are looking for self sufficiency, consider a battery or hybrid system. If you are looking for short term emergency power along with being "green", buy a generator. It will be way cheaper than trying to build a hybrid system.

    As suggested above,, do the math, do the homework.

    Icarus
     
  12. Froley1

    Froley1 New Member

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    Ok
    I'm on it ( as Hudson would say)--i've disconnected everything until i get a better understanding of the situtation and what i need to do---and a meter---i appreciate all the information i received here and thanks Icarus for mentioning safety i unfortunately thought that the method of production was well safer than regular electricity---a real Homer Simpson sitituation in the making eh?...not blaming the manufacturer at all but this system was billed as sort of a plug and play item---i should have realized that there is always more to anything than what meets the eye---i'm gonna take a week to study up and redesign
    thanks so much to everyone for the expertise and the willingness to share....
    regards
    Froley
     
  13. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    You hit the point,,,, there is no such thing as "regular electricity" just electricity. All electricity CAN be dangerous with the right combination of volts and amps. It can shock you on the one hand, and burn you out on the other. Having said that, just as we live with grid power without giving it another thought, as long as on can learn a bit about the dangers and how to mitigate them,,,, it's a piece of cake.

    Icarus
     
  14. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    Having spent around two decades in industrial facilities, I fear DC systems more than AC systems. Arc flash from high voltage AC systems is one thing, but a DC Motor Control Center can turn into spectacular fireworks if things go wrong

    I really don't see how this "plug and pray" solar system can work without a battery(s) for the inverter. If you have a 12 vdc battery just sitting around, charge it up, and hook it up to the inverter. If it works, well, then as Icarus suggested, hook the panel charge controller to the battery, and the battery to the inverter
     
  15. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    With MSW or square wave, never, ever try to run a polyphase motor off it. The motor windings will rapidly overheat and you will destroy the motor

    For example, Canadian Tire advertises a *very* cheap UPS. In the advertising, they suggest you can run a sump pump or freezer off it. You read the label on the UPS, it claims square wave output

    Yeah, right, try to run a freezer for an hour or so. Should be good for a few laughs, once the smoke clears
     
  16. hill

    hill High Fiber Member

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    Isn't there even one more integral part left out? If grid-tied, it has to have an auto disconect, so that the high voltage converted solar power doesn't feed back onto to grid (if grid power goes off) possibly risking the life of some lineman working down line?
     
  17. icarus

    icarus Senior Member

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    Any legal grid tie inverter, in order to pass UL/CE and utility standards, has to have on board a system that recognizes the grid. If your PV is generating electricity, it feeds it to the inverter. The inverter syncs the PV power with the grid power and then "sells" it to the grid. If the inverter can't "see" the grid, it can't sync, and it shuts down, in matter of miliseconds.

    PV inverters are very good at what they do, and in keeping everyone safe. The danger to linemen comes from improperly installed generators. It is hard to think that my little 1500 watt generator can kill a linemen miles away, but for those that don't know, here is how. (and it does happen!)

    A generator wired into house wiring without a proper transfer switch that in essence shuts the house off the grid even if the grid is off, will send power up the line to the transformer on the pole. The transformer then works IN REVERSE and takes that 120/240 vac and transforms it into many THOUSANDS OF VOLTS on the mains. Any lineman working on the line, that he thinks is dead, because it is dead on HIS END, is then subjected to this very high voltage at a significant amperage to KILL HIM NOW!

    The reality is that usually your generator will stall as it tries to run all the houses on that leg of the wire, but in the event that the failure of the grid is localized, your generator might power the load, and present the danger to the linemen.

    Don't ever,,,ever, ever! wire a generator to a grid service unless you use a proper transfer switch. By rights you should get a electrical permit and an inspection to preserve your insurance. A transfer switch is cheap depending on configuration. A whole house switch might run~ $1000 installed. A 6 circuit switch maybe $300?? If you can afford the generator, you can afford the transfer switch.

    One other thing that people do every year around here is kill themselves with C0 gas by running gennies in basements, garages, or even in the house!



    Icarus
     
  18. bedrock8x

    bedrock8x Senior Member

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    Looks like you bought the 15Wx4 panel for 60W total output system.

    Is it like the one in the link below:

    Costco - Sunforce 60 Watt Solar Back Up Power Kit with 1.8 Watt Solar Battery Maintainer

    The power output of this system will likely be much less than the rated 60W.

    This system also requires a battery for energy storage because it will not have enough power to run the 117W inverter.





     
  19. jayman

    jayman Senior Member

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    Not only that, if you don't use a proper transfer switch, assuming you don't kill any electrical workers, once power is restored, you potentially have 200-20,000 amps of current instantly available to your generator.

    A lot of folks will do a weird backfeed through their electrical panel, eg run an extension cord from their generator to the dryer outlet, plug it in, and power their entire house. That's only safe if they flip off the main breaker to isolate the panel from the utility

    In that highly dangerous situation, they forget to flip off the main breaker, power is restored, and the dryer breaker and main breaker have a fault rating of 20,000 amps. There will be weird harmonics and interaction between the utility power and the generator

    The end result is spectacular fireworks and possible a house fire, not to mention the utility transformer in flames.

    Your point on CO is a very important safety concern. In bitter cold winter, a lot of folks try to run generators in the attached garage so it won't freeze up. This is an absolutely deadly practice

    Also, never ever ground a generator separately from the home ground. The generator frame must be bonded to the building ground system
     
  20. Froley1

    Froley1 New Member

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    You got it--or one almost identical--although i bought mine at amazon and there was no battery shown---bu this is on the money---i'm sure the lack of battery in the system is the problem and i'm hoping to work on it this weekend alittle---thanks to all the coments however i'm taking it alittle slower and smarter--
    thanks so much
    Froley