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DIY Starter Solar System

 
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I'm looking to get my first solar powered off-grid system finalized. I've looked at various online sources, particularly solar power forums, but a couple things are rubbing me wrong. First it seems everything is presented randomly and it is far too complex of a situation to absorb everything that way. Second things are personality driven and involve assumptions contrary to my goals. I'm approaching solar as an off-grid situation to promote adoption of appropriate technology. These sites seem to stress economic security, to favor protection of an energy indulgent lifestyle over genuine efficiency. I recognize that same dichotomy exists here also so just sayin my focus is on precision and I'm willing to greet excess and scarcity on equal terms.

I'm doing a smallish system to get me through fair weather at the least. If I can tweak it to get through next winter, great, if not I'm prepared to start from scratch and consider this a separate, secondary system. Although I am shooting medium-small, I'd like to avoid junk materials and make sure everything is of reliable quality. The trick seems to be that some components can be oversized to work efficiently with a given size of other components. So again it comes down to precision over pure excess.

I'm going 12V here. It has a strong existing base of development and is compatible with vehicular equipment I already possess. If it proves inefficient for ongoing demands, I'd build a second 48V system.

I found a local source of panels. The first one was 280W. I stored it leaning against a tree waiting to figure out the rest of the system and we got hit with some December tornadoes. It blew over and a tree stump worked like the face of a sledgehammer on it. The glass is now thousands of little pieces held in place by the frame. I'm told it will still work with reduced efficiency. I bought a second panel that is 290W. They are close but slightly varied in their other specs, ~40V open, 32V rated, 9A rated.

I decided to go with FLA batteries as the proven technology given the cold climate and less investment in case I screw up. I have 2 Interstate golf cart batteries at 6V with 225Ah. Expectations are to charge phones, laptops, cordless tool batteries, a few lights, and a DC fridge. I would work up to AC devices like bigger tools, PCs, lights when capacity allows, but not needed.

I have an EPEver 30A solar charger, the nicer one with a wired remote. Also there is a 1000W Renology inverter on the way. I think I worked out the numbers so that these will all work together without loss of efficiency (though the inverter might be a tad oversized). But here is where it gets fuzzy for me.

I got a 12 circuit, ST blade fuse block for hooking up DC appliances, just don't know how to spec the appliances. I got a Tocas 40A surface mount circuit breakers and some 40A fuses. I think somewhere I'm supposed to have a 150W fuse but haven't straightened out different current flow divisions yet.

To get this all hooked up I need to buy wires and prep them. I'd buy premade ones but can't find it anywhere local that has something like that. I'd rather buy the wire at Home Depot and learn to crimp myself than source from Amazon for this. I'm currently decyphering all of the wiring demands, so mostly looking for clarification on that. Seems I need:

To connect batteries in series.
To connect batteries to charger.
To connect panels to charger.
To connect batteries to inverter. I've heard the inverter usually comes with something but they are aluminium so discard and use copper.
To fit the fuse block and circuit breaker into the mix.

For fair weather (moderate dips below freezing), will the batteries be okay anywhere away from precipitation? The solar charger has a temperature sensor included. Right now I should be able to have everything sheltered within 10 ft of the solar panels. If I need to keep the batteries warm and isolated from habitated space, they would need 30ft of wiring. There might be a location to run power to around 40-50 ft away, but not a big demand.

I'll keep pouring over forum posts and videos, but any tips on wire gauge and certification at this point would lift a bit of burden. If it turns out I won't be able to source the best materials locally and need to order them online, the sooner I know that the better...
 
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unless you plan to become a solar installer i would try your best to use components which are plug and play. Unless you know someone who you can make wire connectors with.
I used a normal crimper for 10AWG wire. I cut the battery terminal wire insulation with my pocket knife and than used my solar friend's battery crimper( looks like tree branch pruners) to crimp on 4awg wire. If you can find solar panel wiring which will come with MC4 connectors already installed especially if you are only going to have a short run of wires. It will make your life easier. Most wire rated for marine use is of good quality.



I am pretty sure you can find a table which lists what gauge wire can hold what amps. The length of wire will also effect what size wire you can use.  10 foot run might require 00AWG wire whereas a 4 foot run might require 2AWG, for example.

in all honesty I believe you will need a bigger battery bank and solar array to have a refrigerator, with an appropriate fuse.

The fuse part was confusing for me as well, it was also the part I got the least amount of guidance on.
 
Coydon Wallham
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The fridges I've been looking at (new DC ones for camping/RVs) use between 50-80W. I won't be accessing it very much so guessing it only would need to run a small part of the day. I'd keep it in a root cellar unless there is a complication I'm not aware of yet. There would also be a happy feedback loop in that hotter weather requiring more cooling power will very likely be accompanied by maximum solar inputs.

I was reading at diysolarforums about the cheapest camp refrigerator method, a regular little dorm fridge running through an inverter. Even though this sucks much more energy, it sounded like a lot less than I thought. I'm definitely not doing a full size side door monolith fridge to keep my salad dressing collection organized for review.

But this brings up one of my main follow up questions about tweaking the system- if I do want to upsize the battery bank and add a couple more of those golf cart batteries to bring up the Ah to 450, how complicated is it to connect them in parallel? Could both pairs be 'balanced' keep the older ones from dragging down the newer ones? If I wanted one or more LFPs on the same system, are there solar charges that handle varied batteries? Could 2 chargers be connected through a bus to use the same panels and feed the same local grid of appliances?
 
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There is a simple formula to determine the optimal charging rate for a particular size of battery.  I'll mention this first, because the number 1 cause of solar system failures is inadequate battery charging.  Typically you strive for something along these lines, based on the amphour capacity of your battery.  You then multiply the amps by charging voltage to get how many watts you need.  I always include a "fudgefactor" or (FF) to compensate for panels putting out less then their rated output.  I usually use 85% (reciprical is 1.175X) for my FF.

5%C, or 0.05C: bare minimum, might take two days to get a full charge: less than this and you will have ruined batteries
10%C, or 0.1C: good charging rate, will charge on most days, though maybe not in winter
13%, or 0.125C: best for lead-acid batteries, will fully charge almost each and every day
25%, or0.25C: for Li batteries.  Too high for lead-acid batteries

Let's say you have a 12V string of 225Ah batteries that will charge at 13V.  What you need is....

225Ah X 0.125C X 13V X 1.175FF = 429W of panels.  So, your 290W is a bit less than optimal.  To see what you are actually getting, you just rearrange the formula....

{(290W/13V) X 85%}/225Ah  = 0.084C, or about 8%.  That's somewhere about halfway between minimum and good.

Two of those panels would be better, but the problem is that you bought a 30A controller.  This is an example of buying stuff before really knowing what you need.  What you could do though to make it work is orient the two panels in slightly different directions, one facing SE and the other facing SW.  This will tend to dampen your noon-time maximum, but broaden the charging curve over more hours of the day.  I've been doing this for years now to good effect.  My own 48V system would max out at 3600W, but I installed 4500W.  Some are exactly as I described, pointed SE or SW.  It works very well.  It's important that all the solar strings be at the same voltage.  It's OK to mix and match different panels, as long as your panel strings come out within 5% of each other.
 
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Coydon Wallham wrote:
But this brings up one of my main follow up questions about tweaking the system- if I do want to upsize the battery bank and add a couple more of those golf cart batteries to bring up the Ah to 450, how complicated is it to connect them in parallel? Could both pairs be 'balanced' keep the older ones from dragging down the newer ones? If I wanted one or more LFPs on the same system, are there solar charges that handle varied batteries? Could 2 chargers be connected through a bus to use the same panels and feed the same local grid of appliances?



At this point you really can't do that because of the choices you've already made.  What you're planning to put together is already less than optimal, and doubling battery capacity will just make it worse.  You really should have been asking these questions before you started buying stuff.

So, first question, can you send back the 30A controller, or possibly sell it to someone else?  That is the first hurdle you need to cross.  Using the same formula as above, the number of watts appropriate for paralleled batteries would be....

450Ah X 0.125C X 13Vcharging X 1.175FF = 859W  Just call it 860.  If you could get two more of those 290W panels, then three would be perfect.

At 12V, that works out to be ~56A of charging current, more or less double what you current controller can handle.  So, what you could do is upgrade up to Epever's 60A controller, or alternatively forget about 12V completely, and move up to a 24V system.  At a 26V charging voltage, the amps is cut in half, to just 28A of charging current.  If you got the Tracer 6420AN, you could safely wire all three panels in series and position them a good distance away from the rest of the system in the best light you can find.

As a general rule of thumb, don't mix batteries that are aged more than a year apart.  Any batteries that are going to be paired together should be first fully charged/equalized, then mounted in pairs.

On a final note, I gave up 12V years ago, and run 24 and 48V systems now, and I couldn't be happier!
 
Coydon Wallham
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Michael Qulek wrote:There is a simple formula to determine the optimal charging rate for a particular size of battery.  I'll mention this first, because the number 1 cause of solar system failures is inadequate battery charging.  Typically you strive for something along these lines, based on the amphour capacity of your battery.  You then multiply the amps by charging voltage to get how many watts you need.  I always include a "fudgefactor" or (FF) to compensate for panels putting out less then their rated output.  I usually use 85% (reciprical is 1.175X) for my FF.

5%C, or 0.05C: bare minimum, might take two days to get a full charge: less than this and you will have ruined batteries
10%C, or 0.1C: good charging rate, will charge on most days, though maybe not in winter
13%, or 0.125C: best for lead-acid batteries, will fully charge almost each and every day
25%, or0.25C: for Li batteries.  Too high for lead-acid batteries

Let's say you have a 12V string of 225Ah batteries that will charge at 13V.  What you need is....

225Ah X 0.125C X 13V X 1.175FF = 429W of panels.  So, your 290W is a bit less than optimal.  To see what you are actually getting, you just rearrange the formula....

{(290W/13V) X 85%}/225Ah  = 0.084C, or about 8%.  That's somewhere about halfway between minimum and good.

Two of those panels would be better, but the problem is that you bought a 30A controller.  This is an example of buying stuff before really knowing what you need.  What you could do though to make it work is orient the two panels in slightly different directions, one facing SE and the other facing SW.  This will tend to dampen your noon-time maximum, but broaden the charging curve over more hours of the day.  I've been doing this for years now to good effect.  My own 48V system would max out at 3600W, but I installed 4500W.  Some are exactly as I described, pointed SE or SW.  It works very well.  It's important that all the solar strings be at the same voltage.  It's OK to mix and match different panels, as long as your panel strings come out within 5% of each other.


Not sure what is going on, the forum didn't send me notifications for your posts.

I chose this equipment by following formulas for recommended sizing at solarpaneltalk.com, along with watching the beginner videos at diysolarforum.com. The sunking guy rants pretty continually so maybe not someone I should have trusted, but it is the main sticky thread on the topic there. He says the minimum charge rate should be C/12 which would be 225ah/12h=18.25a. That would mean a 225W panel minimum. He fails to mention optimal charge rate there, I thought 290 would be good being well over, plus the broken panel would probably give me another 100 I'm guestimating, so just around 400W in paneling.

He doesn't mention controller size specifically in there. Somewhere else I got the idea that 30a was solid, 40a was overdoing it, but that stuff is pretty poorly organized there. The number I was looking at was 12v system pushing 30a = 360w, comfortably more than the 290w max of my single panel. If adding the second panel takes it over 360, I thought the charger would simply push 360 and that is the point of over paneling. Or from another perspective, if the panels are producing 360w, won't this charger be delivering 30a to the batteries? Isn't that a healthy charge rate? If the usable part of the batteries is a little over 100ah, wouldn't that mean I'd need a max of 4 hours of full sun to recover from full(safe) depletion? From your numbers, it sounds like I'm calculating apples to oranges somewhere...
 
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It usually isn't good to run devices at 100% capacity for long and some(most inexpensive) devices don't have safeties to protect themselves
 
Michael Qulek
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Another poster there "Mike90250" is a reliable source of quality information.  You might also go over to Northern Arizona Wind and Sun at https://forum.solar-electric.com/

Again, you need to alter the expectations of your pen and paper calculations.  Remember, a 12V battery does not charge at 12V.  Normal charging starts at ~13V, and reaches a max of around 14.4-14.8V.  You also need to apply a derating for real-world production.  So, your statement above about a 360W panel putting out 30A is actually at best (360W/13V) X85% = 23.5A.

This is an ongoing problem in the solar world, where people depend on pen and paper calculations to solve their problems, only to find it isn't working as expected. You might see other people using other derating numbers.  I believe "Mike90250" uses 77%.  I came up with my derating numbers based on empirical measurements of the panels that I own.  It may be that others find other derators based on their own brand purchases.

Jeff is making an important point about not running your equipment continuously at the ragged upper edge of what it is designed for.  Keep in mind also that the 3210AN and 4210AN controllers are their budget, economy models, with the lowest amp and lowest voltage capacities.  You get what you pay for!  I'd seriously recommend looking at their Tracer 6415AN or 6420AN models.  Besides doubling the amperage, the voltage can also be doubled, allowing far more flexibility in panel wiring strategies, and array placement.  For example, with the TracerXX20AN, you could wire four of those panels in series, and place the array hundreds of feet away from the controller in the sunniest location you have.  There will be less voltage drop, and hence less power loss, even with rather thin 10 gauge wire.  
 
Coydon Wallham
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Michael Qulek wrote:There is a simple formula to determine the optimal charging rate for a particular size of battery.  I'll mention this first, because the number 1 cause of solar system failures is inadequate battery charging.  Typically you strive for something along these lines, based on the amphour capacity of your battery.  You then multiply the amps by charging voltage to get how many watts you need.  I always include a "fudgefactor" or (FF) to compensate for panels putting out less then their rated output.  I usually use 85% (reciprical is 1.175X) for my FF.

5%C, or 0.05C: bare minimum, might take two days to get a full charge: less than this and you will have ruined batteries
10%C, or 0.1C: good charging rate, will charge on most days, though maybe not in winter
13%, or 0.125C: best for lead-acid batteries, will fully charge almost each and every day
25%, or0.25C: for Li batteries.  Too high for lead-acid batteries

Let's say you have a 12V string of 225Ah batteries that will charge at 13V.  What you need is....

225Ah X 0.125C X 13V X 1.175FF = 429W of panels.  So, your 290W is a bit less than optimal.  To see what you are actually getting, you just rearrange the formula....

{(290W/13V) X 85%}/225Ah  = 0.084C, or about 8%.  That's somewhere about halfway between minimum and good.


Okay, think I found out where the numbers seemed to be conflicting. My 225Ah batteries are FLAs, so only 50% usable capacity or 112Ah. Shouldn't that be the figure used for charging since I don't want to drop below 50%? The max I should need is 112Ah on a given day to reach full capacity, 215W of panels should be enough, meaning a single 290W one has a good chance of producing that and it would stay below 30A?

Besides the solarpaneltalk.com forums, I based most of my stuff off of Will Prowse and DIYsolar.com. I ended up buying his mobile solar power ebook to have a reference since I wasn't seeing all the formulas tied together into a cohesive picture. Going by those numbers my equipment seems pretty solid in the expected ranges accounting for fudge factors and stuff, I'd appreciate having it pointed out if I'm misreading something.

He has the minimum array size for a battery as the bank size in watt hours / 6. My usable capacity is 112Ah X 13W = 1456Wh / 6 = 243W. Higher than the 215 above, but I think that had the 85%ff. So 290 sounds like a comfortable bank size. In winter I'd hook up the extra panel with the broken glass to produce more watts given the likely cloudier conditions.

I actually have the Tracer 3215AN charger. I'm still figuring out what kind of protections I need. If I hook up that second panel as a wild card that might produce as much as an extra 280W and bump the amps over 30 (though expecting less with the broken glass), do I need internal protections for the charger? Will the proper fuse on the connecting wire take care of this?

For charge controller size, he recommends: solar panel array wattage / battery bank voltage = minimum size controller amp rating. My default would be 290W / 12V = 24.17A. So going with the basic array, 30A is comfortably enough. Going the other way, 12V x 30A = 360W. If it is an extra sunny day and my broken panel produces more than 70W in addition to the main 290W one, it could overload the charger. I would be safe with the basic array, though a cloudy day and heavy battery usage could undercharge and lightly damage the battery bank. If I hook up the extra panel to compensate for overcast weather, I could overload the charger and need some sort of protection.

Am I reading this right?
 
Coydon Wallham
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Thoughts on the best inverter for this set up? I bought a Renology 1000W inverter thinking it was good to oversize. Now I am reading how much the larger inverters consume in standby power and thinking a 800/750 or even 600W would be better. The foreseeable regular uses would be charging phones, laptops, and Lithium batteries for my power tools if I can't convert the chargers to DC, a full on desktop and monitor (though the laptops would take care of 'necessities' and this would be occasional GIS work), and a Starlink router. I'm not sure how the router would do with being turned on and off frequently, so that is my main concern with standby consumption. I think the PC power supply is 400W, the others I imagine are negligible. I also have plug in power tools, but am finding that my newer 18V Ryobi cordless tools are at least as powerful. Lights and fridge will all be DC. The only other probable use I can think of would be chargers for my pickup and motorcycle batteries when they need topping off a few times a year.

Also, the Renology only has one outlet on it. I'm seeing a Go-Wise inverter for 2/3 the price of that Renology that has 2 regular outlets plus 2 USB charge ports. The Go-Wise is recommended by Will and comes in 600 or 1000W versions with the same connectors on both. Their 1000 is for some reason $10 less than the 600. All three include a wired remote activation switch which is something I'm looking for (no bluetooth/wireless added complexity).
 
Coydon Wallham
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Another concern right now is the wiring. I've looked at every local shop I can think of and all I can find is the actual wires- few places have crimp lugs larger than 10AWG and none have anything for 4 or 2AWG. Many sell Klein crimp tools, but they don't say on the package what size they are for- from the looks I don't think the biggest will do larger than 10AWG. I bought a hammer crimper that is supposed to go to 0000AWG, but it is temporarily lost in my pile of stuff in the temporary storage shed, hopefully I can dig it up today. If I buy wire lugs online, are there key points to watch for that determine quality? Is tinned copper the best? What makes for a good selection if I buy an assortment kit? Do I need a special tool to cut thick wire cleanly, or will my bolt cutters do if it is too big for my regular wire cutters?
 
Michael Qulek
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I used a dremel tool to cut my wire very cleanly.  I never bothered purchasing lugs.  I just made my own out of copper pipe/tubing.  It works.
 
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With your Ryobi tools, you will benefit from purchasing the 12V auto charger. I have one at our cabin, and it works great. But when the mice use it for a latrine….  It cleaned and worked fine.  With the Ryobi batteries, you can use their hybrid fans with the undersized kit batteries in the heat of the summer.

The solar system I built started small so I could understand what it could do. 1 100 W panel from Home Depot and a 12V deep cycle marine FLA battery. I ordered the SC 2030 charge controller from Bogart Engineering http://www.bogartengineering.com/products/solar-charger-controller.html. What with one thing and another (like not having the cabin walls insulated yet) the charger stayed in its box while I just hooked the panel direct to the battery using terminal clamps from the local farm and barn. Attached a 12V camping light from Goal Zero, a 400 W inverter to charge my laptop, and a 12V lighter socket for plugging in phone chargers. I learned the battery was too small for the panel when I found it “boiled” off all the electrolyte. 2 deep cycle marine batteries are better (battery 1 is still in service for just the cabin light and occasional phone, using a cheap panel and charge controller from the farm and barn, coming up on 8 years now). But with 2, we started running my husband’s CPAP, which works for 1-2 nights, but can’t recharge enough with the shorter days during deer season. Add a second 100W panel.  Then add a third battery when those start overcharging.  

Finally 2 years ago I put on the charge controller and swapped the batteries for a pair of 6V golf cart batteries. I don’t have enough time on that to project for the long run (COVID, other health issues), but it worked great the whole week of deer season.  

In retrospect, the charge controller was the most important part of the system. The batteries were the second-most important, and the most expensive.

My biggest suggestion would be to put your DC fridge on its own panel, controller and battery set. Instead of treating the system as, well, a system that has to have one incoming massive feed that you then split off to branch circuits, treat each load as its own system.  position your charge controller and batteries close to the load-it’s easier to deal with voltage drop in the panel to charger wires than anywhere after the charge controller (because the panel voltage is high to begin with and varies depending on the solar intensity).  Smaller charge controllers and inverters cost less, and as you know, use more power even when idle. Positioning 12V loads near the batteries lets your battery to load wires be smaller.

I know you wanted ways to calculate, and this doesn’t give you that. What i hope to have shared is the basic concepts that make the calculations work. 12V DC has constraints, like voltage drop over distance, that we just don’t worry about in a 120V AC house. In a solar powered world, we guzzle power while the sun shines, and turn off every power drain after dark. Until power storage is as cheap as panels, anyway…
 
Michael Qulek
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Sue De Nimh wrote:1 100 W panel from Home Depot and a 12V deep cycle marine FLA battery. I ordered the SC 2030 charge controller from Bogart Engineering http://www.bogartengineering.com/products/solar-charger-controller.html. What with one thing and another (like not having the cabin walls insulated yet) the charger stayed in its box while I just hooked the panel direct to the battery using terminal clamps from the local farm and barn. Attached a 12V camping light from Goal Zero, a 400 W inverter to charge my laptop, and a 12V lighter socket for plugging in phone chargers. I learned the battery was too small for the panel when I found it “boiled” off all the electrolyte. 2 deep cycle marine batteries are better (battery 1 is still in service for just the cabin light and occasional phone, using a cheap panel and charge controller from the farm and barn, coming up on 8 years now). But with 2, we started running my husband’s CPAP, which works for 1-2 nights, but can’t recharge enough with the shorter days during deer season. Add a second 100W panel.  Then add a third battery when those start overcharging.  

This sounds to me very much to be a faulty charge controller, that was NOT doing it's job.  I've never heard of Bogart before, and I am suspicious that what you get was a lemon made by a smaller player in the industry.  That wouldn't have happened if you had started out with a higher quality controller.  Sorry that you ended up damaging batteries because of it.

For a 12V battery in the 100Ah range, I automatically would have started with two panels, and an MPPT controller.  For my very first 12V system, I used Trojan T-105 golf-carts, and I started with ~400W of panels.  After 5 years, when I was ready to upgrade, I ended up passing them on to the neighbor down the hill, because they still had a lot of life left in them.
 
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Michael Qulek wrote:I used a dremel tool to cut my wire very cleanly.  I never bothered purchasing lugs.  I just made my own out of copper pipe/tubing.  It works.


The cutting sounds like a good idea, but most sources I've seen have agreed bad connections are the most common risk of poor system performance or even fire. What level of know-how/ingenuity does it take to fabricate connectors that are reliable?
 
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The cutting sounds like a good idea, but most sources I've seen have agreed bad connections are the most common risk of poor system performance or even fire. What level of know-how/ingenuity does it take to fabricate connectors that are reliable?

Attention to detail.  The inside of the copper tubing must be polished bright to new copper, both the tubing, and the wire fluxed, and then thorough heating with a propane torch till the solder completely floods the joint.  I think the problems others have witnessed is mostly from sloppy, quicky work.  My joints have lasted longer than my batteries.
 
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I returned the Renology Inverter and went with the GoWise. It looks to be pretty good except the attachment points for the cables in back are pretty weak finger screw-on things. Reviews mention the excess power wasted in conversion and idle state are extremely low compared to others. The extra plug-ins are handy, but positioned such that mounting points to screw the unit down block the 'AC' ports from using any sort of 'wall wart' implement that extends downward more than a fraction of an inch.

I ended up buying a crimping tool as there are Asian ones for $30 that have good reviews. Also got a selection of around 50 terminal lugs for not much. I found heavy guage wire at local stores and cut it to length with my bolt cutters. It all seemed to crimp fine and I had some shrink tube from years ago that made it all look professional like.

I mounted all the elements to a shoe rack/bench in my garage tent and laid the solar panel on the top of the little hill outside. Fired it up and... IT'S ALIVE!

So far so good. Good sun the first day, but all clouds and rain today. The batteries hissed and boiled at first, didn't seem to perform very well, but a company rep described that FLAs take a bit of running in. Even with the clouds today they charged up to full while also filling up my cell phone sized backup batteries. Looks like the remaining question at this point is how the satellite dish/wifi router will work over time as they are 2.5A at 110V. Not sure how much of that is used constantly and my Kill-a-watt meter thing doesn't fit the inverter because of the mounting brackets. I will try one of those outlet adapters to move it out far enough.

Which reminds me of my next question- grounding. The inverter and charge controller have bolts/screws for a grounding wire separate from the negative line. Should I have some sort of wire running to a stake in the ground or something? Would that be needed for lightening protection? Something else? None of the documentation from the devices or instructions on setting up the system seemed to cover this aspect of it...
 
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Now that you are "on-line", what are your final, working specifications?  It's 12V?  How many Watts of panels do you have connected now?  Which GoWise did you go with?

Yes, the system should be grounded, for your protection.  There's a lot of terminology confusion concerning grounding, so let me first divide things up into two groups, what I'll refer to as below-ground earthing elements, and above-ground earthing elements.

Below-ground elements are things that are actually physically in contact with the earth, such as ground-rods, cold water pipes, steel well casing, ect.

Above-ground earthing elements are things like your electrical panel's grounding bussbar, the ground wires leading to all your NEMA sockets, and all the grounding terminals on your electronics, such as the inverter.

You may have multiple connections between below-ground elements, and multiple connections between above-ground elements, but you MUST have one and only one connection between all the above-ground elements and all the below-ground elements.  If you do not follow this rule, you create what is called a ground loop, which is known to attract lightning.

You decide where that junction will be.  I have mine at the main power panel directly under my inverter.  The heavy 4 gauge ground wire leads from my ground-rod outside to the grounding bussbar in the main panel.  Everything else, the inverter, charge controller, generator, and all NEMA sockets and lightswitches in the cabin get attached to that bussbar.

Let's say you have three below ground spots to tie together, a ground-rod, a well-casing, and the rebar in the concrete of your foundation.  You would run one heavy copper wire, serially connecting the rebar, casing, and rod, with no breaks/splices in the wire.  That heavy wire leads into your bussbar, or where-ever else you decide to make the meeting point.  Then everything else gets attached to that one single meeting point.

That will create a code-meeting ground connection.  BTW, for less than 100A service, bare 6 gauge copper is acceptable to run to the ground rod.  For 200A service, 4 gauge is required.  Above 200A is professionally engineered only.
 
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BTW, since you now have lead-acid batteries, you should know that monitoring voltage is a quite inaccurate why to measure the state of charge.  The gold-standard for ACCURATE measurements is using a battery hydrometer, and one that is temperature correcting is the most accurate of them all.  I have this one, and highly recommend you get one also.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/192782876539?epid=561518904&hash=item2ce2c13f7b:g:5ygAAOSwszVbqHmY&amdata=enc%3AAQAHAAABANeg9d0J%2FESqB4LuJKBshL6dOxCDClyfsTqYTDIloKIjshNG4mv6FE%2BXZlOj%2FdDEF%2B0AESsUKd8D11A2Lq97j6vhhkYlCwaZP4FP8a%2BcWaBUz4GNZGOxFtUr%2BAXoecW1LqW3cNKm%2F%2FvE7Lt4p%2FR83StTAIK5C8Bvfzr7xt9VR5HskYBSIii0AhJv4HRRy2VRwluBai0bQcPMUZgho7HTDtp%2Fbebkg%2B98kfJkq9JbhM9k5JELJP3Nk5Cuue6XfOWoRU0Mbr52BlQ8NCJlx4W2xmf9FZpb5pX9E4ce4W8axO8j7VXaVDPI4bedUrak8e%2FcwJGBBH88Po7Bl5raSrmtYms%3D%7Ctkp%3ABFBMsKHU9Zxg
 
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Michael Qulek wrote:Now that you are "on-line", what are your final, working specifications?  It's 12V?  How many Watts of panels do you have connected now?  Which GoWise did you go with?


I'm 12V. I've just hooked up the one 350W panel so far. I have 'Y' connectors in case I want to hook in the broken panel to see what it adds. I also noticed the panel connector extension wires I ordered are not pure copper, which I meant to make sure everything in the system was. They are 10 feet of 10 gauge tinned copper. Is tinned better than pure copper?

The GoWise is the 600W pure sine inverter. It was temporarily marked down to $80, less than half the price of the Renogy.

Lots of sun today, the controller and monitors were flashing at me all day that they were full, even though I left the satellite plugged in the whole time and charged up some equipment.
 
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I have a cigarette lighter adapter to hook into the system. The terminal loops are quite large (10mm) and it has an inline fuse so I guess I should connect it directly to the battery terminals. will this mess with the monitors at all? I mean are the calculations being done to manage the battery thrown off if power is pulled from random parts of the system? Do I need to use the terminals where the pos and neg are feeding the system or can I hook it to the terminals that are connected to make the two 6Vs work in series?
 
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They are 10 feet of 10 gauge tinned copper. Is tinned better than pure copper

That sounds like "marine grade" wire, which is the highest quality.  What should be avoided is the copper-plated aluminum wire.  Easy to tell the difference.  If you scrape off silver and you see orange, it's tinned copper.  If you scrape off orange, and you see silver it's plated aluminum.

Lots of sun today, the controller and monitors were flashing at me all day that they were full, even though I left the satellite plugged in the whole time and charged up some equipment.
Great, it sounds like you are on your way!!!

I have a cigarette lighter adapter to hook into the system. The terminal loops are quite large (10mm) and it has an inline fuse so I guess I should connect it directly to the battery terminals. will this mess with the monitors at all? I mean are the calculations being done to manage the battery thrown off if power is pulled from random parts of the system?
All the attachments to the battery bank should be at the same terminals.  So, the charge controller, the inverter, and any 12VDC loads get all hooked up at the same spots.  This is to guarranty that all the batteries stay balanced.

Keep in mind that any load on the battery will effect it's voltage, so you only get an semi-accurate "state of charge" reading from a battery after sitting "off" for a couple of hours.  That's why battery voltage is so inaccurate as a gauge of charge.  Get the hydrometer.  Most accurate way to determine charge.  Just be careful of drips.

One more thing.  Keep a gallon of distilled water handy at all times.  My local grocer has it for 1$/gallon.  At the start, you might want to MONITOR water levels in your batteries on a weekly basis, and then top them off with distilled water when they start to get low.  I find I need to top off about every three months or so.  But, YOU should check weekly until you are comfortable with when YOUR batteries need water.  Good luck!!!
 
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How many KWH do you plan on using per day. (For now we can ignore system losses and say that Daily Usage=Daily Production)

Daily Production/Usage = 500W x 4Hours = 2,000WH
Input = Output = 500W
Battery Bank = 0.1 C = 10x (Output or Input) = 10x 500WH = 5,000WH = 420AH x 12V
Charge Controller = 500W = 12V x 42A, or just about 50A
Solar Array = 500W aka 2 solar panel
Inverter = 500W (but its best to get a 1000W and run it at 50%)
Load = six 10W LED light + three 40W laptop + one fridge + one GoSun Fusion Cooker

Inverter Wires = 1000W = 12V x 84A = 100A = 1 Gauge wire
Charge Controller Wire = 500W = 12V x 42A = 50A = 6 Gauge wire


..............................................OR........................................................................................

Daily Production/Usage = 250W x 4Hours = 1,000WH
Input = Output = 250W
Battery Bank = 0.1 C = 10x (Output or Input) = 10x 250WH = 2,500WH = 210AH x 12V
Charge Controller = 250W = 12V x 21A, or just about 30A
Solar Array = 250W aka 1 solar panel
Inverter = 250W (but its best to get a 500W and run it at 50%, but not a 1000W)
Load = six 10W LED light + one 40W laptop + one fridge

Inverter Wires = 500W = 12V x 42A = 50A = 6 Gauge wire
Charge Controller Wire = 250W = 12V x 21A = 30A = 10 Gauge wire

A 250W system will not be able to handle 500W power tools much less 1000W power tools
 
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Michael Qulek wrote:
Keep in mind that any load on the battery will effect it's voltage, so you only get an semi-accurate "state of charge" reading from a battery after sitting "off" for a couple of hours.  That's why battery voltage is so inaccurate as a gauge of charge.  Get the hydrometer.  Most accurate way to determine charge.  Just be careful of drips.

One more thing.  Keep a gallon of distilled water handy at all times.  My local grocer has it for 1$/gallon.  At the start, you might want to MONITOR water levels in your batteries on a weekly basis, and then top them off with distilled water when they start to get low.  I find I need to top off about every three months or so.  But, YOU should check weekly until you are comfortable with when YOUR batteries need water.  Good luck!!!


Would a refractometer work instead of a hydrometer? I have a temperature correcting hydrometer from homebrew days, but don't think I want to contaminate it with battery acid. Or does glass safely shed stuff like that?

Would RO water be free enough from contaminates to use in a battery?
 
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Michael Qulek wrote:Yes, the system should be grounded, for your protection.  There's a lot of terminology confusion concerning grounding, so let me first divide things up into two groups, what I'll refer to as below-ground earthing elements, and above-ground earthing elements.

Below-ground elements are things that are actually physically in contact with the earth, such as ground-rods, cold water pipes, steel well casing, ect.

Above-ground earthing elements are things like your electrical panel's grounding bussbar, the ground wires leading to all your NEMA sockets, and all the grounding terminals on your electronics, such as the inverter.

You may have multiple connections between below-ground elements, and multiple connections between above-ground elements, but you MUST have one and only one connection between all the above-ground elements and all the below-ground elements.  If you do not follow this rule, you create what is called a ground loop, which is known to attract lightning.

You decide where that junction will be.  I have mine at the main power panel directly under my inverter.  The heavy 4 gauge ground wire leads from my ground-rod outside to the grounding bussbar in the main panel.  Everything else, the inverter, charge controller, generator, and all NEMA sockets and lightswitches in the cabin get attached to that bussbar.

Let's say you have three below ground spots to tie together, a ground-rod, a well-casing, and the rebar in the concrete of your foundation.  You would run one heavy copper wire, serially connecting the rebar, casing, and rod, with no breaks/splices in the wire.  That heavy wire leads into your bussbar, or where-ever else you decide to make the meeting point.  Then everything else gets attached to that one single meeting point.

That will create a code-meeting ground connection.  BTW, for less than 100A service, bare 6 gauge copper is acceptable to run to the ground rod.  For 200A service, 4 gauge is required.  Above 200A is professionally engineered only.


So I have a bussbar for my negative connections. For some reason, the one linked to at Will Prowse's website (which I ordered all my odds and ends from before gaining the understanding of how the system would come together, a catch-22 for me), came with 1/4" bolts on it. I had to add washers to get my premade 2 gauge wire with 5/16 terminals (also the smallest that came in my lug terminal kit for larger wire). I also learned that with wire that large for short runs, you need to custom angle the terminals when you crimp them. While trying to tighten down the negative wire from the battery, I snapped off one of the tiny screw posts on the bus already. I have 3 left so it still functions, but I suppose I should order another with beefier bolts to swap in at some point.

Anyway, I can run the ground from the buss. Now why would you bother to connect multiple grounding spots on that end? Wouldn't just the rebar, well casing, or ground rod work any one by themselves to do the grounding?

My buss is about 20' from a sandpoint well I just pounded. It is all I currently have that would seem to qualify (if the bare metal pipe indeed does). Are ground rods custom devices for this function or just any conductive metal piece of proper proportions that a wire is attached to?

How is the 'service' amperage determined, from the inverter or the panels? The inverter provides surge power to 1200W, but says output A is 5.2, which is the 600W it is rated for. Input is listed as 56A. The charge controller says max 30A in and out. So 56A would be the max and I can run 6AWG, or do I need to anticipate 1200W surges that would be 112A by my calculations? I'm guessing 20' wouldn't be too long at that level? Does it need to be truly "bare" copper, no coating? Can it be buried along the path?

Hope these questions don't overload your tolerance Michael, thanks for your responses so far...
 
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S Bengi wrote:How many KWH do you plan on using per day.


Dunno actual figures. I know with full sun on the panel and all my biggest appliances plugged into the inverter, the batteries remain at 100% on the monitor.

I'll need to wait until I order a DC fridge to hook up and put it and the sat dish on my Kill-a-watt monitor for a few days to have ballpark numbers. I also have a dozen other vital homesteading tasks to manage so not worrying about those numbers until I see signs that I'm running tight on the power margins...
 
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Coydon Wallham wrote:
I'll need to wait until I order a DC fridge to hook up and put it and the sat dish on my Kill-a-watt monitor for a few days to have ballpark numbers. .


You pay such a price premium for DC appliances, that in today's environment it is more practical and more cost effective to just add more panels and run the regular AC versions.  So, instead of investing a lot of money into a DC refrigerator, invest that money into larger batteries and more solar panels.

For myself, I've found it is just so much easier to design your system as if it is just like your suburban house.  My cabin is AC only now, and I am very happy.
 
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As far as battery measurement goes, the charger came with a remote monitor that shows a readout with amps, volts, and watts. I also purchased a separate monitor from Renogy that puts a "shunt" between the negative buss and the negative terminal on the battery bank (along with a small sensor wire to the positive). The charger monitor shows battery status in terms of volts, which seems to reflect the concerns about inaccuracy. The Renogy monitor however shows the primary display in terms of Ah. As I watch I am seeing a difference in the readouts of the two, although even when the charger display shows a low battery symbol, it has a smiley face above it, so at least I have that going for me.

I've been going by the Renogy monitor as the Ah reading seems more reliable. Does this 'shunt' connection offer a more reliable status that accounts for normal voltage misreading? I know vehicular starter batteries can be load tested to determine accurate status through just voltage reading.
 
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Okay, the system has been working well- after the first few days of 'breaking in' the batteries, it has been keeping up with my minimal demands. I borrowed an Igloo cooler that plugs into a cigarette lighter. It has been running with little appreciable drain on the battery, so I decided to leave it running as the only load on the system while I went on a 4 day trip rather than carry my items to a friend's house. Coming home I found that the power cord had been plugged in upside down, meaning it was heating the interior the whole time rather than chilling it. I'm guessing the heat function uses more energy than cool.

The batteries showed no signs of life. They are testing at 7.xV. Fluid levels are still normal. I left the system plugged in when the sun came up, but nothing registered on the solar charger. Would I be able to restore any functionality, either by leaving it plugged into the panels or charging it off my car or on the grid?

For future reference, I had the cigarette adapter going directly from the terminals where the rest of the power for the system is coming off the batteries. Could I have connected one of the adapter's leads somewhere (inside shunt or controller terminals) such that the charge controller would sense the low voltage and cut off supply to the adapter/cooler before damage was done?
 
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Coydon Wallham wrote: I decided to leave it running as the only load on the system while I went on a 4 day trip rather than carry my items to a friend's house. Coming home I found that the power cord had been plugged in upside down, meaning it was heating the interior the whole time rather than chilling it. I'm guessing the heat function uses more energy than cool.

The batteries showed no signs of life. They are testing at 7.xV. Fluid levels are still normal. I left the system plugged in when the sun came up, but nothing registered on the solar charger. Would I be able to restore any functionality, either by leaving it plugged into the panels or charging it off my car or on the grid?


I have no clue as to how that happened, but it sounds like you totally destroyed your batteries.  Maybe this is the best reason to avoid DC appliances in the future.  What I would do right now is disconnect the batteries and try to get them onto some kind of external charger ASAP, either at a friend's house, or by connecting them to your running car engine.  They possibly could just be totally depleted, or they might be ruined.  Can't tell you what from a distance.

As a general rule of thumb, anything producing heat from electricity is the single biggest drain on your system, and the system being on the small side to begin with just made it worse.  Poor design, and poor judgement combined together is a deadly combination.  You are finding that out the hard way.

If you can save the batteries, then you can move on and live and learn.  If in fact they are dead, I think this would be a good point to redesign, and start over with an AC oriented system.  Designed from the ground up as an AC based system, this would probably not happen again.
 
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Michael Qulek wrote:I have no clue as to how that happened, but it sounds like you totally destroyed your batteries.  Maybe this is the best reason to avoid DC appliances in the future.  What I would do right now is disconnect the batteries and try to get them onto some kind of external charger ASAP, either at a friend's house, or by connecting them to your running car engine.  They possibly could just be totally depleted, or they might be ruined.  Can't tell you what from a distance.

As a general rule of thumb, anything producing heat from electricity is the single biggest drain on your system, and the system being on the small side to begin with just made it worse.  Poor design, and poor judgement combined together is a deadly combination.  You are finding that out the hard way.

If you can save the batteries, then you can move on and live and learn.  If in fact they are dead, I think this would be a good point to redesign, and start over with an AC oriented system.  Designed from the ground up as an AC based system, this would probably not happen again.


Sorry to not respond promptly to this thread, but the software flaw that doesn't notify me of updates continues to be contained in it.

I simply disconnected everything and restarted the system by waiting for the panels to charge the batteries back. They seem to run down faster now, if the battery monitor is still accurate, but are providing more than I need with moderately sunny days regardless. I looked and found a source for similar FLAs that have slightly more capacity at the same price through NAPA, but it seems the current ones will be okay at least until short days and cold weather return in a few months. By that time I'm thinking of creating a 48V system with some sort of Lithium bank and making this one into something portable, probably a permanent trailer mount. It would be nice if I could use the GoWise 30A charger on the 48V system and upgrade this 12V one to a 40A.

I don't see any need for drama over using the system as is. Personally, the whole point of exploring in this direction is to develop a way of meeting the minimal standards of contemporary society with "appropriate technology", having an ongoing method of daily living that empowers healthy habits and encourages vital awareness of the natural world. I don't see significant benefit to AC technology in my situation beyond making older inefficient equipment work when I have excess power and allowing me to tackle the DC learning curve as it fits my schedule of the numerous other tasks taking priority.
 
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