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Preparedness with Solar and Batteries
Mar27

Preparedness with Solar and Batteries

As the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is changing our lives, preparedness is coming to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Coronavirus is proving how fast global events beyond our control can threaten the basic infrastructure that we normally take for granted. While Coronavirus is not likely to cause power outages, it does remind us that bad things happen and a little prepping can go a long way. Other recent reminders include the 5.7 magnitude earthquake on March 18th which left 73,000 people without power and the tornado in Mississippi on March 24th which took out the electricity for 16,000 people.    Ready.gov is a great resource for learning what is best to keep on hand based on what threats you might be preparing for. In many of the scenarios they suggest having several days of food on hand. With the current Covid-19 quarantine guidelines, you should have two weeks of food on hand which is causing many Americans to purchase additional freezers to store the extra food. But what happens to that frozen food stash if the next emergency includes a power outage? This is where the combination of solar and batteries can really shine. A generator is also an option but they require fuel (typically gasoline, diesel, natural gas or propane) and depending on the emergency that is happening, you might be out of luck once you run out of the fuel you have on hand. The benefit of solar with batteries is that the batteries get recharged every day and the system can run for years without requiring anything to keep it going.  Doomsday preppers have long understood the requirement to have power to weather the worst that could happen. This doesn’t mean you have to forsake your normal life and move out to an off-grid homestead.  There are already millions of standard grid-tied systems installed on homes and businesses across the United States. In general, if they don’t have batteries, they don’t currently provide back up power. The only exception to that is the newer SMA inverters which can provide up to 1,800 watts of power (enough to run a refrigerator) but only when the sun is out.    The good news is that if you already own one of these systems, all you have to do is add batteries. There are a variety of ways to do it, depending on what equipment you have in place already. Any system can be retrofitted by AC Coupling a battery based inverter like an Outback Radian which will operate with any 48 volt battery bank. If you have SolarEdge equipment, you can add the SolarEdge StorEdge inverter with an LG Chem battery....

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Nuances of Installing 30kw or Larger PV Systems
Mar19

Nuances of Installing 30kw or Larger PV Systems

For the most part, installing a larger solar power system is not that different from installing a smaller one but there are a few things that you should consider for larger systems. First, a system this large is most likely being installed on a commercial facility and not a residence. If it is a residence, it is likely to be a very big residence with a high power draw so it would be using the same electrical equipment you would typically find in a commercial building. It does still make a difference if it is classified as a one or two family dwelling versus a commercial building and we will get into those differences as we go through this. One of the things that may be different is the service voltage that is fed to the building by the electric company. Typically, a house or commercial building with a very large power draw will get three phase power from the electric company instead of single (split) phase power that is typical on residences. When it comes to solar, three phase power means using three phase inverters.  SOLAREDGE SE33.3KUS, 33.3KW THREE PHASE INVERTER FOR 277/480V GRID When choosing a three phase inverter, it is important to identify what type of three phase power is coming into the building. Most three phase power is 120/208 or 277/480 Volts but other voltages are possible like 240 volt three phase with a high leg. Once you have identified the voltage you have to determine if it is 3-wire or 4-wire (hint: 4-wire has a neutral conductor and 3-wire does not). You also need to know if it is wye or delta configuration. If there is a neutral, it is usually wye, but not always so you may have to do some voltage testing to determine the configuration. If there is no neutral, it usually delta but there is no way to know for sure even with voltage tests so you will have to ask the utility company to be sure about the configuration. Sometimes when planning the large commercial system, you run into the issue of not having enough roof space for the solar panels. If you have room for a ground mount, this may solve your problem and you can check out our article “Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar” for some good installation advice. Another option may be to use solar canopies. These are great because they can provide a shaded parking area or shade for animals if the installation is for a farm.   One of the big differences between the three phase inverters and the single phase residential inverters is...

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DIY Mishap – When Home Installers Throw Caution To The Wind
Mar16

DIY Mishap – When Home Installers Throw Caution To The Wind

When it comes to DIY home solar installations, some rules are meant to be broken, while others are better to follow. Paying a centralized utility company for energy you can make for free: Break it!Best-practice safety protocols during self-install: Follow it! Devaluing your home property value by not putting solar panels on your roof: Break it! Local zoning and city ordinances: Follow it! The laws of physics: Follow it! Okay, the last might seem like a no-brainer.  “The laws of physics,” after all, are those immutable truths about reality which, unlike the tooth fairy or a wizarding world living in tandem with our own, exist whether or not you believe in them.  The laws of physics are why, in more 14 years of business, the DIY department of Go Green Solar has never had a customer encounter an issue when heeding the recommendations of our dedicated engineering team.  Recently, however, one of our lead plan-set designers, Carl, shared a cautionary tale regarding a DIY dilettante and a home solar installation project that both metaphorically (and literally) went off the rails: “Everything started off fine,” recalls Carl. “We designed the system plans as per the racking manufacturer’s specifications, but then, when the customer started digging to install the ground mounts, he hit rock and couldn’t go any further. Unexpected challenges like this can sometimes happen, so we took the data over to one of our certified engineers to advise us how to proceed.” Factoring in historical weather conditions, the updated plan included the addition of diagonal braces for structural support and excavating grade beams along the entire span of the installation to connect all the footings. Carl submitted the revisions back to the home installer.  “He didn’t like it,” Carl said. “He felt it was overkill and said that 99% of the time, the wind blew from the East and would be hitting the face of the panels. For the additional cost of construction, he didn’t think it would be worth it.”  Carl and the Go Green Solar team didn’t hear back from the homeowner for a while. Then, several months later, we got an email with an image of a crumpled ground mount solar system. Turns out, that gamble the person took on the wind never howling in the wrong direction didn’t pay off.  When you don’t follow expert advice. In an attempt to save around $800 in reinforcement upgrades, the person sacrificed a system that cost nearly $20,000 as it hadn’t yet begun to pay itself off.  “As long a person is handy and can go up and down a roof ladder with 50 lbs, they should be...

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Enphase Ensemble Solar Back-up
Feb27

Enphase Ensemble Solar Back-up

One of the more frustrating facts about standard grid-tied solar power systems is that they do not provide back-up power during power outages. While there are some solutions out there that will allow you to use your solar as back-up power, none of them compare to the new Enphase Ensemble technology that will be available very soon. Most existing solar back-up systems are small and can only provide enough power for some lights and your refrigerator. A solar back-up system large enough to run large appliances like an air conditioner or hot water heater is possible with current technology but it means filling your garage with batteries and inverter equipment. This will be very expensive and the installation is complicated. If you are attempting the Holy Grail of solar back-up, the whole house back-up system, you have to source a transfer switch from the generator industry that is not programmable and may not be suited for all the sources you want to incorporate. But Enphase has the solution with their new Ensemble back-up system. One key component of the Enphase Ensemble back-up system is the Enphase Encharge Storage System. This is an AC Coupled, Lithium Iron Phosphate energy storage unit with integrated Enphase IQ8 Multimode microinverters. The Encharge 3 has 3.4 kwh of usable storage and the Encharge 10 has 10.1 kwh of usage storage. For more storage, multiple Encharge systems can be connected to create a system large enough to provide the whole house back-up system. The incorporated IQ8 microinverters have new processors that can react in 20 nanoseconds to loads coming online and offline so that they maintain an independently stable AC grid throughout the duration of a power outage. Having the battery storage and inverter incorporated into a single unit simplifies installation making it very possible for a do-it-yourself solar installer. Also, these sleek units can be hung on a wall and are even rated NEMA 3R for outdoor installations. Another important part of the Ensemble system is the Empower Smart Switch which has multiple configuration options and even includes a place to add an additional back-up source like a diesel generator which will make the perfect system for the serious doomsday prepper. The Empower Smart Switch manages all the power from the Encharge Storage System, IQ microinverters, grid and generator. If the grid goes down, it seamlessly transfers your house loads to the storage system and IQ microinverters. When grid power is restored, the system transitions back to normal grid-tied operation.  Not only will this system provide back-up power during outages, it can save you extra money when the grid is on by managing power...

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Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar
Feb24

Tips for DIY Ground Mount Solar

When most people think about solar, they picture it installed on a roof but that isn’t always what happens. If you have a little bit of land, chances are you have the space for ground mounted solar. This could be the better choice, especially if you are a do-it-yourselfer. Ground mount solar installation is typically easier and safer than roof mounting and here are some tips to help make that DIY solar ground mount project go a little smoother.  First, when planning your project, make sure you know the location of your property lines and the required setbacks. Most cities and counties require permanent structures like the solar ground mount rack to be at least 5’ from the property lines but sometimes they can require as much as 30’ setback if there is a road there or you are in a rural area prone to wildfires. You might also want to inquire about a flood zone like a water wash area that runs through your property where you may not be allowed to build. Even if the local authority doesn’t enforce it, you should think twice about installing the solar ground mount in an area that you know might flood during heavy rains or spring thaws.   Doing a ground mount means that you don’t have to haul all the solar panels up to the roof but it still may not be the best idea to get solar panels that are very large in size. Some solar panels are almost 7’ long and can weigh up to 75 pounds each. Even though you don’t have to lug the panels up a ladder, you will still have to move them around and lift them up pretty high to install them on the back end of the ground mount rack. At the end of the day, that last solar panel you have to lift is going to feel much heavier than the first one you picked up in the morning.  Another note on choosing equipment is to use pre-designed solar racking. Some of them include all the pieces and others have hardware designed to work with galvanized steel water pipes. Either one of these options will be easier to get permitted and install than if you attempt to design your own racking system. You might be able to do it a little cheaper with parts you have on hand, but you will pay for it in headaches at the building department and potential unforeseen structural issues.   Example of a ground mounted system Also be careful about what tilt angle you commit to if the ground is flat. The ideal tilt angle in...

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Choosing Batteries for Solar
Feb18

Choosing Batteries for Solar

There has been a lot of buzz in the solar industry about batteries. They are necessary for most off grid solar applications and becoming an add-on trend for grid-tied systems. You can read our article “Should You Add Batteries to Your Solar” to find out if installing batteries is a good idea for you. If you do decide you want them, the next step is to choose which batteries are right for you.  One of the factors involved in this decision is what other equipment you will be using. From a technical standpoint, the inverter you will use will determine the required battery voltage. For example, the Outback Radian inverters typically need a 48 volt battery bank which means you are likely going to buy batteries that are 2, 6 or 12 volt and wire them in series to get a 48 volt battery bank. On the other hand, SolarEdge inverters require a 300 volt battery so you will typically use something like the LG Chem batteries that output that higher voltage.  From an install perspective, there are advantages to the higher voltage batteries. The higher voltage means lower amperage so the wires from the batteries to the inverter can be smaller and can be run much longer distances. Typically, with a 48 volt battery bank, your wires are going to be 2/0 AWG or 4/0 AWG and less than 10 feet. With the 300 volt batteries, it would be 10 AWG or 8 AWG and a 50 distance is no problem.  Battery ventilation requirements are also something to consider as this varies with the different battery chemistries. The least expensive batteries are flooded lead acid chemistry. They vent hydrogen gas and must be installed in a well ventilated area away from sparks or flames and separated from living spaces. Other battery chemistries, like sealed lead acid and lithium, do not vent any nasty gases and are much more flexible on where they can be installed. The physical space needed for batteries is also a consideration. If you have room for a lot of batteries on the floor or large battery cabinets or shelving, you can get the batteries that are shaped like boxes and spread them out on the floor, install them on sturdy shelves or put them in cabinets that are designed for batteries. They make almost all battery chemistries in this box shaped style. If you don’t have a lot of space, you should consider the lithium batteries like the LG Chem that are a slim box that hangs neatly on the wall. This will be the more expensive option and you won’t get as much...

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