Help with Off Grid Solar

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roncastle's picture
roncastle
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Help with Off Grid Solar

Greetings,

I read last week Chris's contribution to the newly published "Post Carbon Reader" and am in agreement with the principles of the Crash Course.

We have been living off grid for almost 4 years at www.nealcreekfarm.com and have an off grid solar design and components business www.sunshineworks.com.  We do mainly small off grid systems for folks all around the world.  Typical applications include lighting, refrigeration, water pumping, ceiling fans and ventilation and water purification. 

If you need advice or assistance with learning to live off grid or need design advise and components for your project, we will be pleased to help.

Most of the products we sell are MADE IN THE USA and are best of class at fair prices.

Kissing the power company goodbye is one of the sweetest kisses there is?  I think so.  Sunshine works, yes it does, every day.

Best wishes for our sustainable future.

earthwise's picture
earthwise
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

Ron,

Welcome to CM.com. and thank you for your offer to help with PV questions.

I see that your post was concerning off grid systems, however I am currently in the process of contracting for a grid tie system and I thought you would be able to answer a grid tie question anyway.

My contractor is recommending a power conditioning unit manufatured by POM Energy Concepts Inc.  www.pomenergyconcepts.com. He is quoting an upcharge of $800 to add this to the proposed system, but claims (as the manufacturer also does) that it will pay for itself in three years. I've read the info at the link and it sounds persuasive but what do I know? (Not enough, obviously)

What is your opinion of power conditioners in general and of this product specifically?

DRS78750's picture
DRS78750
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Posts: 16
Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

It looks like the power conditioning unit from POM requires 3-phase power in order to work. Unless your residential electrical hookup is 3-phase then I suspect that the PCU won't deliver savings/payback that the website talks about and probably won't even work with single phase power.

Since there are no PCU specifications on the POM website, it is difficult to tell if the above is true, only a FAQ "lite" leads me to believe it.  Note that it is possible to do power factor correction on single phase circuits.

Power factor correction equipment is usually only used in commercial and industrial facilities where they have a lot of low power factor equipment and the electric utility charges them more for the low power factor.

disclosure: Although I am an electrical engineer, my experience  is not in AC power systems.

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osb272646
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

I have a question for this forum.  I've been using solar on a limited basis for over ten years.  I would like to expand the system to run my deep well water pump which is 220v and requires a minimum feed of 2.5KVA (whatever that is).  Is there a dependable inverter that can provide that kind of power? 

Over the years, I have used smaller inverters, from 200w to 2.0kw, for just general lighting and running small motors.  They break down after a couple of years.  Would really like something very dependable, even if it costs a lot more.

 

Thanks in advance for your help.

 

 

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DRS78750
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

KVA is Killo-Volt-Amps or 2.5 KVA is 2500 Volt-Amps. Volt-Amps is just volts times amps. For 220 volts, your pump would be drawing 2500/220=11.36 amps. For a purely resistive load (like an electric heater) than that would be the same as 2500 watts. Your pump may be slightly more because the power factor is likely less than 1. Also your starting power is likely more than your running power.

For a 12 volt battery system running a 2500 watt inverter you would be drawing 2500/12=208 amps.  If you had 4 deep cycle 6 volt batteries, then you would likely have ~220 amp-hours of usable storage available which would give you about a 1 hour run time on your pump. The solar system on my RV is about that size and it cost ~$5K. Your best bet for emergency water pumping would be to get a 240 volt generator and store a few gallon of fuel. They can be purchased for as little as $400-500.  Propane is the easiest fuel to store, diesel next, followed by gasoline.

My water pump is a shallow well 1 HP 240 volt pump. My emergency backup is a propane generator.

David

edit: I  forgot to add that if you follow the link that is in the first post, he sells the simple pump which has a solar powered option available.  I don't know the cost of such a setup.

roncastle's picture
roncastle
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

Hello earthwise,

I am not familiar with this company and I know a little about power conditioners which are typically used in industrial settings where there are frequent spike loads from things like starting large motors which take 3 times the energy for a brief period versus the running load.

I am skeptical when a company does not have any technical information online.  The website reads like it is addressing industrial prospects?

My recommendation is to have your contractor provide you with some residential customers who are using this equipment, see what they say.

 

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roncastle
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

Hello OSB,

There are numerous good inverters available made in the USA.  They are all expensive in this capacity.  There are also several good sources for these and other top brands that have been remanufactured.

My questions are how deep is your well, what is the static water depth, the replenishment rate and how much water do you need on an average daily basis?

The best approach to water pumping off grid is to reduce the load of the pump by going DC rather than AC.  It is quite likely that a new DC pump will be less costly than the inverter to run what you have.

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earthwise
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Re: Help with Off Grid Solar

 

Ron,

Thanks for your response I will follow up with my contractor soon.

Another question for you, if you don't mind.  What is your opinion on nickle-iron batteries. I've heard good things about them but the only place I could find them available was here http://www.beutilityfree.com/Electric/Ni-Fe but they are expensive. Worth the cost? Any other vendors that you know of? Anything else to offer on these?

Thanks.

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roncastle
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Nickle Iron Batteries

Hello Earthwise,

You can read the history of these batteries at Wikipedia.  Mr. Edison was indeed an inventive genius?

According to the website you reference, 610 amps of batteries (at the 100 hour rate) at 12 volts costs about $5040.

The solar batteries I prefer and the ones I use myself are Sun Xtender AGM VRLA = absorbent glass mat valve regulated lead acid which are fully sealed but not gel, are transport non hazardous and maintenance free.  Expected life for a properly designed system will be 7 to 10 years or longer.  Cost for approximately 610 amps, about $1500 depending on which batteries are selected to make 12 volts.  These are made in California.

For larger battery banks the best design is to have as few parallel connections as possible.  So for larger banks using lead acid batteries, the longest service life will come from 2 volt cells in series to make the voltage you want.

Solar charge controllers are designed to work with lead acid.  Will they properly perform with nickle iron?  I would have to do some research into this question.

From a financial perspective, does the net present value of $5040 with an anticipated life of 50 years make a better choice than $1500 for 10 years with the remainder of $3540 used for some other purpose?  What new battery technologies might be invented in the next 10 years that would offer better service at a competitive price?  I think there will be some interesting developments here being lead by electric powered autos. 

There is some herd mentality in solar just as there is in any other industry and folks tend to stick with what they know and with what works for them.  If nickle iron is such a superior technology I would think everyone would be using them.  They're not.

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earthwise
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Re: Nickle Iron Batteries
roncastle wrote:

Hello Earthwise,

You can read the history of these batteries at Wikipedia.  Mr. Edison was indeed an inventive genius?

According to the website you reference, 610 amps of batteries (at the 100 hour rate) at 12 volts costs about $5040.

The solar batteries I prefer and the ones I use myself are Sun Xtender AGM VRLA = absorbent glass mat valve regulated lead acid which are fully sealed but not gel, are transport non hazardous and maintenance free.  Expected life for a properly designed system will be 7 to 10 years or longer.  Cost for approximately 610 amps, about $1500 depending on which batteries are selected to make 12 volts.  These are made in California.

For larger battery banks the best design is to have as few parallel connections as possible.  So for larger banks using lead acid batteries, the longest service life will come from 2 volt cells in series to make the voltage you want.

Solar charge controllers are designed to work with lead acid.  Will they properly perform with nickle iron?  I would have to do some research into this question.

From a financial perspective, does the net present value of $5040 with an anticipated life of 50 years make a better choice than $1500 for 10 years with the remainder of $3540 used for some other purpose?  What new battery technologies might be invented in the next 10 years that would offer better service at a competitive price?  I think there will be some interesting developments here being lead by electric powered autos. 

There is some herd mentality in solar just as there is in any other industry and folks tend to stick with what they know and with what works for them.  If nickle iron is such a superior technology I would think everyone would be using them.  They're not.

 

Thanks, Ron, for all your help. It's greatly appreciated.

roncastle's picture
roncastle
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Solar Battery Price Increase

Greetings,

If you are thinking about doing something before the end of the year with off grid solar that involves batteries you might want to act sooner rather than later about your battery purchase.  The worldwide price of lead is increasing and lead acid batteries are going up in price this month.  If you can find some in inventory purchased at the old price you will likely save 8 to 10 percent.  Batteries are usually one of the top two cost items in a well designed system so the savings are significant.

If you need advice about how to store batteries before they are ready for use I will be pleased to help.

Have a sunny day,

Brandon's picture
Brandon
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Posts: 145
Re: Nickle Iron Batteries

http://nickel-iron-battery.com/

See the bottom of page for suppliers.  I am currently in talks with Ian Soutar about purchasing these batteries.  He is quite helpful, though can be scattered in his replies at times (I think he's a very busy person).  I really appreciate his help so far. Compared with the information I received from Zappworks, Ian is waaaay more helpful.  I personally was looking to "buy American" Winkeven if it meant spending some extra money, but Zappworks unfortunately didn't answer any of my questions (nor did they communicate very professionally), so I will likely end up with batteries from ChangHong.  I think BeUtilityFree uses ChangHong batteries, but rebrands them once they come to shore, but I have no verification of this.  My email exchange with BeUtilityFree was also very unhelpful.

I agree with what RonCastle said regarding ROI, etc.  I'm entertaining NiFe batteries because I doubt I'll be able to afford any new technology 5-10 (or more) years from now.  NiFe batteries seem to definitely have their drawbacks and I may pay a price for going out of the norm, should I decide to go with NiFe batteries.

If you're near the Detroit area, that is likely where I will have my batteries shipped to, assuming that they can come down the St. Lawrence Seaway...TBD.  If you end up looking to go with NiFe batteries based on their pros and cons, and you're looking soon, let me know and maybe we could save some money (again, if near Detroit).

Earthwise, I sent you a PM so you can contact me via email if it ends up that you want to...I don't check these forums that often.

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jturbo68
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Posts: 208
Re: Nickle Iron Batteries

 

 

I might suggest looking at Solar One HUP Batteries.

They are Lead Acid, but have an expected life of 20-25 years if treated properly.

 

 

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roncastle
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Posts: 14
Solar Lighting Alternative to Wiring Fixtures

Greetings,

One of the detriments to the use of solar lighting in an already built home, cottage or cabin is running wiring for low voltage compact fluorescent or LED fixtures (which require larger wire than conventional 115 VAC lights).

A big part of the solution to this problem has been solved recently with the introduction of the Pico LED light manufactured by Phocos, a German company with manufacturing and support facilities worldwide.

The Pico resembles and can be used as a flashlight (or torch for proper English speakers) but it is different than any flashlight I have ever seen.  The lighted end of the Pico has a diffuser which casts a broad light much like the light from a shaded lamp which is much more pleasant to the eye than a battery powered lantern.

Pico has three light intensities, the highest being 120 lumens which is sufficient for reading.  At this setting the batteries will last about 5.5 hours.  At the medium and low intensity the batteries will last 16.5 and 55 hours.

The handle end of the Pico includes a wire bale, similar to the bail on a bucket which allows the light to be suspended vertically or at a variety of angles including almost inverted for indirect lighting.

Pico can be recharged by any 12 volt battery source, or from a solar panel via a barrel connector in the handle.  The Pico also has a USB port in the base of the handle for charging cell phones, MP3 players, iPods, etc. from the Pico batteries.

All of this comes in an IP65 weatherproof assembly.  For more information about Pico visit

http://www.sunshineworks.com/portable-solar-powered-lights.htm 

Have a sunny day!

roncastle's picture
roncastle
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Posts: 14
Solar Panel Prices Improving

Greetings,

If you are thinking about securing your energy future and your essential needs for things like water pumping, refrigeration, lighting and battery powered device charging the price of solar panels may be as good right now as they are going to get in 2011.  There is always a seasonal fall off in demand in in January and February.  This year there is also a significant increase in panel production forecast in 2011 coupled with a lack of growth in new projects which means more supply than demand.  As a result, companies who are holding inventory are lowering prices of 2010 inventory to cut their losses and there are some terrific deals available at the moment.

Could prices continue to fall later in the year?  Maybe.  But you also need to consider what inflation and currency values may do between now and then.  Since the majority of panels are now manufactured in China, if the dollar falls prices may actually go up.

If you need panels, we can help.

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