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Category: Batteries

Going Off-Grid? Please Don’t Make the Same Battery Mistake I Did.

Going Off-Grid? Please Don’t Make the Same Battery Mistake I Did.

By RICKY RAFFAINI, Tech Support Rep at Wholesale Solar​

I have always been interested in renewable energy, but when I moved into my grandma’s old cabin in Mendocino, CA, it was the last thing on my mind.

Yes, with the cabin came a small off-grid solar setup, but I was more concerned with abstract concepts like “peace” and “beauty.”

So at first, I was happy with the single 12-volt battery I had. It forced me to live a simple life without a bunch of electronics—always a good thing.

With the limited power available I was able to use my laptop, a few lights, a small speaker, and a phone charger. There was no cell service, so my phone never died, and I used kerosene lamps to read most nights.

It turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

But eventually, I was ready to upgrade my battery bank—mostly for the experience.

However, I had no idea where to start.

My first thought was, “This can’t be that hard.”

I quickly realized it was more complicated than I thought.

One of the first things I learned: it is so important to have an understanding of how lead acid batteries work before messing around with a battery bank’s wiring.

So I asked around for information, found some basic solar books (mostly outdated books from the local library), and used my phone to research batteries when I was closer to town and had cell service.

I ended up purchasing a couple of cheap marine or “deep cycle” batteries from the local hardware store on the recommendation of a new employee.

I realize now he probably didn’t know the difference between car batteries and the marine batteries they carried… but neither did I at the time, so fair enough. (A car battery’s power is measured in cranking amps, because the battery is designed to offer bursts of energy to start a vehicle—rather than slow discharge needed to run appliances.)

Luckily my limited research helped me decide on the marine batteries, which are designed to have a longer reserve capacity than car batteries.

All that meant in my case, however, was that it took me longer to destroy them.

Knowing what I do now, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I was nowhere near ready to install a battery bank—no matter how small this setup was. Here’s where I went wrong.

The failure happened because I didn’t know the difference between a series connection and a parallel connection.

Diagram showing series wiring versus parellel wiring
Series Circuit Wiring Vs. Parallel Circuit Wiring

In a series circuit, the current through each of the components is the same, and the voltage across the circuit is the sum of the voltages across each component.

Christmas lights are a good example of series wiring. If one light stops working, it blocks the power to the rest of the lights that come after in that circuit.

In a parallel circuit, the voltage across each of the components is the same, and the total current is the sum of the currents through each component.

When hooked up in parallel, each light will have its own path to the power source. If one light goes out, the rest will stay on since they are hooked up independently.

In short, series wiring increases the voltage but the amps stay the same. And parallel wiring increases the amperage but the volts stay the same.

And when I got the two new batteries in place, I had no idea what to do.

Now remember, I was working with just one 12 volt battery before, and now I have two 12 volt batteries, which created 24 volts when wired in series.

It’s also important to remember that my inverter (the heart of the system) operates on a 12 volt battery bank. So I’m limited to 12 volts for my battery system.

But wait, you say. You now have a 24 volt battery bank and a 12 volt inverter, that can’t work. Well, yes and no.

The way I wired it, which was in series, was of course wrong. And that’s because I was running a 12 volt inverter with a 24 volt battery bank.

What I should have done was wired the batteries in parallel at 12 volts, allowing my 12 volt inverter to play nice with my battery bank.

Diagram showing the original, wrong, and right way Ricky should have wired his batteries
Ricky's Mistake: Wiring Two 12v Batteries in a Series with a 12v Inverter.

On the flip side, I could have bought a new inverter that was 24 volt rated and would have been fine running with two 12 volt batteries in series (totaling 24 volts), but that would have cost me a lot more to upgrade, when all I had to do was wire my batteries correctly.

I’m still not sure if I caused any damage to my solar equipment. I would be surprised if you told me I didn’t.

My grandma warned me that maybe I shouldn’t attempt to upgrade my system, but of course I didn’t listen. Luckily, she seems to be a firm believer in learning through experience… So the time and money spent were not a total loss in her eyes. (Or maybe she was just trying to make me feel better about destroying her stuff…).

After this experience, I decided to pursue some real education in solar installation.

And I won’t lie—my inspiration came from wanting to make things right at the cabin. (Not to mention wanting to prove to myself that I could figure it out.)

My solar disaster was 100% my fault. And although my grandma has never expressed frustration over the “battery-turned-paperweight incident,” I am sure she would appreciate a more thought out and educated approach to make things right again.

That brings me to Wholesale Solar. I have always had an interest in finding a career path in some sort of industry that supported sustainable living, with solar at the top of that list.

I’ve worked in biodynamic farms in the mountains of Mendocino. I’ve also given water conservation a go with a sustainable plumbing company building rainwater collection systems and gray water gardens in Sonoma.

And as a part of that job I noticed that at every beautiful job site there was a solar array.

I was actively taking classes and pursuing my career, but I’m happy (and lucky) to say I fell into the Wholesale Solar team by chance.

I started working here in July of 2016, and eventually found my way into the technical support department. Which is funny—because I often help folks going through the same kind of failed experiment I did.

Solar takes a lot of time, patience, and effort to install and maintain. That’s something I learned the hard way, and something I hope to teach our customers.

I have so much respect for our customers after battling a tricky installation myself, and I am so grateful to finally be in a position to not only help my grandma, but also many other off-the-grid enthusiasts trying to live in an independent paradise.

Click to download our guide to getting started with solar power
SolarTech TV: How to Program Your Power Center

SolarTech TV: How to Program Your Power Center

SolarTech TV is back, ya’ll!

If you missed Josh the Tech Guy’s how-tos that make some of the most complex solar tech look easy, you’re in luck! Making complex tech look simple is his specialty: if you call in for our solar tech support, it’s Josh you’re going to be talking to. And if you’ve talked to him before, you know you’re in good hands.

In this edition, Josh walks you through how to program a Magnum Power Center. If you’ve got an off-grid system from Wholesale Solar, chances are you’re going to need to learn how to program the Magnum inverter, battery monitor kit, AC input amperage, and the Midnite Classic charge controller included in the pre-wired Power Center designed by Wholesale Solar’s expert techs.

Ready? Let’s get started:

Click here to learn more about the Power Center featured in this video!

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Batteries Are Right For Me?

Ask Wholesale Solar: Which Batteries Are Right For Me?

There are a lot of reasons folks make the decision to go solar. More and more, that decision involves including an element of backup power, which is stored using batteries.  But which batteries are right for which solar project? Which batteries should you use if you’re running your whole home off-grid? What about for a small cabin that you only visit once in a while? Which batteries are best if you’re adding the security of backup power to your grid-tied home? And how does emerging technology like the Tesla Powerwall compare with other new energy storage technologies?

Get an expert perspective on all of this, and learn about the newest battery technologies, in this latest video in the Ask Wholesale Solar series.

Solar design tech Jeremy A. discusses the differences between the most common types of batteries used to store energy from your solar array, including lead-acid batteries and sealed AGM batteries, and  goes over emerging technology such as lithium ion batteries like the Tesla Powerwall and aqueous ion batteries.

Do YOU have a question you’d like to Ask Wholesale Solar? Ask away in the comments and your question could be featured in a future Ask Wholesale Solar video!

Install of the Month – October 2016

Install of the Month – October 2016

Preparing for Anything with John S.

Hello friends, there’s a chill in the air and the leaves are starting to turn. That means it’s time to welcome fall in with our October Install of the Month!

This is an especially timely one. With the seasons changing and winter coming soon, it’s the time of year to expect instability in the grid. Any number of things can happen that result in your home losing power, and snow and winter storms are just the beginning.

John’s system is the perfect antidote to an unstable grid. Not only is it tied into the grid and able to save him money, it also serves the crucial function of being able to handle his critical electrical loads when the power goes out. That means he can keep the lights on, his phone charged, his water running, and his fridge on so his food keeps.

This is done through a battery bank that works alongside a grid-tied system. And not only is John’s system able to power his critical loads when the grid is down for a short period of time, he basically has an unlimited power source because this system can also switch to using his solar panels to draw energy to his battery bank and then to his home. Which means, yes, as long as there’s sun, John’s got power.

The magic here is the Outback Radian power center. If you’re curious exactly how this versatile powerhouse can switch from feeding the grid to battery backup to powering his home through his panels, you can read about it here.

John is a great example of a highly motivated DIYer who is not afraid to read manuals
– Sales Technician Jeremy A.

We also love this installation because it’s a relatively complicated one for a DIYer without an electrical or construction background, but his installation turned out super clean thanks to his attention to detail and willingness to dig in and do some research. “John is a great example of a highly motivated DIYer who is not afraid to read manuals,” says sales technician Jeremy A. “It turns out Mr. Smith came to us pretty much ready to go.”

John had a few simple questions, but working with Jeremy he was able to get them cleared up in no time. After that, he didn’t waste any time getting started. John had already teamed up with a local electrician, so it was all systems go. The only thing stopping him was the Arkansas summer heat. John stuck with it though, squeezing in time to complete his install in the early mornings before it got too hot.

If you’re interested in knowing more about how to get backup power, you can read more here or give one of our sales techs a call at 1-800-472-1142. If you want to be prepared for anything, you might want to look into the intricacies of how the Outback Radian power center makes it possible to have a grid-tied system that seamlessly supports backup power as well, by reading about it here or calling one of our expert techs. We also have our Fall Sale going on now through October 31st, so there’s never been a better time to make sure your home is as well-prepared as John’s.

Components in John’s System

1 Outback Radian Power Center
36 SolarWorld 280 Watt Solar Panels
1 Radiant Solar Technology Battery Enclosure
8 Crown AGM Batteries
2 Midite Combiner Boxes
2 Midnite Surge Suppressors
IronRidge Roof-Mount Racking

Interview with John S.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

It took about 5 months. I worked when the weather permitted (a good amount of rain this year). I usually worked for a few hours in the morning while the temperature was still good.

I had an electrician change the Main Panel from a 200 amp panel to a 225 amp panel and wire about half of the house circuits to the “critical circuit” panel that I had installed as part of the installation process. I had help from two men on lifting the power center up onto the wall bracket. I had someone help me hold the six panels mounted at the top of the roof on the 30 degree slope so I could get them bolted down. I had someone help me pull the large cable connecting the Power Center to the Combiner boxes through the buried 2-inch PVC conduit. I installed the rest.

I wanted to save money in the long run and have a power backup system in case the grid goes down for any reason.
– John S.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Not in a professional way but I had previously performed other home projects that dealt with a small amount of construction and wiring.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

The most tedious job was digging the 5-inch wide, 18-inch deep, 110-ft long trench through layered rock by use of hand-tools and a jackhammer. Confusion at the beginning was expected until I became familiar on how all the components go together and work together through reading the provided manuals and literature. Reading about the major components on the internet also helped lift the fog of confusion. Information about solar power installation from the internet helped me understand what was need to stay in NEC compliance. This especially applied to conduit installation requirements dealing with DC circuits.

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

I did obtain two 60-amp manual disconnects and mounted them outside near the grid power meter. One was used between the Power Center (Grid Input) and Main Panel and the other was used between the Power Center (AC Output) and the Critical-Circuit Panel with battery bank backup. The disconnect between the Power Center and Main Panel was recommended by the local electric utility. The disconnect between the Power Center and Critical-Circuit Panel is for firefighters in case they needed to de-energize the house circuits being backed up by the battery bank. This disconnect was added by me after initial comments by the local building inspector about making sure all house circuits could be de-energized by emergency responders in cooperation with the local electric utility personnel.

I also bought the SolaDeck roof feedthrough box for running the panel wires through the roof deck into the two 1-1/4 inch conduit pipes as seen in the photos. I also bought the Radian Solar Technology Battery Box to house the battery bank. I built a cedar box to shield the RST Battery Box from the elements since I wanted the batteries on the outside of the garage wall where my Power Center is mounted. I also added a 14KW Kohler Generator after the original purchase.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

I decided to self-install for two main reasons: (1) so I could install it the way I wanted it installed based upon my own analysis on what would be the most efficient and aesthetically pleasing, and (2) to save money on the cost of installation and state & local sales taxes (10.25%). I probably saved about a total of $14K.

I probably saved about a total of $14K.
– John S.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

I wanted to save money in the long run and have a power backup system in case the grid goes down for any reason. I also like the idea of using renewable energy from an environmental point of view.

 

Install of the Month – August 2016

Install of the Month – August 2016

Coming directly from our System Design and Salesperson Todd E.:

“This month’s Install of the Month has to be my favorite yet! I really love the Craftsman styling of the home, it is not a Tiny Home, but has similar qualities with its efficient design aesthetics.”

“Gary had electrical needs very similar to my own home, so the system design was very easy. What is really the stand out feature of this system is the ability to run his mini split Panasonic Air Conditioner! Gary even sent a photo of his Magnum ME-ARC showing his system putting 24 amps into his battery bank while running that AC unit, and doing laundry. Amazing.”

“This system has 15 Astronergy 255 watt panels (current model 260 watt), a single Four Star Solar Magnum MS4448PAE power center, with a Midnite Classic 150 charge controller.
He has 16 Rolls Surrette L16 batteries for a total of 800 amp hours at 48 volts. That is roughly 12 kWh of power per “reasonable” cycle. The panels were mounted to his comp shingle roof using Quick Mount flashings and IronRidge XR100 racking.”

“Gary made his own battery box out of Hardieplank cement board siding. Smart choice, its fireproof! I reminded him that his battery cable conduit run should be lower than his battery box vents so that the hydrogen gas does not flow right up to the inverter. Hydrogen naturally rises and needs to exit the battery box, but you need to keep it away from your sensitive electronics. [Editorial Note: Lead acid batteries need to be vented because the chemical reaction releases gases as water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen. Read more about battery maintenance.]”

“This medium size system is the most popular one I sell. It will easily provide typical energy needs for a family of 2-4 people as long as you put the high energy demand items on propane, things like the water heater (on demand propane heaters are great!) clothes dryer, kitchen stove, and space heating. For an investment of under $20 grand, he now lives where he wants and is not tethered to the power company, does not have to worry about black outs, or disconnection notices for late payments. Once you go off grid, YOU are in charge. Off grid property is almost always a much better deal (read CHEAP LAND) and therefore leaves you money to build your house and buy your solar. Your property taxes are generally lower due to the low purchase price of the property. It’s a win win, as long as you don’t mind the lack of neighbors.”

“Thanks for sharing your project / vision with us Gary! Job well done!”

System Components in Gary W’s Solar Install:

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. – Gary W.

Interview with Gary W.

How long was the full installation process from receiving your equipment to flipping the switch? How many people did it take?

Took a day to install the panels; two guys on the roof, two on the ground. I installed the power center and wired up the batteries, and the electricians did the hardwiring. One day and one guy each. Actual time from delivery to switch-on was a few months, but that was because we were building the house.

Did you have any previous construction experience?

Nothing like this. I had a million questions for Todd.

What was the most confusing or difficult part of the installation?

Now that I know how, it would be a snap. It was difficult because I had no experience or knowledge of the parts or connections. I wish systems came with a simple install manual, but Todd tells me that such an instruction set would be difficult to come up with since there are so many variables. So you just buy the stuff and ask questions, and before you know it, you’re an “expert!”

Were there any unforeseen additional parts or tools you needed?

Nope.

How/Why did you choose to self-install?

Probably the same reason everyone does: money. Also, being out in the boondocks didn’t keep the delivery truck from coming, but it might have made it hard to get an installation company to come out here, 60 miles from the city.

What was your primary reason for adding solar to your home?

No choice. No power lines nearby, and the electric company told me each pole would cost me $10,000. I’m so happy I went solar – with free energy handed out by the sun every day, it’s a no-brainer.

Living literally in the shadow of the Power Link, I am off the grid. No power lines, water, gas, or cable come to my property.

I read on the Wholesale Solar site that “To capture the maximum amount of solar radiation over the course of a year, a solar array should be tilted at an angle approximately equal to a site’s latitude, and facing 15 degrees of due south.” With this in mind, I oriented the house exactly south and specified an 8/12 pitch roof. The latitude of Campo California is 32.6°, and the 8/12 roof is 33.7°. That’s as close as I could get for a fixed roof mount array.

With just the AC running, I’m putting about 35 amps into the batteries, which are usually at 100 percent by about mid-day. I also have a one horse well pump and a one-horse pressure pump, but I have the well pump on a timer to only come on in the middle of the night to top off my 5000 storage tank. That’s to avoid an unexpected surge when I’m using a lot of power for other things. Too big a surge can shut down the system, but it only requires the push of a button to restart.

We don’t get a lot of rain or cloudy days here, but I’ve only had to crank up the generator once since we got the solar system up and running, and that includes electric use by the contractors. I couldn’t be happier with my system and the fact that all this free energy falls on my house every day. Thanks to Wholesale Solar and especially Todd for all the help, advice, and encouragement (not to mention great equipment) that made my little homestead possible.

Breakthrough Savings on Crown Batteries

Breakthrough Savings on Crown Batteries

Batteries are key components in backup, off-grid and other solar-with-storage systems, however ordering batteries from an online supplier is often cost-prohibitive due, primarily, to the associated shipping costs.  Let’s face it; batteries are heavy and therefore expensive to ship, making the total cost of a battery or battery bank largely dependent on how far away you are from your supplier.

Wholesale Solar now has a way to overcome this obstacle, thanks to our friends at Crown Battery.   Having been chosen as Crown Battery’s premier distributor for renewable energy products, Wholesale Solar now has full access to Crown Battery’s extensive, nationwide distribution network, which allows us to provide substantial savings on shipping, as well as preferred pricing, on all Crown batteries.

Crown Battery has been supplying premium quality batteries to the industrial and heavy equipment markets for nearly a century.   Drawing from their extensive experience and application-specific R&D, Crown Battery now manufactures premium quality batteries for the renewable energy market, all of which are backed by an exclusive Wholesale Solar/ Crown three year replacement warranty.

Started in 1926 in Fremont, Ohio; Crown Battery prides itself on absolute quality, with over 99% of their batteries manufactured at state-of-the-art facilities right here in the USA.  Being an American-owned company ourselves, Wholesale Solar is excited to work with a company who is as equally dedicated to providing quality American products and services.

To learn more about the breakthrough savings you’ll receive when ordering a Crown battery or battery bank for your back-up, off-grid or other battery based system, call Wholesale Solar at 1-800-474-1142 or visit us at www.wholesalesolar.com.