Off-Grid Living

Off-Grid Living

Off-Grid Living videos off-grid experiences the pursuit of energy independence.

One UGLY TRUTH About Off Grid Solar Power

It’s not winter anymore folks! See the outside temperature… inside’s 80 outside’s 81- 82. Today we have a million and a half things to do and hash tag this isn’t a rant this is just life we’re not venting it’s just life so we’re staring at all we told you we’re going to tell the story we didn’t say it was all peaches and unicorns or whatever so so today we were going to work on our plumbing actually no we weren’t we were going to work on our trailer lighting except for trailer lighting has become a month-long project as it turns out so we went to plan B which was all right let’s get after our plumbing project and then we’re like but hold on a minute we get to deal with solar today because it’s blistering sunny out and we’re not getting not even half of our solar is making it to our battery bank we have adjusted the solar panels for summer solstice yeah I adjusted them if you haven’t already seen that video will link to it I adjusted the panels for summer and we gained nothing and done is money so right now we’re actually having to turn our generator at night it’s bloody sunny outside we shouldn’t have to run the generator for the next six months and here we are Peters along and I’ll tell you what the real problem is we’ve got a freezer so if there are two really ice cream crazy people in this household I wouldn’t have to work so hard and it’s getting warm again and so now the freezers having to work overtime which shouldn’t be a problem because it’s sunny outside so it shouldn’t it shouldn’t be an issue but because we’re not getting the amount of solar that we should now we’re having to run the generator to top-up with the batteries so today we’re going to diagnose solar but first I had a theory back in the winter I’ll share that theory with you right now one very little known fact about solar is how solar panels actually work so counterintuitive blazing sunny blue sky day yeah and we’re getting two-tenths of an amp of solar so why do you think that is well what they tell you is that a solar panel will generate X amount of electricity what they don’t tell you is that if that panel is even partially covered it will not generate any power at all somewhere right in there you’re looking at our solar panels they’re probably around 60% covered with snow at the moment and you would think okay well I’m only going to get about 40% power output right well wrong I’m not speaking in technical terms but the way a solar panel works is each of those little black grids is actually a very small amount of voltage and those little black grid that you see are actually wired so that when they all receive Sun it generates the voltage that the panel is rated for however it’s even some of those cells are covered by something like a shadow or a cloud or snow you get nothing got it so it seems like each panels producing about one amp or so and basically if the panel isn’t a hundred percent exposed then you’re not getting any power from that panel at all we have a couple of theories that I’m going to use to troubleshoot the solar system first the first theory I have is that we’ve lost a panel and because roughly the current we’re getting is about two thirds of the amount of current we should be getting which if I do the math on my head one panel isn’t putting out the problem is it could be the panel or it could be a connector or something to so I’m going to start with just going up and doing a visual inspection on all the connectors and just see if something somehow came unplugged maybe if not I’m then going to cover each panel one at a time and have a list that tell me whether or not the current changes and if we can we can isolate one of the panels that’s not producing in addition to free power the good news about excessive amount of Sun and heat is that we just might get our new solar oven warm enough to cookin what are we going to make I think we should make things to give to other people yeah I know because I don’t really eat banana bread so I make it an idea that’s fun yeah then we give it away for brownies you know what be amazing it’s we can make like a baked cheese cake you know how we’re making like the DIY cheesecakes yeah I’ll bet we could bake a gnarly cheesecake I guess we should try it you going to the top of the hill yeah and I hate yelling actually I love yelling I don’t like it rather do it for the radio so the first thing I wanted to check is just to make sure that the panels are clean I mean they’re not spotless but they’re definitely not dirty so this shouldn’t be costing us half of our power next thing to check is all the connections we’ve got these harnesses because these solar panels I believe I remember correctly they’re running parallel so that all of the amperages are doubled but the voltage stays the same so just kind of doing a visual on all of these connectors and these all look fine what about over here so this is the other side these all look like they’re doing okay because we are getting some current from the panel’s that tells me that our main leads as far as I can tell are doing just fine that means that you know the main lines not broken or damaged so something else is going wrong so I think what we should do is isolate each panel and see if we can figure out which ones not producing maybe so I forgot to bring something up here to cover the panels with and so this is going to bring me a tarp thank you yes so one of the realities of solar for us has been that it’s not in every day ordeal but there is definitely a top of mind thing you have to always be aware of what the system is doing in our experience so far Solar is not a hands-off plug it in and walk away lifestyle which we’re not opposed to because right now the Sun is providing our power reasonably for free so it comes with trade-offs alright so what we’re looking for is I want to know I’ll tell you when I cover a panel and I’m looking for a pretty substantial drop in amperage and then maybe you can let me know what that drop overall is and then I’ll take the cover off the panel okay all right I’m going to cover a panel number one now okay so I’m going to remove the cover from the hall and then I want you to kind of keep an eye on the jumper doesn’t increase okay okay I don’t three extra amp okay that’s not good that means we’re getting three amps out of that panel or so all right let’s continue down the line so I’m going to cover up panel number two that’s the one in the middle and we’ll see what the current drop is on that all right any noticeable change in current down there it’s leveled out at eight point one so about eight and plus all right eight amps is quite a bit I mean that’s probably what I would expect each of these panels to produce is about eight amps so let me move on to panel number three and let’s see if that one gives us eight amps – okay so something changed I don’t know maybe my head was creating a shadow and I didn’t realize it so hmm let me think about this for a minute so I’m thinking that this little bit of panel that’s exposed right here is throwing off of our calculation so I need to change my tarp so are we having any changes right now is it pretty done steady it’s pretty steady so like thirteen point seven to nine so let’s just go back through one panel at a time so I’m going to move now the panel number two and we’ll see what happens zero changed so far okay so we’re still at thirteen point seven to thirteen point nine yes okay so I’m going to move now back to panel number one and let’s see if there’s any change there it said about fourteen thirteen point nine okay so that makes no sense why to panels is fourteen but three panels is eighteen so let me take this off this last panel here and see if we get any change we’re at seventeen point three so that means that every single panel is producing but something’s not making sense by the time it gets to the charge controller now I know that the size of our wiring is an issue because we’re running I think it’s around a hundred feet and we’re running on twelve volts so I think the voltage going down that wire is only maybe like in the seventeen volt range which is really low so we’re trying to push a lot of amperage through a fairly small wire and that’s not a good idea with solar which is why these kind of low voltage are V type systems aren’t really excellent for off gridding they’re okay but they’re meant to run very short wire runs and when you’re off gritting like we are you run pretty long wire runs that’s why it’s really ideal if you can to go to a higher voltage bolt on the panel and on your charge controller that way when you run that high voltage on a long run of wire you don’t lose nearly as much current but that requires a far more advanced charge controller to handle the higher voltages coming in which we don’t have right now and it’s typical when you first start out you’re going to use more budget type solar components and you’re going to run into these restrictions so at this point because I did some fairly basic troubleshooting and it’s not obvious to me what the problem is I’m just going to give go power a jingle and see if they have any ideas because they probably have run into scenarios like this before brief message with your name phone number and the products you are calling about we will respond by the end of business day one of the other realities of solar is that you have components to date it’s still a component industry where you’ve got batteries from one company cables from another company a charge controller from another company wires from another company and panels from another company and so you end up with all this stuff it’s kind of like the PC world where you’re you have to download new drivers and reboot and update your operating system and all the stuff to get things to work together a good system really comes down to things that are well-matched go Power has a lot of matched components which is why we felt like we shouldn’t have too many struggles and we don’t know what part of this could just be Ricky mistakes so we’re learning as we go which is awesome because we want to upgrade our system in the near future and hopefully we’ll have our training wheels off on solar by the time that day comes but this is one of those harsh realities of solar you need to be prepared to ask for help and I have to say that using the internet for support isn’t always the best idea you get a million ideas on how to make solar work on the internet and we prefer to just call the company direct and talk to them about their products so when you choose a company to work with make sure that they have as good of technical support as they have a product and that way when you have questions or concerns you can get help because Solar is often dealing in large currents with low voltage having access to meters for this stuff is not something you’re just going to find at your local big box store we have volt meters but they’re limited on the amount of current that they can measure and so without buying a meter that cost as much as our solar system it’s challenging for us to do a lot of Diagnostics on these systems for example we still have this brownout issue with the transformer on our inverter and I just don’t have the equipment to test it so it’s something that we’re doing because go Power has generously sent us three different units and it seems to be a consistent problem across units but I don’t know that it’s the unit I wonder if there’s something in our system that’s causing it so unfortunately I guess we’ll just kind of never know which really sucks but you have to understand that this is not household electrical this is pretty specialized low-voltage and having the right tools to work on it they’re not readily available I can also say about these rv-style more budget type systems that data is super important because you don’t have time to sit out here and visually look at the charge controller but the higher-end off-grid type charge controllers track your data and you can you can look at those charts and a lot of them will track a month or more even a year and so you don’t have to ask yourself well I wonder if we got any solar today you can simply look up the charge controller look at the data and it’ll tell you exactly how many watt hours you got that day and so you don’t have to sit here and be like is it charging and look at it right so this is part of the higher end equipment this is not part of that category this is real time it just tells you what it’s doing at the moment but if you’re gone you know you’re away from home shopping and you come home and you’re like gosh I wonder if we got any solar today this won’t tell you so just to do some basic troubleshooting we have seen twenty seven amps before on our charge controller so we know that it’s capable of it we’re just not sure why it’s not doing it now and this happens sometime over winter because the highest I’ve seen from recollection was about 18 amps and that was prior to me doing the the solar panel tilt for summer and now we have full blazing Sun and we’re sitting at 16 amps and we should be sitting closer to like 28 or 29 so just to check I wanted to feel these wires for warmth in case somehow you know we’re overloading the wire with too much current which is possible and there’s just no warmth here at all everything’s working fine our disconnects are working okay everything’s working good there are disconnects not causing any problems I mean there’s a slim chance that this component could be causing a problem but it would be warming up you feel once because resistance creates heat right and there’s no warmth there at all so I’m not sure what’s going on something’s not working correctly but basic troubleshooting be just feeling your wires for warmth if you’ve got warmth that means something’s not getting where it’s supposed to be going I’m stealing the cameras jesse has a revolution you know what I’m thinking huh I might have just had a freaking idiot moment that would be night like a major idiot moment okay I don’t know okay I hope so Charlene came it’s a little dramatic because you see how much crap we’ve just gone through and this is part of solar so if I’m right I would love to be right so as the batteries get full part of a charge controllers job is to limit the amount of current going into the battery right so like as our inverter charger gets closer to full you’re going to see the amperage dropping right so during bulk it’s like crazy I’m filling the batteries up so we’ve had days where our batteries have been low it’s still low and well that’s why I don’t know today but I’m thinking because this is dropping still yeah it was at 18 and we’re getting lower but if you look at our battery voltage we’re getting up there I’m yeah holding a really high so this may be the amount of amperage that it needs to hold the batteries because it knows the batteries are at thirteen point one volts so this is why a phone call to go power might be really helpful because they might say are your batteries full like yeah like what’s not supposed to church full of batteries really get though okay good to go so that may be what’s going on because it’s dropping I mean when we were up there it was eighteen something and now it’s down to sixteen and it’s dropping so what that means is it may not be a panel issue it may be because the batteries are full holding that would not be a fantastic revelation yeah as far as why it’s not charging when our batteries are empty well that I don’t have anything for you so part of what we do because our lifestyle allows us quite a bit of time discretion is chores when we’re waiting for something else to take place like go power to call us back so I’ve got a pretty exciting event happening today we’re closing on my rental property it’s sold I know how are we going to party rum raisin ice creams holy in the hot in the hot tub hold on before we count our chickens I better go get the documents and sign them because if any of you folks know about real estate it never goes as it’s supposed to go so I’ve got to go to town get those documents Herbie Hancock them and overnights and back alright how signing all done so hopefully within the next three days or so my rental will be sold it’s nice to have that weight off of our shoulders we don’t have to worry about it anymore while I was gone go Power called and asked me the exact question that I mentioned earlier what’s the state of charge of your battery bank and they confirmed what I kind of already thought and that is that as your batteries become full the charge controller limits the amount of current going into them it doesn’t change it to none because it’s trying to keep them at a maximum voltage you know state of charge and top that off with our batteries aren’t new so it’s kind of a interesting situation but they said the way to test whether your panels are putting out enough power or not is when they’re in full Sun like they were earlier and you’re getting a limited amount of current coming in put the inverter under a load turn something really good on something with a lot of juice and what that I’ll do is it’ll pull the voltage down on your battery bank and that should signal the charge controller if it’s going to to let lots more current come in so unfortunately the Sun is already off the panel’s today so that’s a project for another day so unfortunately the harsh truth with solar is that it’s not a hands off power system so for those folks who are thinking about going off-grid realize that there’s going to be a measure of hands on with your electricity it is nice because it provides a lot of energy independence but it’s not something that you just plug in and now you’ve got endless and abundance of free power of course there are more sophisticated systems and some of those can do some things for you which removes an element of the day-to-day maintenance but the good side is that it does allow you some energy independence you know during the summer months not so much during the winter you do get some power that you can use and there’s a limited cost there’s no such thing as free power because batteries cost money and all the technology and all that stuff to run it takes money so you’re going to pay for your power one way or the other but for some folks they don’t have a choice there’s no grid power available and does all this mean that Alice and I are going to go run and get hooked up to the power grid now not yet we still like the idea of having a self-sustaining energy system within reason so we’re going to stick with solar for now and we’re hoping down the road to upgrade our system to a more adequate system because we really are on the maximum end of the system that go power sent us it’s really meant for our being and we’re full-time living here so we’ve got some other panels we’re going to be working on some solar projects in the future thanks for joining us for this video and we’ll see you next time [Music] 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