[ExI] solar is looking better all the time: was RE: Efficiency of wind power

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Thu Apr 21 05:16:48 UTC 2011

On Wed, Apr 20, 2011 at 9:56 AM, spike <spike66 at att.net> wrote:
>>...All I have is a crappy little PV solar system that is constantly giving
> me trouble...  I'd like a better one please. :-)
> -Kelly
> Kelly that one offhanded comment has my full and undivided attention.  I
> have always assumed any rooftop PV system is pay the initial cost, install,
> forget.

I had a boss who once said "Do not confuse sale with install." The
sale is the install and forget it model. The install is a bit more

> Now you have me worried.  Do feel free to elaborate in arbitrary
> detail.  Did you keep records on what went wrong when, and how much it cost
> to fix, and did you personally have the tech expertise to repair it
> yourself, or did you need to call in proles to help?

I have not had the expertise to fix things myself, other than very
simple things like putting water into batteries. The major problem is
that since solar is so new, the people who are installing and
maintaining it are rank amateurs, and usually get it wrong. In my
first system, they didn't put in a ground, and that made various
electronic equipment fail mysteriously until we figured it out after
hiring an electrician that actually knew his head from a hole in the

Imagine yourself in 1906 trying to find a reliable automobile
mechanic. That is the situation today with solar. The guy who
installed my second system (I wasn't here when it was actually
installed) has a day job as an emergency room nurse. Sigh. And he's
one of the better ones around. The best guy lives three and a half
hours away.

One of the trickier bits is getting things set up so that the
generator is turned on automatically by the system when the batteries
need a charge and aren't getting anything from the PV panels. This is
important because if you wait for the batteries to run down
completely, then turn the generator on manually when the lights go
out, you are deep cycling the batteries which leads to short battery
life. The system won't work without batteries, so now I'm in the
position of waiting until we can afford new batteries before we can
use the PV system. I'm running the generator 24/7 until I can put the
money together for the new batteries (about $3000). My batteries are
only three years old, even though they supposedly can last as much as
six years. Keeping them full of water has been a challenging
maintenance issue.

Before that, I was having to go downstairs and reset the inverter at
least a couple of times a week as it would crash for no apparent
reason. Blown fuses have also been common with our system.

Add to that the normal maintenance of scraping the snow off the roof
where the panels are, and it is a significant time investment. You
have to like doing it to do this sort of thing. If you live off the
road like I do, it is also very difficult to get electricians to come
up during the winter. Most don't have their own snow machines, so you
have to shuttle them up, etc. But this isn't going to be a problem for
people living in town.

> I have a friend who is installing a hundred kWh peak on a ranch in Oregon to
> run pumps.  I am concerned, his brother is worried, he is terrified.

If the system runs when it is sunny, and doesn't run when it is not
sunny, has no batteries and runs on DC, then it probably isn't so bad.
Just get a VERY good electrician, which is very hard to find. Maybe an
investment in Angie's list??


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