Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chapter 67...Moving Solar Panels & Taking Care Of Batteries

Off Grid...Chapter 67

The next 2 installments are primarily about our solar system move and our new, and last lol, solar set up. Mike is pretty certain he has perfected our new system. In the next couple of weeks we are going to take down all the solar panels, move them to on top of the gray shipping container roof, move all the batteries to inside the building, disconnect all the solar(the charge controllers, the inverter, and all the wires) from inside our house, and re install everything inside the gray building. I know I lost some of you but I have lots of pictures.

We have a total of 12 solar panels. Mike is going to wire a set of 6 panels to one charge controller. The next set of 6 panels will be wired to their own charge controller. It is not necessary to have 2 charge controllers for this but Mike wants to have a redundant system in case there is ever a problem with one of them. This way we will never be without solar power. We can survive with 6 solar panels. Each set of panels will go to 7 which is half of our batteries. Everything will have one inverter but we have a back up one just in case. Mike likes to be prepared.

Tuesday June 2-

Now it's time to do some work. This is the before picture with our 12 solar panels in their current location on our homemade wood mounts. Yeah I'm going to get the wood for my next garden bed.

The first part of this is undoing all the wiring. We are going to disconnect 6 panels first and get those online. For a few days we will only be using 6 panels for all of our electric needs.

Mike is undoing the wires from the batteries and the solar panels.

Our first 3 solar panels are unhooked and we moved them into the shipping container.

Mike now has to use the metal pieces we bought to make the brackets and bolt them to the solar panels. First he has to lay the 3 solar panels down in the building. Then he takes the measurements and lays the metal pieces across the backs of the solar panels. Next he pre drills the holes for the bolts and then he tapes and marks the location of everything. We have to get everything ready in the building and than bolt it and install it all when we are on top of the roof. It would be just too heavy and dangerous for the 2 of us to try to get the whole thing up on the roof.

After everything is marked we can start transferring everything to the top of the roof. Mike goes on top of the roof and spreads a sheet out to protect the roof top. Then I start handing him the brackets, the 3 solar panels, and I bring up the tools. Now that we are both on the roof with the panels and brackets we can start putting it all together. I hope all the holes and markings are right, lol. We laid the the 2 brackets across the roof. Then we put the 3 solar panels on top of the brackets. Mike starts screwing the panels to the brackets to the panels but they don't fit. Uh oh I think i spoke too soon. "What's wrong?" He laughs and says "I bolted the panel in using the wrong hole" Ok at least that's an easy fix. Next Mike tells me to stay on the roof while he goes down and moves the ladder to the front of the building. He has to bolt the bracket down from the front of the building. He sets up the ladder and climbs up. While I help him hold the panels up he says "Oh no, I'm losing the ladder" Of course he is very calm and the next thing I know he is just gone. I'm yelling "are you ok"? Did you get hurt? Mike says he's fine he jumped off the ladder before it hit the ground. At this point I am having a heart attack because now I am stuck on the roof with no way down and Mike could have been lying on the ground hurt. Now I think I would have had to pull a Tarzan move and taken the sheet, knotted it around the edge of the building just to swing down. Yeah I sound so brave when I am such a wuss. But at least I had a plan, lol. I am really thankful Mike is has good reflexes and had good balance. The ladder slipped because it was in a thick patch of fresh gravel that slid when he climbed up.

Mike gets the first 2 panels connected on the front of the building.

Then Mike has to get underneath the panels to connect the adjustable leg braces and also bolt the panels to the brackets. He has to be an acrobat to move around under the panels.

While he is doing that I am looking around and I catch a flashing off to the side. I look over and can see a trackhoe way off over the mountain. It's Jimmy working on his land.

We finally have the first 3 panels in place and bolted down. Woo hoo. Later on, back on the ground, we disconnect the next 3 panels from our old wood mounts and out them inside the building to get fitted for their brackets. While Mike worked on the brackets I did some weed eating under the fence around our little compound. Then I finished spray painting the T-posts green. After that I played with my garden.

It is getting late but we are out while it's getting dark to remove the long board that held the first 6 panels. Here is Mike removing one of the boards that will be used for my next garden. Woo hoo.

Wednesday 6-3
Mike pre drilled all the holes into the next 3 panels. Here we are on top of the roof working on the next set of panels.

I'm not sure if you all remember how much I hate ladders. It's not that I fear heights I just have no balance. If you ever watched me climb a ladder you would laugh your self silly. I hang on for dear life like it will kill me if I fall off at 2 feet, lol. Anyway, I am only bringing this up because Mike is like a monkey and has really good balance. Here he is showing off.

Look Ma no hands, lol.

We came up with a better system for installing the next set of solar panels on the roof. On the first 3 we laid them down and then Mike had to crawl around underneath the panels to get it all bolted together. This time we stood the panels up and I held them together while Mike attached the brackets to the back. Once everything is even and bolted together we lay the whole thing down on the roof and then we install the legs to bolt to the roof. This was much easier for us.

Six panels are on the roof.

Now that the 6 panels are on the roof Mike has to start all the wiring. He has to wire the 6 panels, which each have one positive and one negative wire, into a disconnect box. From the disconnect box the wires go to the charge controller and then to the batteries.

Mike is installing the weatherproof disconnect box.

While he does that I go down to the house and paint some samples on the outside of the front of the house. We aren't in love with our house color so we are thinking of going back to our original idea of painting it some kind of darker green. I hate doing this because there are just too many colors out there. I tried 3 different colors and 2 of them are a little blue and the other one is kind of and unnatural color green.

The last job for the day is putting up the new board to hold all of the electronics inside the building. This way we can bolt everything to the board and not put a bunch of holes in the side of the building. Here is the board.

Thursday 6-4
Today is the big day. It is all or nothing. We will unhook the remainder of the solar panels and disconnect all of our batteries. We will have no power or water until all the batteries are moved and re hooked.

Mike starts out disconnecting all the wires.

Then we take the last 6 solar panels down and move them inside the building. And we take down the remainder of the wood boards.

Now we have to work on the batteries. First we have to disconnect all 14 batteries, move them to the building, clean them, and re hook them.

Here are the 14 batteries inside the box.

Mike gets them all disconnected and one by one we move them into the building. We have learned over the years to be careful so we are using a hand truck to move each battery. It makes no sense to hurt ourselves when we have the tools to make the job easier.

Next Mike takes apart the battery box and I bring it out to the well to give it a good scrub and cleaning. Then we dry it all and Mike sets it up inside the building.

Next I take a bucket of soapy water and I start cleaning the batteries.

Mike shows me how to clean any corrosion off of the batteries using a small wire brush.

After I get all the batteries cleaned Mike fills each of the batteries with distilled water. Our batteries are actually in very good shape and they hardly need any water at all. We aren't drawing them down which is a very good thing. We found that using and old dish soap bottle works best for filling the batteries with water.

It amazes me that all of our electric for our entire house is stored in Golf Cart Batteries. See you don't have to do what the "solar professionals" tell you, lol.

Now that the battery storage box and the batteries are clean Mike can start arranging the batteries and re connecting them.

Mike's new little invention. He made his own disconnect switch and attached it directly to the batteries. This turns off the power from the batteries to the inverter in case the system needs to be worked on.

Mike also cut down some blocks to make a mount for the inverter. This way it sits off the floor and air can circulate around it.

Back down to the house. Before everything can be hooked up in the building Mike had to disconnect all the solar equipment inside the house. First he disconnects all the wires, then he takes the 2 charge controllers off the wall, and disconnects the inverter.

This is the closet after Mike strips everything out. Yeah we have a real closet. Now we just have to clean it up and paint it. Woo hoo.

The wiring and equipment mess on the floor.

Finally everything we need to complete the new system is inside the building. Mike can now start working on the electronics to get us hooked back up.

For now Mike runs a wire to the house from the building so we have power from our batteries and also so our water pump inside the house works. While Mike does the wiring I start looking around to survey all the work that still needs to be done. Our hill on the side of the building is coming in with clover but we still have a lot of ruts that need to be filled with dirt.

I carry about 20 buckets of dirt over and start to fill the ruts. Then I add some more clover seed. When that grows in I can start working on more of the ruts.

Well we have been really busy the past 3 days. Tonight we are running our electric in our house from the stored power in our batteries. Next on the agenda Mike will get us hooked back in and our panels will start charging our batteries again. Woo hoo.

I hope you all enjoyed our story during the middle of this week. We have been getting a lot done and still have plenty to go.



  1. I have to say that I've learned more about solar energy from Mike and you than I have from any other source combined!!! Thanks for the lessons. Unfortunately, chances are slim that I will ever be able to take advantage of this in this lifetime. Maybe the next. :)

    1. I'm glad you learned something new...hey we are still learning about solar:)

    2. This is fascinating stuff... I'm not a total stranger to wiring - a self-taught wannabe, mmind you; But, I've never been around solar...

      Question; I understand that you are progressing here as your own knowledge is anhanced by experince - but I didn't follow why the quarter turn of the panels on the first move, off of the house and along the side...

      Also, the angle you guys mounted went from shallow on the house to quite steep on the poles, and now very shaloow again... Is there a lesson in that for a dreamer like me? And why the move away from the house with the whole power operation? Was there a noise associated with the electronics in the office, or something?

      Sorry! Insatiably nosey!! :-)

    3. We have never been around solar either, lol. Our area just doesn't have much of it.

      Good catch on the solar panel moves. I didn't even question that. Mike says "I have an idea: and that's all there is to it, lol. We are in the process of installing larger panels as soon as the weather gets better. Once we have it all in place Mike wants me to do a recap and all that we have learned. Oh that should be fun, lol. I hope to be able to do that in April or May. Our weather is not cooperating.

      The only thing that makes noise is the inverter. It makes a humming sound when we are producing and using a lot of electric. For example, if Mike is in his building and I am in the house and I start a load of laundry the inverter will kick on and start to hum.

      As for the move of everything. Mike just wanted to get it all cleaned up and in one location. The best spot for that is the building closest to the house.

  2. Cool! Thanks; I'm looking forward to Mike's "synopsis" later! I think you two should write a book on DIY solar! There are many folks in our area here in Ontario, Canada, who hav ebeen enticed into a contract arrangement with the provinical hydro company; they make the big investment, put up 2 quite large solar panels - the tracking type, thatfollow the sunbeams, I guess :-), the company pays them a large sum of money (more than we pay for hydro per kilowatt right now)per month for the power they produce... The stinker is,, it ALL has to go on the grid, and the farmer or homeowner involved must buy power back at the going rate! Frustrating for those who would like to try things "off the grid".

    1. We are the small guys here. I think the electric company figured we would end up hooking up with them after the first year, lol.

      I would love Mike to write a DIY. Heck I have been trying for years to get him to write a cheat cheat for "me", lol. He is a great teacher...hands on but not a writer. Unfortunately I really don't grasp the electrical. We'll get something put together one of these days:)

  3. I forgot what I set out to say! What I see happening in the big picture here around us, is that the push to go "green" is still all political; the actual hydro companies hate the idea, block every move a consumer makes individually... The good ideas are not being received by the big players - its threatening their control of the "grid"... they see small players as bugs on teh windshield - not as worthy partners in a pursuit of cleaner power... WE have so many larger scale livestock farms in this province... I beleive its only a matter of ime, and many rural areas will be powered by the gasses off these massive manure tanks... and hopefully, what they have to spread - and the rest of us have smell! - will be reduced, concentrated, and even better for the land... but right now, any farmer that trys it is met with miles of red tape and a highly uncooperative hydro company... its shamefull!

    1. The big guys don't realize our grid is old and falling apart.

      There are so many other options...hopefully one day they will become mainstream. Conservation is a big start though.