Skip to comments.Solar Companies Seek Ways to Build an Oasis of Electricity (panels a FAIL after Sandy)
Posted on 12/01/2012 6:49:08 PM PST by Libloather
Solar Companies Seek Ways to Build an Oasis of Electricity
By DIANE CARDWELL
Published: November 19, 2012
When Hurricane Sandy wiped out the power in areas like coastal Long Island and the Jersey Shore, what should have been beacons of hope hundreds of solar panels glinting from residential rooftops became symbols of frustration.
Despite the popular perception that installing solar panels takes a home off the grid, most of those systems are actually part of it, sending excess power to the utility grid during the day and pulling electricity back to run the house at night. So when the storm took down power lines and substations across the Northeast, safety systems cut the power in solar homes just like everywhere else.
Heres a $70,000 system sitting idle, said Ed Antonio, who lives in the Rockaways in Queens and has watched his 42 panels as well as those on several other houses in the area go unused since the power went out Oct. 29. Thats a lot of power sitting. Just sitting.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Even the environmentalist wackos at The New York Times had to admit that solar power was a huge disappointment after Hurricane Sandy. You might think that homes with big solar panels would not have electricity when the grid went down, but that is wrong. Most solar systems are wired to provide electricity to the house or business and then sell the remainder to the electric utility. When the grid goes down the solar systems are automatically cut off because you don't want a solar panel to be sending electricity on wires that the utility is trying to fix. It's the same reason that before home generators kick on, they disconnect from the grid. With solar panels it is a little different because to run a home with solar panels big batteries are needed to get you through the night. So when the grid goes down the solar panels disconnect themselves and you have great big reflecting panels on your roof.
I know, we need Obama to issue a new government decree that utilities install enough batteries to capture power during the day, so the stored energy can be used at night. Maybe 50 Trillion in stimulus dollars will get this going!
Put a transfer switch on the incoming line to a small inverter generator like a honda. The Solar inverter sees the Honda as the Grid then and will sync with it and run.
Most inverters have an offline mode, you set it up by putting critical circuits (refer and lighting, furnace blower, etc) on its own sub panel and putting in a switch over breaker setup. Power goes out, the critical circuits can be flipped over to run independantly.
Not a problem with the panels, its a problem with the guys that set it up thinking grid intertye, not TSHTF. Those solar panels were chugging away, the inverters were not wired to run due to short sighted installations.
Just give everyone a GM Volt battery car to hook up...then you can use the battery for power at night.....turn on the motor and charge up the battery when the sun don't shine and the solar cells are useless.
There are a couple of problems with this type of solar. First they produce their power at non-peak times when power is not needed. Second, the homeowners (or more correctly, the scam artists who lease these things) get full retail price for the power which is not worth even the average wholesale price. Roof top solar from companies like solar city is 100% scam.
That and having a generator conversion kit to propane and natural gas is a great idea. Or ya can drive to Penn looking for unleaded fuel.
The idiots have FORTY TWO solar panels on the roof, an inverter in the garage and are surrounded by flooded cars with perfectly good batteries and wrecked buildings FULL of electrical wire.
And they still can not figure out how to get some power going in one or two rooms of a house?
I've made a good living off of idiots in the past.
Someone has to lead a life that serves only to demonstrate what NOT to do.
These stories and threads are entertaining to read. Most of those suburban grid-tie monsters were funded to great extents by big government tax credits and rebates for big income recipients.
An off-grid system can be fine and frugal for anyone willing to do enough study on PV sytems, find the least costly and best components, learn safety practices for electrical work, learn the National Electrical Code, learn good methods for installs, install an off-grid system (with batteries) himself and pass inspections (permits not necessary in at least some states for self-installs as modifications in RVs). But a “professional” install of an off-grid system will likely result in a system that won’t pay for itself.
No tax credits, rebates or other welfare for big shots here.
PV power works best in sunny areas, too. 42 modules is outrageous. In a climate that’s best for PV solar systems (say, more than 300 sun-days per year), 1000 watts of charging will do a good job of powering a reasonably small house with DC, chest-type freezer and fridge, and no electric range or dryer. Cloudier places require higher wattages from modules (more modules) and more backup fuel for generators. Just redneck common sense. ;-)
Before long, there’s a fair chance that the hands-on technically inclined will do well (not the situation for now). Chances of such people being willing to do any work for the now-currently, political-regulator-inclined folks after a general default process, though, are pretty slim.
And they still can not figure out how to get some power going in one or two rooms of a house?
I won't call them idiots, but it's clear that there is a serious lack of knowledge/initiative to utilize the resources in front of them.
After Katrina, it took us a few days to clear the downed trees off of the dead end road we live on (only way out). On the last day, we came to a downed power pole and transformer laying in, and blocking passage through, a flooded area that was almost becoming passable as the river fell.
As I walked up and heard the discussion, the consensus they (neighbors) had reached was that we would all have to wait (some unknown number of days/weeks) for the power company to reach us so that we didn't get electrocuted.
I informed them that if the line had any electricity, it would be popping and crackling as the electricity shorted out in the water. And also, that the likely hood of any power returning in the near term was pretty minimal.
Nobody wanted to believe that, so I went to my toolbox and got a hacksaw, waded out to the pole/wire, and hacked through the line. Once they saw that the line was really dead and that I wasn't dancing with Reddy Kilowatt, someone pulled up their tractor and we pulled the pole/transformer and line over to the side.
A few hours later the river dropped low enough for us to pass through the flooded area, and after cutting through two more downed trees, we had full passage open to the main road.
Of course, then we found out how little food, gas, etc. was available to be had at that point.
So, that's why I won't call them stupid, if they don't know something, finding a solution can be challenging.
Of course, out of that many people impacted, seems like there ought to be enough knowledgeable people there.
You have to realize they sat there for days whining about not having any water to drink (next to a system of rivers and the Atlantic Ocean)
If the electrical grid goes down solar panels will need a generator to take their place but if gasoline is not available a person should have sufficient battery power on hand. If not drag out the hand cranked generator.
The task of coupling a hand cranked generator to a vintage stationary bicycle would not be very difficult.
Just a thought.
I had a battery go weak on me in the Blazer about three years ago. It was not dead but the computer in the car would not allow it to try to start, the voltage must have been too low.
It was Sunday afternoon and the sun was at about 45 deg.
Went to the garage and dragged out a 75 watt panel and wired it direct to the battery and aimed the panel full into the sun, propping it on the windshield.
90 minutes later I re-aimed the panel into what was left of the sun. There was enough power to crank the car. The trick was to leave the panel connected while starting to trick the computer into reading the voltage as high enough to "let" the Blazer try to start.
I thought that one up in about two minutes.
These folks can't figure out or find out how to disconnect the service drop at the top of the panel, swing around a few wires, hook up enough batteries in parallel so they will not boil while charging without a charge controller (non mentioned in the article) in a month.
Sorry, but they should be able to do better than that.
Of course, they might have been like the guy I saw at the Redbox, driving a S Class, pants and snow white shirt dry cleaned, still as stiff as cardboard at five in the afternoon, silk tie, watch/shoes to match.
He could not figure out the Redbox with the instructions flashing on the screen, he needed me to step him through renting a movie.
Probably cranking 250k+ a year and dumb as a hammer.
Libs for all their professed generosity tend to be very cheap. The solar systems most people install for power rely on the grid (net billing) rather than batteries because batteries are expensive. So if the grid goes down, they’re SOL.
“That and having a generator conversion kit to propane and natural gas is a great idea.”
Here’s some more grist for those of you who like to bash California. I bought a 3000 watt generator so we could take our Airstream to State Campgrounds ( before they were closed) because they don’t have electrical hook ups. I found a company that would sell me a Honda Generator like the one I wanted with a NG/Propane conversion. (so you could actually run it on any one of THREE different fuels ( Gasoline, Natural Gas or Propane). But the kicker was that they were not “legal” in California because the Air Resources Board had not “approved” the conversion kit. So now I am going to have to buy the kit separately and install it so that I can use the generator as a backup at home and also be able to run it on the Propane supply on the Airstream. We have, without doubt, the stupidest government in the country.
Solar power is the “Yellow Brick Road” to Oz..
Wicked Whichs, Snoopy Doggies and everything..
Are these people too stupid to go out to their power panel and OPEN THE SWITCH that connects their home to the grid??? At which point the solar system is INDEPENDENT and "should" be capable of providing power to the home (at least partially).
If this capability isn't available (I can't see how it would not be), then the installers of said systems are due for a LOT of lawsuits.
Unfortunately it's not just a switch as most grid tie inverters have a protective circuit that is integral with the system. It can't be bypassed as the parameters are burned into the eprom or at very least set by software that the end user has no access to. Likewise, no "switches" it's all solid state. The inverter will look for a narrow band of voltage coming in from the grid which by itself would be easy to overcome. The hard part is frequency. The system also looks for a perfect sine wave of 60 cycles per second, give or take maybe .05 hertz. If an outside power source is making 59.94 hertz or 60.06 hertz it locks down the system. Not many generators are that precise. Also there is the problem of what happens when say 42 panels start feeding back into a 600 watt "pilot" generator at, say 10,000 watts. I don't pretend to know the answer to the last one.
If there are any electrical gurus out there that know how to get past those hurdles, especially the frequency one, please feel free to jump right in.
I'm not talking about a switch on the inverter, I'm talking about the main power entry panel to the home. There HAS to be a way to isolate the house from the utility line to allow people to work on the house power circuits. Any electrician who would work on such a system without a MECHANICAL isolation switch WITH A POSITIVE LOCKOUT is an idiot. I know "I" damned well wouldn't trust an "electronically controlled" switch as sufficient protection.
And anybody who is so stupid as to buy a solar power system that DIES when the grid goes down deserves whatever consequences happen to them as a result.
There are MECHANICAL ISOLATION SWITCHES between the house and grid and also between the house and the solar panels. You may flip those switches and isolate or de-isolate anything and everything until your heart is content but it is not going to make the inverter work. The whole idea of the system working that way is to keep idiots who don't have a clue from flipping those switches without knowing what they are doing and endangering the line workers who might get a taste of that ten thousand kilowatts or so feeding back into the main lines. They would be endangering themselves, lineworkers and even their neighbors. A photovoltaic system can be easily designed to function off grid as well but that involves maintaining batteries, lots of extra expense, more wires and more. It is a different kind of system, with a different objective.
I suppose you could just as easily say that those who don't buy generators and keep plenty of fuel for when the grid goes down deserve whatever consequences happen to them as a result. I won't say it but you can.
Sorry, but simply stupid. It is quite easy to build in the intelligence on both sides of the mechanical switch to the grid to disallow the passage of current in either direction unless the correct handshaking is in place. This is essentially what a ground-fault-interrupt circuit does, but in two directions instead of one. The appropriate "triggering signal" is the presence of a 60Hz "signal" simultaneously on either side of the mechanical switch. But IMO, virtually any owner can be trained to properly handle this situation.
"A photovoltaic system can be easily designed to function off grid as well but that involves maintaining batteries, lots of extra expense, more wires and more. It is a different kind of system, with a different objective.
I understand the differences in the systems quite well, thank you. And my point is that engineers who design and companies who sell such systems without pointing out that the solar-power system does not offer off-grid/backup capability without fully informing those who buy them are totally unethical. And yes, anyone who buys such a system IS an idiot for not doing the necessary homework to understand is capabilities (or lack of capabilities).