Volts, schlmolts, amps, zaps and all sorts of things magical

Yeah, you guessed it…the new solar array is starting to generate.  Oooooh….it’s so fine……..

One of my charge controllers is a-pumping.  The other awaits in eager anticipation of being juiced up, too.  Much like my son-in-law, Brian, who was the monkey-on-the-frame for the installation of most of the panels.  He wants to see the results of his labours as much as we do.

We are just reconnected to the old panels so far, actually – hence one controller pumping. In that sense we are just getting our old share of sunshine back workin’ for us. The new ones have yet to come online.  They are 90% wired but not connected yet because we are just finishing the actual physical assembly.  Two more panels to go up on the frame for a total of 14, old and new.

But the bulk of the job is over.  That’s the building of it all, the fabrication, the purchasing, the cobbling, foundation work, the lifting and the assembly.  NOT to mention the running back and forth to my shop for parts, tools and ‘making adjustments’ to fittings.  95% of our electrical work (out here) is really just plain physical, day-labour-type work.  Some of it is kinda mechanical, actually.  The bolting, welding, etc.  Those two components are what takes up all the time.


The fact that we take so much time to actually make electrical things work (switches, combiner boxes, panel connections, batteries, etc.) is more a function of our fear of all things electrical than it is the time required for ‘electrical engineering’.  If we knew what we were doing, the actual ‘electrician-required’ part is only minutes.

Mind you, if we knew what we were doing, the labour-mechanical components wouldn’t take so long either.  I blame Brian.  

So, we are slow.  So sue me!  (Brian might).

To be fair, we had four surprise guests yesterday and that could have proven irritating to me (given my focus at the time) until one of them expressed an interest in all things off-the-grid and was a machinist to boot!  He was in his element jumping up on the array with Brian to help us put a couple of panels up.  And the other three guys were really pleasant and fun to meet as well.  So, it was good, all good and especially good to have another set of willing and skilled hands.

After I dropped the visitors back at the other island, I returned to continue on the job.  Sal was just finishing up wiring the first set of panels.  She stood about twenty feet off the ground on the top of a swaying scaffold and reconnected the old panels and ran the power to the combiner box.  Before she came down from aloft she checked to see that they were producing.  They weren’t.

“I dunno.  Did it all to the diagram.  Maybe they are broken?”

So we checked them together and came up with all sorts of weird readings.  That is such a disappointing feeling when you are way up in the air and think you are 90% done.  But a few misplaced wires set right and we were ‘on’.  Usually a little happy ‘jig’ is in order with small work victories but, given the swayin’ location, we waited til we were back down on terra firma and then the smiles and Riverdancing began.  WOOhoooo!

And that was just 20% of the array producing!  Eat your heart out, George Lucas.  When we get it all together, THERE WILL BE AMATEUR LIGHT AND MAGIC!!


Post script: we went all out this afternoon and the final two panels are up and Sal decided to take a shot at getting another part of the array working (goal: 40% of everything we have.  60% more at a later date – we have other things to do starting tomorrow – my son is getting married!).  She took off the back of the electrical boxes on each panel and one of the boxes looked like it had been inhabited by rats and slugs.  Eeeeuw.  Not a single piece of it was shiny and bright and ready to accept a wire.  A quick check of the gunk with the meter showed the panel was producing nothing. NOT good.  A panel ‘out’ of a string renders the string virtually useless.  So, the panel went into ‘refurbish’ mode (meaning: a lot of scraping, cleaning and shining) and then VOILA!  The panel was producing according to the meter and it is being ushered back into the fold as I write.  

OOOoooooooooooohhhhh….I love it when a plan comes together. 

14 thoughts on “Volts, schlmolts, amps, zaps and all sorts of things magical

  1. excellent job and congrats on the son.
    That “array” looks like you could jump start a Space station !
    Where’s Sigourney Weaver when you need a hand?


    • Well, as you know, I have my own Sigourney in Sal. Just as tough, too, but much, much prettier. While we (my son-in-law, Brian) and I assembled and lifted panels and junk, Sal wired. There is more to do after the wedding but it is just more of the same so it should go smoothly Murphy and gang not withstanding.


  2. What will your total watts be when you are done and what voltage are you running at….. We too are upgrading this winter…

    We ran out of water this month so are improving our water tanks storage first..
    from 2000 to 5000


    • Total watts 2100. NOT huge but almost 1500 watts more than the 640 that has held us together for the last ten years. We are tripling our output. That SHOULD cut down genset time and, of course, allow us to add a mod con or two. The idea is to find a low consumer 10 – 12 cubic foot freezer to supplement our current propane fired 6 cf freezer. We hope to triple freezer capacity. We’ll also get a microwave which, ironically, SAVES power. It is counterintuitive, I know, but something that needs to be re-heated now requires (in the summer) to be done on the stove and so propane is used. A microwave (at 1500 watts) is dollop of power but it is only for a few minutes. So it actually USES less power on a comparison basis and it is quicker and cooler than the stove.


      • 2100 is tons!!! Our neighbours just bought a sun frost 12 volt fridge with solar panels outputting 1500 watts.. the fridge then runs electrically, it is huge with a nice sized freezer… he says his propane is down to 3 pounds a week and hasn’t had his generator on since May…..
        Our dream… is to have one of those fridges…..!!! I am jealous of you both….


        • Well,THAT is good news! Maybe 2100 IS HUGE??? But I sized it in ‘comparison’ with our 640 watt panel and it seemed to be about right. Mind you, with a 48 volt system, you have to go up in bigger ‘steps’. We could have added 750 watts but – if we wanted more – we had to go up another 750. Don’t be envious….just start scrounging steel and get a second hand welder, a few young Wf’ers and go for it.


          • Willing Workers on Organic Farms or Willing Workers on OFarms….can’t remember…You sign up and then young people seeking a place to stay and 3 meals ‘work’ in your garden or whatever…basic labour….for half a day or one day out of two. That sort of thing. It’s good. It’s international. It is ‘close and personal’ and a lot of fun as a rule.


  3. Awesome solar structure! Awesome wiring job, Sal. This project just strikes me speechless. I wish I was there ‘off the grid’ with ya’ll. And I really do too relate to the trudging back and forth to the shop to get the right tool. My husband puts away tools continuously. Compulsively. Before I am done with them. It is 30 yards up hill to his workshop. I sneak tools and hide them in the cabin.


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