Project Journals > Users Projects

Going off-grid in Idaho

(1/23) > >>

Hello all,
I haven't posted for more than 2 years.  Really missed it and the great people here.  I hope to have some time for reading and posting now.  So, what happened?

About 2 years ago I took the plunge and moved away from southern cal.  No one will have trouble guessing the reasons for moving 1000 miles, from California city to rural Idaho.  When we first got to Idaho and were exploring the area, we stopped in a small gun store.  After telling of our move the store owner said, "Welcome to America!"  He was right and we were right to move.  Cali has gotten bad.

Anyway, if you've read my previous posts, you know I had 1 each 48v/15kw and 24v/8kw powerjacks.  I was powering half the house with a PJ and running a renegade Xantrex gridtie on the other half.  Since I still had my power company analog meter I could bank power when there was good sun and make the meter come out to just owing for 20 or 30 kwh for the month.  I was careful and had no problems for years.

In Idaho, of course, the house we bought had a digital meter with absolutely no option to get an analog meter instead.  My initial plan was to start with some gridtie to cut the bill, and develop gradually my battery banks and off grid stuff while getting used to the property and the area.  So put up a 2000w and a 2500w  old style Trace xr series gridtie inverters.  With the completion of the first gridtie, I ran it all the time with no problems.  With all-electric house the bill is high anyway.  Pretty much shrugged off the obvious point that that meter was reporting back every 15 mins.  Every once in awhile nothing much happened to be running and the gridtie didn't care, so was putting power into the grid.  And that pesky meter was ratting me out.  With just the 2000w unit running, I never likely put much back in, and it wasn't enough to set off their alarm bells down at the power co.
Then about two months later I blithely completed and turned on the 2500w unit also.  2 days later they were at the door. 

Leaving out tedious details, I agreed to apply for the permit and "get legal".  They weren't real happy that I didn't have and had no intention of getting a contractor to do it for me.  I do everything myself if at all possible, which usually means screwing things up a couple times before I learn and get it right.
Anyway, I had a year to complete the project. Time to ponder.(always liked that word!)  Came to my senses eventually a few months later and dropped the project after letting most of the year run out first.  Its going to be Off-grid all the way!  Well, mostly... 

I don't intend to try to power the larger loads like central air cond., electric dryer, the RV receptacle for when the kids are here with the 5th wheel plugged in, etc.  So the plan is to remove from the main breaker panel all loads to Not be powered by the grid, then leave the grid on for just those large loads when they are needed (not too often)  Everything else gets powered by powerjack thru subpanels not connected to grid.  Almost done with that rewiring.  Except for a couple of days we needed air conditioning, we've been off grid for most of 2 months now.
The gridtie system just sat (mostly ;)) while I worked on setting up the battery banks and got some solar charging to them.  I had blown up my 15kw pj in cali, but Lighthunter thankfully repaired it for me while I was moving to Idaho and it is the workhorse of my offgrid system now.

So I'm using the 2000w solar panel bank to power batteries instead of running its grid tie inverter.  Those panels are a ground mount so I ran a temporary line to the battery bank.  I sometimes run the other gridtie inverter on the powerjack "grid".  Usually only on low sun or high demand days, as don't really have any controls on it for that. 

In near future 20 320w panels get installed on the roof.  4 are for water heating and the other 16 will be charging my bank.  16 200ah sla. 4 banks of 4 for 48v.  Called a solar contractor to put the panels on the roof.  Don't yet know what that will cost but I'm too old to be doing that stuff on a roof.  Already have the panels.  Will know next week.


Shortly after moving to Idaho, I bought my second 15kw powerjack. The plan is to have a tandem system that lets me run one subpanel or both subpanels from either of the 2 inverters.  A good system has at least one backup.  Found a bargain priced unit on ebay, ordered it and forgot about it.  It showed up one day, so stuck it in a corner.  I wasn't ready for it yet.

The gridtie adventure wasted a lot of my time for too long, but the upshot was that the new 15kw sat for about a year before I opened the box.  This one is the aluminum clamshell style like my older units.  I immediately then opened the case because certain things always need fixing on powerjacks before their first run. 
Both transformers (my older unit has 3) were loose in their mounts and had slid towards the mainboard.  The second fan was broken so had to replace it.  Couple other minor things plus the usual rewiring to get rid of the battery charging stuff, converting the second breaker/fuse to L2, rewiring the large connector for 240/120 output instead of battery charging input, and correcting the polarity of the output receptacle.
I thought I looked it over pretty good for other problems/damage but definitely missed something.  I fired it up and got instant smoke and even flames.  It blowed up real good!

After leaving it alone in disgust for a couple hours I checked and found that when the transformers slid, they apparently got up on the mainboard a bit.  Just enough to mash and short out the 10 pin connector to the control card.  No wonder it blew!  Could have saved the board if I'd been more thorough and seen that connector ahead of testing.

Poor eyesight for fine work, shaky hands, alergies that add watery eyes to the list, plus I was never that good at soldering tiny stuff in the first place all make the idea of me rebuilding that set of boards unlikely.  So looked and kept looking but no powerjack replacement boards have been available for sale for quite some time.  So ordered one of these:

Its a supposed 10kw at 48 volts controlled by egs002/8010.  It was $149 USD on ebay.  It finally came and had some fun getting it to hook up properly with the powerjack transformers.  Had to also rewire the main fan into the aux fan ckt because the new board is made for a 12v fan.  I use independent fan controls anyway.  Then when it got turned on for the first time, the main fan smoked and died.  I think it got damaged in shipping too.  Well, now it has 2 new fans as well as a new main/control board.  I should resistor those fans down a bit.  They really crank!  Don't need THAT much airflow and loud too.  (Had em in a box of new fans I bought at a swap meet) Maybe I'll just rewire them in series and have them both come on half speed for either sensor.

I have run this hybrid for a few hours but little load.  I need to load it a bit and see if its got any guts.  I'll post a pic of it next time

Double Extra Good
I really like the idea of having power when the Grid goes down.

And , Nice to see you around again.
I've been posting some of my projects but the guys around here have got lazy and don't post much.
Help me out some and keep your project updated.

Hi Wooferhound,
Thanks for the kind words.
It does me good to write up this stuff, and maybe someone will benefit from my mistakes.
I have several projects to write about, and will get to them soon.
I'm wondering if anyone here has tried out the 10kw board like I put in the powerjack case.
I'm looking for someone local to do electronic repairs so eventually might get the pj mainboard rebuilt.  Also have 2 old Trace 48v style gridties that need rebuilding. (Only 1 of 3 still working)  I don't know how to really look for someone like that.  Most shops are just parts changers and can't do anything they don't have a book or schematic for.  Wish I was able to tackle them myself but have to face that I can't.  Ah to be young again....

Hi Doc, good to read of your adventures. It has been quiet here as Woof says.
I did see the powerjack boards available on ebay a while back, they were pretty cheap, probably cheaper than paying someone to work on the dead ones.
I have repaired a few inverters of mine over the years, and sometimes when the main FETs blow they take out the drivers too. Then you put a stack of fets in and get a lovely light show as they all blow up together.
I found that it was good to put a 60 watt light bulb in series with the supply, so that if they drew too much current the bulb would limit the current and prevent an expensive smoke and light show.
I use a 12 volt system here, running a 5kw ( very optimistic) Powerjack. I am looking at using two inverters, one for small loads and the powerjack for larger loads. The powerjack chews up more standby current than I like.
I have also just built a small petrol/ alternator battery charger. The powerjack as a charger tends to do odd things, and also running a 6.8kva generator to power a battery charger is not too efficient. So now I have  an old subaru alternator, with the regulator deleted, a 200 amp three phase rectifier hooked up to it and a 150 watt wire wound pot to control the field current. And a small 5hp motor.
Haven't run it yet as the weather is fine enough for the solar at the moment. But as we live in the mountains we get a few days of fog and lots of rain at this time of year ( winter in Tasmania now).
Anyway it is good to read of your adventures, can you let us know what idle current the new inverter draws.


[0] Message Index

[#] Next page

Go to full version