Author Topic: Going off-grid in Idaho  (Read 39993 times)

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Offline dochubert

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Going off-grid in Idaho
« on: July 28, 2019, 06:22:13 pm »
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.
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Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #1 on: July 28, 2019, 10:20:20 pm »

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:

8219-0

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
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Offline WooferHound

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #2 on: July 29, 2019, 04:21:54 am »
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.
----- W o o f e r h o u n d -----
My Renewable Energy Projects

Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #3 on: July 29, 2019, 10:51:47 am »
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....
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Offline Pete

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #4 on: July 29, 2019, 04:42:52 pm »
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.
Cheers
Pete

Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2019, 07:05:49 pm »
Hi Pete,
Good to hear from you. 
The idle current is 0.75a at 240v.
Very steady and quiet.  If it loads up ok I'm good.
I'll be happy if it will do 5kw reliably when needed (not too often).  We're pretty economical with power.  We can waste power in summer with so much sun.  Winter will tell.
The 15kw pj is probably only good for 7-8kw. Plenty for us.  I've only had it up to 6 briefly and 4.5kw for an hour and a half (electric oven).  This hybrid is only intended as backup or could run split system.  Trying to make the system versatile.

Oh if you do see a pj board set at good price, I'd appreciate a shout.  The ads on ebay I've seen are always "out of stock" for 15kw/48v sets.  Haven't even seen the little mosfet subboards for 15kw.

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Offline Pete

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2019, 07:49:59 pm »
Hi Doc, this site seems to have some parts, I saw 15kw control boards but not sure if the mosfet boards are there.
https://www.powerjackpowerinverter.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=86_92

good luck with the project. I love not having a grid connection. I have only had one house grid connected in the last 40 years so don't really miss the power bills that much. Where we live now had grid power when we bought it but I deleted it and cut the power poles down pretty fast.
We get lots of strong winds on our mountain and blackouts were pretty regular. Solar is much more reliable.
Cheers
Pete

Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #7 on: July 30, 2019, 10:36:46 pm »
Thanks Pete,
They have the control board which is good.  No mosfet boards though.
I'll get the control for now and watch for the other.
Thanks again.
That control board is hooked up a bit different than the old style I have now.  Hope its not too different.
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Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #8 on: July 31, 2019, 06:59:02 pm »
The grid tie project

The first solar work I did after moving, was to start putting together a grid tied system.  I had two Trace xr2000 grid tie inverters, panels, and a vague idea of where I wanted things to be.  I tend to revise my designs several times during construction.
Cleaned up the inverters and installed them in the back shed, which is nearest to the panel array.  The panels are in groups of four.  Two sets of two panels attached side by side.  One set faces East, the other West.  Attached at the top and putting the panels at a 45 degree angle in an a-frame arrangement.  4 of these sets makes 2560w west and 2560w east.  Each west set of 2 panels in series is connected in parallel to its opposite east set.  Half as many wires to run back to inverter this way.  Only east or west producing at a given time.  Throughout the day east side declines as west builds, so never too much current for the wires.
8228-0
8230-1
8232-2
I call this arrangement Stationary Tracking.  No moving parts and being ground mounted and heavy with 4 panels bolted together per set, windproof.  In San Diego I built and used for years an actual solar tracking system for my grid tie panels.  It worked well most of the time but frequently needed attention to maintain alignment and proper tracking.  San diego location had very little wind.  Here in Idaho we've had 60+ mph winds a few times just since we moved here.  I realized tracking would not be practical.  Panels have gotten cheaper and higher wattage so here we are!
The pics show that there are two groups of panels.  The nearer group is a set of 4 sets that makes 2560w either east or west for a 2500w inverter.  The farther group is 3 sets of 4 for 1960w east or west for a 2000w inverter.

Sharp eyes have doubtless noted that there are 3 inverters in the picture.  I started with 2 Trace 2000w models and picked up a deal on the middle Xantrex 2500w unit.  After Xantrex bought out Trace, they continued to make these models for awhile.  They are essentially the same inside with Xantrex instead of Trace on the label.

When I fired up the first Trace unit, it immediately blew up.  Some grit apparently escaped my cleanup.  So dismantled the other Trace and put the board thru the dishwasher.  Checked it more thoroughly, then re-installed it in place of the blown unit.  Worked fine for about 3 months, then it blew up too.  By that time I had gotten the xantrex unit and after dishwasher cleaning, it worked fine.  Did have 2 working at same time for a short time till the power company showed up.  As of today the Xantrex still works and I use it sometimes with the powerjack 'grid'.

The likely question at this point is why use these old inverters?  Why not a sunnyboy or xantrex gt series? 
I like the 48v style inverters over the string type newer models for a few reasons.  My system in San Diego was a string.  A Gt3 Xantrex.  It was ok. Worked reasonably well for years.
What I didn't like was that one little cloud or stray shadow dropped almost the entire output to nothing.  Any issue at all dropped output to nothing.  With the 48v style there are up to 6 strings of nominal 48v each (I get usually 79-82v from 2 320w in series per string)  Shading one panel drops output wattage by that set's wattage only.  Everything else still produces.  Idaho has lots of partly cloudy days.  I'm much happier with the output of these units.  Sadly, they are old.  For electronics they are almost ancient.  So they blow.  And nobody will even talk to me about repairing them.  One working unit left.
I have changed the flaky 230vac variable speed fan to a high air flow 12vdc fan controlled by the same type temp controllers I use on the powerjacks.  2 level control with half and full speed fans.  Much more air than the original but noisier.  Hey, they're in the back shed so who cares.  My electronics don't run hot!  (Sometimes they blow up anyway...)

The power company, after catching me running my 4000w of grid tie without supplication, groveling, a ton of paperwork, and of course fees, threatened various levels of retribution, fines, and excommunication from the great and powerful Power Company. 
Unless, of course, I agreed to sign up, do the paperwork, pay the fees, and above all don't run that solar system until it is "Approved", "Inspected", and Signed Off by someone just a couple chairs left of the Almighty.
At the time agreeing seemed prudent.  I accepted and read the inch thick stack of regulations the power company provided.  Signed up and paid the non-refundable fee for asking permission to apply.  That's right.  First I have to ask permission to apply.  Then, if given, I can apply.  After that I went down and applied for my State Permit (another fee of course)
Some of the fine print in that stack of paperwork had informed me that I now had 1 year max to complete my project, or I would have to pay again and start over.  With a year to mull it over, and after speaking with the Person at the state permit div who made the decisions, it became pretty clear that there were just too many hoops to jump through.  Also, inviting an inspector onto my property seemed like a worse idea each time I thought about it.  So i shortly had decided to let the year run out with the state permit and tell the power company just as the year ran out that I had cancelled the project.  We have now passed the year deadline.  I left a message with my contact at the power company that the project was cancelled about 2 weeks ago, and no reply.  Good so far.  Nothing from the state either.  I had an online access to my 'project', which I cancelled.  Maybe I'll get lucky and they will just quietly fade away.  If I just get a couple more weeks, I'll be done with my rewiring in the house.  Then I'm ready for em if they persist.  My grid tie system will not be electrically or any other way connected to the grid, removing their basis for complaint.
Of course, that makes sense, and sense usually isn't what Authority relies upon.  Time will tell
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Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #9 on: August 08, 2019, 05:32:11 pm »
Well, not the best of news.
Solar company wants $2950 usd to mount my 20 panels on the roof in my desired layout.  No wiring. No State or power company involvement. Easy install.
I think he didn't really want the job.  "Quote him a high price and he'll go away"
It worked.  Done with him.

Called a second outfit whose secretary said their guy would call me.  No call.

The typical deal these companies make with folks is mostly fluff bordering on scam, but it makes them a lot of money.  My straightforward "Just mount some panels" deal has only a small profit compared to the other.

Looking like I will have to do it myself after all. :-[

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Offline Pete

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #10 on: August 08, 2019, 07:36:27 pm »
Hi Doc, well putting the panels up yourself is not very difficult. That is as long as you are reasonably strong, fit enough to climb ladders with a panel on your shoulders and careful.
I don't know what sort of roof you have, but here we have a metal roof, it is pretty easy to fit the racks  on a tin roof.
Just take a roof screw out, use a larger stronger screw to replace it and mount the panel foot plate.
Then fit the racks after all the feet are mounted.
The panel racks are not very expensive and make mounting panels really easy.
Like you said about the installer, they make plenty of money on the panels and inverters etc, just mounting panels is not much of a money spinner for them.
Maybe you could just hire a handyman to help you, My panels are 250 watt jobs, they are easy enough to handle if all is calm. Add a breeze and things get a bit more interesting.
Cheers
Pete

Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2019, 10:00:43 pm »
I feel like I've been somewhere...
Haven't been able to access this forum for weeks.  'Site not available'.  Suddenly two days ago I tried, got right in, and it appears everything is fine here.
Was this board down?  Or was I being blocked somehow?

Anyway,  the solar panels are now on the roof.  I built racks out of pressure treated 2x4.  Hired 2 young men to do the lifting and carrying.  More work than I planned on doing, but a 10th the cost.
Hope to start running wire tomorrow.  If it  doesn't snow.  Snow is predicted but even if it does it probably won't stick.  Charge controllers are already  mounted and wired except for the solar input.
Getting anxious to get these panels producing.  Should aproximately triple my solar production, giving me enough for winter.  Summer I will have power to burn.

The other problem is I currently don't have a running inverter to power my house.  My main 15kw blew up about the same time I lost contact with Anotherpower.  I think my hybrid unit, while still runnable, is what fried led lights, made my oven shut off, and the fridge sound funny one day.  So took it off line.  Wasn't regulating voltage well at loads over 2kw so don't trust it running the house.  That's when I hooked up the Upower/Powerjack and ran half the house with it for a couple of weeks.  Then I stupidly caused it to blow up too.  Yes that one is definitely my fault.  Rookie mistake

While all this is going on, I discovered a guy named Sean who has a website called Genetry Solar.com.  He's a real nice guy and he is the North American rep for powerjack warranty work.  He also sells powerjack parts.  He does a youtube channel also and has a direct line to powerjack.
I bought 2 sets of mosfet boards and 2 version 8 control boards to update my (2) 15kw powerjacks to have output voltage control.  Unfortunately it took weeks to get my parts  and then the first test resulted in blown fets.  That's where I am today.  The second main board seems to have the same issue as the first one right before it blew up, so the problem is consistent but haven't nailed it down yet.  Hopefully without blowing up another set of fets.
The nice thing is these control boards are modular, once we get them to work they should be easier to maintain.
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Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #12 on: November 05, 2019, 09:50:07 pm »
I haven't made any progress towards repairing 15kw inverters, but there is news.  I managed to get a good deal on an ebay auction from Dr.powerjack, who is actually powerjack the company's ebay seller name.  It's one of their 'panel display' style cases with 2 lcd screens.

8381-0

Only problem is I won't get it for several weeks.
 
Then last night I was on craigslist and came across a local selling a powerjack.  And it is a 15kw!  And it is 48v!  And it's cheap!
Just got home with it but won't get it to test until in the morning.  Its the aluminum clamshell like my others.  I did open it up for a quick look, though.  Its about the age of my original 15kw and has 3 xfmrs like my original 15kw. 

Here's hoping its ok and I can get back off grid soon.
I hate paying the power company.

Since I've had no inverters running my battery bank is full all the time.  So I've been running 2 'radiator' type heaters in the basement directly off the 48v bank during the day.  Also a flat panel in the bathroom 24/7. 

Also getting close to having the new solar panels on the roof hooked up and charging that bank.  Supposed to be nice weather tomorrow so will maybe get it done.
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Offline Pete

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #13 on: November 06, 2019, 03:48:28 pm »
Good to hear that you are still at it Doc.
When we moved to our new place nearly 2 years ago, there was mains power, but we had it disconnected and cut the poles down.
Been off grid now for so long that I just can't come at the idea of paying bills and relying on an unreliable supplier.
We are 10 klm up a dirt road on a mountain. Lots of wind and lots of power failures from trees falling over the powerlines. So solar is perfect.
Fortunately we have a very small house, and only two of us living here so a 2kw system with a 5kw ( ha ha) powerjack have done us well.
We only run 12 volt as we have minimal stuff. Sometimes I have thoughts of going up in voltage so that I can run my compressor off an inverter but then as it is only run for a couple of hours a year it is not worth the trouble.
Glad to hear that you found a new inverter and a supplier for parts. Freight sounds slow though.
Have fun
Pete

Offline dochubert

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Re: Going off-grid in Idaho
« Reply #14 on: November 06, 2019, 06:12:31 pm »
Hi Pete!
I was beginning to think I was the only person using anotherpower.   Not much activity these days.  BTW, was this site down for a few weeks recently?  Either it was down or I was being blocked from accessing it.  Strange...

Do you have windmills?  Would think on a mountain harnessing some wind would be worthwhile.  We get some serious wind here sometimes.  The key being sometimes.  Solar is more regular.
I still intend to put some work into windmills eventually, but not until the solar and a few other projects are done.  A little nighttime charging would be nice.

The old style 15kw I bought cheap last night works ok.  I'm about done 'fixing' it for use.  Meaning disconnecting the battery charging inputs,  rewiring the large 'input' connector for output use, rewiring the second breaker into the L2 output lead(both hot leads now fused), hooking up my external fan controls and temp meters, and hooking up external power meters for both L1 and L2.  Oh, and can't forget correcting the polarity of the 'universal' receptacle.  Powerjack always wires them reversed polarity.  Maybe its correct for countries other than the US, I don't know.
No voltage control so I'll have to be content with 115/230v output, at least until my new powerjack gets here.   

Got some wire run to the roof today.  Nice weather for it.  Tomorrow hope to make my splices and connect it all up.  Triple my current solar charging!  I should be able to power the neighbor's house as well as mine on good sun days!
We're all going to DIE!  (eventually)

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