Tuesday, June 10, 2014

(DF) HOMADE SOLAR PANEL UPDATE

I know that some of you have been wondering how things turned out with my cheap homade solar panels.  The fact is that the panels turned out fine, but the hookup is still in progress.  As some of you may be aware, this is one of my pocket change projects, which progresses in stages as accumulated pocket change allows.  During the time between stages, I have been learning more about how the process works, so the time isn't wasted.

Initially, there were two main reasons I decided to work toward going solar.  The first and most obvious, was to cut the energy bills.  The second, based on laws requiring power companies to pay for any extra power that a person generates, was the hope of making a little money.  Lets face it, everyone knows it would be totally sweet to get a check from the power company instead of the other way around, even if the check was only a few dollars.  Turns out that it is not quite that simple.

Obviously, to send power back to the power company, there has to be equipment connected to the grid to convert the power to a compatible form.  This equipment is known as a grid tie inverter.  These are expensive and are supposed to be hooked up by licensed professionals who are trained accordingly.  For the record, I AM NOT that trained professional.  Needless to say, the cost of such a system would be far beyond the scope of a pocket change project.  There had to be another way.

Searching for "another way" led to the consideration of what is called a plug and play grid tie inverter.  The purpose of this device is to convert the electricity to the proper form and send it back to the power company through the wiring in your home, shop, etc, by plugging it into a power outlet.  This sounded great, and best of all, the expense would be manageable.  Awesome, right?  Not so fast.

In the process of researching the grid tie inverter, I found reference to it not being legal to use.  Not legal is a bit of a drawback, to say the least.  My first thought was that if it isn't legal to use it, it shouldn't be legal to make or sell it.  More research was in order, because as much as we rely on computers and the Internet, anyone can say anything on the computer, but that doesn't necessarily make it true.

Thus began the search for the legality of what I hoped to do.  To say that such information is not easy to find would be an understatement on a galactic scale.  Finding someone who could shed light was not nearly so easy as finding those who could (and would) make it more obscure.  With any search, there are bound to be set backs and side tracks, and one of the more disappointing of these was a clause in the net metering law itself.  Hold that thought for a few minutes>

The only concrete information I could find about the legality of plug and play inverters was that they apparently had not been tested enough and though legal to use, the power company has the option of disconnecting the service if you do.  I never found the actual law involving this, but it was at least a consistent understanding from a number of sources.  The side track, however, made it a non issue.  It seems that the net metering law which requires power companies to pay for extra electricity sent back to them, also has an exemption for electric cooperatives, and you guessed it, my power company is a cooperative.  Instead of paying for the electricity, they are allowed to credit the extra power to your account to cover times when you don't produce enough.  Alright, that sounded good, all the extra power of the sunny summer months could cover the winter months when there is not as much sunshine.  Great, maybe even worth the investment for the professionally installed inverter, even without a check coming in.  NOT SO FAST!!! 

That might work great in some states, but I live in Oklahoma.  Under Oklahoma law, the electric cooperative doesn't have to roll the credit over for a year (like most states), they only have to roll it over for the month.  In other words, extra power produced on a sunny day in August, is only credited until the end of August, and only covers low production days for that month.  Any unused credit for the month is lost, and the power company gets it free. 

Sorry, but the power company doesn't give me electricity free, so I do not intend to give it to them.  Fair is fair. Another option, the one I have chosen, is to use a regular power inverter.  With this option, I can have separate systems for different usage areas, making it unnecessary to run wires for long distances.  It also allows me to get the bugs worked out of one small system before spending the time and money to set up the whole farm.  My first usage area will be the well, which should show a return on the investment, in the form of a lower bill,  in the first billing cycle, and one more small step toward self-sufficiency.  Water is used every day (though we try to conserve as much as possible), and the well pump pulls a significant amount of energy each time it starts up.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to pick up the battery, and I have already purchased an inverter and charge controller.  Today, I finished the final welds on the mounting frame, though I may have to drill a couple more bolt holes to adjust the angle.  Yes, it is getting close to the moment of truth.  As soon as the system is operational, I will post pics and some details of the hookup.   Wish me luck.

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