Flocks of Phlox, Irises, and Stuff.

I managed to injure my left leg when I was wrestling around with those massive batteries for the solar power system so my physical activity was seriously limited for a couple of weeks. Yesterday was the first day I felt comfortable enough to get out on the bike for an extended ride, and it was a great day to start. Was absolutely beautiful out with temps in the high 70s and a gentle breeze.

Phlox everywhere. They’re pretty but they’re an invasive species that spreads very aggressively in this area.

I injured my left calf pretty seriously back in the 1990s in a farm accident. Took me 6 weeks to recover from that one and ever since I’ve had to be cautious with that leg. Lugging 100 lb batteries down the basement stairs and into the battery cabinet didn’t do the leg any good. Neither did repeatedly kneeling down on the floor to work on wiring.

Out in the gardens the irises are coming into full bloom. They don’t bloom for very long but when they do that whole area is covered with these amazing flowers in brilliant blue, purple and yellow. When the sun hits them the colors are so brilliant they almost glow.

Alas the flowers don’t last long but by the time they fade away others will have blossomed to take their place.

More solar stuff: I really need to do some meaningful testing of the EG4 system to get some basic data about run times and things like that. I can guess how long the batteries will last when running the house off the EG4 system but I don’t have any actual operational data giving me actual run times under particular sets of circumstances and things like that. Two days ago I started it up, took the house off-grid and ran entirely from the EG4 system starting at 7 AM and ending at 3 PM, a total of 8 hours. At the end of that time the batteries were still at about 78% capacity because we had a pretty good day for solar production. While that was interesting I really need to see how long I can run the house just off the batteries, with no solar power at all.

The string of Newpowa panels have been peaking at around 1,000 watts, and the HQST panels at around 600 watts. That’s less their rated peak output which should be around 1,320 and 800 respectively. The HQST panels were putting out close to 700W earlier this year so I know they can do better than what I’m seeing. And the weather was clear with bright sunshine…

Or was it? The sky looked clear when looking straight up, but if you’d look towards the horizon it was a different story. The wind shifted again and we’re back to getting air quality alerts because of the forest fires in Canada. It looks clear and sunny but it really isn’t. There is a significant amount of fine particulate material floating around in the atmosphere that is cutting back on the amount of solar radiation that is reaching the ground. What it boils down to is that I theoretically have enough solar out there to take my batteries from about 50% to near 100% in one day of full sun. In reality, with variable cloud conditions and the smoke from the fires, I’m lucky if I get half of that.

(And I can sure tell there are air quality problems with my allergies, too. I was up at 3 AM this morning with my head so stuffed up I could hardly breathe. I gave up trying to get back to sleep. Since all of this air quality stuff started I’ve been having problems sleeping, stuffed up sinuses, etc. Makes it very hard for me to stay asleep. I’ve generally been waking up around 3 or 4 AM and find it almost impossible to get back to sleep again. Running on four or five hours of sleep is unpleasant. Sigh…)

This thing started out at around $500 but is currently selling for $399 over at Signature Solar. In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I got this thing free from Signature Solar.

Speaking of battery charging I got one of these in earlier this week from Signature Solar, the EG4 Chargeverter, a 48V battery charger that plugs into a 240V AC power source to rapidly recharge LiFePo batteries. This thing can put out up to 100 Amps which means it could fully recharge my 15 KWh of batteries in just 3 hours. It’s only been on the market for a few months and I’m curious to see how well it works so when I get a chance to check it out I’ll talk about it in the future.

Now why would someone need one of these? After all a lot of modern inverters like my EG4 6500EX already have built in AC battery chargers. I could wire my EG4s directly to the house’s AC power and they would automatically keep the batteries topped up even when there is no solar. But a lot of these systems are sold to people who are entirely off the grid. They have no connection to the grid at all. (And my system has no grid connection.) If they don’t get enough solar power to keep their batteries topped up, they have to resort to using a gasoline powered generator to charge them up. And that’s where the problems come in. These cheap, gasoline generators often produce very dirty power that isn’t even close to a pure sine wave and which can damage electronics. This chargeverter apparently doesn’t care how dirty the AC power coming into it may be. So if you’re living entirely off the grid, or if you’re going through an extended blackout and there isn’t enough solar to keep the batteries charged, you could plug this thing into a cheap Harbor Freight generator to charge your batteries and not have to worry about damaging anything.

I have a 7,500W Generac gasoline generator sitting out in the garage and this thing should plug right into it so I’ll be testing this out in the near future. If it works as advertised it will probably be kept permanently wired up to the bus bars in the battery cabinet. I doubt if it will get much use but it could come in very handy if we have an extended power outage.

What I’ll probably do is run my batteries down to about 25% and then try charging them with the chargeverter connected to the Generac and see what happens.

And that’s about it for now


The weather finally moved into a warmer, drier pattern here in east central Wisconsin and the plants responded by going nuts to make up for lost time. This is really the perfect time of year here, climate speaking. It’s warmer, sunnier, and the mosquitoes have yet to emerge to drive us back into the house.

We put #10 cans around new seedlings to protect them from wind and little creatures until they get well established. We’ve been doing that for ages now and it works quite well.

We made a lot of changes out in the gardens, but you can’t really tell unless you look closely. One thing we are doing again is putting peppers along the south side of the house. That narrow strip of ground between the house and the grass produced a fantastic crop of peppers of various types last year so we’re going to do it again.

We did something different this year with starting seedlings. We used to put a sort of mini green house in the livingroom in front of a south facing window to start seeds but the results were mixed. The seedlings were often spindly and weak and suffered from severe transplant shock. This year we set the mini greenhouse up in the basement with some inexpensive grow lights we got off Amazon along with a heating pad designed for seedling trays. That system worked amazingly well. The peppers, tomatoes and other seeds we started were all thriving in that environment.

Every year we like to try at least one new thing we’ve never grown before and this year it’s brussel sprouts. MrsGF and I both like them a lot so we thought we’d try growing our own and see what happens. They’re a late season crop, usually not harvested until after the first frost they tell me. Brussel sprouts have a bit of a bad reputation, but over the last decade or so the flavor has changed drastically thanks to new varieties that have been introduced. The new varieties have a milder, less bitter flavor, along with a better texture.

And it’s lilac season here in town. There are lilacs all over town, including in our backyard. It seems to be people’s favorite bush around here, and when they all come into bloom around the same time the whole town smells of lilacs. Another reason why I love this time of year.

Other stuff:

it’s hard to tell but if you look to the right of those factory buildings back there at the trees in the distance you can see how hazy it’s been around here.

–> We’ve been under air quality warnings for some time now because of smoke from massive forest fires up in Canada. Down at ground level it’s hard to tell but it’s especially easy to see early in the morning right at sunrise. Off to the east right now at around 6 AM it looks like there’s a thick haze up there. I feel sorry for those poor people up there. Huge areas of forests have burned off already, whole communities are under evacuation orders. It’s pretty bad.

The DNR hasn’t been helping air quality here either. They were doing this the other day…

They’ve been burning off marshes around here adding to the already poor air quality. I was told you could see the smoke from this one for 20 miles and could smell it over the entire county.

–> The biofuel industry is continuing to try to desperately to put off its impending demise as long as possible. We live in a world where it seems we are on an inevitable course to switch to electric powered everything, including transportation, garden tools and everything else that is currently being powered by the burning of some kind of fuel. And that means the entire biofuel industry is about to crash and burn because there isn’t going to be a market for its product any more. That hasn’t stopped them from trying to rake in as much cash as they can until the end comes. It looks like they’ve succeeded in pushing for an increase in sales of 15% ethanol blended gasoline and now they’re pushing for more mandates to blend biodiesel into traditional fuels. Diesel fuel is probably going to be the last gasp for this. Trying to make long haul trucks and trains to run off electricity has been difficult because of the huge power demands so those will probably remain for some time after automobiles and light trucks have gone full electric.

What they really need to be doing is trying to slowly and carefully shut down the whole biofuel system to avoid a massive financial crash that will ripple through the whole agricultural sector. Continuing to invest in biofuels at this point in time is sort of like someone heavily investing in horse drawn carriages right after Ford came out with the Model T.

But enough of that. I have gardening to do!

EG4 System First Full Capacity Testing

This morning at 8 AM I flipped off the mains in the breaker panel, shutting the house completely off of grid power and switched to running completely from the EG4 6500EX inverters, batteries and solar panels. We’ve been running the entire house completely off the grid for the last few hours and so far the system has had no problems at all.

We got virtually no solar power at all for the first two hours because the panels were in shade until 10AM so that gave me a chance to see how long the batteries would carry the house by themselves. We were living normally, not doing anything to conserve power. We used the convection oven, lights, coffee maker, etc. as we normally would. There were no extraordinary loads on the system, the sump pumps were running, furnace wasn’t on because it’s warm out. Under those conditions we use about 10% of our battery capacity per hour, which is actually a lot better than I thought it would be.

Once the sun was in position to fully hit the solar panels we were making enough solar power to run the house entirely off the panels, and even occasionally enough left over to put some power back into the batteries.

So far so good. Keep your fingers crossed.

Only issue is that we’ve run into the dreaded light flicker problem, but only with the bathroom lights for some reason. This is a fairly common problem with a lot of inverters. LED lights can flicker annoyingly. It doesn’t affect everyone, and doesn’t affect every light. The only lights that flicker here are the decorative bulbs in the bathroom. All of the others, almost all LEDs of one type or another, work fine.

Some Solar Quirks and Gardening Stuff At Last

Testing new 220W panels from Newpowa

Now that I’ve been actually using the solar power system for a few days I’ve run into a few interesting quirks. First the solar charging system. Other people with the EG4 6500EX inverter, or who are thinking of buying one, have been following along so I thought I’d warn you about this.

Up in that photo are 5 new 220W solar panels from Newpowa. I picked up 6 of those because I badly need more solar but I don’t have a lot of space to put them. These from Newpowa were the smallest size 200W panels I could find and that’s why I bought ’em. The charger in the EG4 is rated between 80V to 500V input from solar. That’s the minimum amount of voltage it takes to “trigger” so to speak the charger, and the maximum voltage it can handle from the solar panels.

Those five panels in series were putting out about 91 volts, which should have been enough to make the charger work properly. But apparently not. When I plugged them into the EG4 it looked like I was only getting about 450 – 500 watts out of panels that should have been putting out at least 75% – 90% of their rated capacity under the conditions I had that day. They were putting out half of what they should have.

I went back out, checked all of the connectors, all of the wires, made sure I had everything wired properly and couldn’t find any problems. The EG4 has two solar chargers so I plugged into the second one. Nope, same thing, I was only getting a little over 500W under full sun.

Grr, so now what… Could it be that 91V wasn’t enough? I had one more panel that I didn’t have room for. I shuffled things around and connected up all six panels and then checked. I was now getting a bit over 100V and…920W? Yeah, 920 watts. Adding that one panel, kicking the voltage up another 10V doubled the amount of power the panels were putting out.

So apparently that 80V lower limit on the solar charger in the EG4 isn’t quite accurate. I had to push 100V into it in order to get the charge controller to get it to work properly. So if you have one of these things and you aren’t getting the wattage out of your solar panels you think you should, check your voltage. If your panels are putting out less than 100V that could be it.

The other oddity is also related to solar charging. Before I configured the two inverters to work in parallel I was using one inverter alone for testing. It exhibits some interesting behavior. If I had the inverter physically turned off with the switch on the front panel and plugged solar power into it, it would turn itself on and start charging the batteries.

I personally find this a bit troubling. If I have a device that is physically turned off, I expect it to remain off. Period. Now I can understand why they might do this. If you’ve been using the system from battery only and drain the batteries down and shut the system off, it might then start to recharge the batteries automatically when it begins to get solar power. It turned on only the solar charger, not the inverter, so it wasn’t putting out AC so that was something at least.

Once I put the two units in parallel, that behavior changed. When I plugged solar into the turned off master inverter, it would still turn itself on with the power switch turned off. But it wouldn’t actually charge the batteries. It looked like it was in charging mode but it really wasn’t. It indicated it was getting only 47W of power out of solar panels that were putting out 500W. Eventually I figured out that both units need to be physically turned on with the power switch before it will now start actually charging the batteries. I find that disappointing as well. I’d prefer to be able to do what I did before, which was to use the unit to charge the batteries without having to switch the inverters on. Running an inverter while it’s just “idling” along without drawing power from it uses a small but still significant amount of power from the system. Each inverter takes somewhere between 70 – 90 watts of power, or 140W – 180W for the pair. And that’s 140+ watts that could be going into the batteries.

One last observation. These things aren’t exactly quiet. The fans on the EG4s run all the time the units are operating, and depending on the load on the units those fans quickly ramp up in speed. Tucked away in the basement this isn’t a problem but if you’re putting them near a living space some people could find the fans more than a little annoying.

One last thing about the solar system. I finally got the batteries mounted in the cabinet. And found that my existing battery cables going from the inverters to the batteries are too short because of course they are. So it’s time to get out the crimping tools and spend even more money on overpriced copper cable. Always something…

Gardening stuff

We moved the two raised beds from the north side of the backyard to the south side. In the previous location they were starting to get shaded out by a fast growing maple tree and a spruce tree. Growing conditions there were getting worse every year. Now that the ash tree is gone the area where we moved them now gets full sun all day long. Moving them was simple but took a lot of physical labor. Had to shovel out all of the dirt in them, drag them over to the new location and then shovel all the dirt back into them.

We’re doing some decorative work as well. An old, crumbling stone wall is being pulled out along the west side of the garage and being replaced with block, so we got a pallet full of blocks coming in the near future.

I’m not looking forward to that project. I am, at heart, a lazy person when it comes right down to it. I’ve developed an allergy to hard physical labor over the last few years. Still, it needs to get done.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, I found this while I was biking around the other day and I had to stop and take a picture of it.

We have some interesting people around here, including some who are pretty good folk artists. From the road I thought this was a real person for a brief moment when I saw the hi-viz vest.

And let’s finish up with a cat.

I love cats and cats love me, normally. But I don’t know what’s going on with this one. She stares at me, yells at me, glares at me and just barely tolerates my existence. I want to pet her and give her treats. She wants to shred my face. Sigh…

We had to take care of our youngest son’s cat for a few days while he was on vacation and she, being a cat, decided she owned the house.

Wrapping It All Up. The Last Solar Power Article Ever.

Yeah, that title is probably a lie. I’ll probably talk more about it in the future as I gain experience with this. I’ll certainly let you know if I run into problems. And you’re probably getting tired of reading about as I am of writing about it so let me wrap this all up.

The good news is that the damned thing actually works. I got tired of waiting for some miscellaneous parts to arrive to do the final installation and cobbled together a messy looking but safe wiring configuration so I could get on with testing the inverters. That may look like a mess down there, but it is, frankly, a lot better looking than some of the wiring I’ve seen people turn out on Youtube and other places.

But it is a mess that works and, believe it or not, is safe. And the battery cabinet is here now so today this whole thing is going to get torn down and put back together the right way and will meet building codes, etc.

I fired the sucker up. I went through the “commissioning” procedures in the manuals to set the two inverters up to run in 240V split phase, rebooted everything and it all started up and, well, damn. It actually worked! I had the entire house was running off-grid, running from the inverters, batteries and solar panels. Everything in the house was working just as it did running off the grid. Lights, microwave, coffee maker, even the 240V appliances like the stove and clothes dryer. Just for the heck of it I fired up my big table saw in the wood shop. The lights flickered a bit when it first kicked in, but they do that even when I’m running off grid power. End result is I ran the house for the rest of the afternoon off the two inverters with no problems at all before shutting it down and pulling the plug, so to speak, so I could start prepping to put in the battery cabinet.

So, it works! I actually put together something that works? Wow…

So for those of you who are interested in all the technical stuff and some observations about the equipment, let me get on with us. Some of this I’ve mentioned before but I want to make sure I covered everything for those of you who are interested in putting together a solar power system yourselves. And yes, I’m going to include the actual retail cost of all of this as well along the way. So so be warned this could get long.

So let’s start with the inverters.

What I have are two EG4 6500EX all in one inverters. Each one can handle a sustained load of 6,500 watts with a surge capacity of 13,000W for up to 5 seconds. When some equipment (like my table saw or sump pumps) first start up they can demand huge amounts of power for a brief time, so that’s why that surge capacity is important. Both of them together give me 13KW load capacity, more than enough to run the entire house.

Each inverter has two MPPT solar charge controllers. Each of the two chargers can handle up to 4,000 watts of solar panels at 80 to 500 volts. And I can tell you that they absolutely have to have at least that 80V before they’ll start charging the batteries. Anyway that’s some pretty hefty solar charging capacity. If I’d max out the capacity of both inverters I could feed about 16KW of solar power into these things.

If the inverter is connected to grid power it can charge the batteries off the grid, or off solar, or off both, or prioritize one source over another. And I’m told these things, if hooked to the grid, will pass through grid power to your house, and switch to battery/solar power in case of a blackout, and do it in 10 ms. I don’t have mine hooked to the grid and don’t plan to so I’m not going to be able to test that.

The battery chargers, both solar powered and grid powered, can be configured to deal with just about any kind of 48V battery system you might have, ranging from old fashioned lead acid batteries up to state of the art LiFePo batteries like the EG4LLs I have. You can set maximum and minimum voltages, rate of charge, you name it. In my case I just told it I was using EG4LL batteries and it automatically sets itself up properly. It also has battery communications as well to talk to the battery management systems most LiFePo batteries have these days. And I should add that the inverters are UL listed as well so they should be able to pass inspection.

And, of course, two of these units can be paralleled together so that when combined they work as a single 240V split phase system, which is how I have mine configured at the moment. One inverter is set as the master and the other as the slave, and a setting in the menu has to be changed to make sure that the slave’s sine wave is 180 degrees out of phase with the other inverter. That took maybe all of a minute to configure.

And if the 13KW that two of these together make isn’t enough for you, you can connect up to six of the things if you need more power.

There are lots more options and settings and other things that I’m not going to get into because it would take forever and I don’t really care about a lot of them. If you’re interested in all of that you can download the manual from Signature Solar.

So, let’s talk cost. Personally I think that considering the capacity of these inverters and the things they can do they’re pretty inexpensive, $1,299 each. Since I wanted 240V I needed two of them. Signature Solar had a combo deal that included two EG 6500EX inverters, two PV cutoff switches, two battery disconnect switches (which you need to meet code) and some cables and a few other goodies for a bit less than $3,000, so that’s what I ended up buying.

I am not urging you to buy EG4 equipment by any means. These are just the ones I ended up getting because they suited my needs. There are a lot of different inverters on the market and most of them work pretty well. Some are better than others. But as you go shopping around you will find that a lot of different brands seem to have remarkably similar specifications, and even seem to look quite a bit alike except for the case. That’s because they are basically the same inverter, just packaged differently. I know of at least two other inverters, sold under different brand names, that are exactly the same as the EG4 6500 that I have. There are some minor differences, like the EG4 can handle higher PV voltages, but other than that they’re identical except for the case and graphics and they all come out of the same factories in Taiwan and Singapore.


Batteries are the most expensive part of a system like this. 48V LiFePo batteries are expensive. But when the sheer energy storage capacity of these things is taken into consideration, along with their life span, they actually are very cost effective.

What I ended up getting were EG4LL, 48V, 5,120 Wh capacity server rack style LiFePo batteries. These are “smart” batteries with built in battery management systems and both RS485 and CAN communications capability and fancy full color LCD screens. They have a 10 year warranty and it’s claimed that after 7,000 charge/discharge cycles they’ll still have 80% of their original capacity left.

A word about battery safety. You’ve probably heard all kinds of stories about lithium batteries exploding, starting unquenchable fires and all of that. These are not those types of batteries. These are lithium iron phosphate, LiFePo, and they use a different chemistry. They do not explode, do not turn into raging infernos, etc. And just for the extra paranoid people out there (like me), these particular model batteries have their own fire suppression systems built in. I saw a demonstration where they took one of these batteries, piled a bunch of flammable material on it and started the sucker on fire. After burning for a few minutes, the suppression system triggered and the battery put the fire out. Cool, I said. I’ll take those, please.

The LCD screens let you monitor all kinds of stuff that I’m sure will interest someone. The only thing I really care about is if they work or not, and they do. But if there are problems you can even monitor the state of health of individual cells in the battery if you need to. If you want to save a few bucks EG4 also sells batteries that have the same capacity as these, but without the fancy displays.

The batteries have communications ports which allows them to be connected to the EG4 inverter which directly monitors the battery conditions so it doesn’t over charge them, charge them too fast, discharge the too fast, etc. If you have more than one, one battery is set up as the “master” which connects to the inverter, and the other batteries comm ports are daisy chained to the master battery. There are DIP switches on the front of each battery that you need to set so the communications system can figure out which one is which. Don’t worry, it’s easy. The batteries come with a booklet that has a chart showing exactly how to set the switches.

The batteries come with short (very short) battery cables designed to to connect them to the busbars in a battery cabinet. If you aren’t going to use a battery cabinet you’re going to have to buy or make your own cables to connect them to your own busbars. If you need to go down that route you need to remember that the cables connecting multiple batteries to a busbar need to be the same length and gauge. If the cables aren’t matched in length and gauge it means they aren’t going to have the same resistance. You want the load on each individual battery to be as evenly distributed as possible. That’s why you need to use busbars rather than just daisy chaining the batteries together. It helps to distribute the load more evenly.

And if you’re going to make your own, go get yourself a decent hydraulic crimping tool! I do not recommend one of those cheap crimpers that you whack with a big hammer. I don’t trust those things. You risk damaging the cable, damaging the lug, and not making a very good connection inside of the lug. A decent hydraulic crimper will set you back about $100 or so, which seems like a lot. but if you’re making cables for a power system that’s costing $10,000 or more, do you really want to cheap out on a crimping tool and risk making bad connections?

If you haven’t had to buy heavy gauge copper wire recently you’re in for a shock. Two 10 foot pieces of 4 gauge copper battery cable costs about $170 off Amazon. And while it is very nice cable and it comes with a bag of copper connecting lugs that’s still a heck of a lot of money. That’s another reason to go with a battery rack like the one I got. That big steel box may cost $500 but making or buying cables to hook the individual batteries to a wall mounted busbar is going to cost you several hundred dollars by itself.

The EG4LL batteries sell for $1,750 each. I have three of then for a total cost of $5,250. You can save a few bucks by going with batteries that don’t have all of the bells and whistles that these do,. The cheapest 48V server rack style LiFepo batteries that I’ve seen for sale are are around $1,500, so you could save yourself about $250 per battery by doing some shopping around.

So the running total right now for the system is about $3,000 for the inverters and $5,250 for the batteries, a total of $8,250.

But we’re not done yet.

Miscellaneous stuff

To put together a system like this a lot of other misc. parts are needed, and perhaps also some specialty tools like that crimper I talked about. I strongly recommend you get a decent torque wrench to make sure all of those electrical connections are torqued to the proper specifications. You don’t want to end up having to ship an inverter or battery back to the manufacturer, at your cost, because you snapped off a bolt or stripped out the threads on a connector trying to hook something up.

You also need some test equipment like a decent voltmeter and an amp meter. If you don’t already have all of that, you need to add that cost into the total price. Test equipment isn’t expensive and if you’re fiddling around with electrical equipment you need to have it anyway.

Let’s talk battery cabinet. The one in that photo came from Signature Solar and cost me about $500. It’s big enough to hold 6 batteries, has the busbars to connect to the batteries already installed, and it’s built like a freaking tank. It’s made of heavy gauge steel with a locking door, and has heavy duty wheels that can handle the weight because it can hold something like a quarter of a ton of batteries. And as I said it can save you enough money in cables to pay for itself.

Feel free to make your own if you’re handy that way. Just make sure it has adequate ventilation (batteries do get warm under normal operation) and that it can be secured somehow to keep people from fiddling around with it.

There are some safety items you absolutely are going to need. First you need battery cutoff switches between the inverters and the batteries so you can kill power to the inverters quickly in case of an emergency. Look at the photo up there. The two small gray boxes under the first inverter are first a PV cutoff switch and to the right of that the battery cutoff/circuit breaker. I only just got those mounted when I took the photo so they aren’t hooked up yet. The batteries have their own circuit breakers and I have a PV cutoff already in the system that you can’t see in this photo so I don’t have these hooked up yet. The final wiring job will have a PV switch and battery breaker for both inverters.

A decent PV cutoff switch is about $90. The breaker is about $70. I got two of each in the package deal I bought from signature solar. Total cost about $320 if you have to buy them separately.

Oh, and did I mention your solar panels need to be grounded? Yeah, they do. Almost all solar panels, at least the ones I’ve seen, will already have holes, often marked with a special grounding symbol, on the frames. Generally you daisy chain a grounding wire to every panel, then that wire goes to a grounding rod near the panels.

I should add that I already had a lot of the stuff I needed like spare wire, connectors, conduit, etc. laying around because I’m an amateur radio person and I’m constantly tinkering with antennas and fun stuff like that so I already had ground wire, grounding rods and other misc. bits on the shelf.

Now we come to the house side of things. You somehow need to get the power produced by those inverters into your house’s electrical system.

First you need to run suitably sized wiring from the inverters to your service panel. The EG4 manual recommends 6 gauge wire which is going to be sufficient to carry the amperage the inverters can produce. In my case I used 6/2 (6 gauge wire, 1 hot, one neutral, and one ground). That stuff ain’t cheap either. It runs about $3.50 per foot here. That’s why ideally your inverters will be reasonably close to your service panel. Depending on regulations in your area that cable may need to be run through conduit. Even the relatively short run I had to make ended up costing me close to $300 in wire for that, not including the cost of the conduit.

Now I am going to give the usual disclaimer here about using a licensed electrician to make any modifications necessary to the service panel that feeds electricity to your house. In a lot of jurisdictions it may even be illegal for you to make any modifications to your house’s electrical service.

It’s Money Time

Bob the Electrician

So here’s the total cost of this whole house off grid (sort of) alternative energy system, not including solar panels. This number includes the two inverters, three batteries, all of the cables, connectors, switches, electrical wiring, etc. It includes the crimping tool, a cable cutter, torque wrench, wiring to the house panel, circuit breakers, screws, bolts, etc. Prices are rounded. It does not include the cost of Bob the electrician who makes sure I don’t blow things up and keeps the inspectors happy.

Inverter combo deal including 2 EG4 6500EX inverters, two battery breaker boxes, 2 PV disconnect switches and some misc. bits and pieces: $3,000.

Three EG4LL 48V server rack style batteries at $1,750 each: $5,250

Battery cabinet: $500

Equipment total from Signature Solar: $8750.

Shipping: $250

Taxes: $450

total: $9,450

Wait, we’re not quite done yet.

Now we need to add in the misc. costs for wire, cables, connectors, a few speciality tools I had to buy. I won’t itemize all of that. That all added up to about $2,500 rounded to the nearest hundred bucks. Wire is crazy expensive right now, a transfer switch that is eventually going to be hooked into the system set me back almost $500, some circuit breakers for the electrical panel, conduit, fittings. Oh, and lunch for Bob is in there somewhere too I think.

Grand total, not including solar panels: $11,950.

My original cost estimates for this project, minus solar panels, was around $12K to $13K so estimates were spot on.

Now let’s talk solar panels. Solar panel prices are currently sitting at a bit more than $1 to $1.50 per watt. And a system this size is going to need a lot of watts to charge the batteries in a reasonable amount of time even without trying to run your house off solar as well. It’s going to take quite a bit of solar power to keep this system fed. There are 15 KWh of batteries to keep charged plus one would want to get as much solar power as possible to feed through the inverters directly into the house to use solar power directly, not just charge batteries.

I only have my original 800W of solar out there right now, but I just got in 1,320W of solar panels last week and if the budget permits I’ll be adding another 1,320W by the end of June and I’ll have more than 3KW of solar sitting out there.

To make a long story a bit shorter, total cost for this whole project, including solar panels, is going to be right around $15K

Now let’s talk about taxes. There is a federal tax credit for up to 30% of the cost of alternative energy projects, including solar. I’m not exactly sure of all of the details because that’s what I pay my accountant for (Hi, Eric, how you doing? Recover from tax season yet?) Theoretically I could get up to $4,500 in federal tax credits. I doubt if I will. Considering what the tax system is like in the US I’ll be surprised if I get anything at all. But let’s say I do. That would bring the cost of this down to $10,500. Ooo, nice. Personally I think that getting a solar power system that can run my entire house for ten grand sounds like a pretty good deal.

Is it really worth it though? Even if I get the tax breaks that is a hell of a lot of money and a hell of a lot of work. I talked about pay back times and other factors involved before so I won’t go into that here. All I can say at this point is that only time will tell. If nothing else we’ll have a whole house emergency power system we can fall back on during a blackout even if we don’t save a lot of money on the utility bill.

Oh, and I just heard that all of the electric utilities in the state are pushing for yet another rate increase of anywhere from 4% to 8%. So there’s that. And I have friends in the electric utility industry and from what I hear from them we could be looking at wide spread rolling blackouts if we get above average temperatures, so there’s that too… Hmm, maybe this was a good idea after all.

Final Thoughts

A few things struck me as we were proceeding with this project.

First is the cost. $15K is a lot of money but if you think about for a moment, is it really all that much? We’re talking about a system that can handle all of the electrical needs of an entire modern household, at least part of the time, for less than the cost of a decent used car. If you can snag the 30% tax credit it makes it look even more attractive.

Second thing that struck me was how ridiculously easy it was to put this system in. If I’d had all of the parts and bits I needed right off the bat I could have installed this whole system in an afternoon and still have had time to go play with the neighbor’s dog before supper. The inverters have become so sophisticated these days that it’s almost a plug-n-play system. You don’t need separate solar charge controllers, separate AC battery chargers, separate battery management systems, etc. Everything is built right in. If you can read a manual, are qualified to do basic electrical wiring, have some basic tools and test equipment, etc. just about any reasonably intelligent person can set this up. Of course there are a lot of, if you’ll excuse the term, idiots out there. Some of them are on Youtube. Start scrounging around on Youtube sometime searching for solar power systems and you’ll see what I mean. And that’s why cities, towns and counties have to have building codes and inspectors and permitting processes.

The third thing that struck me was that I’ve been going on and on and on about this system for this long when I should be going on and on and on and on about biking, nature, photography, gardening, amateur radio and the other stuff I normally bore you with.

So that’s it. It’s time to get back to our regularly scheduled programming. I’ll keep you up to date about the system but unless something major happens it will be more of a sidenote than anything else while I get back to the more important things in life, like screwing around out in the gardens, bothering people on amateur radio, etc.

Is AM Radio Coming To An End? (Warning, this turns into a rant pretty fast.)

Let’s talk about radio for a moment. This is more of, oh, an editorial commentary, let’s call it. Oh, all right, it’s a flat out rant, okay? So feel free to skip this one.

Of late I’ve been seeing articles popping up in the media claiming that AM broadcast radio is going to come to an end, not based on any real information but almost entirely because that Ford and several European car makers are no longer putting AM radios in some of their vehicles, especially EVs. The car makers are claiming that it’s difficult, even impossible, to put an AM radio in an EV because of electrical interference caused by the motors and electronics in the EV. And the media apparently believes that the only time people ever listen to AM radio is while they’re in their cars.

And pretty much everything in that statement is a lie.

First of all, do EVs cause so much RFI (radio frequency interference) that it is impossible for an AM radio to work? No. I’ve been in a half dozen different EVs in the last few years and none of them caused enough RFI to kill AM radio reception. Not one. Can they cause interference? Absolutely. But only if they are poorly designed and poorly shielded. In fact, it would actually be illegal for an EV to cause enough interference to be significant. FCC regulations state that consumer products cannot cause significant interference to broadcast band radio, television, and other forms of communications, and I would imagine that prohibition would include vehicles as well.

So why are car makers claiming otherwise so they can eliminate AM radio? Money, of course. Not putting AM reception capabilities in their cars saves them a couple of bucks per car. Not much. The amount per car is insignificant. But when you multiply that by the tens of millions of cars the manufacturers crank out it adds up to a significant amount of money. And if they don’t have to put AM radios into cars, it means they don’t have to be so careful about shielding and design engineering to avoid RFI and that increases their profits even more.

And as for AM radio in general, is it coming to an end? Well, maybe?

Let’s face it, AM radio’s audience share has been shrinking for decades already, and for good reason. It is relatively short range, it is subject to considerable interference from electrical storms, electrical equipment, badly designed solar power systems and a host of other sources. The sound quality is terrible. Etc. Etc. Etc. Almost as soon as FM radio with it’s much, much better sound quality and less problems with interference hit the market, people began abandoning AM radio in droves.

And as listenership dwindled, the quality of the programming on AM dwindled as well as station owners scrambled to try to maintain profitability. Broadcasting music is expensive because of licensing fees and other reasons. So many of them switched to all talk formats. Talk, as they say, is cheap. At least it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than music. And as the stations struggled to keep the lights on, the quality of the programming not only dwindled, so did the quality of the advertising, until a lot of AM radio stations now are the home to every scam, fake health care product and phoney investment scam imaginable.

The ever increasingly shrill and even extremist rantings of AM talk radio, together with showering the listeners with ads for vitamin scams, herbal “supplements” that will cure your nose hemorrhoids or whatever, has done more to push AM radio listeners away than removing AM radios from cars will ever push away.

Recent surveys of radio listeners indicate that less than 20% of them ever listen to AM broadcast radio any longer. The remaining audience seems to be largely made up of disgruntled, angry and very, very old white people. Not exactly a prime demographic for advertisers. Well, except for funeral homes, assisted living apartments and hemorrhoid cream, I suppose.

And, of course, the politicians are starting to get involved. In their never ending attempts to divert attention from the fact that they are doing nothing to solve our real problems like mass shootings, drug overdoses, etc. some politicians are climbing onto this bandwagon now and blustering and bloviating about how horrible it is AM radio is dying and how important it is and maybe they should do something about it. Only they won’t, of course. The average politician over in DC or in your state capital is far too busy trying to line up more bribes campaign contributions from special interest groups to have the time to actually do anything to solve the real problems out here in the real world.

Is AM radio dying? Probably. But what’s killing it off isn’t car makers. It’s dying by suicide. Instead of trying to attract new listeners it’s been desperately grasping at an ever shrinking market, a demographic that is slowly dying off from old age. Instead of developing new, relevant programming it’s been slowly being sucked down the sink hole of faked outrage and extremism and conspiracy theories being pushed by ever increasingly shrill and angry voices. It’s embraced shady advertisers and outright scammers.

AM radio sold its soul long ago and now the Devil has come calling to collect.

Your House’s Electrical System and Catching Up

grouchyfarmer.com is now written by an actual real human being, not an AI! Now featuring actual genuine typos, mysspelngs, and much, much more!

So, on Monday, May 1, this is what it looked like outside my front door at 5 AM.

Yes, that’s snow. Nice weather we get here. This is why I haven’t been talking about gardening and bicycling and drone flying and putting up photos of pretty flowers and all that stuff. We had two or three days of summer like weather in March with temperatures in the 80s, and ever since then it’s been like this… cold, wet, cloudly, and now snow. Welcome to Wisconsin. Sigh… The weather has since gotten a bit better. It’s still been so cloudy with occasional rain that we’ve been making pretty much zero solar power. Again, sigh… Of course I shouldn’t complain. I have a friend who lives about 100 miles north of here in the upper peninsula of Michigan and over last week or so he got 52 inches of snow.

What I wanted to talk about is that someone asked why I need two inverters bolted to the wall and not just one. Just one of those inverters can supply 6.5 KW of power, as much as my big Generac gasoline generator, and enough to run almost the entire house as long as we’re careful. So why do I need two of them?

Partly it’s a question of capacity. 6.5 KW is a bit close to the edge for us, so to speak, at least as far as normal daily life is concerned. We may complain about our electric bill but we do like appliances like our coffee makers, our convection oven, etc. With just one inverter there would be times we would be pushing over that 6.5 KW limit. Two inverters give us a comfortable cushion.

The biggest reason though is that we also need 240V power to run some of the appliances in the house. For that we need both inverters. Initially I’m not going to be hooking any 240 appliances into this system because I don’t have eno0ugh batteries and solar panels to handle it, but eventually that’s going to change so I wanted a system that could be switched over easily in the future.

WTF is 240V split phase?

The average person doesn’t know, and doesn’t need to know, what actually goes on in the electrical system of the house. As long as your toaster or computer or TV works when it’s plugged into the wall and the lights turn on when the switch is flipped, that’s all they care about. And for most people that’s fine. But if you want to switch your home to an alternative energy system you need to know what’s going on behind the scenes.

While most of the systems in your house run on 120 VAC, in all likelihood there are some that require more power than a normal 120V line can supply. Things like electric water heaters, clothes dryers, electric stoves, well pumps, etc. will often run on 240V, not 120. The amount of power these appliances require would overload the normal 120V wiring systems in the house. So let me explain what’s going on without this getting complicated.

Well it’s going to get complicated anyway but let’s see what I can do.

What you have coming into your house is two, 120V AC power lines, not one. The two lines can be combined inside your circuit breaker panel to give you 240V to power more power hungry appliances like HVAC systems and clothes dryers.

If you took the front panel off of the main circuit breaker panel in your house it would looks something like the one in the photo below.

Now you’ll notice a couple of things right away if you look at that photo up there carefully. Note that there are two rows of circuit breakers, not one. There is a reason for that and I’ll come to that in a minute.

The next thing I want you to look at is right at the top center of that picture. You’ll see three thick wires coming in from the top. One is black, the 2nd is marked with red tape, and the third runs off to the right of center and is marked with white. Those three lines are what comes in from the service panel attached to the outside of your house and which, in turn, is fed from the utility company. The black wire and the red are the two 120V lines coming into the house and the white is the neutral line.

In your panel are two metal strips called busbars that the two hot wires (sometimes called legs because why not) connect to. Each busbar runs the length of the panel. The circuit breakers in the panel connect to those busbars to get the power that they then send out to the wires that lead to the outlets, lights, etc. in your house.

The circuit breakers on the left side of the panel get their power from L1, and the ones on the right get their power from L2.. Each busbar provides 120V.

So how do you get the 240V? Look at the top of the right row of breakers and you’ll see what looks like two breakers that are joined into one by a bar that connects the two switches together. That’s a 240V breaker.

Well, sort of. It doesn’t actually give you 240V. What it does is tap into both of the busbars at the same times, and lets you run two, 120V hot wires to whatever device that breaker breaker powers. The appliance that circuit energizes can combine both to provide 240V or use the individual 120V lines to power individual circuits in the appliance.

So if you want to design an alternative power system to run your whole house through your existing electrical system, you need a system that provides 120V to both L1 and L2, a 240 split phase system as they call it. And no, I can’t just feed 120V from a single source into both busbars at the same time because L1 and L2 are 180 degrees out of phase with one another and that is important. Or so they tell me.

Okay, so what’s with this phase stuff? Well it gets even more complicated and there is a hell of a lot of misinformation out there about what’s generally called “240V split phase”. There are people out there who will try to tell you that you need 240V split phase to power two phase motors, only there really aren’t any two phase motors out there and there haven’t been in many, many years. Or they’ll tell you you need split phase for electronics which is total BS because almost all modern electronics run off DC not AC…

Okay, look, the reason you have split phase coming into your home… Oh, hell, let’s look at what they’re talking about first of all.

AC stands for alternating current, and it’s called that because it, well, alternates. It doesn’t provide a steady positive voltage the way DC does. It alternates from plus to minus at 60 cycles per second. If you were to hook an oscilloscope up to an AC power line what you’d see on the screen is something like what you see in the picture over there on the left.

If you could look at both L1 and L2 at the same time on an oscilloscope it would look something like the picture over there on the right. The two are 180 degrees out of phase.

Why do we even use this system? It would take me pages and pages to explain all of that so I’ll leave it to you to go scurry over to Wikipedia or somewhere and find out for yourself.

So you have two, 120V lines coming in your house and they are 180 degrees out of phase with one another. Sort of. Kinda. And that’s important for, well, reasons, all right? And the two lines can be combined to give you 240V to power bigger appliances. Or not.

Are you confused yet? I am.

But let’s get back to my setup here. Each of the inverters will supply 1 of the two hot lines needed to get 240. And the two inverters “talk” to each other over a communications line so their sine waves are 180 degrees out of phase when in the split phase mode. Which is important for, well, for reasons. Or so they tell me. That’s what we’re stuck with.

But at the moment I don’t want to run any of my 240V appliances off this system. First of all that equipment sucks up huge amounts of power which would drain my batteries fast. The second issue is that my central air conditioning system quite possibly would require more amperage than my batteries can supply. EG4 recommends having at least 5 batteries in order to supply enough amperage to start up a big HVAC system like mine and I only have 3 at the moment.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I have two inverters because I’ll probably almost certainly need a system that can provide more load capacity than a single inverter would give me, and I eventually may want to expand the system to get 240V if I ever get enough batteries and solar panels up to support it.

But I’ve bored you long enough with this. let’s get on with it…

Catching up

One of the things I ordered for this system was a battery cabinet to hold the batteries that has its own built in busbar system for connecting the batteries, and which is also lockable to keep people from fiddling with things they shouldn’t. That was on backorder and I got an email from Signature Solar telling me I could either wait, or they could ship me a slightly different model cabinet. Like everyone else they’re still having supply chain issues. I told them I’d take the different model and that should be here Monday. I jury rigged things together so I could test the inverters and charge the batteries but it can’t stay that way. Once the cabinet arrives I can get the batteries properly configured and start putting everything together.

I have more solar panels on order because my 800 watts of solar is woefully inadequate to keep 15 KWh of batteries charged. Those are supposed to be coming May 15 so I’ll need to build frames to hold all of those.

Gardening Stuff

The weather hasn’t been very good but we’ve managed to get some work done out in the gardens. Once things warm up and the skies clear up we’re going to be really busy. We’re taking out a crumbling stone wall and replacing that, moving two of the raised beds to a new location and a bunch of other stuff going out there. MrsGF has had her indoor greenhouse going down in the basement for weeks already starting plants that will get transplanted outdoors as soon as the weather permits.

Artsy/craftsy stuff

The brewery called me the other day, asking if I’d make more drinks coasters for them. A couple of good friends opened a brewpub, something they’d dreamed of doing for years. So they bought a building with an existing tavern that had enough room for them to put in their brewery and then… Then Covid hit. And somehow they still managed to pull it off and even managed to pay the bills during that whole mess. And now they’re doing pretty well.

Anyway a while back I found some super cheap plain drinks coasters made from wood and some from paperboard and for the heck of it I fired up Photoshop and made some graphics, putting their logo on one side and an allegedly humorous illustration on the other and then used the laser engraver to burn it into the coasters. i thought they looked a bit on the unprofessional side but they were fun to do so I did a few. I never thought they’d actually use them in the bar. But they did, and apparently the customers loved them. And stole them. Which was okay because it’s good PR for the brewery. So I’ve done dozens, maybe a couple of hundred of these things over the last couple of years and I just got a request for more so I got that going on. People are easily amused, I guess.

But enough of this. I need to get going here. I’ve probably put you to sleep already with all of this. I know I’ve nodded off a couple of times myself…

Things Are Getting Interesting. Let’s Talk About Money, Utility Companies, And The Grid

It’s here! This pallet with 500 lbs. of equipment was delivered from Texas Wednesday last week.

And not only is that pallet full of stuff heavy, it’s expensive, and that’s what I want to talk about today, money.

What I have on that pallet are two, 6500W inverters with built in solar charging systems, three 5 KWh LiFePo batteries, and some misc. parts and cables to make it all work. That pallet up there cost me right around $9,000. And by the time I add in the cost of cables, connectors, bus bars, circuit breakers, the parts I’ll need to connect it all to the house’s electrical systems and a few specialty tools I need, I’ll have about $11,000 invested in this. And then I still need to add more solar panels. Let’s call it a total of about $13,000 for the entire system.

That’s a hell of a lot of money. Or is it, really? Think about it for a moment. When fully configured this system is going to be a complete 13 KW, 240V split phase power generating system that can provide enough power to run the entire house, entirely off grid if I can get enough solar. And if we’re conservative with our electrical usage at night, enough battery capacity to carry us through the night until the sun comes out again. Once you consider that, that $13K price tag begins to seem a bit less shocking.

This system should also qualify for the federal energy tax credit, which means I could get back about 30% of the cost in tax credits. If my accountant can pull that off that would bring my out of pocket cost down to under $10K. But to be honest I’m not counting on that money. The US tax system being as convoluted and laden with pitfalls and booby traps and the like, I am not counting on that money and will be pleasantly surprised if we get it.

So the question now is will this system eventually pay for itself? The answer depends on equations that have a lot of “ifs” in them.

When we ran the numbers on all of this we knew right up front that while this system could handle all of the house’s power requirements, we’re never going to actually achieve that. There is no way that we could put in a system that would take us entirely off the grid. This is, after all, Wisconsin. We get a lot of days up here where we will be generating no solar power at all because of the weather. We can go for a week or more without seeing the sun. So we assumed that, at best, this system might be able to handle half of our electrical usage when averaged out over the course of the year. That is optimistic. I admit that, but it’s a place to start anyway.

Our electric bill right now is averaging around $300/month, $3,600 a year. Half of that is $1,800. We have $13K invested in this system. 13,000 divided by 1,800 is 7.2. So the equipment would pay for itself in about 7 years. That’s really not too bad, all things considered.

If we get the tax credit things look even better. That would bring the cost down to under $10K or so. That would bring the payback time down to about five and a half years.

But as I said, there are a lot of “ifs” in that equation. If the weather cooperates, if the equipment works as specified, if the batteries hold up that long, if we don’t have any significant problems with the system, if we can get enough solar panels up to feed it, if… You get the idea.

If you’re thinking of putting in a system like this yourself, here is another thing to consider. The only reason this system is coming in at this price is because I’m doing almost all of the work myself. I got some estimates on similarly sized systems from contractors and the numbers were a bit eye watering, to say the least. If put in by a professional installer I’d have been looking at prices anywhere from two to four times as much as this. That’s right, prices ranging from about $27,000 to well over $40,000.

Now let’s talk about another aspect some people think about, which is using a system like this to sell power back to the utility company. You’ll hear claims from people that you can make a system like this pay for itself by selling power back to the utility.

Let’s get one thing straight right up front. Utility companies are a government sanctioned monopoly that exists for one reason, to make money. Period. That is their sole reason for existence. And they make money by selling you power. And you with your few little solar panels? They hate you. You are an existential threat to their existence. Every watt of power you generate yourself is a watt of power they can’t make a profit from by selling to you. Every watt of power you try to sell them is, at best, an inconvenience to them and at worst, something that actually costs them money.

What it boils down to is that the utility company is not your friend. All of that PR fluff and nonsense about them caring about renewable energy and being environmentally friendly and caring so much about solar and wind power? It’s BS. All of it. Pure, unadulterated bull shit.

They will buy your power. If they are forced to by law. But they don’t like it, and they will put as many obstacles in your path that they possibly can. There will be special “fees”, special equipment requirements, special electrical code requirements and I don’t know what all else that are designed specifically to make it as difficult as possible for you to hook your system into the grid to sell them power. In a lot of cases the utilities actively bribe lobby state legislatures to change zoning laws, change permitting processes, change building codes and everything else they can to make it difficult or even impossible for you to sell power back to them.

And even if you do manage to jump through all of the hoops and force them to do it, there’s no guarantee that the rules won’t change tomorrow or next month or next year.

If you can manage to pull it off, good for you. But personally I’m not even going to try. I have no desire to sell power back to the utility. I want to become more independent from the utility company, not tie myself to it even more tightly.

Let’s talk about the grid for a moment.

One of the reasons I started to look into a system like this is because I am not optimistic about the sustainability of this country’s electrical distribution system and power generating capabilities. We are in the process of an enormous change in this country, switching from internal combustion engine powered vehicles and other ICE powered equipment, to vehicles and equipment that is powered by electricity. I am not opposed to this. I think it is a good idea for a variety of reasons.

The problem is that we aren’t ready for it. The electric grid in this country is already so stressed that even relatively minor weather events like a mild heat wave brings the grid to its knees. And now we are embarking on adding tens of millions of electric vehicles and other electrical demands to a system that is already strained to the breaking point. We simply do not have enough electrical generating capacity, first of all. And even if we did, the distribution system, the power lines, sub stations, etc. that distribute that power around the country, is old, rickety, and utterly inadequate to carry the amount of power it will need to deal with in the near future.

Last summer California announced proudly that it was going to ban the sales of ICE powered cars in the near future, as well as the sale of new lawn and garden equipment and other equipment powered by small internal combustion engines. And just days later, the state was forced to issue emergency instructions begging people to not plug in their EVs to charge them because the grid was strained to the breaking point and they’d have to begin rolling blackouts to reduce the load if people didn’t curb their electric use. Same thing happened here in Wisconsin this past winter, although for different reasons.

We need to upgrade the electrical distribution system. We need to add more electric generating capacity. And we need to do it right now. And no one seems to be in all that big of a hurry to do anything about it.

This is another one of the reasons I am putting in this system, to get at least some kind of independence from the grid, not just to save money on my electric bill. Am I being paranoid? Maybe? But I think the problem is serious enough that I want to take some kind of precautions.

Anyway that’s for this time. Next time I’ll go into some detail about this system.

Catching Up, And OMG It’s On The Way And I’m Not Ready

Finally some temporary mounts for the solar panels after a couple of months of sitting in the snow and mud alongside the garage.

Let’s catch up with what’s been going on.

The weather finally got nice enough to let me get some chores done outside. First thing I had to do was get the solar panels up off the mud. I threw together some temporary frames and supports out of pressure treated lumber. I’m not putting in anything even semi-permanent yet because it’s all going to get changed around and more panels purchased in the near future to feed the new solar system we’re going to be installing. More about that a bit later.

The new setup seems to have made a huge difference in power production. I didn’t get this set up until early afternoon and at that time we were seeing high clouds that were cutting power production, but even with the clouds I was getting 500 watts or more. When the sky did clear momentarily they were peeking at around 750W for a time. At 4:30 PM after the skies had cleared I was still getting about 450W. For most of the afternoon I was running the entire basement, my radio equipment, the grow lights for our seedlings and the heating pad for the little greenhouse we have set up in the basement, the chest freezer and the living room, all running off the Bluetti with more than enough power coming in to run all of that and keep the batteries topped off. Of course there isn’t a heck of a lot of power being used for any of that. I think that peaks at around 600W of load. Still, that’s 600 watts of power we aren’t paying the utility company for.

Today is supposed to be warm and sunny so I’ll see just how much power those panels produce now that they’re more properly oriented. I am really pleased with those HQST panels. They’ve been doing much, much better than i anticipated.

The weather was so nice yesterday that I finally got the bike out of storage, checked over and out on the road again. After about 5+ months of a woefully sedentary lifestyle I was pretty stiff and after about five miles my legs were complaining already. The Vado up there may be an e-bike but it doesn’t do all the work for me. I still have to pedal it and I run it in “eco” mode so it only does about 25% of the work for me. Although I admit I will kick the assistance level when I’m going up a steep hill. Hey, what can I say? I’m old. I’ll be hitting 70 this year.

It was nice to get out on the road again on the bike but there isn’t much to see this time of year. The countryside around here is still mostly, well, looking like this…

Not very appealing but give it a few weeks.

The weather has been, as usual, odd. We went from rainy, cloudy, cold weather with daytime highs of around 40, to 70+ degrees literally overnight. It’s supposed to hit 80 degrees this week before the temps plunge back down into the low 40s again by the weekend.

And now the OMG part…

We made the decision to go ahead and make a significant investment in equipment for a rather large solar power system. I’ll go into all of the details later but we’re sinking a significant amount of money and effort into this and I hope it isn’t going to turn into a fiasco. We’ll see.

I thought I was going to have some time to prep for this. The company I’m buying the stuff from said it would probably take 2 – 3 weeks to put the order together, get it on a truck and ship it here. So no big rush in preparing. I need to clear space out in the basement, a difficult job because our basement is packed with stuff, a lot of which belongs to eldest son, and a lot of it is electronics so it just can’t be shoved down into the storage unit. And because of the condition of our basement there are limited places where a large electrical system can be installed. It’s going to take a long time to clear out space for it. And then I need to get miscellaneous parts like fuses, electrical cable of different types. a new transfer switch or lockout system for the main breaker panel… The list goes on and on.

So I thought I had at least two weeks to get ready for this. I don’t. It’s coming Monday. Something like 500 pounds of stuff on two pallets is going to get dumped off in my driveway sometime on Monday, I’m told. Or at least that’s the projected delivery date according to the shipping company.

Oh, goody…

I’m going to be busy, it seems…

This Is Spring? A Sort Of Review. And Random Stuff

Well they tell me it’s spring out there. Yeah, right…

I was going to start building the frames to hold the solar panels but you can see how well that worked out. Also I’ve been having “issues” with Amazon of late, which is where I bought the panel clamps, so they aren’t here yet. More about that down below. If I remember. I probably won’t.

We got 8 – 10 inches of snow the other day. I just spent half an hour digging the solar panels out of the snow drift they were in. Yep. it’s spring in Wisconsin. Sigh… We’ve been very, very fortunate up here, to be honest. All of the storms raging across the country have been tracking well south of us before running up the east coast.

But it is looking like spring down in our basement. MrsGF has a small greenhouse with grow lights and a heating pad set up down there and has a lot of seedlings started already. And the stuff is growing like crazy. The way the weather is going I have no idea when we’ll be able to actually move plants outside. All we can do is wait and see what happens.

Now let’s talk about this -this thing

This is something called a Click N Grow hydroponic growing system. Only none of those words are actually true, to be honest. What it looks like in real life is this-

Can you say ‘disappointing’ boys and girls?

I got this is a gift from someone who got it as a gift from someone else and didn’t want it so I set up and tried it. Sigh…

How it works is like this: The base is filled with water. Those little pots have a sort of wick in them that extends down into the water to draw it up into the pot. Inside pot you have put the company’s “plant pods” which, of course, they will gladly sell you for many, many $$$.

So let me tell you what you get for your $180. You get a small grow light. You get two plastic arms that hold the light in place above the tank. The tank itself is lightweight plastic with some holes in it. You put plain water in the tank. You then put small plastic cups with a wick on the bottom into the holes. The wick draws water up into the cups.

And that’s what you get for your two hundred bucks. A $30 grow light and about $5 worth of plastic. No electronics, no pumps, no heaters. Just a grow light and some plastic bits.

Into those plastic cups you put the company’s “plant pods” which, as far as I can tell, consist of a chunk of peat moss worth maybe $0.20, and a couple of seeds. The company will (start sarcasm font) generously (end sarcasm font) sell you their proprietary “plant pods” in a 9 pack for about $24.

I should point out that while that looks pretty good in the photo those plants are only about 4 inches tall and most of them died shortly after I took this photo.

Now it does work. Kinda. I have to admit that. I have actual tomato plants growing down in my office with actual tomatoes growing on them. Well, sort of. The plants don’t look very healthy any more and the “tomatoes”, if you can call then that, are the size of peas and they never seem to actually get ripe. I got one tiny, tiny salad out of the three lettuce pods. Well “tiny” is being generous.

Do I need to tell you to avoid this thing like the plague? It consists of a $20 grow light and a few bucks worth of plastic. And that literally is all it is. And they are selling it for $180. The plant pods are peat moss with probably some added fertilizer, and a seed or two. MrsGF has a 4 shelf mini greenhouse down in the basement that can hold 2 or 3 full sized flats on each shelf, with grow lights and heaters, and that entire setup cost about half of what this — this thing sells for.

I’ll keep it going because I’m curious to see if those so-called tomatoes will ever actually turn red. After that the plastic bits go in recycling and the grow light might be salvageable and used in MrsGF’s greenhouse.

Amazon Issues

I don’t know what’s going on with Amazon of late. Maybe it’s just a local issue? Let me explain. A couple of weeks ago I ordered a monitor stand. Amazon told me it would arrive in 2 days. Fine. On the 3rd day I got a message saying delivery had been delayed and would now take another two days. Okay. I’m in no big rush. Then on the day the stand was supposed to arrive I got a message telling me it was “undeliverable” and it was being returned to the warehouse and I would be issued a credit. There was no explanation of what “undeliverable” actually meant. By that time I kinda really wanted the stand so I ran all the way up to Appleton and bought one at Office Max.

Three days later, guess what Amazon dropped off at my door? Yep, the monitor stand I’d ordered a week and a half earlier.

Earlier I’d ordered a heavy electrical cable to connect my backup generator to the transfer switch in the house. These things are expensive, around $200 for the one I needed. The cable arrived two days later. It was the wrong one. The day after that the right cable came. Amazon says they have no record of the wrong cable being sent and I should just keep it. Not sure what I’m going to do with it, but okay…

I ordered mounting brackets for my solar panels last week. They were supposed to arrive on Saturday. Sunday I got a message that they were delayed and they should come tomorrow, Tuesday. Okay…

I ordered a National Geographic science kit as a gift for a great nephew. They told me it would arrive in two days. Great. It arrived in 8 hours. Seriously. I ordered it around 10 AM and it arrived at 4 PM the same day.


I’m more grouchy than usual at the moment. I’m prepping for a colonoscopy tomorrow so I’ve had no solid food for 2 days and now I’m trying to gag down a half gallon of Gatorade mixed with laxatives that will keep me huddled near the bathroom for the rest of the evening. Great fun.