The weather here in Wisconsin can get interesting, to say the least. Mostly it’s fairly pleasant up here, but sometimes things get weird. Like blizzards in May. Or the Great Frog Storm of 1956. (That one was scary.) This winter has been remarkably mild with very little snow. Well very little snow until now. I think we got more snow in the first 2 weeks in March than we did during the rest of the winter combined. Now we’re under a storm warning for tomorrow and could get another 5 – 8 inches of snow. Sigh…
But let’s get on with this. I’m sure you have better things to do than listen to me rambling along. I know I do. (Looks at calendar… Well no, it seems I don’t have better things to do. Never mind.)
I thought I was done talking about solar and power systems and all of that for a while. I should have known better because here we go again. That transfer switch I was talking about last time is now installed and working. The kit had everything necessary and installing it is pretty simple. It took maybe an hour to install the whole thing. (Do I really need to include the disclaimer telling you not to go fiddling around with your house’s electrical service because you can get killed if you don’t know what you’re doing?)
It took some time to track down what breakers powered what. A variety of electricians have been in that panel fiddling with things in the years we’ve lived here and not all of them were careful about labeling what they hooked to what, it seems. I was upset by that because these guys are supposed to be professionals. You don’t just shove a new breaker into a panel, hook it to something and leave it unlabeled. Or, even worse, change an existing circuit and then not note down what was changed. I ended up spending a good hour with a circuit tracer running around the house testing outlets and lights before I could even start installing the transfer switch. Fortunately only two or three were mislabeled but that was still concerning. I got out my little label making thingie to make nice, neat labels, only to find my label making thingie didn’t work. (Yeah, it’s been one of those weeks so far. The label maker, the mislabeled circuits, a crimping tool designed to crimp MP4 connectors doesn’t actually crimp things…)
With the transfer switch set up I can change between grid power and the Blutetti with just the flip of a switch. And the transfer switch doesn’t care where it gets power from so I can plug in either the Bluetti or our big Generac gas powered generator.
Planning and Research Problems
If you’ve been following this discussion that started with the Bluetti solar generator thing you know MrsGF and I have decided to put in a relatively large solar power system that can handle much of our electrical needs. We aren’t going “off grid” as they call it because with the weather we get here in Wisconsin it would be difficult, even impossible, to rely on solar for all of our electrical needs. But we could make a significant dent in our electric bill if we manage to pull this off.
But there are problems.
Now we could do something like look at some of the “plug ‘n play” systems from Bluetti, Ecoflow, Generac and others but all of those have serious issues. When it comes to the solar generator people like Bluetti and Ecoflow, the problem is that while they have some pretty nice systems that are fairly easy to install that can handle almost the whole house, you’re locked into those companies for the entire lifetime of the system. You can only use their batteries, their accessories, their adaptors, etc. If something goes wrong with the system the only thing you can do is pack the whole thing up and ship it back to the company which will, maybe, you hope, fix it and maybe, you hope, actually ship it back to you and that it will actually work when it arrives. And that will take weeks at least, maybe even months. And during that time your entire solar energy system is shut down. And let’s be honest, all of the systems from those companies are breathtakingly overpriced when you look at what you actually get for your money.
There are problems with the big brand names like Generac and Tesla as well. Once again you’re at the mercy of a single vendor for all of your equipment. You might be lucky and be in an area that is served by an installer/dealer who can help you when something goes wrong, and something will go wrong eventually, but even so you’re still tied to a single vendor for everything. And even worse, the systems from these companies are eye wateringly expensive for what you get.
And then there are the problems with almost all of the commercial “solar contractors” out there.
If your goal is to gain some independence from the grid you aren’t going to get it from most of the commercial solar contractors out there. What most of them are selling are systems intended to generate power that is sold directly back to the utility, not to make you independent from the grid. They have little, if any, battery backup capability. And with a system like that you are entirely at the mercy of the utility company. They could decide tomorrow to change the rates, add in bogus “connection fees”, even shut you down entirely.
So if you want a system that gives you some independence from the grid, that doesn’t lock you into a single vendor who could very well disappear tomorrow, want to do it as economically as possible, and want a system that is relatively easy to repair when things go wrong, you’re pretty much stuck with trying to build it yourself.
Which brings me to…
The Great Solar System Build
Oh, brother, talk about hyperbole. Sheesh…
Over the next few weeks (or months, because I’m not only lazy I am also a procrastinator of the first order) I’m going to document in excruciating and incredibly boring detail our efforts to build a reasonably large home solar power system from the ground up, complete with system specifications and why we chose those specifications, the search for equipment, dealing with various vendors, issues with wiring and building codes, etc, etc, etc.
For those of you who find this kind of thing eye wateringly boring, well, you have my sympathy. So posts about the solar system will be prominently labeled with a GSSB tag in the title so you can skip those parts and just drop in to look at photos or read the other nonsense I babble about here.