My new Solar Array..

Discussion in 'Alternative Energy' started by Murby, Aug 6, 2017.

  1. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    We got first light today on our new solar system install... only two columns (8 panels) are connected and its totally cloudy but we're producing almost 800 watts of power. When the clouds clear, the power jumps up to 1900 watts..
    I still have five more columns (20 more panels) too hook up yet but we are producing.

    Designed and built the system myself.. Using SMA SunnyBoy inverter and SolarWorld panels for a total DC rating of 7.56 KW and I have another 2000 watts of extra panels I haven't even hooked up yet.

    Started laying out the positions of the support structure columns...
    System1.jpg
    Placing concrete forms 6 feet below grade. Concrete forms are 22 inches diameter below grade and 20 inches above grade. I used steel 55 gallon drums with the tops and bottoms cut out and attached sonotubes to the top of them for the above ground sections.
    System2.jpg


    Because our solar array is 40 feet long and located on an east-west slope, there is a 36 inch difference between the west side and east side so our concrete pillars had to extend above ground at varying heights to adjust for the changing grade.
    System3.jpg

    Some of the Sonotubes are really tall!
    System4.jpg
    After three weeks of almost no rain at all, which is really nice when you're digging holes, we got rain.. right at the time when I wanted rain the least.. All of our forms flooded and eventually were completely submerged and filled with water.. and then more rain.. and more rain..

    I had to go to Harbor Freight and purchase one of their trash pumps.. Each concrete form held over 100 gallons of water..
    System5.jpg

    When the weather finally gave us a break, it was back to work setting up wood supports to hold all the pipe that will make the solar framework.
    System6.jpg

    More wood, more supports... The 3 inch sch40 pipe we used is very heavy.. All total, there's about 2800 lbs of framework. Just lifting a 10 foot piece is difficult to do manually... Heavy stuff...
    Except the shortest pieces, all the vertical pipes had to be hoisted into position with machinery.
    System7.jpg

    I have to say.. I'm tired of screwing wood together and working with steel pipe for a while...
    System8.jpg

    I used 5000 psi concrete.. very strong stuff normally used for industrial applications.. Even so, I wasn't happy with the tallest sonotubes relying on their own structural integrity so I decided to embed rebar into the four tallest at the far side.. While it may look like the rebar is close to the concrete form, it is at least 3 inches away on all sides.
    WetTube.jpg

    Finally time to pour concrete! Yippee!! 8 Cubic yards to fill up all the forms. And I was considering buying a concrete mixer and doing it myself.. Yikes! Glad I didn't go that route or I'd still be mixing concrete today.
    The concrete driver was amazing! I was not able to allow him access to the low side of the array and we were really worried that he wouldn't be able to snake the concrete chute between all that wood support and piping.. but he did.. and he never touched or bumped a single part of the structure. Amazing skill..
    System9.jpg
    To be continued.....
     
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  2. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    What a mess! Concrete everywhere.. Ruined my $25 Walmart shoes, my pants were covered in concrete, I even had concrete in my hair!
    System10.jpg

    And then the nightmare continues with more digging for the electrical lines.. We had to run 150 feet back to the house panel so I used 4ga wire. I could have gotten away with something much smaller like 10ga or 8 ga, but smaller wire would have resulted in power losses.. The 4ga wire only suffers 0.8% at full power. We also laid in an auxiliary 1 inch conduit for other power wires and a 1/2 inch conduit for Ethernet communications to the array.
    System12.jpg

    Finally able to remove the sonotubes and most of the support wood..
    System13.jpg


    Do some grading and plant some grass seed and start installing rails and power systems.
    System14.jpg

    Starting to look like a solar system...
    System15.jpg

    A view of the inverter and back side of the panels...
    System16.jpg

    Finally! All of the panels are up.. Anyone ever notice when you build something there's always extra parts left over? LOL
    The extra panels are actually just back ups.. spares that will be stored in a Faraday cage for safe keeping.
    System17.jpg

    I currently have just the first two columns closest to the camera hooked up.. I still have 20 more panels to wire but the first 8 are already producing power and feeding it back to the grid. Even on a cloudy day, I'm seeing between 400 and 1000 watts coming from them.. Very cool!
     

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  3. painterswife

    painterswife Sock puppet reinstated Supporter

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    Looking good.
     
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  4. Steve_S

    Steve_S Well-Known Member

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    Lot of work & the result is well worth it ! Just wait till it's all up and running and then the moment when everything is running and you see the power metre (from grid) sitting idle, that feeling is priceless & absolutely precious.... Great Work !
     
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  5. katlupe

    katlupe Off-The-Grid Homesteader Supporter

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    Very impressive!
     
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  6. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for the comments.. It was an interesting experience... about 3 times the amount of labor than I had anticipated.

    It will power our entire home.. Next project is to work on a battery backup system with DC to AC inverter for the entire house should the grid ever go down for a long time.
     
  7. Al Yaz

    Al Yaz Well-Known Member

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    Wow! Nicely done. You didn’t scrimp anywhere and basically overbuilt it which as you know is the way to go. Gorgeous project it will be interesting to hear what your maximum harvest days are or if you get any ‘edge of cloud’ anomalies from time to time. :)
     
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  8. Hitch

    Hitch Well-Known Member

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    Impressive, thanks for sharing. Is the angle fixed or adjustable?
     
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  9. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    The angle is fixed.. I considered a seasonable adjustment array but didn't like the low specs on wind loading.. I built mine for 130mph.. not that I plan to ever see that but with global warming, we're noticing weather extremes.. instead of an inch of rain every week, we get nothing for two months and then 7 to 8 inches in two days.. Wind has been a lot of the same.. We used to get 70 mph storms once every few years.. now we seem to get them twice a summer.

    I'm going to put in a second array but its only going to have 9 panels so I might go with an adjustable tilt on that one..
     
  10. Solar Geek

    Solar Geek Well-Known Member

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    Love your array. We put up in 3 different installations for a total of 17.5Kw with full battery back up and some solar thermal for domestic hot water. We love it! Right now, the power company owes us $268. But we are part of a cooperative (very rural) and BEFORE WE GET THE BENEFIT OF OUR SYSTEM, we must satisfy monthly $41-$45 fixed costs/taxes for the privilege of being part of the coop. We discussed going off grid but DH is just now retired (7/1/17) so we will re-visit that possibility soon.

    This runs our 5 bedroom all electric house, pole barn, 3 pond/fish aerators. Since we live in the middle of nowhere, we built so that all guests could stay over.

    Our 3 builds looked just like your pictures. Love your commentary
     
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  11. melli

    melli Otiose Endomorph

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    This is what you've been up to!
    Very sweet. 6ft deep footings...130mph you say. Unless you have a tidal surge, and the QE2 runs aground in your backyard, I could safely say the footings will never move, ever. You could mount a 747 on that. I'm a fan of a good foundation.

    What do you have at the other end, in terms of storage?

    Wow.

    :):):):):)
     
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  12. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    Yup.. We're going full energy independence... a work in progress...

    You would be amazed at the sheer forces exerted on it under 100 mph wind loading.. I was astounded and ran the numbers twice because I thought I made a mistake.

    We don't have any storage yet.. I'm currently in talks with Tesla and considering the purchase of their 13.5KW PowerWall 2 unit.. also considering an Outback Radian 8048 (8,000 watts) inverter and just getting my own batteries. I'd really prefer the Tesla Powerwall.. its only $5500 with a 10 year warranty and Lithium cells don't care if they're left discharged for extended periods. Tesla is giving me a hard time however.. they want THEIR certified installer to put it in and that's a big stumbling block for me.. I have a note in front of me to call Sonnen Battery too.. they have their own version of a powerwall.. And then there's the guy on Youtube with the electric VW buss who built his own Tesla style powerwall.. I might even consider building it myself but not there yet.


    Its really cool to see all that power going backwards through my meter.. hard feeling to describe..
     
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  13. Steve_S

    Steve_S Well-Known Member

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    @Murby and others, seems to me that folks often forget that Solar Panels are sails waiting for the wind to take them on a journey and depending on where you live, almost an invitation to go sailing... Very Wise to seriously anchor them down, even possibly wind blocking around the base so wind can't get underneath. Watching the thread carefully, good one to follow !
     
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  14. Meinecke

    Meinecke Well-Known Member

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    Hey Murby...not sure if i overread it, but why are your foundations so way above ground to the end?
    Is your property a slope down to that end?
    But either way...great setup..and with that open back, i really get why you are so concerned about wind.
    Mine will be backed by a Rock ridge...so less likely to get blown away...
    Without the Panels/inverter...is it okay to ask how much your little project was costing you?
    Do you own the power tools like backhoe etc?!
    Thx for sharing...cant wait...but still stuck in purchase drama...hope to get first power before new year
     
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  15. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    Yes.. there is a 3 foot difference between the east side of the array and the west side.. So three feet of drop for the 40 foot long array. The camera angle might not show it well, but the tops of the concrete pillars are all within 1/8 of an inch of each other.

    Thanks! Having a permanent wind block should save you some money in concrete and structure..

    The equipment (panels, inverter, connectors, disconnects, and ground mounting hardware (less pipes), was about $8,600.. Add another ~$4000 for other stuff.. Concrete ($1200), sonotubes ($220), 3 inch galvanized pipe ($1500) for the structure, AC power wiring ($200), permits ($500! wow), and probably another $400 in misc garbage.. All total, I have about $13,000 into it before tax rebates.. But that also includes $1000 in panels I'm keeping in a protected Faraday cage so they're not producing power.. So I come in at $1.65 per watt before tax rebates or $1.15 per watt after.. Payback is 5.25 years at current power rates.. Our utility increases our rates about 1 penny per kilowatt per year for the past few years so it doesn't include those increases either.

    I should note that I had a lot of unusual savings that most people won't find.. I used 55 gallon drums I get free for the below ground stuff.. if I had to run sonotubes down all the way, they would have cost me around $700 instead of $220.. And because of my business, I know a lot of industrial suppliers and was able to get my 3 inch galvanized pipe at wholesale prices.. I paid $5.50 a foot instead of the normal $8 to $10 per foot.. The 4 ga wire I bought would have also cost me around $1000 but I bought it for only around $150 and they gave me the direct burial cat 6 line and 10 ga wire free... I paid normal prices for the rest.. Permit fees absolutely suck.. $500 for two visits? Seriously? What a scam.... and the other $400 was home depot stuff...
    But keep in mind mine is over-built.. Even my DC wiring coming from the panels are inside conduits.. its not required but it protects them so I did it. (an extra $100)..

    I think I own every power tool known to mankind... some of them twice! LOL.. Except the Rototiller on the back of the tractor.. That belongs to a friend and we share it.. The backhoe isn't mine either but I can borrow it anytime I want..

    I did have to rent a concrete vibrator ($46) for the day.. If you pour concrete, make sure you get one or your concrete will be weak and will eventually crack up. I'm not a concrete guy and had to do about a month of research and learning on the internet and lots of phone calls.. Pouring slabs is a no-brainer.. but concrete pillars are another thing all together..

    And I had to purchase a trash pump from Harbor Freight $165 and that's not included above either.. but I get to keep that..

    By the way, when your pour your concrete, make sure you have a back up vibrator in case the first one breaks.. yes, its that important.

    If you use sonotubes, coat the inside of them with clean motor oil or vegetable oil.. They say they come off because they have a built in parting membrane but its really difficult.. I trusted them.. then I spent an entire day and I'm still not done getting all the pieces off.

    A lot of "solar installers" will just dig a hole in the ground and pour the concrete.. Don't do it if you live in an area that freezes.. Frost will get under irregularities in the sides of the pillars and lift them up.. your pillars need to have semi-smooth sides.. I was even concerned with the ring ridges in the 55 gallon drums and hammered some of them out.

    Got to Renvu.com and log in... some of the best prices on the internet.. Tell them the electrical engineer guy from Michigan sent you.. talk to Ian...

    If you're going Grid Tie, stick to SMA SunnyBoy's... and don't even think about purchasing anything made in China. If you're going off-grid, stick to OutBack.. they are the leaders...

    Its a lot of work.. I started the project in May and just finished last week.. Don't wait until it gets too cold to pour concrete..
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2017
  16. Meinecke

    Meinecke Well-Known Member

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    I unfortunately have to wait until i finally life there...
    I am already in week 6!!!! of attorney review...and since Friday finally under contract...Never buy from a divorcing couple...SMILE
    As much as i would love to go Off grid right away, i have to start slow...and buying house and starting all that in year five after immigrating to the states as already big achievement...
    So keep connecting...and good harvest over all...
    Looking forward to a monitoring webpage to loom at your harvest like this here:
    http://www.sma.de/en/company/pv-electricity-produced-in-germany.html
     
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  17. melli

    melli Otiose Endomorph

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    Yeah, I heard that about Tesla...hmmm....
    One day, I'll get to play with solar...maybe I should have gone solar from the get-go, but storage 5-6yrs ago isn't what it is today. Even the panels have gotten better. Really looking forward to seeing your setup at other end, when you get around to it. And please leave no detail out, as I'm sure you'll spare no expense...lol
    Best
     
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  18. Hitch

    Hitch Well-Known Member

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    We'd like to go solar but I'm afraid we'd have to cut down too many trees to have enough open space for maximum exposure.
     
  19. Meinecke

    Meinecke Well-Known Member

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    @Murby...
    Just looked in the sonnen battrie...to my surprise the website was in my native language...happy to see that still some good things come from home...
    What is your result with Tesla and Sonnen? Have you gotten to a conclusion?
     
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  20. Murby

    Murby Well-Known Member

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    I don't think Tesla is going to work out.. at the time, they have a waiting period of 4 months to get one which means they are selling them faster than they can make them. I'll have to wait until that trend reverses and the demand drops a bit.

    Sonnen is out of the picture as they're too expensive on a kilowatt/dollar basis..

    And its not all bad either.. neither of these technologies have matured and so waiting until they hammer out all the bugs and perfect the manufacturing process might be advantageous to me.

    For now, its back to good old reliable and predictable lead acid... But I've thrown in a new twist too.. I'm going to build a wood gassifier to power a generator..