Your Questions About Solar Panel Kits

Maria asks…

Are the $200 DIY Solar panel KITS legit?

after seeing this —> and searching Rip-Offs dot com , I think that I can't believe in Earth dot com MotherEarth catalog , etc. I'm a jack of all trades which makes me a Fool and a master – of – none , but don't fool me thrice ! Is there a good link to build this mouse-trap or should I just max-out my credit card for a pipe-dream ? Maybe I should forget PV and just sweat copper pipes for solar water… BTW: I love removing old TV antennas and installing FREE-to-Air TV service for semi-retirement in NOLA. What's your input [GI-GO]

ssadmin answers:

I just looked at what you are referring to.

In short, the answer is a resounding NO.

They are only 4.5 – 12 watt max sub units that can produce that only under the absolute best of conditions. Additionally, in order to make any real use out of them, you would have to take anywhere from 8 – 10 of the larger units to store enough to run only minor electronics for a while. Say you wanted to run one brushless motor for 1 hour. You would need to store the equivalent of 36 volts at 600 watts. These panels will let you store enough for an 1/8th charge, at max capacity for a day, on an average auto battery.

It's not worth it unless you create a full array.

George asks…

How much will a 40 watt solar panel power?

If I got a 40 watt solar panel kit would it provide enough energy for a couple fluorescent bulbs and an energy-efficient mini fridge? And also for charging a laptop? If not, how big of wattage would be needed? And WTF is the lingo for this stuff anyways? Thanks.

ssadmin answers:

It will not power a fridge because even a small fridge pulls a few watts. With a hand held 75-100w inverter it will power 2 CFL bulbs 15w+15w =30w (Maybe). You need a small 12v battery with a small charge controller to keep a stable voltage so you do not damage your inverter.

James asks…

Can a Harbor Freight solar panel resist hail?

I just bought a Harbor Freight solar panel kit and I am concerned about damage it might receive from weather conditions. It appears to have some sort of plastic over the solar cells.

ssadmin answers:

I have one up and it hasn't destructed yet. It does what they say. I have it connected to 2 5 volt golf cart gel cells in series. You would need about 20 of them to power most things directly.

Lizzie asks…

Do you need a regulator to hook up a 5000 Watt Power Inverter to a Solar Panel?

I am thinking about buying a 5,000 Watt Continuous/10,000 Watt Peak Power inverter and a 45 Watt Solar Panel Kit, to use to run the lights and some utilities with, and I was wondering if I would need a regulator.

ssadmin answers:

Hey Katrina, sounds like you've been shopping at Harbor Freight. There are two types of power inverters in the world, intertie and independent. An intertie inverter will take power form any amount of solar you have, up to its rated limit. If you are looking on the shelf at power inverters that cost a few hundred dollars, they are not this type. An intertie inverter that is rated at 1000 watts will take solar power from several panels wired in series totalling any amount of power up to 1000 watts and synchronize its output with the grid power. Then it will directly feed solar power out to the grid, offsetting some of what your home is using. A 1000 watt intertie inverter might cost you $1500 USD or more.

The less expesive independent inverters have to be hooked to a battery, so the voltage going into the inverter is always regulated to nominal battery voltage. Then you can use your solar panel to charge the battery with. Most inverters you find on the shelf at Harbor Freight, auto parts stores, truck stops and sporting good stores are this type. They cost a fraction of what the intertie models do, but must have a battery to anchor the voltage feeding into the inverter. There is no reason you can't use a 45 watt solar panel to charge a deep cycle boat battery, which feeds an inverter of this type, but you won't get a lot of power out of it for very long. Once the battery is discharged, it might take that panel a week to charge it back up again. We have an arrangement like this in our barn, 4 golf cart batteries run a 750 watt inverter, which is used to run a bank of compact flourescent light bulbs. The inverter is only used for a few hours each week, and the little 50 watt panel we have keeps the batteries charged up the rest of the time. Projects like this are fun and interesting, but with a 45 watt panel, you won't be offsetting much of your electric loads from your homes system. Good luck Katrina, and take care, Rudydoo

Linda asks…

What SOLAR PANEL kit do I need?

There are so many solar panels and kits it is very confusing. I need to know what exactly I would need if I had an underground home with no electricity. I want to be totally off the grid with solar power. Someone please explain to me in simple terms what exactly I need. Maybe give me a link to the right kit for me.
Also are they easy to install? Are there instructions that I need to download?
Thank you

ssadmin answers:

You need a lot of money.
It's difficult to even fit enough panels on a normal roof to supply the average usage of an American home.
You need to figure out your daily usage in watts. The average home needs anywhere between 2500 and 6000 watts at peak times of the day.
You would need a significant battery bank as well, so that you had enough power through the night.
A standard panel is around 2′ x 4 ‘ and produces between 60 and 240 watts in bright sun, (depending on the quality of the cells, which increases cost per panel)
There's also the issue of how much weight your structure can handle. You might need to put some of them on a stand in the yard. Or specially design your home to support the weight.
Most roofs are designed to handle the load of a few feet of snow.

Ok so lets add that up. If you were very conservative and kept it under 3000 watts at any given time, leaving enough to charge those batteries as well, AND you bought the highest grade panels, 3000/240 = 13 panels. That's 104 square feet of panels.
Now hopefully you live in a warm climate like southern California, and plan to use a wood/pellet stove for heat. What about hot water? What about cooking appliances? An electric range needs about 3600 watts at 240 volts to operate the oven, and each burner is between 1200 and 1800 watts depending on how large it is. A standard microwave is around 1200 watts. Some more. A vacuum is 1460 watts. A blow dryer is 1500 watts, a Clothes dryer is as much as 6000 watts.
You have to really consider how much power you actually need at any given moment. And then how much reserve power you will need. You might also want a back up generator for cloudy days…

You might do well to include some wind power to supplement your panels.

But for starters, figure out how much power you currently use.
A quick, but inaccurate measure would be to look at your bill and divide the total electric KWH by the days of the month and then by 12 hours. And then multiply by 1000 to get average watts per hour during the day.

Then figure out how much money you want to spend…
If you do it yourself you won't get the tax credit (if that's still actively available) For that you have to get an engineered system made of UL approved parts and installed with permits and inspections.
In most places you're required to do most of that anyways… Although many people get away without the hassle.
There's a lot of dangers to consider though, Know what your roof can support. Some panels weight as much as 60 lbs each. Know how to size your wire. Know how to handle batteries and where you can safely store them (not inside, they release toxic fumes)

Many solar distributors have estimating programs that will give you an idea of average sun production for your yard, and what the optimum orientation for the panels are.

My dad uses motors to tilt his along with the sun on his peak. I don't know how effective that is at making it worth while.

He also buys low cost panels that aren't UL approved. Right now he gets an average of 1500 watts during the day with about 11 panels. But he's just inverting it into his house power with a grid tie.
You would need a special kind of inverter, and a charging monitor to keep your batteries safe.

I would also consider a meter that tells you how much charge you have and how much power production you have available to use, you wouldn't want to overload the system.

Personally I want to get property with flowing water on or next to it, that I can place wheels into.
I've seen quite a few designs for home made wind generators, and I want to work with hydrogen as a storage medium.
I could use the green energy to perform electrolysis and design a generator that runs on hydrogen, (of those PEM fuel cells seem to be the most efficient although they're really expensive right now…)
If I could make enough hydrogen, I could also use it for heat, hot water, and cooking.

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