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14 Portable & Emergency Fluorescent Light by Flexcharge
Getting Started

First off, educate yourself.

Knowledge is power, it can also help you keep from throwing money away.

There is a lot of good information out there, and a lot of garbage too.

The first source I would recommend is government publications, such as information from
the U.S. Department of Energy.

I suggest this as a first step as there are a lot of armchair solar experts out there.
Some of them don't know diddly (how would you know?), some have an axe to grind and
some are just trying to peddle their wares.

Use some common (or nowadays uncommon) sense. If it sounds like something out of left
field, it probably is.
In over thirty years, I have seen and heard so much nonsense that it is amazing that anyone still
believes in alternative energy.

Don't be one of the folks that call up sobbing because someone either burned them on an
installation or gave them some poor information.

Before you believe what someone says, give it the acid test:

Does it make sense?
Is it practical?
Does it sound like pie in the sky?
What are their credentials?
Are they telling you just what you want to hear?

Remember that when everything goes South, it will be you standing in the pile of compost.

There are a lot of "experts" out their who give nonsensical information.

One thing that gets us in trouble is trying to "go on the cheap" when setting up a system.

My mom was a Scot and she was very tight fisted with money.   

On the other hand, my Dad was not thrifty at all. BUT he was very careful when buying
tools, he was a heavy duty mechanic for close to fifty years. Once I asked him about the
life time warranty on some hand tools I wanted to buy. He said "buy the tools - not the warranty",
"when it is two in the morning, you are under a truck in the rain, in the middle of nowhere -
what good is a warranty when the sprocket in a ratchet wrench breaks or a socket splits?"

Long ago I figured he knew what he was talking about.

There are two kinds of warranties, the one for a great product that the manufacture has
confidence in and the one for junk where the manufacturer has enough profit margin to replace
a given percentage of failed items.

That said,
Buy what you know will work for your application, make sure that it is the best you can afford
(usually it pays to wait to save up enough money to get the best) and then you will not have to feel bad about it later.

I have seen many systems where maybe five percent of the project cost was saved by going the
cheapest route, and the system fails.



A cautionary note on photovoltaic module voltages and connections.

Over the past few years, most, if not all photovoltaic module manufactureres
have shifted their production of pv panels from ones designed to charge
batteries to ones specifically designed to be used with utility grid-tie
inverters.

This is because, with government and utility company rebate programs,
the largest demand for pv panels has been in this market.

As a result, many modules are being offered for sale at very attractive
dollar per watt prices.
Many of these are brand new left overs from projects and in some cases
where projects have been cancelled.

For the foreseeable future it is highly recommended that you look carefully
at the specifications on any pv modules you are planning to purchase.

Most of these panels have odd ball voltages specifically designed for a
particular model or family of grid-tie inverters.

If you try to use these panels with a conventional photovoltaic charge controller
they will work poorly or not at all.
This is not decrying the panels, they were never designed for this application.
We get calls on a regular basis form folks who got a "great deal" on some
solar panels but they will not charge their batteries.

Solar Converters, Inc. in Canada has made many charge controllers for our
customers that are set for use with their particular panels.

To avoid this you want to look for these two specifications to see if the modules
are designed for charging batteries.

First is the Voc, or open circuit voltage. It should be about 19.5 to 22.0 volts
for a 12 volt battery system or 40.0 to 44.0 volts for a 24 volt system.
Second is the Vmp, or voltage maximum power. It should be about 17.0 to 18.5 volts
for a 12 volt battery system or 34.0 to 36.0 volts for a 24 volt system.  

In the old days, pre-utility grid-tie systems, most panels had a "J" or
junction box on the back.
This was a weather tight enclosure where you connected the wires from
the panel to the charge controller.
Nowadays most modules have MC connectors which are designed for
higher voltage rooftop connections for use with a grid-tie inverter.
If you purchase panels with these connectors you would be best off
picking up some adapter connections for your wiring.

A quick comment on pv module manufacturer's specifications.

If you look at the specifications on pv modules some manufactureres show
two columns.
The first is the specifications at 25 degrees C and the second is at
45 degrees C.
You will notice there is quite a difference between the two.
The 25 degree numbers are great for advertising and the 45 degree
numbers are more along the lines of real life.

As the cell temperature in the panel increases, the voltage decreases.
The overall power output also decreases.
This is why we recommend having an air space behind the modules
in roof mounted arrays.
In a ground or pole mount installation, this is not a concern.

I remember when Arco Solar came out with their 36 cell modules and
acclaimed their higher power output in elevated (read that as real life)
temperatures.
Everyone shortly followed in their footsteps.
The early solar panels usually had only 30 to 33 cells which was okay in
cool weather.
When the weather got hot, those panels with fewer cells would barely
charge a battery and in some cases would not work at all.

Some of the manufacturers even made panels with fewer cells and
promoted them as self-regulating so they would not need a charge
controller.
From personal experience, this did not work well at all.
I am looking at two of them right now in the display in our office.

And yes, I am getting old, losing my hair and my joints hurt - but I was
there in the "good old days".

 




 



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