I made some real progress on my solar system this week, built from cast-off parts and cracked solar cells we picked up at a steep discount. Seemed like a good idea when we started, but now I am rethinking my approach. I have bumbled into a sequence of events that had I known what was coming, I might have stayed on the couch. My subconscious can see these sequences coming. What seems like a simple task quickly becomes complicated. So I procrastinate!
"Honey, can you fix that scraping sound when the car hits a bump?
"Sure," I say, "I’ll work on it next Saturday."
But when Saturday comes around I look out at the car and find some other important task to do, like cleaning my desk, so that I am busy and productive. But I suspect my wife knows that I am just procrastinating the fix on the car. I just don’t want to go start the job. My subconscious knows what is coming.
So seven Saturdays later, with a very clean desk, I finally go buy new shock absorbers for the car, knowing I’ll have to change all four. Two Saturdays after that, I rent the compression tool, and then I park the car and get to work.
Now where is my floor jack?
One hour later, I get the car jacked up, take off the wheel and notice that some other part I don’t know the name of is broken. Now where is that Chilton manual? So it’s back to the auto parts store. Next I cannot find my good 15mm socket. Here is my stripped one, I can always find that. Don’t know why I haven’t thrown it away. So I have to search through all 6 tool boxes (No, I am not the most organized guy).
Finally, I get to that last bolt holding things together and it is stuck. WD-40, Liquid Wrench—I try everything. So it’s down to the hardware store to buy a 3 foot section of 1" pipe to use as a cheater.
At long last the job is all done and I realize that I have pulled a muscle in my back. Two days later my left shoulder locks up. I should never wonder why I don’t want to go out and fix the car.
The tire still scrapes the wheel well when we hit a bump.
Well my homemade solar system is taking a similar turn. It is becoming far more work that I envisioned. I shouldn’t wonder why I really did not want to start this, why I wanted to go buy solar panels and just install them. But my wife found these cracked cells for 80% off and ordered them. And once they arrived, we had to dive in and give it a try. But it is turning into one of those sequences of unpredictable problems that slows the project down to a crawl.
We acquired 80 framed prints from a used building supply company. A hotel had donated them after they remodeling the rooms. My wife offered them a hundred dollars for all of them after we noticed they had not sold any at $5 each for a couple of months. They smiled, took our money, and we cleared a large space in their store, solving a problem for both of us.
Other people are using old storm windows to build their panels, sandwiching the cell arrays in between the glass with spacers (tile spacers are inexpensive and perfect for the job). But if you are not fortunate enough to come across an inexpensive source for glass, building your own will quickly increase in price. Plexiglass seems to be too expensive. UV resistant resins seem expensive as well.
I can also see that we must radically change our energy habits. Turning lights off is a good start. Low wattage LED light bulbs can replace my high wattage bulbs that cost me 10 times as much money to use.
My electricity costs me $ .134 per kilowatt hour. My modest panels can generate 1.5 KW hours in 12 hours of daylight, which equals about twenty cents per day. When I have a 1000 watt system, it will save me $1.60 per day. Using the low wattage bulbs and modifying our energy usage should cut my electricity consumption in half. Right now I spend about $3 per day on my standard electric bill. If I can eliminate my electric bill totally, that will save me $1320 per year, but I’ll need a 2000 watt system with good energy habits to achieve that. This should pay for the system in three years! Well that’s not too bad—a 33% return per year. Sure beats a 10 year T-note
Notice the broken and chipped cells. On this back view, you can see how we used metal foil tape to hold the cracked and broken cells together. The energy output is as good as the unbroken cells due to the way they are wired up with multiple collection points for the electricity within the design of the cell. Most of the cracks don’t matter. Other broken portions were taped back on strictly for aesthetics.
Alas, a setback on Sunday:
We just finished building a 4th panel. When we tested it we found a problem. It reads the proper voltage output for 2 seconds and then goes to zero. Now I have a panel to troubleshoot. Since the cells are connected in series, one bad cell can render the whole array inoperable. Now, I’ll have to open it up and break apart the connections in sections, looking for the bad cell like Dad used to change out all the bulbs in the Christmas lights to find the one that was burned out. My electronics genius friend says that it’s likely a solder joint that got too hot and burned through the layers. He also says it’ll be tricky to find.
Other problems I face are the use of glass panels. I don’t know how they will stand the test of time. I live in a windy area—winds strong enough that they might rattle and twist my panels, cracking the glass—winds that break off tree branches or pick up junk and toss it around through the air. We also receive strong hail storms a couple of times per year. I would prefer to have acrylic panels due to these reasons. Additionally, my homemade panels will have to be mounted. These do not have convenient mounting flanges or holes. I still have to figure out this small problem.
I think, in all this planning, shopping, testing, building, that unless you simply enjoy that kind of activity, it is probably best to buy your solar components from a vendor, assemble your system, and get it working. I mention all this so people wanting to save some money building panels can hear about the challenges I am facing, and people who are short in time and don’t want the tedium can be confirmed in their decision to buy factory panels.
A person has to use UL approved panels if you wish to sell electricity back to the power company. My panels will not pass their test. Now I feeling guilty that those panels are sitting out there in the sun wasting the power they are producing! I gotta get the rest of my system finished and connected.
In other news…
My wife’s sister is a serious prepper and has been for several years. She is the one I have mentioned previously with the policeman husband who says keep prepping and gave her a pink assault rifle. She looks like Ann Barnhart in the pic she sent. Well she has a daughter, my niece, who has a boyfriend, and he wants to be a prepper too (isn’t that precious?). The other day he came to my wife’s sister and made a speech with a request. He said, "You know I love your daughter and I will take care her and I want to be there to help your family when things get tough (so far so good!), moving to the bug-out house in the outback to live with you forever. But I have one request. Can I bring my parents with us?"
Maybe I’ll start my own blog: In-laws at the bug-out cabin.
I did not hear how she responded to that request, but it got me to thinking. How can she turn these people away. This kid will marry her daughter and he is asking that they take in new family members—a very reasonable request. But now I am wondering who is going to remember that I am planning a bug-out cabin and show up at my door one day. How do I turn my sister away? Or my brother and his family? Or my own parents? Or my sister’s new fiancé and his family? Or my wife’s two brothers and their families, and my nephew and his new wife? Or my good friend of 37 years and his adult children—the electronics genius that helped me build my panels? How long can this list get?
I know you have considered these things. Where do you draw the line? How many people can live off of two acres? Must you have a hundred acres and simply start a town? Maybe I need to build another 20,000 watts of solar cells.
Then I wonder how bad things are really going to be and if it is all for nothing or our prepping will save our lives. ? And that’s a whole ‘nother question.