2017 UN Sustainable Energy Access for All Forum

New York Skyline

Sequoya Cross, CEO for Backwoods Solar and a Network Practitioner for the UN SE4All Initiative headed to New York this April to attend the annual Forum. The event was hosted at the re-purposed Duggal Greenhouse in the Brooklyn Naval Yard. 1,400 business leaders from over 110 countries convened to discuss energy access globally in a marketplace setting. They shared ideas, successes and Se4All Duggal Warehousechallenges in an effort to educate and facilitate success in the initiative to bring energy access to all corners of the globe.

Several breakout sessions focused specifically on off-grid technologies, micro-grid implementation, and appliance efficiency in developing countries. One of the stars of this global movement is East Africa, where off-grid solar companies are flooding the market with new technological advances that center on mobile phones and mobile money. These areas of the world hinge on the use of cellular data for almost all business transactions, and access to power for charging their devices has become paramount. Small scale solar access in these remote regions has become the go-to method.

Pages from GTFOne key area that was identified (even with all of the successes discussed) is that there is still a need for more involvement and that overall, the initiative will not meet its goal of 100% access to energy by 2030. There are still 1 in 7 people living in the dark without access to power. The rate of implementation needs to double in the coming years in order to achieve the objectives. Energy efficiency was the only area that saw tangible gains within the report. The chart to the left shows the total goal, with the inner circle being where we are to date, and the middle circle where we may be at the current rate of achievement. With a gap of almost 50% for renewable energy adoption, policy makers and governments need to be a part of the adoption and change for implementation to be a success. Several African, South American, and Southeast Asian countries are leading the charge, but others need to follow their example for true global action and change.

screenshot participantsUpon reflection of the event, Sequoya noted: “One key take away was that thinking about this as a poverty solution or impoverished country issue is not necessarily the right framework for change. This isn’t about giving people access to energy and power, it’s about building economies and improving the economic success and stability of individuals once they have access to power. By providing the framework of energy improvement, better lighting for education; better fuels for cooking; better tools for doing business, economies improve and people’s health and lives improve which enables them as individuals to have the ability to pull themselves out of poverty. This is where we can help make a difference. We as a company and as people can use our knowledge to help others help themselves. This isn’t about what Backwoods can do; it is about empowering people to raise their standards for themselves and their community.”

You can visit the website and read articles and review highlights from the event: http://seforallforum.org/

Rapid Shutdown Code Changes for PV Systems

NEC Code Changes for Rapid Shutdown & What it Means for You.

In 2014, the NEC instituted code 690.12 in regards to rapid shutdown of PV systems. The code was implemented in order to protect First Responders from the dangers of an energized PV system, even after the AC service has been shutoff. More than half of all states have adopted the code change, and further changes and amendments are on the horizon for 2017.

GRID TIED SYSTEMS

Rapid Shutdown requirements came to play in the 2014 code, and most grid-tied inverter manufacturers and installers started adopting relatively quickly. Electrical inspectors also came quickly up to speed, but the language within the code left some questions unanswered. For the 2017 code changes, the NEC elected to simplify and clarify some elements, which also allows many inspectors to come up to speed and manufacturers to streamline their offerings to match.

Fronius Rapid Shutdown Add On
Fronius Grid-Tie RSD Add On

Backwoods is here to offer solutions and support to meet the changing requirements of the electrical code. Many inverters that we carry now have proprietary RSD accessories available, as shown to the left. Most Grid-Tied inverters have a solution readily available and at a decent price.

OFF-GRID and BATTERY BACK-UP SYSTEMS

Off-Grid and Hybrid systems utilizing storage are also included in the code changes. Companies such as Schneider and Outback have proprietary solutions for some of their off-grid inverters. Others don’t have something that ties in under the same branding. For those systems, we have third-party options offered by Midnite Solar which have additional features that allow inverters with on-board AC outlets to continue to work during power outages. (Such as the SMA Sunny Boy line).  A third party solution may also be a great way to retrofit an existing system should you need to add RSD. Keep in touch via our website as more solutions become available.

MidniteSolarRapidShutdownSystem
Midnite Solar RSD Diagram with Birdhouse

As stated above, these code requirements affect both grid-connected and off-grid homes. Standalone ground mount or pole mounts should be excluded, however we have run into inspectors that challenge that thought. Understanding the code and how it applies to where the PV is installed and how the conductors (wires) are run within the dwelling and between the array and AC source is important to explain. The requirement states that all PV System Circuits installed on or in buildings shall include a rapid shutdown function that controls specific conductors that meet the following conditions:

  1. Systems that include PV system conductors (wires) of more than 5 feet inside a building or 10 feet from a PV array.
  2. Controlled conductors shall be limited to not more than 30 volts and 240 volt-amperes within 10 SECONDS of shutdown.
  3. Voltage and power shall be measured between any two conductors and between any conductor and ground.
  4. The rapid shutdown methods shall be labeled as such: PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM EQUIPPED WITH RAPID SHUTDOWN (in white, capitalized, reflective letters on a red background). – Backwoods has labels available for this purpose.
  5. Equipment that performs the rapid shutdown shall be listed and identified.

As we design systems for individuals that require rapid shutdown, we will include the appropriate solution for your situation and the inverter choice that was made.

Solar Power International 2016

By: Erika Karnitz, VP of Wholesale Sales

Solar Power International (SPI) 2016 was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center September 13-15th. David Katz and I braved the crowd and walked the maze of booths making up the show. There were over 17,000 attendees this year, a 10% increase from last year, and more than 600 exhibiting companies.

David having fun with lightsSimilarly to last year, there was a lot of focus on energy storage at SPI 2016. We saw many advanced battery technologies on display, including lithium ion, sodium ion, and nano carbon lead acid. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the flooded lead acid batteries that we are used to seeing in off grid applications.

There were several inverter companies introducing “storage” inverters, such as SMA. These inverters are different than an off grid inverter in that they are high voltage and they don’t function when the grid is down. They are designed mainly for commercial applications where peak shaving and load shifting makes financial sense to the customer.

Many module manufacturers have begun to produce “bi-facial” solar modules, which Solar World Bi-Facial Modulescan harvest more energy by capturing sunlight reflected off of the surface that the module is mounted on. Module manufacturers are reporting up to a 10% increase in output by using these in the proper conditions. Proper conditions would include having a reflective surface (white EDM roof etc) and a tilt up rack that allows the reflected light to be exposed to the back of the module.

Erika and smartflowerModule manufacturers are always striving to achieve better efficiency. Some techniques we saw being employed were using more bus bars and using half cells. The idea behind both of these strategies is that more electrons are able to pass through.

SPI is mainly geared toward larger distributors and installers but we always manage to find some new products that we think will be interesting to our customers. We saw two new inverters that will be available in 2017 that Backwoods will be excited to offer.

Midnite Solar MNB17-5 – The MNB17Midnite B17-5, Erika and David Katz-5 has 5 bays in which you can configure your
system components. Each bay holds one inverter or charge controller module. It is a very customizable product, and the first we have seen with multiple inverter modules and charge controllers that can be “hot swapped” in the field if servicing is required. It will work in off-grid, battery backup grid tie, and self-consumption applications.

Outback SkyBoxOutback Power SkyBox/SkyBoss- The SkyBox is an all in one hybrid energy system. It includes the inverter, charge controller, battery, and energy management system (SkyBoss) all in one enclosure. Unlike many of the grid tie/storage inverters we have seen, the SkyBox allows for use as a straight grid tie anDavid chatting up Outbackd can be upgraded later to include storage. The SkyBoss management system allows for advanced programming and load prioritization with the goal of optimizing your energy distribution.

Another item that we saw at SPI that may be interesting to our customers is a ready-made awning bracket. Solar awnings can be a great way to reduce solar gain and harvest energy at the same time. These hand welded in the USA awning brackets are aesthetically pleasing and can be bolted directly to your structure. They are available in 3 tilt angles to best Fronius Boothaccommodate your geographic location.

We love going to these large trade shows and meeting with our valued manufacturing partners and customers and deepening those relationships. We also love to check out all the new technologies so that we can keep our customers up-to-date with what is happening out there in the big wide solar world. Perhaps our favorite part though, is returning from the big city and getting back to the woods.

Visit our site to learn more about the products we viewed this year: www.backwoodssolar.com

Solar Leasing: Smart Choice or Wasted Investment?

Leasing Solar Panels

Leased solar, commonly known as third-party owned solar, has earned attention as an alternative to purchasing. Despite historically low solar panel costs, the cost of installing a PV system still leads some homeowners to consider leasing solar panels instead of owning them. But leasing solar panels isn’t always a smart option.

One thing for sure is the stock market loves it when you take on a solar lease just as much as when you lease a car, or any other large piece of equipment, especially in such an incentivized state as California, yet that state leads the percentages in leases for that very reason.

The leasing companies take all the advantage of the incentives, putting that money into their pockets immediately, paying for the equipment outright and banking on a 10–20 year lease payment from the homeowner. Still, many homeowners are curious about the differences between leasing a home solar system and buying one outright. There are advantages and disadvantages to either method, but before I sound too judgemental, let’s look at how leases work and the pros and cons of leasing vs. owning.

First of All, How Does Solar Panel Leasing Work?

How Solar Leasing Works - Solar Panels For Your Home - Backwoods Solar
How Solar Leasing Works

When homeowners lease solar panels for home systems, they actually buy electricity from a company who owns the solar panels installed on their roof. The price a lessee pays may be significantly lower or the same to what the utility company would charge for electricity.

The homeowners can sometimes lock in this rate over the term of the lease, or see their lease payment increase at a slightly lower percentage year over year to what the TPO “thinks” the utility rates will do. These are called escalation and de-escalation clauses.

Some companies like Sungevity and SunRun are third-party financiers, and they don’t actually install the solar system. Instead, they contract with local contractors to have the panels installed onto the roof. Others are companies like SolarCity, actually handle both the financing and installation.

In both these cases, we have found that the installer has a lower vested interest in doing the job well and are more interested in the total volume of installs they can do as the leasing companies pay a significantly lower price per watt for the labor than what an installer can charge if they were do a system with that homeowner directly.

Solar leasing terms vary considerably, and they usually allow homeowners to start their solar leasing program with no money down. Leasing contracts are available in increments of twenty, fifteen or ten years, where homeowners are given the option to buy the system, if not, fully own the system outright at the end of the lease.

Many of these companies continue to offer ongoing maintenance of the system, however, with the solar panels, aside from warranty issues with the product themselves, maintenance is pretty low. With leasing in its infancy and most warranties on inverters being around 5-10 years (the shortest warranty period of any of the equipment), we have yet to see how the maintenance contracts will play out. In the case of roof leaks, many of these companies have clauses that exclude roof damage as part of their contract, especially on a roof that is pre-existing and not being re-roofed at the time of install.

Which States Can Homeowners Find Solar Panel Leasing Programs?

States with Leasing Programs - Solar Panels For Your Home - Backwoods Solar
States with Solar Panel Leasing Programs

Solar leasing contracts can be found in 13 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Texas. It’s also available in Washington, D.C.

Homeowners need to know that solar leasing, coincidentally, is only available in locations in these areas that offer measurable state, local or utility rebates. In California, for example, TPO systems account for 74% of residential solar installations state wide. Some reports project third-party ownership of solar installations could make up 83% of solar capacity in the United States by next year. Huge boom…2016 ending credits…

PROS of Leasing Solar Panels For Your Home (with contradictory opinion added)

Four Reasons Why Leasing Companies Want You to Consider a Solar Lease:

Leasing doesn’t come with the same upfront costs that buying does. Most homeowners who consider solar installation are worried about the up front costs. Although terms vary based on one’s credit rating, local or state incentives and the solar capacity of one’s home, solar leasing usually allows people to go solar without putting any money down.

This is one way for consumers to access solar energy who otherwise wouldn’t be able to put down the investment capital. And since fewer American homeowners have equity now than in the past, home equity loans that were once easy to obtain aren’t always available to finance solar installations.

Leasing doesn’t come with maintenance costs. When something malfunctions, lessees tied into a lease aren’t responsible. Repairs, maintenance and replacement are the responsibility of the solar leasing company. For example, if a panel under performs on delivering adequate power supply, or an inverter fails, or comes up for end of life replacement after ten years; it’s the solar lessor who promises and pays under warranty.

Considering this costs a few thousand dollars, leasing can provide the financial peace of mind free from maintenance and uncertainty. However, as I mentioned previously, we have yet to see the maintenance clauses play out with many leasing companies. Also, all installers of purchased systems and those components carry the same coverage and warranty’s and a simple call to the manufacturer can get replacement equipment on it’s way, and most reputable installers include the labor to replace failed equipment as part of their contract.

Solar Leasing Savings Graph - Solar Panels For Your Home - Backwoods Solar
Electric Bill Savings With Solar

Leasing may cost less for energy verses the utility company. Some leases allow consumers to lock in static pricing on electricity rates for a decade or longer. But again, this is a gamble. Leasing allows you some choice in how you design your lease terms.

Some leasing products allow you to choose how much money you want to put down toward the lease, as well as the escalation rate but these figures may not come to fruition over the terms of the lease and are based on where the leasing company projects that the energy rates will escalate over time.

CONS to Leased Solar Panels For Home Systems

As mentioned earlier, when you lease solar panels, you surrender many of the advantages that come with buying solar panels. Instead of enjoying solar tax credits and rebates, those benefits will go to the owner of the solar installation, or the leasing company, so will the rights to earn and sell renewable energy credits.

One of the primary advantages of solar power is independence from the utility company. By installing rooftop or ground-mounted PV arrays, homeowners are able to generate their own electricity even selling electricity back to the utility company, in some cases. Leasing solar panels creates another binding monthly payment for homeowners.

A typical 5kw system begins paying for itself immediately. In California, a 5kw solar installation can pay for itself in as little as 5 years through lower electricity bills, rebates & incentives, tax breaks, and other cost recovery methods.

For homeowners who can make the financial investment up front, the ROI of installing solar panels is pretty clear.

Five Reasons to Opt for Outright Purchase of Solar Panels

Buying can be a better economic bet in most states. Solar leasing companies are in business to turn a profit from the leases they sell. They pocket the rebates and incentives, and use escalation and de-escalation options in order to better hone the leasing instrument into a financially rewarding investment for themselves. The longer the lease agreement, the more they profit, and the less economic sense it may make for the consumer.

Solar leases aren’t a poorly crafted or unscrupulous device by themselves and if used correctly. The key to staying ahead of the potentially negative consequence of a solar lease is to assess your situation with a level financial analysis. For the cost of a $250 feasibility study, you can hire an energy consultant-solar broker to help you compare the pros and the cons relative to your unique situation. Have them perform the lease verses purchase test and then decide.

Buying panels provides flexibility. Lease contracts might specify a certain installation size, but when owners purchase their own system, they aren’t bound by details of equipment or power production. Which is really beneficial locally, with tiered billing. A lot of times a homeowner can design a system to knock out the over baseline usage, which maximizes return on investment and minimizes the size of the system.

Leasing solar panels creates debt. When you purchase a solar system, you’re adding value to your home. A leased solar panel system, on the other hand, creates a debt liability that may need to be passed on to a homebuyer.

A solar purchase may add value to a pre-existing home. Homeowners who are going to move in the next few years probably shouldn’t consider buying or leasing a solar panel installation. However, if consumers sell their home after they’ve benefited from the installation after several years, the money that they’ve invested may allow them to raise the asking price and compete more effectively against those home sellers who do not have a solar installation.

It might be easier to sell your home without a lease. In a real estate market that is already weak for home sellers, leasing solar panels creates another obstacle to a home sale, and in some cases, the new homeowner may have to pay a hefty fine to break the lease agreement you entered into with your solar provider.

According to some real estate professionals, solar leases may present a potential slowdown or a threat to the sale of a home. Some home buyers may not want to deal with taking over an existing lease. They may have other ideas for how they want to shop for solar, or they may not have the credit to qualify to take over a solar lease within the same terms.

The leasing company becomes another entity that you have to negotiate with during the purchase of the home, and they have the power to alter or increase the lease payment, lengthen the term, etc at the time that ownership changes.

Some solar leases will not let you pay down or pay off your system early. With more leasing options becoming available, it is wise to check out the terms and conditions. Some have reportedly 20 year contracts, while others let you pre-pay or pay off the system in 7 years.

To Buy or Not to Buy

There are some contradictions between owning verses leasing. In the end it comes down to what each individual consumer deems valuable to himself, both financial and intrinsic. Some consumers want to emancipate from the grid for environmental reasons, no matter the cost, and within reason. Others have skyrocketing electricity bills with no end in sight, where a lease may be the only access point short of outright purchase, to which funds may not be readily available.

Many rebates are available and most companies will opening share those in your local area. Visit dsireusa.org for updated information on how you can save money on your owned installation.

Considering the short amount of time that solar leasing companies have been in existence and the business models that are employed, it will be in everyone’s best interest to read the fine print of a solar lease, and also do background research on the company providing the system to you.

In either case, whether you buy or lease, check the installation records of the company that you hire. Many leasing companies use local installers, check their references and the number of years that they have been doing installs to make sure that the work they are doing on one of your greatest investments; your home, is going to stand the test of time or at least hold up for 25 years.

If you’re interested in buying solar panels for your home, we’d be happy to help you customize the right system for your home and needs. Contact us today to get started on your solar project.

Ref: Online sources for data

AEE Solar Dealer Conference 2015

Balboa Part- San Diego - Solar Panel Kits - Backwoods Solar
AEE Dealer Conference held this year in sunny San Diego

Backwoods Solar’s Co-Owner, Sequoya Cross, was fortunate this year to be able to attend the AEE Solar Dealer Conference in San Diego. Held almost every year this conference is a chance for those in the industry to sharpen their knowledge and network with others.  Over the course of three days Sequoya met with a variety of the Backwoods Solar vendors, learned about upcoming new product changes and innovations, watched demonstrations, and sat in on a three hour course on 2014 National Electrical Code (NEC) changes that will affect the solar industry.

If you were not able to attend here are some of the highlights. From REC Group, and manufactured in Singapore, comes the new Twin Peak 120 cell module. The Twin Peak includes typical solar cells which have been cut in half and then wired into two parallel 60 cell groups within one frame to increase the power density of the modules. This seemed like an interesting and new take on efficiency gain.

Morningstar's Solar Module - Backwoods Solar
Inside look at Morningstar’s Latest and Greatest!

Morningstar spent some time chatting with Sequoya about their soon to be released 600V charge controller and DC Coupling enclosure. Join us when we will be co-hosting a webinar with Morningstar on March 25th 10am PST. We would love to share this information with our customers. If you are interested in learning what Sequoya found out in regards to DC coupling….register here .

Conference attendees were treated early one morning to an excursion out on the Marina to see a demo hosted by Brian Teitelbaum of AEE Solar. Brian demonstrated the features of the Aquatech DC Direct Pump. The crowd, which mostly deals with grid-connected homes, was full of questions about the wonders of DC Direct applications. Brian did a wonderful job of showing the simplicity and efficiency of such a system, even in the low morning light not to mention a great opportunity to stress the importance of module tilt angle.

How Solar Direct Water Pumping Works - Backwoods Solar
Brian shows the crowd how solar direct water pumping works.

 

Later that same morning, and after many cups of coffee, Sequoya managed to hang in for a few hours of discussion with Bill Brooks on the recent changes in the NEC Code that will directly affect the solar industry and those that will not. Here is a quick link to chew on some of that code:  http://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/free-access. It was an interesting take on the very important yet dry language content. As always Bill had a way of livening it up. Thank you to AEE and participating vendors for an informative and engaging dealer conference in beautiful San Diego. Backwoods Solar looks

2014 NEC Code - Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Bill Brooks and the 2014 NEC Code

forward to the next one!

 

Protect Your Food with DC Fridges

Protect Your Food in a Power Outage - Solar Panels for your Home - Backwoods SolarDC fridges will protect  your food in power outages. In a power failure, the food in your home becomes your most important and valuable asset. Protecting the food you’ve sourced will be the best decision you could make for your family.
One of the most common complaints we hear from customers after winter power outages is how much food they had to throw away.
Having access to your safe food stocks can make a huge difference to your well-being during an emergency. Having a DC battery powered fridge or freezer is an easy way to keep your food if you lose power. We can custom design any system to help with your back up food system needs.  All of the 12/24V refrigerators and chest freezers in our catalog offer energy savings and security.  Our off-grid friends have known and appreciated the value of a good DC fridge for many years. Being DC direct, and without the need for an inverter, the units we carry are incredibly efficient.
There are several options to choose from, you can go completely battery-less and power the fridge directly from a solar panel. Or, the more common and long term solutions are full battery powered units that will work day or night, and give you the added security of having power when you have minimal sunshine (because honestly, when the power goes out it’s usually stormy).  The batteries can be kept charged via solar, or in simplified systems, by using a generator or AC battery charger (when the grid is active). One consideration, with battery based systems that are used infrequently, is to continue to check your battery charge monthly, even if unused. One of the most common mistakes in back-up systems is waiting until the emergency to check the batteries.
Sundanzer Fridge - Home Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Sundanzer 5.8 refrigerator

We carry Sundanzer fridges and freezers (both as battery based and solar direct) as we have for many years. They have thick insulation and thus are optimized for solar by being very low energy users. Their cabinets are commercially manufactured by Electrolux of Sweden. All of their larger models are chest type and can be easily hardwired to a battery bank with a 15A inline fuse, or a DC plug can be added. Both options remain code compliant as long as the entire house is wired for 120V only.  Sundanzer also makes a small 4.7 cubic foot upright Fridge/Freezer combo.

Another of our long standing brands is NovaKool. Having served the mobile RV market for years, they feature 26 different DC models in various upright configurations. They are made to be built into an existing

Novakool DC Refrigerator - Residential Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Novakool DC Refrigerator – Model R5810 *

cabinet in which you add the insulation. This is a “best buy” solar powered model that we have featured in our catalog for over 20 years. The run time on all models is severely reduced by using new dual voltage Danfoss compressors and a new refrigerant. Small 2 door models will consume up to 60 watts dependent on the ambient temperature. Because you add the insulation, run time can be potentially cut in half by gluing foam board insulation on all sides and carpet to the door. The units are interchangeable at 12 or 24V.

Having peace-of-mind in an emergency is ideally what we all would like to have. One way to be closer to that goal is by safe-guarding your food supply. Back it up with a DC system!

Off-Grid and Grid-Tie Education from InterSolar North America 2014

San Francisco Intersolar conference 2014  was amazing! The Backwoods team strengthened their off-grid and grid-tie education at the Intersolar conference this year.

Solar Industry Exhibition and Conference - Solar Panel Efficiency - Backwoods Solar
Attendees meet up on the rooftop at the Intersolar welcome reception.

Intersolar is held each July in San Francisco, California and is the most well attended solar industry exhibition and conference in North America. Over the course of three days, more than 17,000 visitors from 74 countries visited 530 exhibitors, and saw the latest innovations in the photovoltaic, energy storage, balance of systems, mounting and tracking systems, as well as, solar heating and cooling market sectors. With events spanning four continents, Intersolar is the world’s leading exhibition series for the solar industry and its partners. A total of 530 exhibitors and more than 17,000 trade visitors participated in Intersolar North America in 2014. The conference featured 40 sessions and 25 workshops with more than 200 speakers. It unites people and companies from around the world with the aim of increasing the share of solar power in our energy supply.

David, Sequoya, Erika and Krista from the Backwoods Crew adventured to the city of San Francisco, California to attend this important annual solar energy industry event. Intersolar kicked off with a keynote presentation by California Govenor Edmund G. Brown Jr. who characterized the solar industry as the next Gold Rush, speaking to the economic benefits the industry can deliver as it matures. His speech reflected the positive mood we witnessed on the show floor and at the Intersolar North America conference, which was due, in part, to the strength of the U.S. solar industry (and the excitement of the World Cup games). This mood is reflected everywhere especially in the press. In 2014, the United States is expected to add between 5.2 and 6.3 gigawatts to its total installed capacity, according to NPD SolarBuzz.

Intersolar North America expanded its focus this year, on energy storage, project development and financing and downstream market developments. This included more conference sessions on the topic, as well as new offerings to exhibition attendees designed with Intersolars’ robust roster of partners. Sequoya Cross was on the planning committee for the conference and proudly moderated a session on Off-Grid technologies in Emerging Markets

As Backwoods Solar is a battery based system supplier, we found the conference sessions informative and were excited to see new development and innovation in battery storage technologies. Several of which we plan on testing in the coming months. One of the most excited battery technologies are Silicon Salt water batteries. These have all of the benefits of sealed lead acid batteries in terms of maintenance, but are also non-toxic, allow for fast charge and discharge rates, can be depleted to almost 0%, and operate at almost full capacity at sub-zero temperatures. We are currently testing several brands in Canada now!

Last year, InterSolar had a successful energy storage exhibition resulting in an increase in the number of energy storage companies this year. This allowed us to see some really cool stuff. Reflecting on the important link between solar and energy storage technologies, Intersolar forged a new partnership with the National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries (NAATBatt) to better address key concerns of solar developers. In addition to consulting on the development of energy storage conference panels, NAATBatt also hosted a storage workshop that addressed the industry’s challenges and opportunities.

This was also the first year that Intersolar was hosted alongside ASES’s (American Solar Energy Society) annual conference. ASES has lead the charge in providing highly technical sessions that focus on all aspects of solar energy, not just PV. This melding of both conferences allowed for some high level, hands on training opportunities for the attendees.
www.intersolar.us

Off-Grid Battery Care and Maintenance

Battery care is your main responsibility with home made electricity. This component is the one part of your power system likely to be harmed by neglect or misuse. Lead-acid batteries, the standard in home energy, should not be discharged more than 50%. Ideally, they should be recharged to 100% promptly. They can be damaged by undercharging, continued overcharging, or contamination.

Common causes of battery failure are sulfate buildup, loss of electrolyte, undercharging, and old age. As batteries discharge, lead sulfate forms on a battery’s positive plate. In principle, recharging converts the lead sulfate back to its component material – lead, lead dioxide, and sulfuric acid. However as batteries age, recharging has a more difficult time converting lead sulfate and it can crystallize. This buildup is accelerated by temperatures over 70 degrees; discharging a 2 volt battery cell below 1.75 volts; and extended storage or use without a 100% recharge.

Water Miser Battery Cap - Off-Grid Power - Backwoods Solar
Water Miser Battery Cap

Loss of water within the electrolyte solution is a natural process which occurs during the recharging process and if not corrected can lead to plate exposure and oxidation. Repeated undercharging causes lead sulfate to harden and crystallize on the positive plates. And as batteries age, plate material sheds and falls to the bottom of the battery eventually shorting the plates. This shedding is accelerated by sulfate buildup.

Trimetric Battery Monitor Kit - Solar Panel kits - Backwoods Solar
Trimetric Battery Monitor Kit

On a daily basis, Backwoods Solar discusses the state of charge of a battery bank with our customers. On many occasions we hear that a battery meter such as the Trimetric Battery Monitor indicates a battery bank is almost full but loads on that bank are behaving as though the battery state of charge is low. We ask if the Trimetric’s reading has been confirmed with an hydrometer which measures the specific gravity of the battery’s electrolyte, and almost universally it has not. This mistake can have an irreversible and negative affect on a battery bank if not detected within a few short weeks.

Please realize that these meters are only as good as the programming which gets entered into them and it is critical that an hydrometer is used in conjunction with a Trimetric meter for the first several months to confirm that the Trimetric is accurately programmed. As the Trimetric and hydrometer readings are compared, the Trimetric’s parameters can be tweaked to insure that what it is telling you is reliable. The Trimetric is a great visual aid and once programmed properly can be relied on for weeks at a time but you should always return to the hydrometer every few months to guarantee that something hasn’t gone wrong.

The vast majority of the batteries that Backwoods Solar sells are the Trojan flooded lead acid batteries. Trojan has some informative and extremely helpful articles and webinars on their website when it comes to battery care. We also carry a full line of Deka and Rolls Surrette Flooded and sealed batteries.

Trojan L-16 Flooded Battery - Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Trojan L-16 Flooded Battery
Rolls/Surrette S530 - Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Rolls/Surrette S530
Deka L16 Battery - Solar Panels - Backwoods Solar
Deka L16 Battery

 

REMEMBER: Do not store batteries without periodic recharging. Continual self discharge when not in use can ruin even a brand new set of batteries.

To facilitate the care of your battery bank, Backwoods Solar carries many products designed to extend the lift of your battery and to aid in battery maintenance. You can find many of these items on our website, along with helpful tools on how to maintain your battery bank.

Battery Life-Saver - Off-Grid Power - Backwoods Solar
Battery Life-Saver
Battery Goop - Off-Grid Power - Backwoods Solar
Battery Goop
HydroVolt Meter - Solar Panels for Home - Backwoods Solar
HydroVolt Meter