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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

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Archive for the ‘Converting to solar’ Category


Converting to solar

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I have been trying off and on for a year or two to get answers about making my house solar powered or at least partly solar powered. Every time I have emailed or called someone I never get an answer about how to do it. I don’t want to go messing around with my electrical system myself and mess it up or get shocked. I also work quite a bit and my time is limited.

I live in St. Louis county in Missouri. Can you give me any advice or maybe there is something better for me to do than solar?


Tim Randolph.


In the past 10 years I have had numerous articles in this magazine about home energy, how-to solar projects, solar-powered cabins, solar powerd pumps, energy saving appliances, and emergency solar power systems. I suggest you start reading these back issues and get a good understanding of the basics before contacting these dealers and suppliers who are blowing you off.

We get hundreds of calls each week and many are people who know what they want and how it works. We barely have time to deal with all these contacts let alone time to talk to somebody who does not have a clue what we are asking and have to keep explaining to them every single term we are using. This is what you are running into. The first questions any of these dealers are going to ask you is – are you wanting an off-grid or on-grid system, will it have storage, will it do sell back, will the array be roof mounted, ground mounted, or pole mounted, liquid or gel cell, and similar questions to help them find out what type equipment you will need. If you cannot answer the questions I just asked, you will need to do some reading!

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Solar precision questions

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Greetings Jeff,

Thank you for many practical directives relating to solar power through your magazine articles.

Our family is in the process of transitioning our home to solar just north of Raleigh, North Carolina. The first step has been to change the lighting through-out to energy efficient. Now we are in the process of transitioning to energy efficient appliances. The next phase will be purchasing inverter, solar panels and finally batteries.

The questions we have are the following:

1. We wish to set up the system to be utilized for non-major appliances. Solar will not be used then for ac/heating, washer/dryer, or water heater. Can the wiring be direct-wired (with ac fuses) from the inverter to the respective circuits in the home fuse box?

2. Any recommendation of solar panel distributors in the eastern part of the US? We likely will purchase panels for a 1.2kw array. It appears most of the distributors in the US are from the west and the current shipping rate greatly increases the price of panels.

3. For a 1.2kw system, likely with a 12 volt, 2000 watt xantrex inverter, would ask what would be the most feasible set-up for the battery back-up?

The last phase of the project will be to install a solar thermal heater. Not sure if we will buy or build it… to be determined.

There may be some inquiry on your part to give more precision to these questions. Please ask.

Sincere thanks,

Jon and Mary-Lou Kroeze

Creedmoor, NC

Jon and Mary-Lou:

Sounds like you are off to a good start by first reducing your energy loads. Directing the energy from an inverter tgo specific electrical loads is easy, just treat it like a backup generator and install a second circuit breaker panel. These are usually 100 amp panels having 8 to 12 circuits. You remove those circuits from the existing main panel and re-route to this panel for each circuit you want to be supplied from the backup power system.

Most higher quality inverters will include a built-in transfer switch which will route the utility power from your existing main panel into the inverter then out to the new emergency panel. This will require installing a new circuit breaker in the existing main panel to supply the inverter, which in turn feeds the new emergency loads panel. Most inverters can be programmed to supply the new emergency loads from a solar charged battery until the battery gets low, then switch to either a generator or back to utility grid power coming from the main house panel.

I disagree with your choice of a 2000 watt 12 volt inverter. This is way too small for this type application, and the low 12 volt DC input would require a very high current draw and large battery wire size. The higher the battery voltage, the less wear and tear on the inverter and the smaller the battery cables and fuses. If you are considering a DC refrigerator or freezer, you may need to select an inverter based on the battery voltage required for this DC load. However, 24 volts is the lowest system voltage I would recommend, and 48 volt is not out of the question. Never under-size the inverter if you have budget problems. You can always add more solar modules later, but you do not want to under-size the inverter and then have to replace it later with a larger unit.

Finally, you should not have any problem finding a solar dealer in North Carolina. I was asked to teach a 3-day solar installers course several years ago for the North Carolina Solar Energy Center, and there were many electricians and contractors attending this class. Your state is very active in promoting solar and you should be able to find a good solar installer through the State Energy office.

P.S. Tell them hello from me!

Good Luck!

Jeff Yago


How can I convert my truck to solar power?

Friday, November 7th, 2008


I have a 1997 Nissan 4-cylinder truck and want to convert it to a solar power truck.

How do I do it?

Ha Adolfo


This is a good truck to convert as it is small, light weight, but sturdy and has room for batteries. There are several firms making conversion kits. You will need a battery bank which will be located in the truck bed, an electric traction motor and adapter plate that matches your transmission, and a battery motor controller which will regulate the motor RPM based on a signal from a foot pedal. These new systems do not use resistors to control motor speed as this wastes battery energy, but they are expensive. You can buy a conversion kit for your specific truck, check out these web sites:

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Recommendations for a solar system

Saturday, July 26th, 2008

Hello Jeff,

I was hoping you can point me in a right direction :

Question#1 – I live in eastern Canada and am looking for material/reference /books or guidance from you on starting out with solar (ie) Solar panels – generator-battery and banks – hooking up ..consumption would be for approx 6 months a year including a small fridge, tv, radio and possibly 4 cf lights. (wood stove would most likely be my heat/cooking source since my place will only be approx 12×24 on beam posts )

Question #2 with question #1 in mind, I would like to adopt a system to add to the panels /batteries in the future for a permanent residence .

Thanks for you time Jeff .keep in mind when you read this, I have 0 experience in this field, so all the help I can get would greatly be appreciated.

Dan Miles


The best advice I can give you is to go back and read the many articles I have published in Backwoods Home Magazine over the years on this exact same subject.

Check out:

  • Water – A safe supply when you are off the grid – Sept 2001 Issue #71
  • A solar Primer – Nov 2001 Issue #72
  • Battery Powered Weekend Retreat – Sept 2003 Issue #83
  • Solar Power 101 – Batteries – May 2004 Issue #87
  • Solar Power 101 – Batteries cont. – July 2004 Issue #88
  • Solar Power 101 – Inverters – Sept 2004 Issue #89
  • Solar Power 202 – Solar Arrays – Nov 2004 Issue #90
  • Build your own solar powered water pump – Jan 2005 Issue #91
  • Build a solar powered Outdoor light – Mar 2005 Issue #92
  • The care and feeding of Solar Batteries – Sept 2005 Issue #95
  • Walden Pond – The solar version – May 2006 Issue #99
  • Walden Pond – the solar version, part 2 – July 2006 Issue #100
  • Solar powered Refrigerators – Nov 2006 Issue #102

You can read many of these on the web site, but I suggest ordering the back issues on CD. They are low cost and include all of the graphics.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago



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