Electric Cowboy - Go Careful With Off Grid Electric
Categories: DIY, Energy, Homesteading, On The Farm, Power Solutions, Prepping, Solar Energy, Survival, Sustainability, Tech, Life Stories
Electric Cowboy - Go Careful With Off Grid Electric
Just a small warning.
With any off grid adventure it is always easier to have a few of the modern comforts. You don't have to have electricity a lot of people don't. Whether its through choice, lack of knowledge/confidence or the cost prevents them. We don't need electricity to live a normal life but it definitely helps.
I have spent my life making electronic items out of parts that would have ended up in landfill sites and because of this I love electricity, I am dependant on a certain amount. I run a YouTube channel and because of that I need at least enough power to run a computer and charge certain batteries.
About 15 years ago I started getting into solar and wind power and it opened up an avenue of learning which completely took over my life. I started adding little 'Trickle' chargers to every battery I could find. Within a few months all of the lighting in my house was solar.
I took different courses on solar/wind power because I have always known that one day I will be off grid building my house and everything that involves.
I started my Youtube channel and have met a lot of like minded people who have taught me a lot about different subjects and I have reciprocated by teaching them about solar and wind power. A close friend of mine moved off grid about three years ago and is slowly making their land just how they want it.
Two years ago they asked me to put their solar system in for them. I put up their solar panels and went to work on their battery bank. I recorded the entire battery bank setup plus installing the small solar regulator and inverter setup.
This was and still is a very successful YouTube video and I am including it (below) in this article as there are some really good hints and tips in it.
"One Year On"
One year on and the cheap Chinese solar regulator wasn't able to keep up and they had noticed that the efficiency of the solar system was starting to drop. They went on Ebay and brought a more expensive but cheap Chinese solar regulator and asked if I could put it in.
Unfortunately I was really busy and advised them to give a few people I knew could do it a call. I left them with some phone numbers and that was that, or so I thought.
A short while later we decided it was about time we as a family went for a few days camping and I contacted our friends to see if we could stay there. They were more than happy for us to go camping and we were off to stay in a tent on their land.
The first thing I always do when returning to a place I have done any work is to see how it is, what's changed and how its holding up with the passage of time.
I was shocked to see that the whole system had been changed. I had set the batteries up in sets of 2 x 12 volt batteries that were then connected in parallel to the next 2 batteries and so on. I had wired up the 12 volt solar regulator in such a way that it only drew 12 volts from the system and that the 24 volt inverter pulled 24 volts from the system.
The batteries were now set up as 12 volts in parallel. I asked why the system had been arranged differently as the new and old regulators were both the same type and voltage which meant all they had to do was take 2 wires out the old and put them in the same places on the new. It transpires that they hadn't phoned any of the numbers I gave them because a friend had offered to do it for them.
WARNING: Only mess with electricity if you know what you are doing!!
l decided to have a quick look to see if everything else was fine because I knew that if he had changed the whole system rather than just swap out 2 wires I knew he didn't know as much as he thought. Put it this way so much unnecessary work had been done that I thought the guy had been paid by the hour.
Within 2 minutes I had the wires to/from the batteries removed and had disconnected the solar panels.
This is what I saw:
I had noticed that the wire coming from the positive of the solar regulator appeared to be burnt. on further inspection I noticed that the solar regulator was starting to melt! This was not the most dangerous thing I saw on this 'New' Setup...
"A safety check"
This obviously worried me so I decided to check the whole system for issues. I was absolutely blown away with the amount of problems. I counted 9 ways the setup could have caused a major fire. I realised that the person who installed it was either completely incompetent or just negligent!
The next thing I noticed was a connector had snapped and instead of taking it off and replacing it the guy had just balanced the wire on top of the terminal. This could have easily slipped off and stopped the system working but even more scary is that it could have created a 'spark gap' basically a gap that a spark can jump across. This could so easily caused a fire.
After that I checked all of the connections and it got worse. One connection had been unscrewed and then placed on the other part of the connector and one had a terminal connector crimped to it but so badly that the wire and the terminal clip were laying apart creating another spark gap. I was completely blow away by how badly the entire system was!
(Above) this was not connected at all. The bolt is not screwed into anything, the two parts were just placed on top of one another.
(below) I couldn't believe this "connection" The terminal clip wasn't properly connected to the wire, the terminal clip hadn't even been screwed to the battery terminal! How many things can be wrong with just one part!
"I smell smoke"
Believe it or not this gets worse...
By this time I was feeling a mix of anger, panic and sickness. The fact that my friends hadn't been killed by this astonished and scared me.
The worse was still to come. Although I don't have pictures there were more issues. He had put pieces of wood between batteries to stop the uninsulated cables from touching each other.
It was then I found the most shocking discovery of the entire shambles of a system.
The "electrician" had used a 1 inch thick piece of wood to place the inverter on so he could lay them on top of the batteries. This allowed him to use less wires and save money. I disconnected the inverter and lifted it off the batteries. What followed I have no words for...
This is what I saw. When trying to set up the battery bank he had made some kind of error and as a result a wire had shorted out on top of two of the batteries. The heat of the wires was so great that it had melted a hole through both batteries. The battery on the right had a whole in so big I could have poked my thumb into the battery. Both batteries had been burned right through to the battery acid. Rather than take the batteries out of the system he decided the best thing to do would be to cover it with a piece of wood. For anyone who thinks that the batteries should still be fine, have a look at a picture of the wood below.
If you have a close look at the scorch marks in the wood you will notice a nice size crater. This had been burned almost completely through the 1 inch think piece of wood. At first I thought it was from the battery acid but quickly realised that it was actually from the battery igniting and burning it. I dread to think what could have happened if I hadn't noticed the initial issue.
Setting up a solar system is not amazingly hard. Almost anyone can do it with the right research and a bit of common sense. This article is not meant to scare anyone into not setting their own system. This is just a quick look into what can happen if you let someone with no regard for safety set up your solar system.
You will be happy to know that I have since completely rebuilt their solar system and made it safe again.
Thanks for reading this. If you are interested in what you have read then please pop over to my YouTube channel and send me a message.
I recorded every step of setting up the solar system. So if you would like to watch how to actually do it and check out my initial reactions watch the video below