TRAP: Solar – More Growatt Problems

 I have previously written about Growatt issues before, and I am not a fan of the company…at all. I have worked directly with some of their company folks and I don’t like what I see in the way they conduct business and how they react when confronted with problems regarding their products. So here are two more additional problems.

One of those problems is their ethics in how they conduct business, the other problem is dangerous to US customers.

First, let me explain something…when you see most of the YouTube video reviews of solar equipment you are watching a money making machine. Most companies whose products are being reviewed pay to have those products reviewed by the person doing the video…not all, but most. And each time the video is watched the person who made the video is paid as well. I am not opposed to people making money by providing information on products.

However, some companies whose products are reviewed are quite demanding of the reviewers…such as Growatt. They have a very strict and company-friendly contract. In the case of Growatt the contract requires a pro-Growatt outcome of the review as well as extensive control of the content of the video…almost a script approved by Growatt. And do you think that would influence the person producing the review? Yeah, either its a favorable review or you don’t get paid.

The next issue is with the Growatt 5000ES inverter/charger. In simple terms…it is unsafe. There are two version of the 5000ES; 1) is sold in the overseas market, 2) the other is for the US market. Problem is with the different electrical standards between the US and overseas countries…and it is a potentially deadly difference.

The problem revolves around 120vAC vs 230vAC and the potential of the ground in the US version being energized with 120v and possibly 230v. Ah yeah, the ground being energized…and potentially without a person knowing it until they touch it!

So the same exact model label, the same exact model identifier, and the potential to cause serious problems.

For the most part Signature Solar sells the 5000ES that is safe to use in the United States…but I can’t confirm that 100%. The 5000ES overseas version is mostly sold via eBay from what I can tell. Again, I am not 100% sure that all eBay sellers are selling the overseas version here in the US…or that there are not other Growatt dealers selling the overseas version as well.

And here is the biggest problem with this issue…from what I can see Growatt hasn’t done anything to correct the situation. It would be as simple as redesignating the US version as 5000US or 5000ES-US and put the correct label on the box with the corrected manual inside.

Be very, very careful with Growatt products…if they are this negligent with something this obvious and simple…then what other problems are there with their equipment? And if they are so worried about negative reviews that they have to bribe some reviewer…then who else do they bribe and what reviews of their equipment are legitimate?

For you…who are looking to purchase equipment…is it worth the risk to deal with equipment from Growatt when there are lots of companies out their that you don’t have to really worry about?

note: No company pays me to review, comment on, or discuss their products or the company itself.


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TRAP: Solar – Bad Professional Connections

Last month I was contracted to do some work for a local solar company. Part of that work was to salvage parts from old solar installation equipemtn that had been removed. Residential customers had hired this solar company to repair or replace their existing solar systems. The equipment I was salvaging was the stuff that had been removed and replaced with new equipment.

Yes, inside the old equipment had perfectly good bits and pieces that could be used to repair other equipment or sold as “used” for discounted prices. And yes, I love to do salvage work…it is fun to rescue perfectly good equipment pieces vs seeing them put into a scrap pile.

So I was tearing this stuff apart and found this shunt; the shunt was perfectly fine from all appearances, but it would be tested later to ensure that all was fine. But it wasn’t the shunt that caught my attention…it was the negative wire attached to the bus bar that was attached to the shunt. Do you see a problem with the connection? Here, let me give you another view…

Even if you are not an electrician or a professional solar installer you can see the problem. It is a horrible connection. I would estimate that only about 75% of the diameter of the wire is actually in the bus bar hole and even then it is only hanging on at the very end. So only about 10% of the original wire is actually connected to the busbar.

And no, that didn’t happen when I was removing the shunt.

Now, I will say that the screw was tight enough and was holding the wire in place, but that isn’t the point. There are two points;

1) The wire was only hanging on by about the last 1/8th of an inch…the very tip of the wire. It should have been fully inserted the entire width of the bus bar.

2) Only about 75% of the diameter of the wire was actually in the bus bar hole. In this case the wire was 6AWG stranded wire. Based on 6AWG the wire should be able to carry 70amps of current, properly installed. Well, since only about 75% of the wire’s diameter was actually making contact, it was the equivalent of about 10AWG stranded wire. And that means it was only capable of carrying about 30amps of current…had the wire been fully inserted. And since it wasn’t properly/fully inserted who knows for sure how much current the wire was actually capable of safely carrying.

See the problem with that?

Bottom line…

  • If you are doing the work yourself…do high-quality professional work. Don’t get in a rush, do it right, be proud of your install.
  • If you are having a system installed, ask to see inside the “magic boxes” and look them over yourself. You can see if the connections and work looks right and professional. If the installer gets upset or won’t take the time to show you what they are doing…well, that is serious reason for concern! It is your money…you have the right to inspect it all.
  • If you are buying a house that has a solar system, have it inspected by a local quality solar system installation company or a licensed electrician that is familiar with solar. It will be worth the fee.

These kinds of situations occur all of the time…there is some very shoddy workmanship out there by unprofessional and/or ignorant folks. Don’t you do it and don’t tolerate it from others.

Why? Duh, you could find yourself at the losing end of a house fire.


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TRAP: Solar Information Sources

So I have been doing extensive research on off-grid solar systems because I will be upgrading our system after Thanksgiving. I am adding more solar panels, a 2nd charge controller, and a 2nd inverter. Along with that a general upgrade replacing some fuses and switches with circuit breakers, plus up-sizing some wiring. And to make sure I was/am on track I am seeking out information from reliable, expert, professional sources such as the manufacturers themselves, installation engineers, etc. Oh boy, I was  surprised, disappointed, and a bit disgusted in what else I found.

Along the way I came across a whole bunch of folks, most of whom have YouTube channels, that are putting out some horrible, terrible, and potentially dangerous information. I mean some really, really bad content that on the surface sounds fine, but when compared to factual technical information is…well, pure junk. One of the problems I saw was mis/dis information about manufactures.

Let me start off by saying this…I’ve been building solar projects for over 10 years now. And, after my initial 24volt residential off-grid build here at the glamstead I realized I was working with 10-year old technology centered around lead-acid batteries. Seeing the problem rather quickly I started the first up-grade to 48v LifePo4 batteries, new inverter, etc. As I was doing the upgrade I asked the local solar dealer to ensure I had top-quality, Tier 1 equipment that I wouldn’t have to worry about. He provided Victron Energy equipment. I am so glad he did. But, back to the problem of mis/dis information about manufactures.

Part of my overall research was ensuring that Victron equipment was top-of-the-line stuff. During the research I found the real problems were far and few between. The performance problems came from under-powering the equipment itself…too small of a battery bank, too small of an inverter, too few solar panels, etc. So it was more of a system design problem than an equipment quality problem. There were two problems I found on the Internet that were serious…one inverter catching fire and one MPPT charge controller burning out. In both cases it was a wiring issue. The MPPT had a bad wire connection in the battery + wire connection inside the MPPT…installer fault. The inverter fire came from another bad wire connection inside the inverter with the battery + wire. Both times the wire wasn’t properly prepared or correctly connected to the equipment. Interesting to note…Victron did a warranty replacement on both. So the equipment was fine, the installers messed up.

Well, let’s wrap this up…a lot, most, much, of the solar information on the Internet, especially YouTube, is pure crap. It is misleading, poorly written, poorly produced, mostly DIYs, and overall just bad info. There are lots of sources out there with great information…but it can be had to sort that info from the junk info.

So Beware!

I am really concerned for folks who are doing a residential solar DIY project. This is especially true when someone is attempting a whole house, grid-tied, any system that is 48v, or any system with lithium batteries.

Why?

I don’t want to see anyone burn down their house, run afoul of their local utility company, get electrocuted with high-voltage / high-ampere system, or blow up or start a fire with a lithium battery.

So please go with only the best quality information sources, stay away from “garage experts”, and verify all information with manufactures before implementation. That is especially true with “hacks”, “shortcuts”, or “huge savings” promoting information….as well as any equipment engineered in China.


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TIP: Canning Jar Lids – BUY ‘em!!

Think about it for just a minute…if you want to eat one jar of food per day and you want to have a year’s supply of food, that means you need 30 dozen canning jars. And that my friend means you need to have 30 dozen canning jar lids…and that is just for one year’s worth of food. That’s a lot of lids.

Now, another thought…what happens to all of those canning jars that other folks have right now, filled with food, and stocked on their shelves, after they empty them and eaten the contents? Meaning, next year when they go to can their garden goodies and they have no lids? Or, about the 2nd year of an extended “grid-down” event and they have no more lids?

My point…buy lots of canning jar lids! Look, if you have the lids then you can use your jars. No lids means no usable jars for canning.

I started the habit that each time I go in Walmart to shop, regardless of the item(s), I always buy a box of canning jar lids (12). Most of the time it is regular mouth, sometimes large mouth. Occasionally I will buy the box that contains 12 lids and 12 rings. The rings I have might go bad via rust, etc. But, I think to myself…if things are bad, a person has jars without lids or rings…then I might get a pretty good trade out of it and end up with a bunch more jars. Or conversely, they have an item or skill that you need…trade your rings and/or lids for what you need.

If you have plenty of cash laying around and you want to invest in a durable, practical item then lids and/or rings are a pretty good option if you ask me. I would only buy Ball or Kerr lids and/or rings if realistic. But, I also don’t have a problem with Golden Harvest. Yes, you can buy lids online at places like Amazon. I have heard and read that most of the Ball or Kerr lids purchased on Amazon are actually counterfeit.

Just a thought…When it works out budget-wise (meaning occasionally), I also buy a case (12pk) of canning jars at Walmart when I am there. I may not need the jars right then, but I will need them eventually. Yup, I will either use them to can next year’s garden produce…or, I will use them for barter when the time is right. Either way, I am putting up a valuable commodity to be used later. So far, since May, I’ve bought an extra 10 cases of canning jars…without any noticeable financial pain. Look at it as a “precious metal” without any metal involved. And maybe, just maybe, in the future they will be more precious than precious metals.


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TIP: Canning Jar Lid Size

This is going to be a very subjective, possibly controversial, topic. Why? Personal preference for many folks.

If you are into canning you know there are two basic size of canning jar types. No, not pints and quarts…there are a lot more sizes than that. I am talking about the size of the “mouth” of the jar…regular mouth and wide-mouth. Simply put…the wide-mouth is slightly large in diameter than the regular mouth. No, I am not going to give exact measurements…no need to, that is not my point for this post.

So what is the point? Money.

A 12pack of regular mouth lids are $2.97 at Walmart, 12pack of wide-mouth lids are $3.90. Yup, that is 8cents a lid more for wide-mouth vs regular mouth. Big difference?

Let’s go with eating a jar of food per day from your pantry, that’s 30 dozen jars per year, 360 jars. That’s almost a $30 difference in cost…meaning you can buy 10packs of regular mouth lids with that savings. Now, think about having 3 years supply of lids on hand, giving you enough time to wait out an extended supply chain problem…or a grid-down issue. Saving that $30 for each year of lids you buy gives you a four year supply of lids vs 3years supply!!

Yes, I know…there are lots of folks out there that prefer the wide-mouth jars for ease of use, I get it, I really do. And there are folks out there where $30 isn’t a big deal…I get that too. But I am talking about folks who think $30 is a big deal…or $90 is a big savings (if you are talking a 3-year supply).

And just a reminder…don’t forget to have some extra rings laying around as well.

 

 

 

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TIP: Prepping for Electrical Issues

This is actually a sub-article to a larger project article and it includes some items from previous articles. However, I think there is a solid case for writing this article as a stand-alone. Wow…mouthful of word salad!

So there I was…time to finally upgrade my water well system to a solar pump water well system. You can read more about it here <click here to read about it>. It came time to do my wire splicing…and that is where this article came from.

During an emergency, disaster, or grid-down event you may find yourself having to do some electrical work. And if you find yourself having to do some splicing it would be nice to have the needed supplies on hand. Here are a couple of things that I feel could be invaluable in those situations.

Let’s start with the basics…Electrical Tape –

Not all electrical tape is created equal. And let’s start this off with a general statement…you get what you pay for. That means I buy Scotch brand electrical tape, or private label electrical tape made by Scotch. I don’t buy the knock-offs or the cheap stuff. Why? Because I am entrusting personal safety and/or my house and/or my equipment to this electrical tape…I don’t want cheap-junk vs expensive-quality. Nice thing is…the quality stuff isn’t really that much more expensive.

I keep three basic types of electrical tape on hand; 1) Scotch 700, 2) Scotch 2242, 3) Ace 30986.

Scotch 700: A high quality, vinyl insulating tape. Resists a wide range of chemicals and abrasive materials. Can be used indoor/outdoor and even below ground. And a roll has about 66’ on it. It is good down to about 15 degrees or so. Pretty much a general purpose electrical tape that I would use where the tape is not exposed directly to the weather and not exposed to moisture…so basically dry indoors. Don’t over stretch this tape when using.

 

Scotch 2242: A high quality general purpose rubber tape. Used correctly it provides an immediate moisture resistant seal as well as insulation. This is a great weather resistant electrical tape. Stretching doesn’t really affect this tape. Since it is made out of rubber it is pretty dang resistant to abrasion. It is good down to about 0 degrees. A bit more expensive and only 15’ on the roll. This what I would use when the job was exposed to the weather or on my equipment (i.e. tractor) used outside.

 

Ace 30986: Self-fusing, water-tight, rubber based electrical tape. It seals based on a rubber resin, “vulcanized” as my electrician buddy explained it to me. It is pricey but well worth the money when a water-tight seal is needed. This is the tape I used to protect the splices on my well pump installation. Yes, that means the splice was submerged in water…and will be for years to come. I used multiple layers, medium stretch, pressed together hard.

 


I also keep two types of Gardner Bender Liquid Tape on hand; 1) the brush on variety, 2) spray on version.

Brush on version (GB LTB-400): It’s a rubber based brush on electrical sealant. It can be sued indoors/outdoors and creates a waterproof seal when used correctly. It’s also very UV resistant which is nice here in Arizona. It is resistant to chemicals, solvents, and saltwater. It is dry in 5 minutes, fully cured in 24 hours. Can be used in harsh temperature conditions…30 degrees below zero to 200 degrees above zero. And it stays pretty dang flexible. I like it when I use butt connectors and want to make a water tight seal around them.  If I wanted a really good, virtually fool-proof water tight seal I would use the Ace 30986, then use two coats of GB LTB-400 allowing 24 hours between coats. First coat of GB LTB-400 would overlap the Ace 30986 tape ends. Then the second coat of GB LTB-400 would overlap the first coat of GB LTB-400. WARNING: don’t think an opened container of the GB LTB-400 will be acceptable for storing! Once opened it tends to dry out. Store a brand new, unopened container.

Spray on version (GB LTS-400): This is kinda like the brush on version, but not entirely. This stuff is vinyl based vs rubber based and is much thinner obviously since it is sprayed on. Yes, you can spray on multiple coats to build up the thickness. It dries quickly (5 minutes) and is fully cured in 24 hours. It is very protective and insulating but I would not count on it being water-tight with a single application, more like water-resistant. Water-tight if you build up multiple, correctly applied layers, each of which is allowed to properly cure. Can be sued indoors/outdoors and a temperature range of 30 degrees below zero to 200 degrees above zero and resistant to chemicals, solvents, and saltwater.

So there you go…there is my electrical prepper kit for electrical work.


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TRAP: FNS / Sacred Sun LifePo4 3U & 5U Solar Batteries

This is a continuation of my post yesterday about Growatt SPF inverter/chargers. Why? They have the same Chinese parent company (FNS) and share a common problem.

So let me start off with a compliment to the company and what they are trying to accomplish. As I understand it FNS was a battery company located in China. They then bought an inverter manufacturer also located in China. I think that is a great concept…a single company that makes the inverter/charger side of a solar system and also the batteries. Makes perfect sense…the system is better suited to work together, the components are compatible, and the inverter/charger is able to communicate with the LifePo4 battery BMS (battery management system) making it more efficient.

Last summer when a neighbor had to upgrade his solar system he asked me to handle it for him. No problem, I like helping neighbors and I do pretty decently with solar systems. Yes, he saw my system that I built and had confidence in me I could build him a good system as well.

In the market place today, and yesterday, there has always been great charge controllers and inverters. I am partial to Victron. The problem for several years now has been reliable, decent quality, lithium batteries that are priced affordably. In 2019 I started that quest for good LifePo4 batteries that I could afford…that is a story for another day. For my neighbor I had no idea what brand of batteries would fit the requirements; reliable, decent quality, and affordable. Off to visit my buddy who owns a solar company.

He had just brought on a new line of equipment…FNS. He explained the FNS inverter/charger and battery relationship. Sounded right…and they met the system requirements and they were very affordable.

I put together a plan for a 6kw, 240vAC, 400Ah, 4.8kw of PVs system that also included an FNS battery cabinet that is really sweet. PVs went up, and I started tearing out the old system. Installed the new system with all new wiring, lightening protection, etc. Then fired it up…problems right off the bat with the batteries. The FNS 3U batteries would simply not function. Two days and 5 phone calls to the battery company later we found out there was a problem with the battery’s BMS software. Took the batteries in to the technician…one battery failed to update, burned another one out.

Another couple of days worth of phone calls with the US office, then phone calls and emails with the techs & managers in China. They had to rewrite the battery BMS software, download it to the US, and then the tech here loaded it into the battery. It worked. But there was still a problem with the batteries talking with the inverter. A week later the software was available to download into the inverter. It worked.

However, about the time you think it is a sunny day once again…ah, no. The batteries were still not performing up to standards…low full charge voltage and discrepancy between the battery charge indicator lights, the actual voltage reading, and the tech spec.

The low full charge voltage problem was explained after about a month from the first purchase…it was a 15 cell battery not an industry standard 16 cell battery. And since each cell is 3.2v, missing a cell was the discrepancy in voltage. And for along time no one in the supply chain knew it was a 15 vs 16 cell battery…and that difference also explained the competitive price point. No one in the company (FNS) was ever able to explain the discrepancy between the battery charge indicator lights, the actual voltage reading, and the tech spec.

AT the time the local dealer assured me they would stand behind the batteries, but, in the subsequent months they have also discontinued selling that line of batteries.

So the FNS 3U & 5U LifePo4 batteries are a “DO NOT BUY!” if you are looking for a trouble-free, industry standard 16-cell LifePo4 battery for your solar system. If you are tech savvy or have a solid working relationship with, and warranty from, your system installation company then they are a decent alternative.

I wouldn’t install them in my system based on what I know and the fact that there are better alternatives out there.

note: Sacred Sun batteries are made by FNS, Sacred Sun is just a private label.


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TIP: Dental Floss

Dental floss as suture in an emergency.note: first appeared September 2015

Dental floss is a good substitute for suture material in emergencies.

Yup!  If you need suture material and you are out, go looking for dental floss.

And hint……..dental floss is a whole lot cheaper than suture material.Sutures

Just make sure you have suture needles on hand.  Yes, they can be re-used if you sterilize the needle in between use.

And another hint…only buy and use curved suture needles.

 

 

 

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TIP: If your water supply is failing fill your bathtub and…

Water Main Broken city water supply failsnote: first published in September 2015

If your water supply is failing but there is still running water, fill your:

  • bathtubs
  • sinks
  • buckets
  • trash cansfill any container with water
  • pot & pans,
  • bowls
  • water bottles
  • jars
  • glasses

Fill anything that will hold water. You can figure out how to store it and purify it later, but for now just fill up anything at all that can hold water. Water is priceless and the single highest priority for sustaining life.WaterBOB = water storage of 100gal

A WaterBob is a great way to store water in a bath tub should you need to.

< Information on water >

< Information on bath tub water storage >

 

 

 

 

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TIP: Socks

Socks Smart Wool socks for preppersnote: first appeared in October 2015

#1 – For serious preppers…only go with wool socks. And the only real brand I use to recommend was SmartWool. They are simply the best wool socks out there that I have personally worn over the last 20 years of hard wilderness and back-country use. They stay cool in the desert, and warm in the snow. When wet they won’t tear your feet up. However, I have Socks Wool REIbeen trying a couple other brands in the last 2 – 3 years or so. I am liking Minus33 and REI brand wool socks just as much. They rate right up there with SmartWool.

 

 

 

 

Socks Wool Minus33

#2 – If the seams of your wool socks are bothering you then turn your socks inside out. The seam will not bother your feet because you will have the smooth side of the sock against your skin.

 

 

 

 

#3 – Wash your wool socks inside out and they won’t get those little “balls.” I also always use the “air” setting on the dryer, never any heat setting (well, if you want them to last as long as possible). And I am perfectly accepting of laying my wool socks over the back of a dining room table chair. Yeah, my wife loves that option 🙂

 

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