Now that is has been a full 4+ months since my previous post I’ve finally made some progress with my solar power supply.
I have picked up several pieces that are key to getting a fully off grid low voltage power supply. I was able to get a Kyocera KC50t Solar Panel, a Xantrex c35 Charge Controller, a DC breaker box and breakers, interconnect wire, and mounting hardware.
I mounted a piece of 1/2″ plywood to my garage wall as a backer board, and there I mounted the DC breaker box along with the Xantrex C35 about half a foot above that. Then onto the wiring from there.
Wiring together all of the components took longer than I had expected. Due to the distance of my panel from the electrical components I needed 10g wire. I was actually right on the cusp of needed 8g wire and the cost jump was double, so I was happy to be in the 10g range. After some effort I finally got everything wired together.
So now I have 10g leads from my battery pair to a DC breaker in the box as a cutoff. From there more leads went to the Xantrex on the battery terminal and common ground. Then another lead from the PV Array terminal and common ground on the Xantrex to another DC breaker. From the other end of that breaker was my long lead up to the roof where the panel would be mounted. Also I have incorporated a ground wire interconnecting all of the pieces together with a grounding stake that is just outside my garage.
I’ve been interested solar power for a few years now. I found the technology fascinating and the applications nearly limitless. Ideally I could have a system that would power my house, and tie into the electrical grid if there was energy above our needs. Some former neighbors of ours who now live in Arizona had a $7 electricity bill one month this fall. Wouldn’t that be nice!? I’ve also read articles about people down south that have thousands of dollars in credit from the utility for the surplus energy they have fed into the grid. Unfortunately, the bottom line purchase price shows that a system of any real value can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000+ depending on your needs and what you wand to do. I’m not interested in taking out a Home Equity Loan to get solar into my house so this size setup is not possible.
Another option that is more within my budget is a small solar setup. I found this interesting as eventually our family would like to get an RV, and adding solar to an RV can greatly extend the battery power and help limit the need to run a generator as much. This type of setup has been in use for years and has proven to be highly effective. Unfortunately we do not have an RV yet, so that wasn’t very useful!
Still struggling for justification to fiddle around, I decided that I could build a small setup to power my HAM radio. This would allow me to run my on my primary power source even if the power from the grid is off during an emergency. The solar panel will keep my batteries charged while not in use, and hopefully replenish the juice quickly when needed. I don’t use the HAM all that much, so there would hopefully be some excess power to experiment with.
The design of small solar systems can vary greatly depending on the application. Often they consist of a few solar panels, a solar charge controller, some array of batteries for storage, and some kind of power inverter to run the standard household appliances. In my case an inverter was not required as the HAM radio run on standard 12v DC. This could be added for additional flexibility at any time though.
After months of debating I decided to start designing and piecing together a setup. I started with two 6v deep cycle batteries run in series to get the standard 12v DC. This would allow me to run my radio on the batteries right away while charging them with standard charging equipment until the rest of the solar was in place. Selecting the size and type of battery that is right for you is not an easy decision. It took a great deal of research to decide on what I ended up with, and even now I’m still not certain I’ll be 100% satisfied!
In a forthcoming post I will talk about the solar panel and charge controller as well as the hardware to interconnect everything. Then onto the build and hopefully a working system!
Yesterday I received the official Vagabond II inverter. It came with all the cables necessary to hook it up. I was surprised to see that the package had no paperwork in it at all. No specs sheet, no warranty info, no manual. Interesting but not the end of the world as the manual is readily available on the website.
I was able to hook up the inverter and get it up and running within just a few minutes, and then came the moment of truth. Initially I hooked up just one of my Elinchrom BX 500 Ri strobes. It was set to the lowest power setting prior to turning it on, and it was able to do its initial charge off the Vagabond without issue! I fired many flashes and it worked without issue and the recharge was very fast. So far so good.
So I have now sent back the Samlex inverter for return, and I have placed an order for the real deal Vagabond II inverter.
I don’t want to imply that I think the Samlex inverter is not a good product. That is not the case at all. The 150w model is just is not sized appropriately for the task. (My fault I know) And to move to a model that is up to the job is nearly as expensive as getting the actual Vagabond II. Another benefit of the Vagabond II is that it has built in battery charging which the Samlex does not. This was not an initial consideration for me as I already own a BatterTender, but for the same price I might as well get the all inclusive option.
So I guess it is really becoming less a ‘DIY” Vagabond. I’m eagerly awaiting the new inverter to see if it really will work as I need it to!
So here we go, the results. And it’s not good news.
I got the setup hooked up and going last night. I had some initial frustrations with fuses that were too small (7.5a) that were blowing very quickly. After I got the right sized fuse in line I tried some test shots.
It is looking as though the 150w Samlex inverter will not be strong enough to power my two Elinchrom BX 500 Ri monobloc strobes. When using the GFCI plug adapter the circuit on the GFCI plug trips before the Elinchrom can even initialize and charge up the capacitor before the first flash.
I took the GFCI out of the loop to narrow down the problem. The Elinchrom would then initialize and begin the capacitor charge getting to the ready state as it normally would. During this charge, the Samlex would beep briefly but everything would continue. I could then fire the flash, and it would begin the cycle again, but the Samlex would beep every time. After validating in the Samlex user manual (yes, I know, RTFM) it turns out that the unit will beep when the AC power is deeply drawn. It seems as though it is squawking at you because it is struggling to keep up. During all this the Elinchrom is also no quite itself as the power switch light flickers during charge and just doesn’t seem quite right.
My guess is that when the Elinchom is charging the power level drops too much in the Samlex which causes the beep, and in addition it is too low for the GFCI and it trips the circuit. Obviously I would want to keep the GFCI on there for safety reasons. I also want to be able to run both of my BX 500 Ris and I’m thinking that the Samlex wont even come close to keeping up with both of them drawing off of it.
So for now a bit back to the drawing board. I’m afraid I may have to get an RMA on the Samlex and either get a bigger unit (300w or 600w even), or suck it up and get the Vagabond II inverter. In this YouTube video there is a guy running my exact Elinchrom BX 500 Ri strobes off the Vagabond II so I know that it will at least work that way, although more expensively.
Has anyone else had any experience with these strobes and a Vagabond II or a DIY alternative?