Archive for the Solar Power Category

Solar Tracker #4 is now complete…

Posted in Solar Power on March 31, 2009 by wizbandit

I installed the last six KC-130’s on Tracker #4 this past Saturday in 40+ mph winds, boy was that hairy but I got’er done.


I setup a temporary ground rack to hold the now orphaned Siemans SR90’s that just feed some power into an old Advanced Energy GC-1000.  I’ll be moving the GC-1000 to a tracking trailer mount I’m putting together with eight old Photowatt 90 watt panels I have.



I have installed Nema-3 rain tite disconnects on post near all my trackers.  The tracker assemblies are connected to the system through Multicontact MC-4 latching quick connectors. I’m calling the posts with disconnects “Renewable Energy Access Points”.  I had to separate the tracking mounts from the “Inspect-able Electric System” due to the fact if the tracking assemblies were “Permanent Installations” my building department would require very expensive “Engineered, Signed, Stamped, Sealed Blueprints” with wind-loading of over 120 MPH.  Not really do-able for home-built mounts. I don’t plan on leaving a single PV panel out in the Hurricane if one does hit anyhow. I did pick them up and spread them farther apart as I discovered this past winter they were a bit too close with some shadow overlapping.

mvc-527f  mvc-525f  mvc-526f1


Tracker #4 almost finished

Posted in Solar Power on February 18, 2009 by wizbandit

I’m waiting on six more KC-130’s to finish off Tracker #4

Then I will move the four SR-90’s to another temporary tracker with the GC-1000 Grid-tie Inverter.



UPDATE:  The six brand new KC-130’s have arrived and will be mounted on Tracker #4 when I get back from a brief trip to New York next week.

Solar Pathfinder Report…

Posted in Solar Power on February 5, 2009 by wizbandit

I received my Solar Pathfinder site analyses tool last week.  I opted for the cool software for an additional $129 that has a simple to read report.

Here is my Tracking Array #3, which is my NE most tracker.  It’s in the back.


tracker-3_b_0  tracker-3_b_1  tracker-3_b_2  tracker-3_b_3

         #1                    #2                    #3                    #4

The first is a simple summary, the second is where in relation to the Array was the Solar Pathfinder setup.  A top-down picture is taken over the Solar Pathfinder then imported into the software where you trace the reflections of all obstacles.  The software then creates the digital shading data picture. You can see at the 12N position on report #3 the tracker that is directly to the south of this one.

The system was entered as a two-axis system, which means in this case East to West tracking and seasonal tilting.

Kinda cool.  Most fixed roof arrays give 4-6 “solar hours” per day, trackers kick that up to 7 to 8+ solar hours per day.  The solar hours are listed on the bottom of report #4 as “Sun Hrs.”

TRACE SWCA, an Expensive device to break.

Posted in Problems, Solar Power on October 7, 2008 by wizbandit

I had one of my two $175 TRACE/XANTREX SWCA Inverter RS232 interfaces quit working on me a few weeks back.  I had opened these units up once to install power through an isolation low voltage drop diode to power a Bluetooth serial adapter.  They are mostly SMT inside with the exception of the MPU which is an Atmel AT89C2051.  The other SMT chips include a 74HC14, 232ACBN, 74HC86, 24LC04B, DG417, and on the back side a PCF8574AT.


The interface uses a standard 4 conductor flat telephone cable.  How the RJ11 terminal is crimped on the wire is important. Here is the pin-out as it ends up at the RJ11 to DB9F (provided with the SWCA): RED = PIN2, BLACK = PIN3, YELLOW = PIN5.  The GREEN in all I have seen is not connected.  I use this to provide 5V on PIN9 of the DB9 to power my Bluetooth to Serial converter which accepts 4-9 volts on PIN9 as POWER.  I found +5V on the PCB off a SMT Capacitor on the power rail.

The SMT part that had failed was the DG417 Analog switch.  From what I can see it is what turns on the DATA OUT line which is the RED wire when the SWCA is selected using its preset address.  The address is set using the antique DOS software that comes with it.  You can actually command up to 8 SW series inverters (SW5548 for instance) which requires you to connect the SWCA as the ONLY device on the serial port to “SET” the ID from 1 to 8 in the flash memory.  If you Parallel SWCA’s with the same ID there is no communication because of data collisions.  When I put my defective SWCA on with my good one the good one quit working so it was simple enough to trace back the data wires from the DB9 to the PCB.  I found the RED wire going directly to PIN-1 of the DG417.  PIN-8 is the data in so I just measured across the pins and got like 84 ohms.  The good SWCA measured infinite ohms so I knew the chip was shorted.  I ordered some from Digi-Key for $2.28 each, they should be here tomorrow.  I’m hoping the suspected ESD didn’t get past the DG417.  I could still send commands to the inverter so I know that part is working fine.  Just no data back at me.  The DG417 is an 8 pin SMT device, not real hard to remove. 

I have installed ESD protection on both the DATA LINES.  I use P6KE27CA Solid State devices in all my RS232 projects for ESD protection.  This is the very same device used in the Radio Shack RS232 inline surge protector from many years past.


24LC4B (4K I2C Serial EEPROM),  PCF8574AT (Remote 8-Bit I/O Expander for I2C BUS),  AT89C2051 (2Kbyte Flash Microcontroller),  DG417 (Precision CMOS Analog Switch),  232ACBN (High Speed +5V Powered RS-232 Transmitter/Receiver,  74HC14 (Hex inverting Schmitt trigger),  74HC86 (Quad EXCLUSIVE-OR Gate).


The part came from Digi-Key right on time.  I soldered in a new DG417 and I’m happy to report SWCA #2 is back in service and fully functional.  The only quirk I have is my two are different versions and the UP/DN arrows on one are reversed which is a pain.

Clay Archer reverse engineered the REMOTE PORT on the SWxxxx TRACE inverters and was kind enough to provide the information on the port.  Here is his letter and the details. 

Here are some of my notes on the SWCA.   I’m in the process of putting together my own interface, initially with a parallel port interface to a PC, and eventually a stand-alone PIC processor with an ethernet interface, when I can find time to work on it.  I don’t intend on making a commercial product with this, but if you develop anything with it I would appreciate some feedback. 


SWCA interface pinout: (DB25)

01) V+  5V

02) NC or Gnd

03) Gnd

04) Gnd

05) Gnd

06) NC

07) DB7 (14)

08] DB4 (11)

09) DB2 (9)

10) DB0 (7)

11) NC

12) NC

13) NC

14) LCD Enable (6)

15) Reset

16) LCD Read/Write (5)

17) LCD RS Data/Instruction (4)

18] Read Switch/Enable

19) Write LEDs enable (latch)

20) DB6  [13]

21) DB5  [12]

22) DB3  [10]

23) DB1  [8]

24) NC

25) NC 


LED and switch bits:

      LED                     Switch

DB0   over current              set+

DB1   float                     set-

DB2   AC2                       menu up

DB3   inverting                 menu down

DB4   error                     menu ->

DB5   line tie                  menu <-

DB6   AC1                       on/off

DB7   bulk                      Gen



LCD is an HD44780 based LCD display (I think) with 2 lines &40 chrs.  Numbers in () are LCD module pins. 


 You can find documentation on the HD44780 based LCD on the internet. The SW inverter interface (DB25) port was initially designed as an external keypad and display, basically a  duplicate of the internal keypad/display.


 The SWCA is a PIC processor designed to emulate the keypad/display and interface to a serial port as a display terminal emulation. To talk to the SW inverter you will need to emulate the HD44780 registers to read data and emulate the pushbutton switches to request data from the SW inverter. You could also just build an external display. Parts used in the internal display are two 74HC573  (8 bit latches to latch the LEDs and pushbuttons) one 74HC14 (to debounce & buffer the enable for the LCD display) and an LCD display with assorted resistors & cap’s etc. I have a rough schematic of the internal display, if you want I can scan it and send you a copy. 


Good luck,

Clay Archer

MORE is BETTER! Solar Power That is!

Posted in Solar Power on October 7, 2008 by wizbandit

Solar Power Tracker #4 went ON-LINE this past Weekend on temporary wiring.  I still have to dig the conduits back to the main junction box where the home runs are.  Since I have the construction down to a semi-fine science I timed the construction of number four, working at a daily pace with 90% of the materials needed on-site.  The time required, 10 days from start to power-up.

Base construction.


For now I only have six Kyocera KC130’s to put on it.  I have 24 Siemans SR90 Photovoltaic panels from my orginial roof setup, 4 are now on tracker #4 feeding my Advanced Energy GC-1000 grid-tie inverter still mounted on tracker #2.  I’m thinking I need to move it.  Since I don’t own enough PhotoWatt PV panels to make six panel arrays, just eight still on the roof feeding the old four panel array system, I’m going to put all eight on a smaller tracker just for the GC-1000 to use.


Solar Project Update

Posted in Solar Power on September 8, 2008 by wizbandit

The past 10 days have been exhausting, a lot of work in 95 degree heat out in the garage and out at the Solar Tracker Farm.  The “Solar Power Wall” in the garage was built, painted and outfitted with various solar electric equipment.  It’s now 90% finished, I still have to relocate the “whole house” 5.3KVA Best Power UPS to the far end of the wall.  I do some R&D work for Apollo Solar, here are my two Apollo T80 MPPT charge controllers, the one on the left is for testing various solar related things I’m working on.  My current project is an intelligent interface between the T80 and Trace/Xantrex SW series of inverters.  It’s a bit difficult getting the inverters and the T80 to SELL power efficiently without them interacting.


I have a master combiner box where all the six panel arrays come in to a KLKD 10amp DC fuse.  All the arrays then get combined and sent to a disconnect switch, from there they go to a Ground Fault Protection Device (GFPD)  The GFPD was formally known as a Ground Fault Interrupter (GFI), So as not to confuse the issue as all homes have GFI’s in the AC panel box the GFPD was named for the DC protection device.


I have modified all three tracking arrays to hold 12 panels.  This required a lot of steel supports to be added to the underside.  I also changed the counter balance spring mounts using a porch swing “buckle”.  This works very well, it swivels East to West and also during seasonal tilting.


19 SEPT 2008:  One of the last of two major projects has been completed.  The move of the 5.3Kva Ferrups UPS that powers all the 15A wall outlets and lighting circuits.  It’s new home is on the far end of the new Solar Wall.

I’m Frazzeled and I will complete this report later.

My favorite place to buy Solar Equipment is from Maverick Solar.


My twelve Kyocera KC-120 panels were purchased from AriStar Solar, Give Lee Walker a call if you need anything.


Mis-Tracking Woes…

Posted in Solar Power on July 14, 2008 by wizbandit

Now that we here in Florida are into our 120% humidity and afternoon thunder storm season I have noticed some peculiar behaviour by the Solar Trackers.  With some dew or big raindrops on the clear lens the sensors would get hit with some reflected light and move erratically. I used some new white Krylon paint labeled safe to use on plastic.  They seem to perform a lot better now.  I used some 1″ painters tape around the middle of the clear jar.



This also protects the lid from UV break-down.  The clear jar is PETA but the yellow lid is made out of some plastic that is not UV resistant.