Most of my previous ranting has been about all of the problems in the off grid solar world. Things are still pretty bad with nearly all of the players being people who build things for a life they know very little about. That’s right people; those who work in the industry of designing, building and selling products used in off grid solar power systems rarely live off grid themselves. I believe this is the biggest reason for there to still be so many problems. Go ahead and ask one of those people the truth about if they use their own products. The answer is revealing. It is like asking the owner of an RV manufacturer if he ever spent a night in one. It sure explains why RV’s are so fouled up. No RV manufacturers are on this list for many very good reasons.
A few folks deserve mention for doing good things. So in no particular order, this is my other list, the Good Guys:
CROWN BATTERIES: http://www.crownbattery.com/
Simply put, I believe this outfit to be the best battery manufacturer on the Planet. No, I don’t know all of them, but let me tell you, I have personally had problems with several others and seen things that tell me just how bad most are.
I have owned batteries from six other different manufacturers and had problems with ALL of them. I have connected well over 100KW of Crown batteries with not one single failure in the past few years. That statement cannot be made about anybody else. Crown is as good as I say. Hell, it is even as good as they say.
Crown recently introduced a new line, Crown 1. This is what pushed me into posting this new blog entry. AGM’s that are coming off of a new production line in Fremont Ohio, USA. They hired 25 new employees to run this new line. Here is a link to what their local newspaper had to say about this:
I have not been a fan of AGM’s unless you have access or ventilation issues and that will not change, but I suspect Crown 1 is the best AGM battery ever produced. True deep cycle with heavy plates for our needs in the alternative energy world. If you think sealed batteries are important to you, this is the thing. Not some experimental thing that is made in China and is not even recyclable. Do your research. You are in for a shock if you think that the expensive new things being pushed by the profit generators are green.
Next, if you are one of those who wants to believe the claims made by the Tesla folks (Over four times the price and not suitable for daily use):
Look here for the new Crown 1 brochure:
You can use their flooded industrial batteries or their special AE line, both from the SLI products division with equal success. Compare the prices and make your choice. I use 235ah GC-2’s (6V Golf Cart) in our RV and their biggest 6V L16’s in homes. Mine are now about 3 years old and working like the day they were connected, thanks to Morningstar. I expect at least another ten years out of these things, not the general consensus, but I know differently.
http://bogartengineering.com/ Home of inventor Ralph Hiesey, the Trimetric battery monitor and the smartest charge controller made today. (Seriously, all of the big companies need to look at these things.)
I have dedicated a couple of blog pages to Trimetric. Read those. It is all in there and all true. Ralph and I are now friends, but it is because of his efforts and nothing else. By the way, Ralph does live off grid and that is why he invented the Trimetric. If you want metering that really works, I see no other choice today. The marine world has some amp hour counters that I am sure work, but think about if they are as user friendly before buying them. Not once has anyone ever told me they regretted buying a Trimetric. I have dozens of positive reports from people who love the things.
http://www.morningstarcorp.com/ These guys have been the technology leader in solar charge controllers since around 2000. They still build the best and I will use nothing else after trying many. Somewhere I said that I have owned seven different charge controllers in my quest to make solar power work and I have fiddled with many others. Most of them are on a list that I say I will only touch if it is to remove them and toss in the nearest dumpster. The only problems with Morningstar have been an inability to market as well as the more recent newbies and custom programming that is Windows based and very awkward to figure out. However, once figured out, it works… Something that the competition truly cannot say.
Those companies with the slick glossy brochures and lies about MPPT boost have hurt sales at Morningstar, but things are changing. Their MPPT is the BEST on the market. Those people you see who say that a Tristar is old technology have no clue what they are talking about. My mistake with MidNite proved this to me. I am afraid to tell people just how much more efficient the Tristar is late in the charge cycle. Believe me, the amps in bulk mode do NOT tell the whole story. The speed that a Tristar tracks is at a whole other level than what the major competitors do. I don’t believe even they know this, since I had one try to tell me that a Tristar did not have automatic equalization when I was complaining that theirs did not work. This tells me that they have not actually bought a Tristar and looked at it. If you want the maximum charging from your solar power, there is only one choice: Morningstar.
Here again I want to drive a point home. I tried others and I have been lied to by the best. Magnum builds things that are beautiful engineering marvels and they do so here in the USA. When I opened the box for the first Magnum panel I bought for my own use I was speechless. I think they should raise their prices. All other manufacturers of inverter systems for homes is on my other list. I have a couple of cheap Chinese manufacturers that I will consider for the budget minded RV’ers, but never in a home. Four off grid homes are out there that had my hand in them and all have MagnaSine inverters on Magnum panels. All have been totally problem free.
When I needed help in figuring out how to connect one of their AGS (Auto Generator Start) modules years ago and all of Magnum’s tech service guys were on the phone, one of them called me back within minutes and this was before they knew me. I am STILL waiting for a return phone call from their biggest competitor and those fools probably wonder why they are on my other list.
I have reservations about just a couple of Magnum’s products (like the BMK) and I have not seen their charge controller yet. It might be wonderful, but I will recommend nothing I have not touched. Maybe they should send one to me. I also hope that the new relationship with Dimensions does not have any negative effects. We’ll see. They have already been putting the Magnum name on cheap Chinese made inverters, so you must shop carefully. The question is if the existing product line will remain as is and continue to be built in the USA. I worry.
SNAP N RACK: http://snapnrack.com/
I have tried three different manufacturers of solar panel mounting systems. Snap N Rack is the best of the three by far. The rails are thicker and the bolts bigger, yet the price lower. The quality and strength both are amazing. This was recommended by Backwoods Solar. They know what they are talking about.
I used Unirac on another home system and found it to be acceptable, but when I helped a neighbor put his Snap N Rack together, the decision was made as far as who will be recommended by me in the future. I have never talked with anybody at Snap N Rack. I didn’t need to.
People generally think more expensive things are better. That is definitely not the case here. The first I tried was on my own roof and when I picked up the panels to add the tilting system supplied by them, the whole thing collapsed, with the bolts holding the panels to the rails pulling right out of the rails. That was Iron Ridge. I believe they are lying about the aluminum alloy they use and of course I can’t prove it, but the evidence is still here on my roof should they decide to complain about what I am saying. I had bought the system after being sold on it by one of the suppliers on my other list. When I reported on the problem, all I got back from them was “Thanks for the feedback, Bob.” I got nothing from the manufacturer. I told them to take my name off their customer list and never email me again. They are lucky I didn’t sue. It didn’t cost me a fortune to add bracing and fix the problem, but the trouble I went to did cost me a lot of time and I nearly had the panels slide off of the roof. The scratches will always be there. Of course their worthless warranty has been voided by my modification. I could not wait for a fight with them to fix the problem would no doubt have taken. I drove the 60 miles to an aluminum supplier the next day and spend about $150. The day after that my panels were back on the roof and working.
QUICK CABLE: http://www.quickcable.com/
Here is a bit of a problem for most of you folks. Quick Cable is an incredible manufacturer but they do not sell direct to the retail market. Finding their products can be a challenge. I have bought from them as a dealer for years and used one of their big crimpers so much that I had to buy replacement jaws. Their welding cable is the best thing made and I have installed thousands of their terminals plus used a lot of their heat shrink with 100% success. Those insulated posts everybody asks about that you see in my pics came from Quick Cable. They sell a hydrometer with the glass float inside, but with a tough plastic outer case. This is a very good company that never seems to make mistakes. In all of the times I bought from them, they never made a mistake on an order. Remember that I used to be a sales rep, so I know how unusual this is.
BACKWOODS SOLAR: http://www.backwoodssolar.com/
Being a dealer and not a manufacturer they probably do not really belong on this list. However, I have been dealing with Backwoods since around 2002 with never a problem that they didn’t jump through hoops to fix. They deserve mention not because they are the lowest priced and certainly not because I recommend everything they sell. They deserve it for service and honesty. Simply put, the folks at Backwoods will tell you the truth as they know it and all of them do actually use the things they sell. There is no other solar supplier I have ever heard of that can make this statement.
Late last year I steered a neighbor to Backwoods for a 3.4KW off grid system and you saw a couple of pics of that above. The home owner and I are friends. We discussed the amount of money he might save by buying elsewhere or nit picking individual items and agreed to give them the order after they did a special quotation for us. We also decided to spend a few more dollars for US made Solar World panels. I think the first shipping problem (not caused by Backwoods, but fixed by them) made up for any small difference in the price. When thinking about buying from somebody else, ask yourself how many times you have had to fight with suppliers when there were problems. This system is up and running, powering the house with circ pumps in a hot water floor heating system and the 400ft deep standard 2HP, 240V well pump on sunny days to fill the water cistern. A generator has not been run there since turning the circuit breakers on. It will be a rare event.
Ditto on the supplier vs manufacturer comment above. This little internet seller of inverters has the best and most honest customer service I have ever found. They do a huge business. They do sell brands and things I won’t recommend, but if you phone them and ask for the truth, that is what you will get. I found out about their service when an inverter I bought from them failed within minutes of startup. It happens. They did not argue or expect me to return it. They sent a new unit out that same day and then paid return freight on the defective one. Do you know anybody else who acts like this today? I don’t.
They will also make up custom cables and find things that are not on their web site for you. The 12V power supply I used to feed our RV when it was parked inside for the winter came from them. The first one I bought from somebody else failed within a year. I phoned and asked Patrick there if he had any ideas. He suggested the Samlex unit you see in my pic and it has been absolutely reliable.
I stopped shopping for inverters elsewhere after meeting Don and Patty Rowe out in the Arizona desert. Yep, they own a solar powered motor home. Wonderful people who know what service is. Don’t be afraid to call these folks and ask questions, including if they can meet a price. Say hi from Bob.
THERE, I did something positive.