With solar, just a little haze goes a long way.

It’s grassfire season, as even a glance at the horizon would tell anybody.

We in the Gulch aren’t in danger from wildfires, for fairly obvious reasons. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a lightning-struck juniper, and here and there you can come upon the charred remains of a dead one that got struck and burned right down. But those fires never spread, because dirt don’t burn.

Which doesn’t mean we’re not affected by wildfires. Seems like we’re downwind of all of them, and that affects more than just air quality. Lately, on this ‘100 degrees every damned day’ week we’ve been having, I’ve been using more than the usual electricity on fans to move the hot air around, and at first I thought that was why my indicated voltage was staying so low.

Not this low; it’s early yet. But you get the idea. Lower than normal.

My charge controller normally goes into float by 10 am on a sunny day, but lately that hasn’t been happening. I look out and see sharp shadows, I don’t worry about how much haze is really obscuring the sun and so weakening my solar panels but it is a factor whether I see it or not.

Which is why, in my opinion which is admittedly formed in quite limited and specialized circumstances, solar electric power didn’t become really practical for the hoi polloi desert hermit until the advent of cheap Chinese solar panels, which American manufacturers would argue destroyed the (their, that is) market. Because the only really practical way to make solar work under all circumstances, including high demand/constricted supply, is to oversupply your system. The extensive charts of 20 years ago where you carefully added up all your electrical draws, performed arcane eldritch calculations, bent down, turned around and gave the sun a wink and so arrived at the precise minimum necessary amount of solar panel wattage become obsolete when you can afford to just throw a whole great big bunch of watts at the problem. Through slow accretion over time even a penniless hermit can do that, because people are prone to actually throw old solar panels away, incredible as that would have sounded 20 years ago in the era of elaborate tracking racks desperately trying to squeeze the last watt of generating power out of an expensively inadequate panel array over the course of a day.

And that’s important, because even when there’s not a cloud in the sky you never know what air quality is really doing to your generating power. I’m living in the future, baby. It’s Fallout IRL and I feel fine.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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8 Responses to With solar, just a little haze goes a long way.

  1. The Neon Madman says:

    Besides the haze in the air, do you ever have to clean dust off the panels themselves, or does the wind take care of that?

  2. Joel says:

    Yeah, sometimes you have to give the panels a wash. It’s a dusty place. Though the wind does help.

  3. Robert says:

    “arcane eldritch calculations” That’s a great turn of phrase, Joel. Can I steal it? I wonder if it’s like trig; I can do trig (barely). If it isn’t, maybe the local community college has an adult ed class. If bat blood and chalked pentagrams are involved, forget it- I’ll stick with my PV panel bungee-corded to a folding ladder counter weighted with a full 20 lb propane tank.

  4. Desert Rat says:

    Hey Joel, what charge controller do you use, and do you like it well enough?

  5. Joel says:

    It’s a Tristar TS-45 PWM controller. Mine is several years old, and to my surprise still sold.

  6. Ben says:

    Desert Rat, There is nothing wrong with PWM controllers, but MPPT controllers have come way down in price, and will squeeze noticeably more power from your panels.

  7. Joel says:

    I have no beef with MPPT controllers but I think they may have more utility in a larger system than in one like mine. Still several times as expensive, too.

  8. Mark says:

    Would cooling the backs of solar panels with a liquid heat exchanger system

    Increase the effectivity?

    Increase the lifespan?

    Its all academic to me since i live in a gloomy climate. ROI on a solar system here would be 1000 years it seems.

To the stake with the heretic!