Not another fake plug in grid tie solar system…

Update 3/18/2017:

As of last week, the SOLARLIBERATOR.COM website is gone. Considering there has not been a indegogo update in more than a year, I’m calling this one done. :(

 

Every couple of years another plug-in grid tie system is announced with much fanfare (like here and here), and inevitably it ends up being either (best case) overly optimistic vaporware or (worst case) a fraudulent scam.

My friend Augie (who somehow knows about everything new that shows up on the entire Internet) just found the latest one here on Indiegogo

Capture
Solar Liberator claims to be offering a 500 watt grid-tie solar system that you plug-in into an outlet.

I do not know what you will get if you order this item, but I do know that you will not get a 500 watt grid-tie solar system that plugs into an outlet. No way.

First off, I can almost guarantee that no matter what you get, it will not include a 500 watt solar panel. I’ve bought a lot of solar panels – large and small – and I’ve been tracking the various sizes and types for the past 10 years, and there is no such thing as a 500 watt solar panel. There is a good reason for this – a 500 watt solar panel would be so large (about 50 square feet) that you would have to ship it (extremely carefully!) by freight truck which would probably cost as much as the panel itself. So maybe they meant they would send you two 250 watt panels…

The best case scenario is that you will get a Solar-in-Box clone. This seems very unlikely since I have never heard from the Solar Liberator people, and based on their Indiegogo site they do not seem to have a deep understanding about how this stuff actually works.

Maybe a box with a solar panel, a charge controller, and AC charging adapter, a battery, and an inverter tossed in. There are lots of these system currently available, so if this is what you want then just buy it on Amazon today and do not risk giving your $700 to Solar Liberator.

Most likely you will just wait a very long time to find out that there are all kinds of unforeseen design and production problems and you will end up getting nothing (or at least nothing like what you were promised).

How do I know this? There are lots and lots of signals I can point to looking at the pitch page, but the one I want to highlight here is simple – you can not make a safe residential plug in grid-tie system.

If one of the circuits in your house starts drawing more power than the wires on that circuit can safely handle, the breaker (or fuse) turns off the circuit before anything gets hot enough to start a fire….

overload

If you add a solar system that feeds power into an outlet on that circuit, you prevent the breaker from seeing and sensing the overload and cutting power. Now the wires are carrying more current than they can safely handle so they get hot and can start a fire.

no overload

What if I make sure that I never plug anything into that circuit except for the solar panel?

That could technically work because it would be the electrical equivalent of a dedicated circuit, but do you know which outlets in your house are on the same circuit? Are you sure? Even if you do, can you absolutely guarantee that no one will plug something else into the other outlets? For the next 20 years?

This is  is why the National Electric Code (and every local code I know of) require a dedicated breaker for any back-feed power source. (This means that even if they did make the described product  that it could not be eligible for the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.) I am no lover of codes, but this one does make sense.

That is why the design of Solar-in-a-Box is special. It never back feeds into the house wiring, and so all conductors are always protected from overload.

What if I derate the circuit and install a breaker that is smaller to account for the additional power generated by the solar backfeed?

You could do this, but opening up a service panel and swapping out breakers is not a plug-and-play job. If you are willing to open your panel, you can just install a dedicated circuit for a proper (and legal) solar backfeed.

What is the take away message?

If you ordered the Solar Liberator 500W system on Indegogo, you should try to cancel your order and get your money back.

Is there any good news?

The good news is that success of this campaign proves that there is market demand for a plug-in solar system. Maybe it is finally time for someone to mass produce Solar-in-a-Box?

New Questions:

If Solar in a Box is such a good product, why ISN’T it marketing itself through crowd-funding? (new)

I do not have the time or skills to manufacture, distribute, and market it. I’ve instead done everything I can to make it easy for someone who does have the time and the skills to do it. I’ve explicitly not patented anything about it. If you want to mass produce a Solar-In-The-Box design, the only payment I request is the right to purchase the first one off the line!

Its easy to be cynical, but advances are made all the time, and a 500w panel in is not that farfetched, especially with the stepped up R&D and production from China. (new)

According to the dimensions on the campaign page, the 500W panel would be 102”x52”x2.7”. That is 8.5 feet by 4.3 feet. Think about how big that is. Have you ever tried to carry a full sheet of drywall? Well, this solar panel would be bigger than that.

It is also 102” of length and 109” of girth. It would not be shippable by any standard carrier in the USA (USPS, FedEX, or UPS). Shipping problems aside, you would never want to make one that big anyway because it would be extremely large, fragile, and heavy.

You could easily ship two 250W panels for the same effect, but they make it clear though text and photos that this is not what they are offering. This is a very silly issue. To me, it indicates that, at the very least, they have not thought though the simplest practical details of actually manufacturing and distributing such a system.

I believe the reason the campaign has been so successful is that their answers feel authenticate and verifiable, and the technology seems viable, and the team has that feeling of dedication and fervor we all want to believe in. (new)

I agree – unfortunately there is a big difference between feeling authentic and seeming viable and actually being authentic and being viable. Actually making things like this takes a lot of work and effort and research – good sounding marking is not enough. It is not good enough to seem viable when you are taking $350K $412K worth of peoples’ money for a product that you actually have no idea how you will actually make. Keep in mind that Indiegogo does not do anything to vette these projects or try and give people their money back then the projects do not deliver. Indiegogo’s terms of use explicitly say… “Indiegogo does not represent, warrant or guarantee: (i)Perks will be delivered; (ii)Perks will be satisfactory to you”.  If you are one of the people who contributed towards this project, I’d strongly recommend that you try to cancel your contribution because it is extremely unlikely that you will ever get anything like what you expect and were promised.

If there’s a short, the breaker will still trip. (new)

Depends on the short. Most household fires are not caused by zero ohm busbar shorts. Most fires are caused by stuff like a nicked high gauge wire (closing a door on your x-mas tree light cord) or a loose conductor inside an appliance or junction box. Have you personally ever blown a breaker? If so, I bet it was not a zero ohm short – probably a 20-50 amp overload.

But that is not the problem I’d be most worried about – I think the more likely scenario is that someone plugs in a space heater while someone else is blow-drying their hair.  Have you ever blown a breaker in a situation like this? If you had a Solar Liberator or that breaker might not have blown, and you could have had a fire inside your wall instead.

In your example, I could determine which circuit the panel is plugged into and replace the breaker with one with a lower rating. (new)

First off, this would involve opening the service panel. This is not the plug-and-play solution promised and is probably illegal for many people (or at least requires a permit). Plus, if you are willing and able to crack your service panel, then you mind as well just install a proper and legal direct backfeed circuit and save all this hassle.

More importantly, this is a not real world solution since you would need some way make sure that the plug coming from the solar system could only ever get plugged into a derated circuit. That would mean inventing a brand new kind of plug for the solar system that would be rejected by a normal receptacle. You’d need to get this new plug type listed and manufactured and added to every electrical code in the county. Now you’d need to install this new kind of receptacle on the drated circuit. Essentially you are talking about effectively creating a dedicated circuit- just doing it a harder and impractical way. Again, this is not a plug-and-play solution and ends up being harder than just dropping a proper dedicated backfeed.

Keep in mind that codes and listings are all about making products failsafe in normal use case by people who do not know the codes. A 20A plug is designed so that it physically can not fit into a 15A receptacle because that could cause an overload. A standard prong plug means “the thing that is connected to this plug only draws power”.  You cannot get UL listing for any device that who’s safety depends on people never accidentally plugging a normal plug into a normal socket.

Also, the Solar Liberator says you can daisy chain up to 4 panels of 500 watts each. That’s a peak current of 16 amps. What this means is that you are going to overload a standard household NEMA 1-15 or 5-15 outlet BY DEFAULT just by plugging in on a sunny day. I know that you are then going to say that you could put a NEMA 1-20 plug on the solar thing. This is not what is shown in their pictures or mentioned in the text (“For grid-tie- Just plug into a wall socket!”) – clearly not something they even thought about.

What is your technical expertise/background, if you dont mind my asking? i am not trying to be snarky here (new)

I own a 10 acre, 25kw grid tie solar farm (huge at the time is was commissioned), I was amazed at how hard and expensive the process to install it was. My first thought was to make a plug-in grid-tie system like what Solar Liberator claims to be, but after doing a little research I discovered that it is impossible to make a safe and legal plug-in grid tie system. This means that the Solar Liberator founders either (1) did not do even cursory research or prototyping before listing the product they claim to be able to make, or (2) they know it is not possible and have no intention of ever producing it.  Either way the people who are contributing to them will like likely be disappointed with the outcome.

52 comments

  1. Bill

    One of my neighbors bought a 1.7kw plug and play system from Amazon and it came a few months back and it appears to work. All he did was plug it into a dedicated 20 watt outlet. His bill went down by 1/3, I have seen the bills as it shows your usage over time. It did cost $3000 for it, but i calculated the ROI to be about 4 years as it reduced his usage of the 35 cent per hour tier to 0. That calc is without any type of rebate. I believe he is only getting about 1.5 kw from the 1.7 system a noon, but that is pretty close to what was advertised. You might want to look into what you wrote here. Now its possible the company you mentioned is a scam, I think the name of the company was plugged solar or something close to that.

  2. WIll

    I just searched ‘plug in solar’ on amazon.com and it came up with three kits, even one available w/Prime shipping. So clearly they are available if I can find some with my first search on amazon.com

    In some states they were blocking the 110v versions, so they worked around that with 220v versions.

    For $700 I would gladly test amazon on this one :)

    • bigjosh2

      So, searching at Amazon for “plug in solar” I get two products.

      The first is the Readymade Solar Power Kit. Looking at the photos and description, you are getting a standard 235 watt panel, a micro inverter, and some wires. The brand of the panel is not specified or shown, but if it is one of the normal major brands then it will be very high quality. The micro inverter looks like an Enecsys Single. This is a very high quality inverter and has some amazing technology in it. So, we have here a (likely) high quality panel and UL listed paired with an (almost certainly) high quality and UL listed inverter – what’s the problem? Well, UL listing is not a transitive property. Connecting together two safe and UL listed products does NOT make a safe and UL listed system. In fact, if you look at the 1st photo in the listing, the caption carefully states “UL listed components” and NOT “UL LISTED” because UL would likely sue them for misuse of the label if they said otherwise. In fact, UL specifically states on their website

      If we are using all Recognized Components, does our product automatically become UL Listed?

      A UL evaluation of a complete product to the applicable UL Standard is needed to determine how these components function as a system in your end product. The use of Recognized Components reduces the complexity of the evaluation and can save you time and money.

      In this case, the fact that they are using UL listed components does not change any of the arguments made above. You can not safely backfeed power into a typical residential AC reciprocal no matter what components you use.

      The 2nd system is the PluggedSolar Grid Tie Inverter. Again, looking at the photos and description, you are getting a minimum of 4 non-specified solar panels and what looks like a standard KLINE SunTeams 1500 inverter box. There is also a junction box that has the output of the inverter on one side and what looks like a standard orange extension cord on the other side. My guess is that those are simple connected with wire nuts or a block inside that box, maybe with a disconnect switch. Again, no magic here. By connecting a standard 120VAC plug to the OUTPUT side of an inverter, you have made a system that backfeeds power into a residential receptacle that is connected to a standard branch circuit that may have other receptacles on it, and therefore is potentially a fire hazard.

      So, what are the real risks to using these devices? The 1st unit only generates a maximum of 225 watts. This is not a lot of power. Assuming you have decent wiring in your house, you probable are within the safety margin and it is likely that the worst thing that might happen is that you’ll get an unpleasant visit from your local building inspector or power company telling you that you can’t use the system. The 2nd system, however, at 1.5KW does represent a real safety risk. That is 12.5 amps from the inverter plus 20 amps from a standard branch breaker would give a potential of of 32 amps available, which could easily cause flame on a standard 18 gauge lamp cord. Again, you can say “well, what are the chances…”, but if you have _ever_ blown a fuse in your house, then the chances that you need over current protection are 100%.

      And again, I want to stress that I love what these people are trying to do and I am sure that they are just trying to help people avoid some truly frustrating problems with trying to install solar, but these problems are harder than just splicing a plug onto the output of an inverter.

      • Edward Dijeau

        Many homes have a dedicated Cloths washer or Laundry 20 anp circuit just for the cloths washer in the Garage. If you pluged your inverter into that circuit and then pluged in the cloths washer into a breaker protected 15 or 20 amp surge protector, you would use up ALL of the available plugs (2) on that circuit and protect the cloths washer form overcurrent. The same with the 220 volt 30 amp dryer circuit that has only one plug if you used a protected 30 amp splitter with dual overcurrent protection commonly found or construction sites for “Tempower” distribution. The problem is with local Electrical fire codes codes and utility back feed contracts that require a City permit. Most Cities take 5 to 8 years to adopt the latest codes that include new technowlegy. The 2011 NEC is now in use in most cities, but, some are still using the 2006 NEC codes and the 2016 NEC is going to come out soon. If someone could get a UL approved system with Plug and Play and get it into the 2016 NEC with all the grounding, live part amd safty plug NEMA approved plugs, we could see a revolution in home power. Unfortuatly, with everybody having large investments in our current infrastructue of power producers and utilities and billions of dollars invested, they would want to be sure of their financial returns would still be met and they will block any program or system that limits those financial returns. If it were not for Federal mandates, we would not even have home, on grid, solar when you think of the 360Volt DC power comming off most roofs that is always present durring daylight hours and can hamper firemen with posable electrocution as they move accross your roof to put out a fire in the attic. The new panel mounted micro inverters lower the potential when connected to the grid to 240 volts but after the disconect is pulled,on the system, disconecting it from the grid, the internal circutry of the micro invert makes the potential 0 volts and is safer than series wired master grid inverters. Because the 220 Volts is what you still have when connected, Panel mounted micro inverters still need to get a City Permit because the Voltage is greater thn 50 Volts. Now if you could bring down only 18 volts or 36 volts to a plug and play UL system, the voltage potential would be less than 50 volts at all times and I, as an Inside Wireman Electrican, concidder that the safest of all systems.

          • bigjosh2

            Plug-and-play means different things to different people! To most normal people, it means that you plug something into your existing standard household socket… and it plays (works). That is NOT what it means to DOE and the Fraunhofer Institute. They are defining standards for a new type of proprietary meter socket that can only be installed by the utility that could potentially be used as an interconnection demarkation point. So, while there is a “plug” (proprietary socket) and it will “play” (facilitate utility interconnection), it is not at all related to the consumer “plug-and-play” that Solar-In-A-Box and Solar Liberator and Orison are addressing.

        • bigjosh2

          All true. Keep in mind that with lower voltage comes higher current for the Same amount of power, so even at 36 volts you need unreasonably thick wires to carry a useful amount of power. That is why people run solar loops at 360+ volts- you get to use much thinner (cheaper) wires.

          • Edward Dijeau

            To Connect my 500 Watt MPPT solar charge controler, that was 50 feet away from my roof top Solar panels, the manufaturrer recomended 1-0 AWG copper wire for 18 volt to 12 volt opperation. I installed #1 AWG and incresed my voltage to 36 volts to make the MPPT charge contoler more efficient and have less voltage drop and save some money on the copper. People, that are “off grid”, know that #2 copper wire and larger is the way to distribute low voltage and they considder that copper cost into their instalation. Copper wire will last longer than the solar system and can be re-used on the next system. Cheaper may not be better. Thomas Edison wanted to use DC because it was safer, had no EMF to reduce the current capacity but just resistance and have a Power Plant on every corner and now that vision might be comming true with DC power on every roof. It is the Utilities that makes us change it to AC and higher voltages to save them money on copper wire and trasmit power hundreds of miles at super high voltages. Everything can be manufactured to run on DC Current. Look at RV owners and Sail Boat owners with their DC 12 and 24 volt systems. You can buy everything from Refrigerators to TVs that run on 12 Volt DC. They cost more because of the lower quantities they produce but as China and the USA lead the way to rooftop Solar and DC off grid power, we could see more of a swing, in residential, to DC secondary wireing and distribution systems. I uae a lot of 12 volt LED high output lighting now becuase there is no loss from converting it to AC.

          • bigjosh2

            (AC versus DC) and (low voltage versus high voltage) are two different and only sometimes related choices. You can have high voltage DC, and low voltage AC, or any other combination and all high pros and cons.

            As far as voltages goes, certainly the longer your wire needs to be, then the more attractive high voltage gets. In your case where you only need to get 500W across 50 feet, low voltage is fine but I have a 25kW system thousands of feet of wire so low voltage is just not viable for financial and even practical reasons. Imagine 2,000 feet of 8×1000 kcmill conductors- it would cost $100,000+ and you’d need a crane to pick it up off the ground! At 380 volts DC, I can instead use a single spool of normal, cheap, easy to handle conductor.

            As far as AC versus DC goes, if most of your loads are DC and match your output voltage, then having everything DC is simpler and saves some conversion losses. Realistically most people have 120V AC loads so they are going to need an inverter. Luckily newer inverters are very efficient so the conversion losses are not so bad.

  3. EricR

    So how many patents do you have under your name? When an article demeans the efforts of others without addressing the innovation issue it bounces back into bad karma. If you read the updates from Solar Liberator, you could have learned that they figured the size issue very quickly and addressed it by switching to two 250watt panels or $300, adding 1kw of batteries and having a microinverter and patentable control software. Will they be able to address the overloading? Why not? If I had to add a dedicated 20A service, that is a small price to pay than having to pay 80-90% costs of panels to just install them

    • bigjosh2

      So how many patents do you have under your name?
      Luckily I only have one, and I only got it because investors insisted on it- but that is a topic for another article!

      When an article demeans the efforts of others without addressing the innovation issue it bounces back into bad karma.
      My goal was not to demean anyone. My goal was to try to help people avoid spending $700+ on a product that I do not believe they will ever receive.

      I love innovation and spend a good part of each day trying to help people innovate. Identifying a well known problem and then writing a page of text (with some Photoshopped photos) promising to solve that problem without even understanding why the problem is a problem is marketing, not innovation.

      If you read the updates from Solar Liberator, you could have learned that they figured the size issue very quickly and addressed it
      Again, I used the panel size issue simply to illustrate that they had never even attempted to build anything like what they were claiming they could build. Time has shown this to be true.

      If I had to add a dedicated 20A service, that is a small price to pay than having to pay 80-90% costs of panels to just install them
      Perhaps, but that is a very different product- and a product that is already widely available from reputable sources. If they were selling a standard hardwired grid-tie solar package, then they should have said so. “Connecting the 500W Solar Liberator to your home is as simple as plugging it into a wall socket.” Their words, not mine. This is what they promised, and I think this is what most people who backed the campaign thought they were going to get. I just was trying to explain why people who expected to get what was promised would be disappointed.

  4. faileure

    Same here, I think my $79 went awol :) I never even considered their grid thingies, I wanted the small portable one for outings.

  5. fromport

    Currently all negative comments are being removed almost daily.
    They still haven’t shown any hardware. I finally got them to the point where they say they will refund (seeing is believing) because they are not able to meet the time frame they have given for that (sounds familiar ?)
    Made a little posting on it here: http://pastebin.com/3FVfG6CK

  6. Brian

    I know this is old but the plug in solar system i have installed tells you to have a dedicated line installed for it by an electrician and they help you with the paper work to get the permits and inspections done so that everything is completely legit with the electric company and city.

    • bigjosh2

      I think to most people, “plug-in” means that you buy it, take it home, and plug it in. This is certainly what the Solar Liberator people were pitching. Once you start installing dedicated breakers and applying for permits, you’ve lost a lot of potential users.

    • bigjosh2

      Hmmm… from reading the campaign, it is not at all clear what this even does. It has a battery and you plug it in, but how do you get power out of it? Do you plug loads into the unit? Does it back-feed power into the circuit? Just doesn’t say. In the video he says that when there is a power failure, all the circuits will go out except the one with the unit on it. I can’t imagine how this would work with a normal breaker panels since back-feeding into any one circuit would energize the bus bar. Really need more lots more info, but two things I can say for sure…

      1. If it back-feeds power, then either it is not plug and play or it can not be UL approved (or safe or legal)
      2. It is just a battery, which to me is solving the wrong problem. I want to reduce dependency on the grid by making power, not increase dependency on the grid by pulling even more than I used to (no battery is 100% efficient).

      There are certainly use cases for having grid-tied batteries, but they mostly solve a regulatory problem by shifting loads to times when rates are lower – even though this means you use more grid power in total. They can also give you some run-time in the case of a grid failure (backup). These are exactly the needs that the Tesla Powerwall aims to fill, but note that (1) nobody on earth can build better or cheaper high power battery packs than Tesla right now (which is why they are moving into this business), and (2) Tesla packs are not plug and play (they only can only be installed by a specially trained electrician).

      But again, I’d like to stress that storing solar power in a battery during the day so you can use it at night is the wrong solution. Grid power is cheap and plentiful and clean at night, and is expensive and scarce and dirty in the afternoon on sunny days – exactly when solar hits peak output (especially if you aim your panels to maximize it). If you want to make the world a better place (burn less fossil fuel), then you should be dumping your solar onto the gird when the gird needs it most, not inefficiently storing it in giant toxic batteries so you can then use it at night.

      • Edward Dijeau

        Grid Power, in California, is not cheap. A 4 tiered Residential
        30 day billing system For 800 kWh With Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)
        goes as follows:
        Tier 1 Usage 327.00 kWh @ $0.18151 = $ 59.35
        Tier 2 Usage 98.10 kWh @ $0.21546 = $ 21.14
        Tier 3 Usage 228.90 kWh @ $0.27389 = $ 62.69
        Tier 4 Usage 146.00 kWh @ $0.34876 = $ 50.92
        ________________________________________________
        TOTAL ELECTRICAL CHARGES = $ 194.10
        $194.10 divided by 800 kWh Equals 24 Cents per kWh.
        Every additional kWH is about 35 cents per kWh. This
        is double the National average. Before my “Off Grid” Solar,
        My average monthly usage was 1250 Kwh and would
        cost me today $ 350.97 for that much usage. Today,
        with off grid Battery solar, my 650 kWh utility usage
        costs $141.99. A savings of $ 208.98 per month on
        a 3,000 watt set of Solar panels. That is a return
        of $2,500.00 a year on a $ 10,500.00 investment after
        the Federal Tax Credit. If you allow for lead Acid
        Battery replacemt of $500.00 per year, you still have a
        $2,000.00 a year return for 25 years or a $40,000.00
        return on your money after deducting the cost of the
        panels and replacement batteries over that period.

        • bigjosh2

          You are absolutely correct that grid power in Ca is not cheap, but that is not an argument for batteries. At best it is an argument for using less grid power. With batteries, you always get out less power than you put in, so you end using net more power than you would have without the batteries to cover the losses. Much better grid-tie and make power when you make it, and use power when you use it. Besides being less efficient, batteries also cost money and take up space and hard hard to dispose of, so better ot not buy them in the first place- especially if they make you worse off.

          All that ignores that fact that PG&E has time of day tariffs, so the power that you are using to charge your battery during the day is much more expensive than the power you are offsetting at night. Again, much better to sell expensive power into the grid when your solar is making more than you can use during the day, and then draw cheap (and clean) power back from the grid at night.

          While your off-grid solar system might be a good investment compared to no solar, I think if you run the numbers comparing your off-grid to a grid-tied system of the same cost, then you’d find the grid-tied system has an even better ROI. Have you run that calculation (making sure to include the time of use tariff)?

          • Edward Dijeau

            I am retired and my greatest usage IS durring the daylight hours from 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM. That is when we need Air Conditioning and heat durring the day. My wife will not wash cloths at Midnight and we cook at 5:00 PM not a 10:00 PM so we would elect NOT to be on “time of day” plus, it would be COAL or Natural Gas that would generate our electricity at night nor renewables. PG&E would buy my Electricity at the Lowest Teir then sell it to my next door neighbor for the Highest Tier instantly. Soon, the infrastructure Charges, that are 50% of Generation and delivery tariffs, will be charged to all who sell Power to PG&E. Their rate increses, durring lower fuel costs, proves that they need more money for their infrastructurem, that is not being paid for by those creating their owm power. This is hurting non-solar customers who now must share those costs and soon the other shoe will fall on those who have signed the “On Grid Agreement” they force you to sign. PG&E will either deduct the infrastructure charges from electricty they get from you or they will install a second METER to Buy from you, so your gemerated Energy wiil count toward the “renewable Energy mandate”. they will then buy your power for one half of the going rate. A 30 % reduction from Batteries is better than a 50% reduction and fees from the utility. With MPPT Charge controlers you can reduce the loss to 15% to 20%. When you put your solar into a rechargable automobile, you are going into batteries in that automobile, but, your driving is polution and fuel cost free, if you have solar. Most off grid systems use batteries only to regulate the DC for inverter usage anyway durring the day so the only loss is for that nighttime usage which is only 30% of the usage. I have been running like this for 6 years. Yes, on grid would be cheaper but not cleaner today, but, what about tomarrow? How much would it cost to go “off grid” when the Utilites get their revenge?

          • Edward Dijeau

            One more thing. My son has a 12,000 watt solar panel on grid system and every April 1st, they buy any balance of unused power for $0.05 per kWr even though their lowest tier is $0.18 so he gets a 70% reduction from the utility so he is better switching to electric heating to burn up the credits before April 1st rather than being paid such a low sum. The only way to beat the utility is to not be on it.

          • Edward Dijeau

            More About batteries. California has a “Battery Deposit Fee” that is collected at the time of sale and any retailer but take back ant lead acid batteres and refund that fee or a traded in battery must be accepted in lue of the fee. $2,500.00 dolars for a 5 year warentee grid tied inverter that must have a $350.00 permit and $500.00 contractor instalation or $2,500.00 for 3,000 amp hours of lead acid bateries with no city permit or electrical contractor required plus power even when the GRID Goes Down. A dual system would be nice, but, they charge a premium for those systems of 300% of either system alone.

        • Edward Dijeau

          PG&E rate update 03-01-2016 for 30 days and 800 KWHr
          Tier i of 327.0 KWHr X .18151 per KWHr = $59.35
          Tier 2 of 98.10 KWHr X .25444 per KWHr = $24.96
          Tier 3 of 228.9 KWHr X .25444 per KWHr = $58.24
          Tier 4 of 146.0 KWHr X .37442 per KWHr = $54.67
          ____________________________________________
          Total Monthly bill for 800 KWHr = $192.22

      • Edward Dijeau

        In 2007, the break down on Energy purchased and infrastructure costs was 52% for the energy ans 48% for infrastructure. Today in 2016, the breakdown is 43% for energy and 57% for infrastructure. People using solar power from their roof do not contribute, through net metering, to the infrustructure that is required to run a utility or a business. When less than 1% of their power comes from roof top power, they just pass the costs to others with higher rates. In California, we have a Renewable mandate that will require 50% of all the power comming from renewables and they only way to count the rooftop solar as part of the mandate will be to meter it. When that happens, the infrastructure costs will be assessed and if they deduct the current 57%, you will be paid only the 43% of the metered amount and you will buy it back at 100%. When Net metering goes away, it will take 18 years instead of the current 7 years to earn back your investmeny in solar. Nevada just implimented a similar plan and solar lease companies are leaving Nevada.Off grid solar wil not be metered and you will keep 100% of what you make and use imeadiatly and 70% of what you store to batteries. On GRID solar is only worth it when you have Net Metering.

  7. Question

    yes looks like they claim some overload protection to avoid the 22amp spike you show – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ericclifton/orison-rethink-the-power-of-energy/description , (details confidential), but magically can also power the circuit during an outage, i.e. power just stuff on the circuit without any of this power going back to grid during an outage. must be some very clever physics since clearly your aged post above is not up to date with UL standards that allow magical non-wiring protection?

    • bigjosh2

      As far as I know, UL has not made any changes recently that would permit systems that rely on magical or mystical properties for safe operation! :)
      (Note however that there is an un-written exemption for power transmitted via metaphysical perturbations in the Luminiferous aether).

      • Question

        But if the aether is quantum mechanical surely Michelson-Morley needs revisiting? as concluded no aether before even the notion of virtual particles popping into existence was needed.

  8. Question

    e.g. FAQ – How does Orison prevent energy backflow onto the grid?
    In everyday use, Orison actively monitors the electricity being used and only discharges that amount to ensure that no energy is back flowed onto the grid. During grid disruptions, Orison isolates the circuit it is plugged into to ensure all of your stored energy is available for your use and none is sent back to the grid. No wiring modification is required.

    • bigjosh2

      Hmmm… Not sure what that actually means. Monitors what electricity? Where? They should read the simple explanation above as to why this is not possible before plugging in the forthcoming prototype!

      • Question

        Looks like they have a clever method (Orison positively and reliably self-islands the circuit within your home or office that they are attached to and then provides high quality AC electricity to the loads on those circuits. As stated in our FAQ’s (http://orison.energy/faq) and elsewhere, this self-islanding is accomplished by reliably and safely tripping the circuit breaker, which can act as a “Disconnecting Means” under the NEC.) https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ericclifton/orison-rethink-the-power-of-energy/comments seems like a clver method – Orison does not require a traditional automatic disconnect like you would see with a Solar PV system. Orison employs an innovative approach to self-islanding the circuit, to ensure that electricity never flows beyond the dedicated circuit it is plugged into and onto the disabled grid during a blackout. During a grid power outage, each Orison positively and reliably self-islands the circuit within your home or office that they are attached to and then provides high quality AC electricity to the loads on those circuits. As stated in our FAQ’s (http://orison.energy/faq) and elsewhere, this self-islanding is accomplished by reliably and safely tripping the circuit breaker, which can act as a “Disconnecting Means” under the NEC. – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/ericclifton/orison-rethink-the-power-of-energy/comments.

        [edited to combine 2 comments into one long one -josh]

        • bigjosh2

          The backup-power function is really completely unrelated to the primary power leveling function, but I do not think they can legal or safely do this either. The demo video shows that they can remotely blow a breaker.

          I do not think there is a way to reliably (much less safely or legally) blow a standard breaker *after* the grid power has failed. Most grid outages show up at the breaker panel as an open circuit condition. In this case, even if you were to send a huge voltage spike down the line, there would be no current flowing though the breaker’s bimetallic actuator, so the breaker would not trip (not to mention that it would be very illegal and dangerous to send power into an grid-connected circuit during an outage). In the rare case of a failure that creates a short across the utility side of the service (like crossed transmission lines), the last thing you’d ever want to do would be to send power back into the short since you could kill someone (and it would also be super illegal). Note that it might be possible to remotely blow some less common breaker types like AFCI and GFCI under very specific circumstances, but would not be compatible with their “plug into any household outlet” claim and definitely still not safe or legal.

          Ok, so seems like there is no way to blow the breaker and create the island *after* power has already failed. What if we just blow the breaker *before* the power failure by overloading it? Easy right? You do not need all those wires and batteries and transformers, you can just drop a coin into a light socket and the connected breaker will blow!

          First the biggest problem – it requires you to know the future! “But they are going to use advanced algorithms and monitoring and IOT and big data to know that an outage is imminent and blow the breaker!” This sounds very fancy, but even the utility can not reliably predict outages before they happen. Whatever trick Orison plans on using to decide when to blow the breaker is likely to cause more outages than it remedies. Keep in mind that once they blow that breaker, you must *manually* go to the panel and reset it to restore power to the connected circuit. This means that if they have even a single false positive, you will have an actual power loss on the circuit when the Orison battery runs down, where you would have had continuous power if you did not have the Orison.

          Let’s say that google makes a 100% accurate future prediction engine available and it is able to predict power outages with 0 false negatives (this is a joke, by the way)- we are still completely ignoring the whole issue of *intentionally* overloading a breaker, which sounds like a cool solution to islanding a circuit but is no way safe or legal or a good idea. There are lots and lots of reasons why you would not want to do this (and why UL would never certify a product that did), but you can read this IEEE report on circuit breaker failure rates and modes to get started.

          I could go on and on about why Orison’s plug-and-play backup feature can’t ship, but hopefully these simple top-level arguments are end the argument. These are all problem that you would encounter pretty early in prototyping a system like this, which makes me thing that Orison has never actually built and testing a working functional prototype with either the back-feed power feature or the backup-power feature, must less both. I stand by my prediction that Orison can not ship a safe and legal product that can back feed power into a household outlet.

          • Edward Dijeau

            The answer would be a transfer an “automatic transfer switch” like those used for industrial and home 10K or larger back up generators. The utility lines are first disconected, then the Generator is started then after 10 seconds. to allow the generator to come to full power, the transfewr to the generator is compleated by closing the circuit to the building loads. When the utility comes back on, the transfer is an AC Cycle matched after one minute and an instantanious transfer back to the grid and then the generator is stopped after one minute afer that in caes the grid goes down again. Utilities will try three times to “Blow the line clear” with Three “Hot Starts” through back-up transformers and lines and running for the extra minute will make sure the lines hold before giving up and sending out the repair crews. This would be a $1,500 add on to the service panels for any back up system and would require permits and electrical inspection. If you had more than one unit, they would have to comunicate to give the same exact frequecy so they would not blow each other out one the grid master signal went down. A single large battery/solar system with grid to solar transfer swich would be the answer becuse ther is only one unit going to both a phase and b phase in the home just as a back up generator does. They already make UPS units that can transfer loads durring “Black Outs” that work outside of the homes wireing so why not use those to charge up during the day and then transfer to there batteries with larger storage batteries addtached? The batteries could also be charged directly from the 12 volt or 24 volt solar panels when the grid is down for any length of time. A $ 10.00 time clock could automaticly transfer at night thern again in the morning so you would use as little grid power as possible plus you have “Black Out ” protection. I use this sytem and I was watching TV one night and wilh all my table lamps, electronics and landscpe slighting on the UPS system, I did not even know we had a black out untill my wife came out and said the bathroom overhead light and fan shut off and wanted to know what was wrong. The power came back on in 20 minutes so I did not have to switch my “Manual transfer switch” and start my back up generator.

          • bigjosh2

            Of course there are *many* safe and legal ways to isolate circuits for backup power – but not by plugging something into a household outlet on that circuit.

  9. Question

    e.g. How does Orison prevent wiring overload and fires without involving electricians? All of our products will be UL certified and will not allow excessive current in wiring. This technology is unique to Orison and forms part of our competitive advantage so we cannot disclose details at this time. We look forward to making a white paper available in the future.

    • bigjosh2

      That is not a helpful answer, and in today’s age of Provisional Patents, anyone who is keeping the details secret of something they are actively selling either (1) has not figured out how it will work well enough to write a 1 page provisional patent application on it, or (2) does not think the idea is valuable enough to spend the $70 fee.

    • bigjosh2

      Double yikes! The site claims a peak output power of 3.5kW. That means they would be pumping almost 30 amps into the attached circuit. Most residential circuits in the US are 15-20 amps. They don’t even need any of the scenarios posed above – they can handily overload a an isolated circuit all by themselves just by plugging the thing in!
      …Ok, of course I know that they would never dump 30 amps into a home receptacle, but that’s what the page says (in different words). Really this is just an indication that they have not thought through the details of this product. If take peoples’ hard earned $1,200 then you should have at least thought about this stuff…

      • Edward Dijeau

        Unless it is a 220 Volt output that plugs directly into a 20 Amp 220 volt receptical. (good for 4,800 watts) Most Garages have a 220 Volt 30 Amp dryer receptical that could be used without tampering with the main panel or house wireing. A wye #10 AWG,ane Male, two female adaper would do the job and even though they make these for Construction Generator power distribution, the plugs are wrong for the 3 wire dryer cord supplied with but not required by Dryer Manufaturers. They use a NEMA twist lock 3 wire 220Volt with Ground configuration. There is nothing wrong with changing from one dryer 3 wire 30 Amp cord and cap the dryer receptical to one 30 Amp of the NEMA approved, UL approved sytem to make it work. A dryer is running at 4,000 watts and if you put a 30 amp fuse in the line going to the dryer, the dryer and wire feeding the dryer would be protected as per the NEC.

        • Question

          site implies you simply plug several of these into different sockets in family room, and no need to change a fuse or anything electrical ‘plug and play’ or ‘plug and pray’ if they mean orison literally means pray.

          But if 22-30amp pumped into household circuit, seems their is an internal protection that will only deliver power when devices are on?, so current is self-protected. – but somehow magically it requires no change to household wiring, meaning that the circuit voltage of 220volts at the consumer unit is not an issue when grid is down or for the maintenance team working to put the lines back up when an ice-storm tree falls on the line knocking out grid but leaving the 30amp device on?

          • Edward Dijeau

            IF these units had setable time clocks that would charge 24 volts of battery durring the day then pump back 300 Watts at night into your house or on the grid, then you would put in enough to supply the total nominal wattage for your housholds nightitme use. You would still send back any excess out of that 300 watts to the grid at night building up grid credits and it would re-charge automaticly when the time clock hits the daytime set point. Rain or shine, these units would charge off either your solar, wind or grid because they are just a standard charger, like those on a 24 Volt 1500 MA UPS, but instead of pluging lights or appliances into the UPS, this backfeeds the house and/or Grid until empty. Unlike using a UPS that supplies back up power when the grid is OFF. These would not work without a Grid sin wave form present. A cheaper way to do the same thing is put a timeclock or remote switch ahead of the line to a UPS and let it charge up durring the day from your solar then switch over to battery UPS power at night. You could have one at each device you wish to power at night and rate it for the load. you could also replace the 8 amp hour battery with a 35 amp hour external sealed battery for extended run times.
            I use UPS untits pluged into 110 volt outlets through a remote controled switching device that can switch ALL my units from Grid power to battery power with the push of a button. All the UPS units then have a #6 AWG THHN pair tieing them together to my 5,000 amp hour outdoor battery bank with 15 to 30 amp fuzes in line depending on the size and load of the UPS. The APC UPS has a Cold Start Feature and you can turn off the internal alarms when you switch off the grid power.

  10. Jeremy

    Has anyone seen or looked into the plug & play stealth 2.0 panels that are sold by Plug and Play Solar? Here is the website that displays the product information http://plugandplaysolarkits.com/product/. They say that it is eligible for the 30% tax credit, you can just plug it into a standard house outlet, that you can connect up to six of them together at one time. Is this product safe or do we need to worry about what was mentioned in this article about overloading the circuit and the breaker not catching it and causing a fire?

    • Edward Dijeau

      CE and ROHS Certification on these devices means they do everything they say they can do safely and are approved in Europe and Asia, BUT, they are not approved in Australia or the USA unless they can get their national Certification, Like “Underwriters laboritories” (UL) in the USA to Certify them here. The NEC “National Electrical Code” And NEMA “National Electrical manufaturers Association” to also test and approve them here in the USA.
      There have been a few who have bothered to get UL approval but it is the fact a dedicated circuit with it’s own properly sized breaker is not required to plug a unit in that misuse can occure and approval is not given. If a dedicated outlet was installed and a plug attatched to the unit that could not be pluged in anywhere else in th home, Like the re-charging plugs on electric cars, then you could possibly have a “plug and Play”. They make specialized cord caps that have a protective retractable cover that keeps fingers from touchong the male prongs. If you changed out the 20 amp washing machine duplex receptical to an approved “plug and play” GFI and internal breaker for the washing machine on one half and the specilaized NEMA certified “Solar Receptical” , then you could possibly get local building codes to allow these devices. Tesla Electric cars have said you could posibly someday use the specialized receptical they use to back-feed your home for power durring power outages but I have yet seen how they would do it without a transfer switch to take the home off the grid. This would reqire the changing out of an “existing Receptical” but that does not require a permit to install just like changing out a dishwasher. This is not exactly a “plug an Play” on a home without the specialized plug already in the home but just like the code chnged to require a ” 30 amp 220volt Dryer plug and a 20 Amp Dishwasher and disposal plug, this could be in the code for all new homes…..A 20 amp 4 wire NEMA PV power Plug for the 120/240 volts our homes realy use.
      There is one company that has an “ADD-on” current coil that you put over one of your 220volt leads betwean your meter and the distribution box that checks the direction of current flow and throtles back the inverter if any power starts going onto the grid. Since most of the rest of the world is a strait 220 volts, this works fine but we in the USA have a 120/240 system with a center tap neutral. labeled A phase and B phase, they are not always balanced as loads can be on either one. A dual current coil and dual 120volt modulated output would keep all the power within the home without showing any backflow current going to the grid. The problem is, you waste the energy that your solar panels could be producing. What if you could instead “divert” the output to charge batteries durring the day then at night tap into those batteries untill they are depleated to 30% charge?

  11. John

    Sir, whatever you are saying about plug and play solar is just beyond me. People just want what’s easy to use, and what works, and that doesn’t cost them an arm and leg. Beyond this people don’t have the time for it. Whoever makes what they want, and works, people will buy if it’s costs are reasonable, and it lasts and has no problems. Plug and play solar will have to fit these requirements, Jsav.

    • bigjosh2

      Agreed, but Solar Liberator is not this product. It does not work and is not easy to use because, well, it doe snot exist. It is just a marking plot to get peoples’ money – which it did quite well.

  12. Glenn

    My electric panel has an outlet for plugging in a generator. (I would have to turn off the main to prevent energizing the grid in that case.) Since this plug directly inputs to the panel, it should be safe for plug-in solar?

    • bigjosh2

      You can’t plug in Solar Liberator… because it does not exist. It is more than 2 years past their promised delivery date and the company has not shipped anything and never will.

      If you have an outlet that is connected directly to your panel and that outlet is normally energized with utility power, then you could in theory add a plug connector to a normal solar grid-tie inverter and then plug that into the plug as long as the total current that the inverter can produce is less than the rated power for the outlet. But you should not do this because it is likely illegal where you live and generally a bad idea to have things that make power connected to plugs.

  13. atkulp

    This is a great post, but have you considered rewriting/updating it based on newer products? I recently Kickstarted Legion Solar’s product (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/plxdevices/legion-solar-a-better-way-to-energy-independence). It’s another grid-tie system, no batteries. It sounds like it would have the same problem if it’s not on a dedicated circut, but unlike Solar Liberator, I have my kit! It arrived on time (400W). I have it plugged in now to a dedicated outdoor outlet (which I can easily disconnect if I wanted to plug in something different).

    Anyway, I just came across your post and wonder if newer products would change anything in what you said in 2014.

    Thanks!

    • bigjosh2

      Here is the innovative Legion DYI Plug-and-Play Solar Micro-Inverter LS-260I
      Legion Solar Micro-Inverter LS-260I

      Here is your grandfather’s Remron AC Grid Tie Solar Micro-Inverter WVC 295
      remon  MICRO INVERTER

      See any resemblance?

      So how does Legion Solar take an industry standard grid tie inverter and magically convert it into an innovative “easy-to-install plug-and-play” solar solution? It takes 3 steps…

      1. Cover the Remon factory nameplate with a Legion Solar sticker.
      2. Mark up the cost significantly (you can buy these inverters without the Legion sticker for about $80 on ebay compared to Legion’s $119 price tag).
      3. Also sell a jury-rigged patch cable that connects the grid tie output from the inverter to a household wall socket.

      Most of the magic happens in step 3. Note that you can make the same magic happen yourself by cutting the plug off the end of an extension cord with some scissors, stripping the wire, and jamming the wire ends into the output of any normal grid tie inverter.

      So why don’t all grid tie inverters just come with normal plugs instead of those pain-in-the-ass connectors? They could save us all the hassle of cutting up and jamming in our extension cords!

      It is because you cannot legally and safely backfeed power into a normal household outlet. No amount of cable hacking can change this. There is a reason that inverters (and any device that can backfeed power) comes with a connector that does not fit into a household outlet, and it is not because someone gets a kickback on chopped up extension cords.

      Any device that backfeeds power into a household outlet will have all the same fundamental problems listed above. Nothing has changed since 2014.

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