Hurricane Solar, Part I

We’ve been experimenting with different off-grid solar power configurations for a while. As I have mentioned in a previous article, power went out for three days in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. This gave us an excellent opportunity to put this experimentation to practical application; nothing like the prospect of losing a freezer full of meat to focus the mind. In this article series, we’re going to discuss the ground-mounted solar system we deployed, some of the tradeoffs we made, and how theory did not match practice in some ways.

As usual with many of our practical applications, we’re going to do this in two pieces. The companion article at contains all the benign technical details and apolitical narrative, while our cover article here will talk about the more self-sufficiency-oriented details and political issues involved. By splitting things up this way, you can give your barely-aware friends and family something helpful but politically harmless to think about with a link to OST, while you and your self-sufficiency enthusiast friends can get the additional details you care about here.

With this in mind, go over to OST and read the information there about this first part. Remember that OST is a kid-friendly site, so keep the comments on the technology and techniques.

Now that you’ve read that information, let’s discuss some of the background behind why we deployed the solar panels and combiner on the ground. As you have read here and here, we are currently faced with a city government we are investigating (who is not exactly delighted about that fact), and a large amount of criminal background activity. This combination of public and private shenanigans is similar to what many of you will experience in the near future, especially in a subdivision environment.

Imagine a future situation in which your subdivision board will not allow solar panels to be mounted, while at the same time you have criminal gangs who are either unafraid of the police, or are actively working hand-in-hand with them. You, caught in this squeeze, can take advantage of the ground-mounted option.

The advantages of this approach are many. First, you get to avoid triggering the hypersensitive natures of your community board by keeping the panels out of view until needed. Second, the secrecy of this approach means that the criminal element doesn’t get to count on stealing your panels in an emergency; they won’t know they are there in advance. Next, this approach protects the panels from the elements. It would be embarrassing to need them after a hurricane, only to discover the hurricane has destroyed them, for example. Finally, a ground-deployed solar array is difficult for onlookers at street level to see, particularly if, as in our case, you let the grass grow up a little for a few days in advance, or scattered some storm debris or parked vehicles between the array and the street. You can also plan vegetation and shrubbery to further conceal the intended array site.

A disadvantage of this approach is that a ground-deployed solar array is easier to steal or damage by simple means. This disadvantage can be overcome somewhat by bringing the array in at night, as we did. This, however, allows more discovery of their existence. Fortunately, you can set up an array like we have in about fifteen to thirty minutes in the morning, and recover them in about the same time in the evening. To achieve these times, you will need to prepare some components in advance. We did not do this, and lost almost the entire first day of solar by not doing so.

That’s it for this installment. We’ll be posting more practical tips soon about this latest exercise.


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5 Comments on "Hurricane Solar, Part I"

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Way back when, one could buy foldable ping-pong tables to allow moving it from the center of the room when not using it. Would a foldable framework for the array, on wheels, with quick disconnects for electrical work? Seems like something that folds into an “M” for inside storage, on flat-free wheels, might be an answer. If there’s no room inside, throw a tarp over it.