The Hack My Solar Podcast



Off Grid Solutions for an On Grid World


  • Battery Storage vs. Peaking Plants

    Battery Storage vs. Peaking Plants

    21/09/2018 Duration: 13min

    Join us today as we discuss Battery Storage vs. Peaking Plants. Peaking plants are power generation facilities that come on only to handle the highest peak loads demanded on the grid. They are meant to quickly ramp up and produce only during the times when the deman is higher than all other generation components can handle. They are very expensive so today we are going to talk about when and how Battery Storage Technology could make them obsolete. At the same time we will talk about the challenges that battery technology will have, even when their cost makes them viable as utility load shifting devices.

  • Renewable Energy in Texas

    Renewable Energy in Texas

    20/09/2018 Duration: 16min

    Renewable Energy in Texas is enabling Texas to win the Energy War...OK maybe its not a war but whatever it is they are winning. Join us today as we discuss Renewable Energy in Texas. Last year 20% of their energy came from renewables, primarily wind, and on somedays that number was over 40%. Governor Bush signed a bill in 1999 to drive the state towards renewable energy, and then after he became president, Governor Perry increased those goals and helped pass funding bills to improve the infrastructure to make the whole system work. One of the biggest advantages that Texas has is that it has its own grid.

  • Siting a Ground Mount System

    Siting a Ground Mount System

    06/09/2018 Duration: 12min

    Yesterday we spoke about different options for mounting a solar array. Today we are going to dive deeper into ground mount systems and talk specifically about some of the considerations one would need to take when siting a ground mount system in order to get the most optimum solar exposure.   The nice thing about ground-mounted systems is they can be optimally-aligned with respect to both their southern orientation and their tilt angle. I use a tool called PVWatts in order to look at the different options for azimuth and what kind of impact that will have over the course of the year. In my area, a more Southwesterly orientation is better than due south when looking at overall system production. Where I live, if I were grid ties, I would have my panels facing about 220 degrees, or 40 degrees off due south. However since I am more concerned with when I get my energy than squeezing every watt our of daily production, we aren't pointing at 220 degrees. When I get up in the morning I work many times from my upsta

  • Solar Mounting – Ground or Roof?

    Solar Mounting – Ground or Roof?

    05/09/2018 Duration: 13min

    Mounting Options for Solar Arrays: Ok folks, there are two options for mounting solar panels. One is roof mount, the other is ground mount. We are going to discuss the pros and cons of each and Ill sprinkle my opinion in along the way. Rooftop solar arrays are restricted by the characteristics of the roof on which they are installed. If your roof is at a bad angle, doesn’t face south, or has obstructions like chimneys or skylights, then your solar array will be less productive. On the other hand, ground-mounted solar panels can be located wherever the conditions are best. Generally, ground mount solar panels cost a bit more than rooftop solar on a per-watt basis because of additional labor and permitting that may be required for the installation. That being said, if your property isn’t ideal for rooftop solar, installing a ground-mounted system can actually save you more money in the long run. In addition, if your home uses a lot of electricity, your roof might not be big enough for a solar energy system tha

  • All About Solar Thermal

    All About Solar Thermal

    04/09/2018 Duration: 16min

    Today we will discuss the most efficient active methods for utilizing solar energy: Solar Thermal. We will discuss air and water heating and different options.

  • The Grid of the Future

    The Grid of the Future

    03/09/2018 Duration: 16min

    Today we're going to talk about the grid of the future. I was at. Actually over the past year I've been at several power generation conferences where I've had conversations with people from companies like Duke Energy Southern Company which owns Alabama and Georgia Power Mississippi Power and Gulf Power. And let's see who else...Ameren over in the Midwest. I don't deal with the ones out west very much. Dynegy and Luminant over in Texas all of these guys are saying the same thing the grid of the future is coming and it's going to look a lot different than what we have right now. And it's going to surprise a lot of people how different that it is. And so when I was out this last one down in Alabama. I was talking to a guy and he was telling me that both Alabama Power and Georgia Power are creating smart neighborhoods. So these companies that make their money off of converting nuclear reactions and coal dug from the ground to energy or to heat which then creates steam which creates energy. These guys are investin

  • Hack My Solar Summer Update – Living off grid in the Summer

    Hack My Solar Summer Update – Living off grid in the Summer

    31/08/2018 Duration: 13min

    Thanks for joining us today as we give a brief rundown of where the homestead is here in the Summer and what our plans going into the Fall will be. We have focused on "Zone 1" for all you permies out there and are very pleased with the results of the new Aquaponics system. That being said our rainfall through this hottest portion of the year has been pretty abysmal so Operation green front yard has not gone as well as planned. I am pleased to say that our need to run the AC units has been very low this year, reducing the amount of time we may have otherwise needed to run the Generator. All that being said our batteries are nearing the end of their life cycle after 6 years hard time on the homestead. As always, shoot us an email at with any questions you may have. Anyone interested in consulting work please visit our

  • Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household-Part 2

    Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household-Part 2

    30/08/2018 Duration: 16min

    Today we're going to finish up the conversation we started yesterday about taking a Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household and reduction of that use where possible. We really hit on the big topics yesterday. And so I'm not going to do any deeper dive into those. Those are the areas where you're using the most of your energy right now. And so therefore they provide the easiest opportunity to put plans in place to reduce that use. But some of the things they're going to talk about today as we finish up the conversation is going to be water usage insulation and windows. So when we talk about water really the number one thing that we're talking about is how to reuse greywater. The fact that we take potable water and put it into a toilet so that we can flush waste into a septic system is almost a crime when you consider so many places in the world that don't have access to potable water. A simple system like installing a sink on the back of your toilet. So when you wash your hands after using the bathroom

  • Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household-Part 1

    Holistic View of Energy Use in the Household-Part 1

    29/08/2018 Duration: 25min

    Today we're going to talk about a holistic view of energy use in the household. This is not going to be specifically about solar energy any of the things that I'm going to talk about today are things that it could definitely be be used on a household that is on the grid off the grid on the grid with grid solar or it doesn't really matter. It's not a solar specific podcast it's about evaluating your energy usage identifying ways to potentially reduce that usage and conserve your cash. Because in most situations the more energy you use the more cash outflow you have to pay for it. And that energy may be in the form of firewood and maybe in the form of a propane or natural gas or might be electricity. So you're some of the things that we're going to talk about in no specific order. We're going to talk about heating and cooling and talk about Limiting water usage. Talk a little bit about appliances consumer appliances things like that. Want to talk a little bit about insulation windows things that you can do to

  • Evaluating when off grid solar makes sense

    Evaluating when off grid solar makes sense

    28/08/2018 Duration: 20min

    Join us on the podcast today as we discuss evaluating when off grid solar makes sense. Utilizing an off grid strategy can make sense once you have made the decision that is what you want to do. But the reality is that taking an on grid property off the grid compared to buying an off grid property or building one from scratch are very different financial decisions. We discuss taking a holistic view of going off the grid but keep the focus mainly on the financial side, with a small tangent discussing internet connections in places where there are no power poles. Off grid solar can make sense from a financial perspective particularly when evaluating the cost of home and land acquisition compared to grid tied properties.

  • Hack My Off Grid Update Winter 2018

    Hack My Off Grid Update Winter 2018

    29/01/2018 Duration: 09min

    January 2018 As we sit here in the dead of winter dreaming of spring but also enjoying the reduced pace of the winter on the homestead, I thought it would be a good time to give an update as to where we are with our projects around the homestead as we build towards a more self sufficient lifestyle. One of the nice things about winter for me is that I can more easily control the climate within the house. Obviously during the summers with a house that doesn’t have central AC and is limited to the energy that can be produced by the sun, and with the understanding that solar thermal is much more efficient than solar photovoltaics, it can be a struggle to keep the house comfortable during the day. Cooling the rooms we are in only, combined with strategic shading and plenty of personal level fans for moving, ends up being a good strategy. However in the winter, where we heat almost exclusively with wood, utilize proper clothing and nice comfy thick blankets on the beds, it is much easier to dial in exactly the

  • Episode 9 – Will Exiting the Paris Climate Accord Affect the US Solar Industry?

    Episode 9 – Will Exiting the Paris Climate Accord Affect the US Solar Industry?

    26/06/2017 Duration: 21min

    The long and short of it is that it wont.  Join us today as we discuss how the momentum in the solar industry has already reached a point where it will continue to build.  Solar Jobs were 2nd in the energy sector behind oil jobs, and demand is only going up as worn out coal fired plants come offline, utilities respond to the public sentiment, and people take advantage of federal, state,and utility level incentives.  I discuss how I think China is competing with us on the R&D side and that we could lose our leadership on this front during the current administration.  The reality is that coal jobs aren't coming back.  Storage and Natural Gas technologies will fill the off peak generation gap and as they become cheaper the switch becomes even easier.

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 8-Battery Maintenance

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 8-Battery Maintenance

    22/06/2017 Duration: 20min

    Battery Maintenance Today we will discuss battery maintenance.  It is one of the big differences between a grid tied and an off grid system.  A grid tied system just sits there and generates electricity either for your home use or to be fed back onto the grid.  The battery bank in an off grid system adds a whole new level of complexity.  We have previously discussed the types of batteries but for the purpose of this conversation I am going to focus on lead acid batteries.  Here are the primary topics for discussion: The Chemistry behind discharging and recharging batteries Standard Maintenance Charging Cycles How to measure Specific Gravity and Equalization(overcharging) After listening to the podcast if you have questions please email them to me at or add them to the comment section of the blog.  Additionally you can go to our Facebook page to get more information or to ask questions.  

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 7 – Solar Inverters and Balance of system

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 7 – Solar Inverters and Balance of system

    14/06/2017 Duration: 22min

    Today we are going to discuss Inverters and the balance of system components.   Inverters are the component that takes the DC(Direct Current) Provided by the solar array and stored in the battery bank, and converts it to AC(Alternating Current) for your home use.  Alternating current means that the current alternates its direction over and over again(every 8 milliseconds) to create a nice wave pattern.  It goes up, rounds off, goes down, rounds off, and repeats.   You want to match your inverter to your battery bank, so if you have a 24V battery bank you don't want to buy a 12v solar inverter.  Once you have cut out or reduced usage of all the devices that you can, you need to do an analysis of the devices you still have and how often they are used to understand what the demands of your inverter are going to be.  You need to look at both the peak or startup loads as well as the running loads.  For example a refrigerator compressor may draw 5 times its running amps for half a second while starting up.  There

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 6 – Batteries for Solar!

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 6 – Batteries for Solar!

    12/06/2017 Duration: 22min

    Batteries for Solar Off Grid or Hybrid System OK everyone, we have covered solar panels, a solar array, and charge controllers, so the logical next step is for us to discuss batteries.  Over the lifetime of your system, Batteries will be the most expensive part because the ones that are cost effective when starting a system don't last very long and the ones that last a relatively long time are prohibitively expensive.   Batteries are the center cog of any system because they store the excess energy produces by your source(solar array, generator, or even the grid) and then distribute that energy when generation falls below need. Here are a few things to remember when considering a battery bank: How many days of autonomy do you want?  So if your panels stop producing, how long do you want your battery bank to be able to provide energy to the house? What climate will the batteries be stored in?  Batteries are rated for about 80 degrees, if they are stored at below freezing conditions, you may need 50% more

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 5 – Solar Charge Controllers

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 5 – Solar Charge Controllers

    15/05/2017 Duration: 15min

    Charge Controllers, what are they? OK so we have covered what solar panels are, and how to design a solar array,  but what happens once your panels are generating power?  Well you obviously want to get them into your battery bank, but other than some very specific situations, you will charge your batteries through a charge controller.  So what is a charge essence, it is the device that regulates the amount of energy, both in terms of voltage and amperage, that goes from your solar array to your battery bank. Charge controllers come in two primary modes, Pulse width modulation(PWM) and Maximum Power Point Tracking(MPPT).  Pulse Width Modulation Solar Charge Controllers reduce the amount of voltage applied to the batteries in an inverse relationship to the charge level of the batteries.  So as the state of charge goes up, the voltage is reduced so as not to damage the batteries.  MPPT Solar Charge Controllers match the incoming power from the PV array to the most efficient use of that power in

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 4 – Sizing a Solar Array

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 4 – Sizing a Solar Array

    13/04/2017 Duration: 14min

    Sizing a Solar Array A Solar Array is just a fancy term for your solar panels, which themselves are combinations of solar cells, combined into a single system.  Today we discuss "sizing a solar array." The first step is determining what your needs are.  It is always good to eliminate or reduce some parts of your usage before determining the size of your solar array.  For example at our house we got rid of our drip coffee maker and began buying roasted beans, hand grinding them, heating water on a propane stove, and using a french press.  The amount of electricity we need to make our morning coffee is now zero.  Switching to LED lighting, putting appliances on surge protectors that we turn off when not using, and drying our clothes on the line rather than in an electric dryer were some other adjustments we made before going off grid. If you are currently on grid, you have a very easy meter to determine your usage in your monthly electric bill.  Depending on your climate, you may see higher usage during certai

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 3

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 3

    10/04/2017 Duration: 08min

    How do Solar Panels work? Solar, or Photovoltaic, Panels work by converting light energy from the sun, or photons, into electricity through the "Photovotaic effect."  Interestingly, a French physicist built the first ever photovoltaic cell at 19 years old, in 1839.  The first practical photovoltaic cell was demonstrated by Bell Laboratories in 1954 and early on they were primarily used in space. A Solar Panel is a collection of solar cells that are made up of semiconductors.  Semiconductors absorb the photons--through a process I wont describe in detail--and cause electrons to be excited and break free to be converted into usable DC electricity.  Solar cells are arrangements of silicon "sandwiches" where one layer is activated with boron and the other activated with phosphorus.  This helps the charge to be created and directs the free electrons to the wiring that leads to your charge controller.   The key to remember here is that its the light energy that is converted to usable electricity, so when siting a

  • Building Blocks of Solar Part 2

    Building Blocks of Solar Part 2

    31/03/2017 Duration: 13min

    Types of solar installations   There are a variety of ways to harness the power of the sun. Today we are going to define the ways and discuss them:   Grid Tied Off Grid Hybrid PV Direct Solar Thermal Photosynthesis   Grid tied Grid tied systems are solar installations that are implemented on a property that uses utility energy from the grid.  These systems reduce the amount of energy purchased from the utility company and the amount of energy not purchased is used to offset the cost of the installation.  These systems must have safety switches that cut the connection off when the grid goes down so that you are not feeding solar energy onto the grid while linesmen are trying to make repairs. Off Grid Off Grid systems are solar installations that generate and store electricity in batteries for use when the power needed is greater than the power being produced, such as at night or on cloudy days.  These systems are not tied to the grid and do not have safety cutoffs.  Many people install off

  • Building blocks of Solar Part 1

    Building blocks of Solar Part 1

    30/03/2017 Duration: 11min

    Energy vs. power This short series is to help build some foundational knowledge that will help you understand the building blocks of Solar. energy Energy is the capacity to do work.  Measurements for energy include calories, BTUs, Joules, and Watt-Hours.  We would use the term energy when discussing how much capacity you have in your battery bank.  If you are on grid you will get a utility bill from the power company and that will normally provide you with the number of kWh or Kilowatt-Hours you used last month.  A Kilowatt is 100 watts and a watt hour is one watt being used for one hour. POwer Power is the rate of consuming or producing energy.  Watt is the unit of measure we use do discuss power.  A watt is defined as amps multiplied by volts.  A solar panel rated for 100 watts can produce 100 watts ofpower at any given time under perfect conditions.  If it produced those 100 watts for 1 hour it would store 100 watt hours of energy. Understanding that a watt is always equal to one volt multiplied by one a