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Solar Panel Installation Options & Ideas (I have DIY electrician experience, but not solar)


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Hello!

I have moved between locations now.

I am interested in hearing from people who's done solar installs, including ones that involved hiring Mexicans, as well as DIY (partial).

My intent is to get a system that includes those wonderful new deep-cycle lithium batteries (Lithium Iron Phosphate -- LiFePo4) capable of ~5,000+ charge cycles.  So that I can store charge during the night as well as battery-power during power outages.  The batteries have become surprisingly cheap and the battery ROI actually now makes sense as of 2022 with sunny weather here.  (one-quarter the price of a Tesla PowerWall).

My electrical skills include:
- Wiring, outlets, switches, and subpanels in Canada (it's legal in Ontario, Canada to DIY)

However, Mexico labor is reasonably cheap
- Solar frame installation, and panel lifting and placing.I'd like to hear from others with solar, even without battery.
- What size did you get?  How much kWh do you use?
- If you have two meters, how do you deal with a two electric meter situation? 
We have two power meters, an inheritance from an old AirBnB feature of the place we're not using.  One meter is running off the mechanicals (pumps, motors, etc).  Merging to one meter means we'll halve our "cheap power company" electricity, but this could be made up by solar.
Have any one of you installed the brand new cheaper more durable lithium battery tech yet (not the older lithium but the new LiFePo4 ones)?  What's your experience?

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About battery addition to solar systems

As of 2022 I hear installer recommendations that they nowadays recommend to include a battery -- because the prices on them have fallen so much that it's only a little extra to a solar install -- because of new battery technology.

My new place uses approximately 750 kWh/month of power per month due to old inefficient pool motors, which we'll be replacing with much more efficient variable-speed motors (We had one in Canada that used as little as 100 watts during lower pumping operation mode, and could be programmed to run at certain times of the day!).  We're replacing lights with LED,   so should see power fall to about 500-600 kWh/month.  The lithium iron phosphate batteries are the safer ones that love to be deep cycled -- the best of lead acid combined with the best of lithium -- heavier than EV battery but perfect for home solar.

They are rechargeable about 5000+ times, which is like 15 years of nighttime solar power.  At $2000/year electricity bill cost, the battery now pays for itself in only a few years.  So the ROI is finally making sense -- especially in sunny Chapala -- as of 2022, the option to have 24 hour solar is now possible at ROI-capable affordable prices, and it even runs through a blackout.

I did some math and the ROI of a battery-solar system now actually pays for itself in just a mere 5 years in Chapala sun, for people who use 500-750 kWh a month.  Give or take a year or so.   ROI with a battery wasn't true even two years ago, but the batteries themselves have fallen massively in price over the last few years.  Now it only cost a few thousand dollars to build a 10 kilowatt-hour battery.

I hear rave reviews from many people, since the new lithium iron phosphate batteries (LiFePo4) that are so much cheaper than a Tesla PowreWall, and can be safely deep cycled everyday for nighttime solar power.  They now only cost only about 500 dollars each per 1.2 kilowatt battery (like this one), so one can battery-bank up a whole house cheaply now --These used to be ginormously expensive to build a massive 10 kilowatt battery capable of powering a whole average North American house, but now it's affordable and can even power electric dryers and air conditioners.

As this is extremely new tech, does anyone in Chapala/Ajijic have a solar system upgraded with the new cheaper and more durable lithium iron phosphate (LiFePo4) batteries?

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There is a lot of interesting renewable and DIY activity going on here in Mexico:   

Esol technologies in GDL does a lot of work with LiFePo4 batteries and makes a whole-house grade BMS.  They sell a whole house system.  Their system distributes not only AC but also DC for certain loads, which is more efficient.  I've one friend in BuenaVista who's installed their system. 

Check out https://batteryhookup.com/  and https://liionwholesale.com/ .    I've purchased from them and have built up battery banks.   

As you point out, before you start investing in storage, you should maximize conservation.   All LED lighting a given.  The LG Linear inverter fridges (or a DC fridge) are great and don't have surge loads.   I represent a semiconductor company in my work that is introducing an ultra efficiency variable speed drive system-on-chip.  Am working with server LATAM motor manufacturers.

Check out the new Enphase IQ8 microinverter.  .  If you want to understand storage, battery backup, etc you also need to understand UL1741 and islanding requirements.  The IQ8 is revolutionary because when you lose the grid, it will keep supplying the load  with  sine wave power matched with consumption, while satisfying UL1741.   Another company in Costa Rica, Heart Transverter  www.transverter.com,  does some really cool stuff too.  The industry is moving towards this grid agnostic concept where you manage and optimize storage, load, grid, and panels in real time.

 There are many companies in Mexico doing very interesting renewable work.  PM me if you like.  

 

 

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Contact Go Solar on this forum. He is local and can provide everything you need including whole home back up with Litium ion battery. I recommend getting the Enphase Envoy so you can track your solar production online. It also helps to pinpoint any problems if any occur. Having a local installer is worth its weight in gold.

Another local company is Opiere. Contact Nyah Walters 331-400-2646

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3 hours ago, Ferret said:

Contact Go Solar on this forum. He is local and can provide everything you need including whole home back up with Litium ion battery. I recommend getting the Enphase Envoy so you can track your solar production online.

Thanks Ferret and to virgo lady also.      Virtually all the systems STI installs have online monitoring included; Enphase Envoy is specific to their micro-inverters.     The OP appears to be looking for a hybrid type system (grid tied with backup) so a different kind of inverter would be used for that; with online monitoring system of course to track solar production, energy consumption both from grid and from energy storage as well as battery charge / discharge and level, all in real time and full history.     

One of many options is shown here; this is in Ajijic centro, the battery has 10 kWh of energy storage.

Casa Vinton Solis hybrid and Soluna.jpeg

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8 hours ago, Stream said:

All I figure is if you don't have shaded parking maybe panels over where you park would be nice.

We already have a rooftop deck we need to shade.  Like a solar awning. 

Also, garage is out for us.  We are currently urban style living, so don’t want to own a full-time car, as we are now instead downtown Chapala in our own newly purchased home one block from Chapala’s Malecon.  The Cyclopisto, buses, and taxis get us to our Ajijic friends, and car rentals get us to Manzanillo or other tourist destinations. We converted half of the two car garage to a “breakfast cafe style” setting with dozens of pots of palms/plants that give us shade, so we prefer solar on the roof.  But we have a nice big flat 3rd floor rooftop deck that we need to shade, and solar will hit two birds with one stone.

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25 minutes ago, GDouglas said:

We already have a rooftop deck we need to shade.  Like a solar awning. 

Very popular and a great use of space for dual purposes, and anything from a small shade canopy of 2 to 4 panels over a window or sliding door, to a full mirador or more, can be done.   

This mirador below is in Ajijic centro also, the original solar array was doubled when the house later went all electric, and it also has a full hybrid inverter setup with substantial energy storage.     

Casa Burnside solar mirador in Ajijic centro (2) cropped.jpg

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6 hours ago, tkessler2 said:

Check out the new Enphase IQ8 microinverter.  .  If you want to understand storage, battery backup, etc you also need to understand UL1741 and islanding requirements.  The IQ8 is revolutionary because when you lose the grid, it will keep supplying the load  with  sine wave power matched with consumption, while satisfying UL1741.   Another company in Costa Rica, Heart Transverter  www.transverter.com,  does some really cool stuff too.  The industry is moving towards this grid agnostic concept where you manage and optimize storage, load, grid, and panels in real time.

I like the term "grid agnostic".  We need something capable of both on/off grid modes.
Thank you very much for UL1741, I will make sure it's a mandatory requirement.
I'm still learning about the in & outs of solar.

P.S. I want to do some of my own maintenance and monitoring too, so I can fix certain kinds of problems without needing a mandatory roll from the company --  I had a whole-house monitor and a Kill-A-Watt so I could run around saving power in Canada too. 

One biggest power savings in Canada I did was to replace the old pool pump with a top-of-the-line Hayward variable speed pump that could adjust in 50rpm increments on its built-in electronic screen -- it turned an old 1500 watt pump into just a 100-300 watt power (when I only needed a slow pumping mode).  Could run from 600rpm to 3500rpm, and at one of our earlier Canadian locations we even sometimes ran the pool in the winter (like a Spa le Scandinave) utilizing the pool heater, and the slow speed was useful 24/7 to prevent pipes from freezing without killing the electricity.    We rarely needed to rev up to more than 600 watts of power when vacuuming the pool.  We intend to replace our pool pump ASAP here (scheduled) because it's such a ginormous major electricity savings.

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1 hour ago, Go Solar said:

One of many options is shown here; this is in Ajijic centro, the lithium ion battery has 10 kWh of energy storage.

Thanks for the tip.  Is that the newer LiFePo4 or the older lithium ion?  I've been reading up the pros/cons.

I've written down your info for my spouse to call, but I'm the one with the DIY electrical skills.

Also I'm deaf since birth so I prefer to correspond by forums, emails, etc.  I got your PM and will reply when I talk to my spouse.  I'm the tech guy of the household.  My spouse is the one who does the phone calls and booking appointments and some of the research.

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12 minutes ago, GDouglas said:

We intend to replace our pool pump ASAP here (scheduled) because it's such a ginormous major electricity savings.

Couple of mentions about this; even though we do have and supply variable speed pool pumps:

1 - the variable speed pumps are great on energy, however they are $$ in Mexico and their electronics are sensitive.....

2 - it can be much more cost effective to go with a regular pump, and have a couple of extra panels to offset the use...

3 - the regular pumps are not affected the same way, by grid spikes, and fluctuations

4 - if you do go with a variable speed, be sure to have proper protections in place, either whole house voltage regulators or at least for that circuit.    

5 - if it is for / was for a pure offgrid setup, then the variable would be great since reducing consumption is important when running fully off battery based energy supply.     

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1 hour ago, virgo lady said:

Highly recommend Go Solar, I have seen STI solar installations with lithium ion batteries of several types, well done and cost effective and getting my own later this year.    

I've decide I'd like to go for LiFePo4 if I get a battery.  The reason is that I want offgrid mode of operation too, and that means I may want to deep-cycle the battery without damaging it -- something that's more ruinous to traditional lithium ion (better used as a backup battery rather than time-shifting solar).  

Also, I am familiar with SoC management of various lithium batteries.  I actually even have two old iPhones (our Canadian #'s) in Canada on something called "Chargies"  (USB dongles) to keep it shallow SoC to make the smartphone battery last a decade.   This gives our Mexican SIM cards (Telcel and AT&T) texting ability on iMessenger under our existing Canadian #'s, without paying Roger's ROAM-LIKE-HOME fees.  (Apple's text-relay feature is wonderful -- works internationally -- e.g. texting as if we're originating from a Canadian # without paying any high roaming fees).

I probably can cut the house consumption significantly but we will also want to upgrade the bedroom to air conditioner eventually, so some loads will come back as we get rid of others.

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26 minutes ago, GDouglas said:

Is that the newer LiFePo4

The Soluna shown in the image is Li-NCM, all the others we supply are LiFePo4 from car battery size (12 V 100 AH) to 5 and  10 kWh rack mounted or "powerwall" format units.

Here's a link for a bit more info for those interested:

NCM Battery VS LFP Battery? This is the most comprehensive interpretation! - SmartPropel Lithium Battery

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15 minutes ago, Go Solar said:

Couple of mentions about this; even though we do have and supply variable speed pool pumps:

1 - the variable speed pumps are great on energy, however they are $$ in Mexico and their electronics are sensitive.....

2 - it can be much more cost effective to go with a regular pump, and have a couple of extra panels to offset the use...

3 - the regular pumps are not affected the same way, by grid spikes, and fluctuations

4 - if you do go with a variable speed, be sure to have proper protections in place, either whole house voltage regulators or at least for that circuit.    

5 - if it is for / was for a pure offgrid setup, then the variable would be great since reducing consumption is important when running fully off battery based energy supply.     

Thanks for the tips.

We already have a whole-house regulator installed in the house (was already there).

We already shop in Gualadajara for lower cost equipment, and we found the same variable speed pool pump for about the same price as we got in Canada.  We're good at shopping -- whether be a hotel in one of Guadalajara's shopping districts for furniture or high-cost items.   There's some gringo premiums here that doesn't exist over there.   We also utilize Amazon/Mercado/etc for some items like that, but we'll go with installer for solar -- although my spouse will be incredibly picky at keeping costs reasonable.

Also more than 50% of our pool use is when the sun is not shining.

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7 hours ago, tkessler2 said:

I've purchased from them and have built up battery banks.   

These sites are both in Pennsylvania, and one of them at least says they do not ship to Mexico.    Better to deal locally based on what I have already seen and researched myself.     Good prices, good quality products and installations and local support as well.     

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Oh, I plan to buy local -- but local may include "Gualadajara" for some big-ticket items -- but I am willing to help a local installer get lower prices if our suppliers beat their suppliers prices by significant margins.   They can still keep the reasonable labour profit margin but we've seen 50% savings on some big-ticket items (same-brand-same-model!) while buying domestically.

A variable speed pool pumps are one such example we're working with another installer with -- this is already a thing currently in negotiation.   After 7 years with a variable speed pump in Canada, it paid for itself in less than 2 years of electric bill savings and even extended our pool season.

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I don't know if you have a tinaco or a cistern. That said, we bought a Grundfos variable speed submersible pump for the cistern when we built on the coast. Available in Mexico and they shipped right to our door in San Miguel de Allende. Yup, I bought a lot of stuff there to take with us when we moved to Nayarit to build... even the kitchen sink. 

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22 hours ago, Ferret said:

I don't know if you have a tinaco or a cistern. That said, we bought a Grundfos variable speed submersible pump for the cistern when we built on the coast. Available in Mexico and they shipped right to our door in San Miguel de Allende. Yup, I bought a lot of stuff there to take with us when we moved to Nayarit to build... even the kitchen sink. 

Funnily enough,

We have a medium-to-large cistern, yes.  And we just installed a top of the line 5-stage or 6-stage filtration system (I let the spouse handle all that detail, so I don’t have all of the info yet — but it’s literally 5x the size of our neighbour’s water filter subsystem).  All our bathroom water is even now safely drinkable and the refrigerator ice cube maker can be turned no.    I’m responsible for the pool system, having run swimming pools.

But good point, the spouse handled the details and I didn’t inquire about the pump.  (Kicking myself now).  So oops.  

Yeah, I will look at the system closely and measure its power consumption — I’ve already ordered Kill-a-Watts and a whole-house power measurer.   I’ll be auditing my house’s power and graphing its daily power curves.   The efficiency optimizations and telemetry will help me size the solar.  That will take me just a couple weeks, assuming the equipment arrives soon.

Anyway, we’ve got a large water supply and a large gas tank (1 year worth of cooking gas).  

Although we never intended to (The house included a medium size cistern and an unusually large gas tank) — I guess we could easily run essentially offgrid for quite a long time once solar-battery arrives.  

We aren’t preppers, but we’re definitely safer here in Mexico than Canada — we napkin mathed and it looks like if we’re careful, combined with the swimming pool reserve, we’d become self sufficient with no electricity and no water input for a year.   Our filter system was upgraded to be even now good enough that it’ll reportedly theoretically even handle the lake water directly (with a small bit of safe chlorine help) if we had to (bypassing municipal water), in addition to rainwater.  

Anyway.  I hope the world never reaches that point (WWIII…sigh) but, it’s pretty neat our house accidentally has the perfect mix to go optionally permanently offgrid despite being a downtown Chapala house once we add solar+battery this year.  Who’d thought!?   We weren’t looking for these features, but the house happened to include it all, probably because it was built in the 1920s next to a hotel, and it had to survive the various famine years of the past.  The previous owner installed water hose infrastructure on top of the roof and ran gardens on the roof, which we could theoretically reactivate if we needed some food self-sufficiency.  How convenient — at least for psychological safety, aka peace of mind in current uncertain times.

Anyway…

Back to the solar topic.

Anyway, lack of solar offgrid capability is a definite dealbreaker so we won’t be going for solar installers that don’t sell offgrid-capable inverters.   The grid-agnostic system concept is perfect flexibility for us.  We need a few weeks to audit/optimize our power system first, before we begin an install this year.  

The funds are waiting already for even a large solar install (if needed), but we still need to optimize, finish upgrading our water (we just finished our filtration and are hitting the pool upgrades).  Then we’ll more know what ballpark size of solar system we need.  Having taken possession of the house this winter, we’re still in the whirlwind of water system upgrades.

I’ll be contacting Go Solar too once my spouse and I have settled on rough approximate sizing.

 

 

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I waited a whole year in this house before installing solar. I wanted to include the various changes that occur throughout the year like temperature and cloud cover. Do you want air conditioning or do you NEED it. I didn't but I also had a few electrical things on a wish list... like ceiling fans and a small electric fireplace with a thermostat. Your wish list will be different I know. Also, my panels can each produce 350 watts per hour in perfect conditions. Now Go Solar has panels the same size that can produce 450 watts in those same conditions. Read up on the difference that monocrystalline panels makes. Sizing and number of panels (with room for expansion of the system) is best done by the professionals. You don't want to overdo it because CFE is going to claw the excess back at the end of every year anyway. I only have five panels but operate no pumps except in an emergency from my cistern to get water up to my tinaco. The pros take all this stuff into consideration and size the system accordingly. Haven't had to pay CFE anything except their 50 peso administration fee every two months since February of 2017. LOVE it!

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17 minutes ago, Ferret said:

I waited a whole year in this house before installing solar. I wanted to include the various changes that occur throughout the year like temperature and cloud cover. Do you want air conditioning or do you NEED it. I didn't but I also had a few electrical things on a wish list... like ceiling fans and a small electric fireplace with a thermostat. Your wish list will be different I know. Also, my panels can each produce 350 watts per hour in perfect conditions. Now Go Solar has panels the same size that can produce 450 watts in those same conditions. Read up on the difference that monocrystalline panels makes. Sizing and number of panels (with room for expansion of the system) is best done by the professionals. You don't want to overdo it because CFE is going to claw the excess back at the end of every year anyway. I only have five panels but operate no pumps except in an emergency from my cistern to get water up to my tinaco. The pros take all this stuff into consideration and size the system accordingly. Haven't had to pay CFE anything except their 50 peso administration fee every two months since February of 2017. LOVE it!

Air conditioning is not necessary but it’s needed for martial peace in one room. We are big-time cuddlers, and that’s no fun in the summer if we are overheated.  

One room is fine.  So we would at least one small air-conditioned room that can be air conditioned with just a 500 watt Energy Star window unit.  Just one panel can handle that in high summer sun!  

That’s nothing with a good tiny 1’x1’x1.5’-cube Energy Star unit costing only a few hundred, cooling only a small bedroom only.  Cooling one room is pretty cheap with a modern tiny top-rated window unit.  But more realistically we’ll use one of those good heatpump units embedded into the concrete wall, and cooling just one large master bedroom+den.   

So we’ll need to overprovision it a bit for a known future air conditioner running at nighttime in summer.  Sure, we can ration by avoiding it during long outages, but in everyday, we’d like the battery to be able to handle nighttime air conditioning in summer.

Also a giant screen and NVIDIA GeForce RTX-powered gaming rigs will consume a kilowatt of power, so even when we’re not using air conditioner, we need enough overprovision for that anyway too.  Plus the security cameras and alarm system need to be permanently powered, etc.  I am currently auditing the power.

We’ll let the pros size the system, but right now we don’t yet know the order of magnitude (14 panel, 28 panel, 36 panel).  But yes, we’ll probably hit those newer 22%-efficiency panels.  

I know that our bills report one megawatt hour being gobbled up per month across our two power meters (300:700 kWh each), but I think we can chop that to half a megawatt hour (500kWh/month) total as the previous owner didn’t bother with efficiencies, lots of old halogens/incandescents, FOUR fixed-speed pumps, etc.  We may merge to one meter once we go solar, for simplicity of solar, right now it’s essentially two separate sets of house wiring on a house that’s no longer a duplex.

Once we know how much power we are using we’ll size the system to the correct order of magnitude, and then let the pros fine-tune the exact size.

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Gosh, I love my solar panels, battery backup system, etc. Back when solar panels were new lakeside, a normal electric solar panel generated a whole lot of wattage, or so we thought :) My first 10 panels put out 160 watts each, and then when I upgraded, I got 12 panels that by then put out even more, 170 watts per panel :). And finally, so that I could go off the grid we added 6 panels at 255 or so watts each and 8 six volt deep cell car batteries, or what ever they are now called plus an inverter, you know, something that converts DC power to AC power.

Now the same sized panels are approaching 500 watts output each, and we all thought 160 watts per panel was good. Give it another 20 or so years and only God knows what will happen.

I just know that I generate more than enough electricity from my 28 solar panels. And my bill is always the minimum amount, which is around $50 pesos every two months.

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14 minutes ago, johanson said:

Gosh, I love my solar panels, battery backup system, etc. Back when solar panels were new lakeside, a normal electric solar panel generated a whole lot of wattage, or so we thought :) My first 10 panels put out 160 watts each, and then when I upgraded, I got 12 panels that by then put out even more, 170 watts per panel :). And finally, so that I could go off the grid we added 6 panels at 255 or so watts each and 8 six volt deep cell car batteries, or what ever they are now called plus an inverter, you know, something that converts DC power to AC power.

Now the same sized panels are approaching 500 watts output each, and we all thought 160 watts per panel was good. Give it another 20 or so years and only God knows what will happen.

I just know that I generate more than enough electricity from my 28 solar panels. And my bill is always the minimum amount, which is around $50 pesos every two months.

Nice, how many kilowatt-hours a month do you consume?   How many watt-hours is the battery? 

Since you say they are car batteries, I presume you're still running lead-acid, if you've been running solar this long?  Did you ever need to replace them or did you just simply refill/maintain non-sealed lead acid like yesteryear offgrid batteries?  The modern newer systems I'm looking at use those amazing new "12V 100aH lithium iron phosphate" batteries that look just like a car battery but isn't designed for cars.  Those new lithium batteries reportedly can now power nighttime for 15 years without needing battery replacement nor maintenance when installed properly -- so we're very attracted to those.   We may go for an integrated "powerwall" clone system, but we'd appreciate the emergency ability to do DIY battery replacements, so standardized 12V lithium iron batteries also has that pro.

I'd love real-world references, knowing the different sunlight/weather of different countries can be wildly different -- and the fact that we have so much sun, probably massively helps.

 

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I have had to replace my 6 volt deep cell batteries once and it is about to happen again within a year or so :( And yes if I were much younger and not in my early 80s I too would be contemplating lithium batteries. 

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