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*FRIENDLY* advice for 45w HF panel kit owners

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  • *FRIENDLY* advice for 45w HF panel kit owners

    Some friendly tips for the ubiquitous HF 45w solar panel kit owner:

    For many, this is your first entry into solar by either direct purchase or gift. It can be a lot of fun, but mere mention of it makes you a target for information overload, or worse.

    Is it the highest-quality, best bang-for-the-buck little system out there? NO. But you didn't know. Is it still usable for learning and having fun and getting critical hands-on? YES. But stop now. Flushed with a possible success, don't go out and buy 4 more sets!

    Without going into information overload, here are some quick tips about it. These are *generalizations* that later on become more specific with further reading in the forums. But I know you want to get this thing in the sun asap to see what it will do.

    * Don't use too big of a battery. It will "maintain" a large battery that is already fully charged, but for cyclic usage in most areas, then using a smaller battery to help ensure a full charge is the way to go. As you know, batteries that don't get fully charged tend to die early.

    * A suitable battery that sees quite frequent use are your typical small sealed agm types, like Powersonic, Universal Battery, CSB, Yuasa/Genesis etc - 9 to 35ah would be fine. What you use with this is determined by the somewhat small capacity to ensure a full charge regularly. The biggest mistake is to buy a larger battery, and with only a 45w system, it never truly receives a good charge and dies early from sulfation. This takes a little while, so it can fool you at first but not your wallet!

    * Start off on the right foot with an AC charge first! Battery tenders or other small chargers come to mind. The reason is that many small ups-style agm's have sat in the retail chain for a long time and need a good charge. Buy from a reputable dealer that doesn't pawn off multi-year old shelf-queens that won't recover no matter what you do. Typically any agm that measures under 12.5v no-load has sat around. Fresher is better if you can find it.

    * While the battery is in use, don't let it fall below 12v. In reality, the most we ever use is 50% of the battery capacity to get any cycle life out of it, and 12v under load, (which at rest comes near 12.2v for most agm's), is about half capacity. If your device drags the battery down to 12v in ten minutes, well then your load is just too large. Strive for it not to fall to 12v any sooner than about 4 hours under load. Longer is obviously better.

    * Just know upfront that this "learner" battery is likely to be abused quickly. We have ALL gone through our learner batteries, this is just your first time up to bat.

    * Polarity! Note that the HF / Sunforce kits come with quick-disconnect "SAE" automotive style connectors. This SAE connector is used by many other products. Problem is, the POLARITY can differ depending on manufacturer. This means that if you swap say the cable clamps from the HF kit, with a Battery-Tender set of clamps, you need to VERIFY the polarity with a meter or by other means! Just because they "fit" does not mean the polarity is always correct! Be watchful for this.

    * UPGRADES - don't go too far! The HF panel kits can be considered kind of a "gateway" fun project to get your feet on the ground. But don't go building a much larger system based on this stuff! FAR more quality, efficiency, and cost savings are realized with more mainstream components discussed elsewhere on the forum. In other words, don't go nuts and buy 5 more HF panels! It is just not cost or quality efficient enough to do so. Much better equipment is out there.

    At the most, one common upgrade is to change the controller to a quality Morningstar, Steca, Xantrex etc pwm controller. But now that means you'll have to come up with your own dc-dc converters (like Anker 5v usb car adapters), 12v cigarette lighter outlets and so forth, wiring directly to the battery on your own.

    That's about as far as I'd take it - have fun, but if the solar bug bites you, save your pennies for more mainstream solar gear. Right now, you'll just be throwing things to the solar-wall to see if it sticks. If taken too far, this is waaay too costly to keep on doing.

    The *right* way to do a solar project it to come up with a power budget first, and THEN run with it. But in the real world with these kits, we often do it backwards.

    Even with the HF panel kit, when you get serious about it, you'll want to MEASURE your power needs over time, how much solar insolation you have (which differs from just sunrise to sunset values), your battery capacity, and THIS will more accurately determine how well your panel/battery/environment combo is going to work. That takes reading, some of it may not seem like fun. But it does mean the difference between a toy that gets thrown into the corner of the garage, or something that actually serves a purpose.

    So put on your forum-thread flamesuit, do some reading, try not to abuse your learner battery too much, and keep your wallet closed for the time being.

  • #2
    Great advice. Thanks for starting the thread.

    Comment


    • #3
      And considering full time sun exposure will yield a fizzled out set of panels in 4-5 years you really don't want to expand this array at all.
      2.2kw Suntech mono, Classic 200, NEW Trace SW4024

      Comment


      • #4
        As regular HF customer I never fell for the 45 watt, kit, but I had to have that neato Charge controller that was in the deluxe kit, with 2 cigarette outlet's and multi volt panel connectors. Well i got one for 20 bucks on fleabay, totally unstable source for power and even worse charge controller. No LVD = "Battery Killer" I have since rewired the fancy aluminium box and am happy with the cute display and power outlet's.
        4X Suniva 250 watt, 8X t-105, OB Fx80, dc4812vrf

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        • #5
          I cringe every time I hear someone say they got that kit. Yes, it comes with everything, but everything is pretty low quality. For less money, they can get a real 50W polycrystalline panel with a 25 year warranty instead of three 15 watt panels, and an Outback Smart Harvest charge controller, which has load control, low voltage disconnect, and a USB port for charging your phone. I wish I had kept track of how many of those HF kits I've replaced for people over the years.
          Solar Queen
          altE Store

          Comment


          • #6
            All very true! Better products are out there.

            The HF kits are commonly the first exposure to solar for many, and then when the bug hits, they then may come to the boards for more information. So this is for those who do it backwards.

            Unfortunately, we tend to denigrate them for their choice (or gift!), and that may put them off straight away. We all have to start somewhere.

            So really the tips were meant to get the most out of what you got, provide some encouragement, and *gently* coax them into an upgrade if the bug really hits.

            In the end, the biggest benefit will come from not just throwing out hardware upgrades and changes, but taking it to the next level, like figuring out things like solar-insolation hours, doing a power budget and so forth to find out what the limitations are before making any further higher quality purchases.

            And yep - there is the FUN level that at this stage may be needed to keep interest alive to spur a more serious interest, especially for an aspiring youngster who received one as a gift, and has no outlet to upgrade at all.

            For me, the best upgrade an aspiring youngster (of all ages!) could make at this point would be to save up for a mid-level multimeter like an Amprobe 530, or even a low-end Fluke 115 to really start out on the right foot as a quality reference for any other gear that may come along. Even if your solar kit is cheap, don't cheap out on your tools, as tempting as that may be.

            Comment


            • #7
              More HF kit panel info for newbies ...

              Again, trying to keep the information overload down here which is covered in more depth in other threads....

              The HF kit panels are what are known as "thin film" or "amorphous" panels. They have no visible cells per se as you would see in the more common mono or poly crystalline types where you can actually count them.

              Their difference lies in two areas. One is efficiency. Thin films are less efficient than crystalline cells, and thus have to be larger for the same output. In other words, if you were to replace your existing HF panels with a 45 watt crystalline panel, you would most likely be shocked at how much smaller the crystalline panel is!

              That means you can easily get more crystalline panel power into the same space as would be taken up by the HF thin-film types, not to mention easier portability.

              Thin films don't last as long as crystalline types do. In fact, if you are not using your kit for a few months or more, put those HF panels back into the dark to make them last longer.

              Tolerance to shading effects:

              Thin films do have one advantage over crystalline types in that they can better tolerate shadows on the panel than crystalline types do within reason.

              If you were to cover up say half of a thin-film / amorphous panel, you would only get half the output.

              If you were to cover up just a few cells with a shadow from your hand on a crystalline panel, then you get almost nothing!

              By output, I'm speaking of CURRENT. You may very well see high VOLTAGE even when shaded, but the current which is what recharges the battery, is no longer there or very minimal.

              The real reason I mention this is NOT to promote allowing your panels to be shaded at all, BUT as a forewarning if you get complacent about shadowing and upgrade to crystalline panels, and wonder why your batteries are dying when they possibly weren't before with the thin film amorphous HF panels.

              This is common with guys who previously ground mounted their HF panels where a minor bit of shadowing from the surrounding grass etc didn't seem to affect the output too much. Then they upgrade to crystalline panels, set them down on the grass, and have no output at all for the most part.

              Moral to EITHER type - keep them out of the shade ENTIRELY, and watch for creeping long shadows that may come along later in the day - especially in winter when the shadows go long.

              Comment


              • #8

                Wow guys, and I always thought the cardboard box was the best thing about the HF panels.
                Powerfab top of pole PV mount (2) | Listeroid 6/1 w/st5 gen head | XW6048 inverter/chgr | Iota 48V/15A charger | Morningstar 60A MPPT | 48V, 800A NiFe Battery (in series)| 15, Evergreen 205w "12V" PV array on pole | Midnight ePanel | Grundfos 10 SO5-9 with 3 wire Franklin Electric motor (1/2hp 240V 1ph ) on a timer for 3 hr noontime run - Runs off PV ||
                || Midnight Classic 200 | 10, Evergreen 200w in a 160VOC array ||
                || VEC1093 12V Charger | Maha C401 aa/aaa Charger | SureSine | Sunsaver MPPT 15A

                solar: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Solar
                gen: http://tinyurl.com/LMR-Lister

                Comment


                • #9
                  It's all about perspective.

                  I'll admit, that many many years ago this thing re-ignited my interest in solar, despite the unknown at the time economic and efficiency issues. In fact, the box was all I had to go on - but I knew there had to be something more - and here we are.

                  When the thing actually worked, there I stood in the backyard staring at an immobile object like a fool for like an hour. Glad the neighbors weren't watching.

                  The mental conversation kind of went like this:

                  "So you're telling me that a photon created in the center of the sun took like a beeeeelion years to bounce around inside to get to the surface, then took an 8-minute road trip across space to my backyard, only to hit a silicon atom so hard that it knocked an electron free, which then travelled down the thin wiring into my battery to be stored as chemical energy? So I'm kind of storing billion-year old energy?"

                  Oh wow, man.

                  That's the kind of wonderment I don't want to immediately squash for some kid who got one of these as a gift!

                  Comment


                  • cebury
                    cebury commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Thanks for the smile reading this post. At the end, I imagined a bit of Shaggy (scoobydoo) or Chong accent saying "Oh wow, man. That's groovy".

                • #10
                  ok, I'll ask a question. the HF kit costs $200 right now, what kind of similar kit (but better) kit could you get for that price? or what kind of price for a similar wattage kit?

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    Originally posted by tater1337 View Post
                    ok, I'll ask a question. the HF kit costs $200 right now, what kind of similar kit (but better) kit could you get for that price? or what kind of price for a similar wattage kit?
                    I believe you can find the HF for much less than $200 but it is still only a 45watt system which is very poor for the money.

                    If you want to go cheap you can probably find a Renogy system around 100 watts for less than $200 but it also is at the bottom of the quality list for the money you spend on it.
                    Last edited by SunEagle; 06-20-2016, 04:02 PM. Reason: spelling

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      The HF was on sale Sun for $135, probably will be again. What is neat about these, is the 12V bulbs and other parts that
                      come with it. The "frame" for supporting the panels was about useless for me. Bruce Roe

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by SunEagle View Post

                        I believe you can find the HF for much less than $200 but it is still only a 45watt system which is very poor for the money.

                        If you want to go cheap you can probably find a Renogy system around 100 watts for less than $200 but it also is at the bottom of the quality list for the money you spend on it.
                        was the first link i clicked on for the google search 'HF 45 solar'.....but it looks like a good price point to shop around

                        ok, I'll go take a look at renogy, but how about something mid-quality?

                        Comment


                        • #14
                          Originally posted by tater1337 View Post

                          was the first link i clicked on for the google search 'HF 45 solar'.....but it looks like a good price point to shop around

                          ok, I'll go take a look at renogy, but how about something mid-quality?
                          Those 3 x 15 watt panels in the HF kit do not last long or produce much power at all. The inverter is low end and I have heard complaints about the mounting hardware. It is really a low quality high cost solar pv system that you can do better. While the Renogy is a little bit better is also is on the side of a high cost / watt.

                          Comment


                          • #15
                            Originally posted by tater1337 View Post
                            ok, I'll ask a question. the HF kit costs $200 right now, what kind of similar kit (but better) kit could you get for that price? or what kind of price for a similar wattage kit?
                            The HF solar kit is more of an introductory thing - a goof to play with to see if solar grabs your interest.

                            Many are used to kill batteries because the owner just does not know about calculating their power draw over time, solar insolation hours and the like, and thus they are winging it.

                            It *can* be a springboard to something better / smaller incrementally, such as:

                            Renogy 50 w mono/polycrystalline panel. Much smaller than the 45 watt amorphous HF!
                            6A Morningstar Sunsaver charge controller.
                            Add your own mobile 12v >5v usb adapters, such as those from Anker. Other adapter dc voltage converters..
                            Odyssey AGM's, or perhaps an Optima D51 (38ah) Yellowtop.
                            Typical mobile <100w MSW inverter to drive led indoor lamp bulbs.

                            Calculator and reading glasses for all the threads here to see if all this is overkill to charge your phone, or will just make your Optima die an unnatural death due to undercharge.

                            So it really isn't a money issue, but more of a test to see if you are willing to spend the time doing homework first, before spending any money - be it $20 or $200 dollars. At this point, knowledge is worth far more than that.

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