Posted by: mlsolar | April 10, 2012

Happy Earth Day: April 22, 2012


The history of Earth Day began in 1962 with an idea that germinated with then Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson who had always been passionate about environmental issues. He believed that the stabilization of the nation’s population was an important aspect of environmentalism. He traveled with President John Kennedy on the Conservation Tour in 1963 to try and promote the idea across the country, which was not as fruitful as they had hoped.

It took Nelson 6 years to bring Earth Day into play. After observing anti-war demonstrations, known as teach-ins, on college campuses across the nation, Nelson figured that he could use the same concept  to showcase the environmental concerns of the general public, use the anti-war energy of that decade in context with the environmental cause and generate a demonstration that would open the eyes of the political world.

On April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day commenced with 20 million Americans who took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment and groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.

Nelson was overjoyed by the overwhelming public response to Earth Day. He has stated:

“Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.”

Earth Day celebrations are held every year on April 22, with events in over 175 countries increasing awareness and appreciation of the Earth’s natural environment. If you’d like to participate in or volunteer for an event held in your US state, check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency events page.

Posted by: mlsolar | March 30, 2012

MorningStar Charge Controllers: PWM vs. MPPT

To those of you who do not know what a charge controller is, here is a little bit of information on the functions of a solar charge controller and the 2 popular options that MorningStar manufactures and that we sell in our Ebay store.

A solar charge controller is needed in virtually all solar power systems that utilize batteries. The job of the solar charge controller is to regulate the power going from the solar panels to the batteries. Overcharging batteries will at the least significantly reduce battery life and at worst damage the batteries to the point that they are unusable.

The most basic charge controller simply monitors the battery voltage and opens the circuit, stopping the charging when the battery voltage rises to a certain level.

Modern charge controllers use Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) to slowly lower the amount of power applied to the batteries as the batteries get closer  to being fully charged. This type of controller allows the batteries to be more fully charged with less stress on the battery, extending battery life. It can also keep batteries in a fully charged state (called “float”) indefinitely.

The most recent and best type of solar charge controller is called Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT). MPPT controllers are basically able to convert excess voltage into amperage. This has advantages in a couple of different areas.

Most solar power systems use 12 volt batteries, like you find in cars. Solar panels can deliver far more voltage than is required to charge the batteries. By, in essence, converting the excess voltage into amps, the charge voltage can be kept at an optimal level while the time required to fully charge the batteries is reduced. This allows the solar power system to operate optimally at all times.

The final function of modern solar charge controllers is preventing reverse-current flow. At night, when solar panels are not generating electricity, electricity can actually flow backwards from the batteries through the solar panels, draining the batteries. You’ve worked hard all day using solar power to charge the batteries, you don’t want to waste all that power! The charge controller can detect when no energy is coming from the solar panels and open the circuit, disconnecting the solar panels from the batteries and stopping reverse current flow.

Posted by: mlsolar | March 26, 2012

Bertrand Piccard’s Solar-Powered Adventure

If you could go on your own solar-powered adventure, where would you go?

Keep up to date with Bertrand Piccard’s progress at SolarImpulse.

Even though we envision the world as a rapidly growing and expanding society with new technology arising, improvements in architecture and transportation and bigger and better commodities, many underdeveloped countries are struggling to become, and even stay, self-sufficient. In the embedded video, Bunker Roy: Learning From a Barefoot Movement, Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in the village of Tilonia in Rajasthan, India, explains how he is assisting those impoverished countries one remote village at a time. Roy founded the college in 1972, with its mission as providing basic services and solutions in rural communities with the objective of making them self-sustaining. The solutions presented are solar energy, water, education, health care, rural artisanship, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development.

Roy wanted to start a college only for the poor where enrichment reflects what the poor think is important. He has people from all walks of life, who don’t hold a Ph.d or a master’s degree, employed there. He feels that if you can work with your hands, have the dignity of labor, show that you have a skill that affects a community and that you can provide a service, you are better qualified and more than welcome at this college to assist in the endeavors of Roy and his colleagues. Roy goes to many remote villages located in Asia and Africa; India, Afghanistan, the Himalayan regions, and Sierra Leone.

The Barefoot College, built in 1986 by 12 Barefoot architects who can’t read or write, is the only college that is fully solar-electrified, with 45KW of panels on the roof that will power everything for the next 25 years. The panels were installed by a Hindu priest who had only 8 years of primary schooling, but who is very knowledgeable in all things solar. With use of solar cookers at the college, which were fabricated by illiterate women and similar to the parabolic Scheffler solar cooker,  the community receives sixty meals twice a day.

While working and training the villagers, Roy and his colleagues found that men were not trainable due to their restlessness and want of a certificate, so Roy therefore chose to train women, mainly grandmothers. Although Roy traveled to other parts of the world, he found that there was not a universal language verbally spoken. In order to communicate with these women from different countries spanning Asia and Africa, Roy used sign language and body language. With the use of sign language, in six months time, these women became solar engineers, where they returned, solar powered their entire village and taught the other women in the village what they had learned. Roy, through his experiences, knows that you don’t have to go out of the way to find a solution, but rather look within, asking the people and listening to what they have to say because they will likely have the solution right in front of you.


Solar systems are being installed everyday around the world and people from different countries, ages and circumstances are trying it out. From the DIY’ers to the environmentally friendly to the energy conscious to retirees to hobbyists, by tracking  consumer’s wants and needs through our Ebay store, surprisingly 10% (and growing) of customers are wanting to go green and use solar energy as a power alternative.


Solar panels use light energy from the sun to generate electricity through the photovoltaic effect; the creation of voltage or electric current in a material upon exposure to light. Depending on size, one solar panel can produce anywhere from 10 watts to 240 watts of energy. One panel may only be 14″x10″ and provide 10 watts of power, while another may be 64″x39″ and produce 240 watts of energy. To figure out how many solar panels you would need to charge a specific item or entire household, use a load calculator to determine wattage usage. Here is a list of what you will need in order to make your own solar panel(s):

  • Solar Cells: Solar cells capture the sun’s energy and change it to electricity. Inside a solar panel, each cell contains silicon, an element found in sand that absorbs sunlight. The energy in this absorbed light produces a small electrical current. Metal grids around the solar cells direct the currents into wires that lead to the power controls.
  • Interconnecting Wires: The cells must be connected electrically to one another and to the rest of the system and this is where wiring come in.

A. Tabbing Wire connects one cell to the next in a series,

B. Bus Wire connects one column to the next in a series.

  • Flux Pens: This very MILD acid,  in the form of a pen, prepares the surfaces that need to soldered.
  • Encapsulation Kit: Encapsulation of your cells is mandatory to extend their life and efficiency rating. One function of encapsulation is that cells must be safeguarded from mechanical damage and moisture so this silicon base will seal and protect from nature. Another function that encapsulation provides is to cushion your cells from vibrations that may arise from gusts of wind or earthquakes.
  • Frame: We recommend an aluminum frame and glass front.
  • Separate diodes may be needed to avoid reverse currents, in case of partial or total shading, and at night.

In order to use your self-manufactured solar panel, other items that may be required are:

  • An inverter, which changes the DC solar power into usable 120 Volt AC electricity; the most common type used by most household appliances and lighting.
  • A charge controller is used to prevent over charging which results in out-gassing of the batteries, as well as keeping electrical storage in the batteries from discharging to the solar modules at night.
  • Batteries are essential in order to store the solar power generated and discharge the power as needed.


Depending on where sunlight is more prominent on your property is where you should set up your solar panel(s). If you own many acres of land, have greater areas of shading over streaming sunlight or your roof may be too small for the solar panels, ground mounting would be the way to go. For more residential areas, with less acreage, roof mounting would more efficient.


Solar power can be used where there is no easy way to get electricity to a remote place. It is also handy for low-power uses such as solar powered garden lights and battery chargers, or for helping your home energy bills


Here is a step-by-step guide to making your own solar panel, by Mark who provides the frames and glass, while our company provides the solar cells, wiring, flux, and everything else needed to put together a panel.

Posted by: mlsolar | March 14, 2012

Save Money, Save the Environment – Go Solar!

The majority of California’s electricity, 42% of it, comes from natural gas, followed by nuclear power and hydro power. How can you reduce your utility bills, get paid for energy efficiency, protect against rising energy costs and earn tax credits while cutting air pollution and reducing gas emissions? By doing what many California residents are doing;  moving towards installing wind and solar energy systems to conserve their money and save the environment in today’s economy and growing population.

One issue related to energy savings, found through a San Jose Mercury News article, is net metering. I’ve come to find out this concept has been in place in sunny California for 15 years. Net metering measures the difference between the electricity you consume through your utility company and the electricity your solar system generates and feeds back to the electric grid over a 12-month period. Your meter keeps track of this “net” difference as your system generates electricity or uses electricity from the transmission grid. In California, with the annual average of 250 days of sun, using net metering has big advantages; crediting the larger usage of solar energy offsets those cold, cloudy days of winter electricity use.

So, why don’t more Californians invest in this practice? In this day and age, particularly in this economy, wouldn’t we all like to save money especially on our recurring monthly expenses? Have you noticed the difference in your electricity bill during the summer and winter months when compared to the spring and fall months? Journalist Dana Hull states that there are 63,000 Northern California net metering customers, only 16,000 San Diego customers and this is due to the high cost of solar panels that only affluent people can afford, but lately, out of the roughly 38 million people who call California home, many residents, no matter what their income, are starting to begin their own DIY solar projects. Slowly but surely, California is leading the way in the installation of photovolatic solar panels accounting for the 29% of total installations in the country. Before you start your own solar projects or call contractors to install solar panels, there is a checklist of things to think about. And if the one factor that is stopping you is finances, Sunrun, based in San Francisco assists in financing solar systems.

California residents should be informed about the Solar Federal Tax Credit or the California Solar Initiative that they can receive on their tax filings this year. The Solar Federal Tax Credit credits 30% of the cost with no upper limit and is good until December 31, 2016. Existing homes, new construction, principal homes and second residences which install geothermal heat pumps, residential wind turbines and/or solar energy systems qualify for this credit. For the California Solar Initiative, customers who buy electricity from Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison or San Diego Gas & Electric receive cash back rebates on every watt of solar energy installed. One important requirement is that you have roof or ground space that gets unobstructed sunlight from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. year round.