Sol-Ark Review, by James in Florida

Over the course of the last year, I have bought my Sol-Ark system in increments as funds became available. First, I bought the Sol-Ark “brains” followed six months later by 15 solar panels. Then, last month, I purchased 16 AGM deep storage batteries.

Placement of the Sol-Ark Unit

I’m the kind of guy who likes to carefully think through a project before starting it. Having read the Sol-Ark installation instructions, which are very straight-forward and uncomplicated, I decided to mount the Sol-Ark unit in my garage utilities closet. I’m fortunate that my homebuilder actually made a mistake when building my house; my HVAC unit and water heater are in a closet with a wide door instead of being out in the open garage and subject to the heat and humidity. There is enough “leakage”, for lack of a better word, from my five year-old HVAC system that it keeps the closet moderately cool in the summer and warm in the cool few months of the year.

Placing the Sol-Ark’s Transfer Switch Circuit Breaker Panel

The only tricky issue I had to work through was placing the Sol-Ark’s transfer switch circuit breaker panel. My house’s circuit breaker panel was out in the open garage space. My dilemma was to either place the transfer switch circuit breaker panel next to the house circuit breaker panel or locate it in the utility closet by the Sol-Ark. I chose to locate the transfer switch/circuit breaker panel in the open garage area next to the house circuit breaker panel. It was far easier to have to run only two (2) 10-2 AWG wires rather than having to run twelve (12) 12AWG circuit breaker wires and two (2) 10AWG ground and neutral wires. Fortunately, I installed the Sol-Ark as a replacement for a Honda EU6500is gasoline generator that had a professionally installed transfer switch and circuit breaker panel of its own and was located under the house breaker panel. I was able to use some of the 10AWG wire from that installation as well as the wire channel created by the electricians who had done the installation work for the gas genny back in 2007.

Installation

I purchased a couple of additional L5-30 receptacles and plugs as well as some power cable identical to that used by Sol-Ark and did the following.

The labels on my sockets in the picture are too small to read here. However, one is the receptacle for the Sol-Ark’s power cord to plug into the 110v power source from the house circuit breaker panel. The other is the receptacle that, when combined with the extension cord I made with L5-30 plugs plus identical power cable (all used by Sol-Ark), allows me to plug in the transfer switch/circuit breaker panel into the Sol-Ark.

Setting Up the Transfer Switch Circuit Breaker Panel

The Sol-Ark system transfer switch circuit breaker panel allows the owner to connect six circuits from the house circuit breaker panel to the Sol-Ark. I chose to connect circuits that operate things used every day. They are:

  • A – 10 cu ft freezer located in the garage utilities closet
  • B – the house refrigerator/freezer
  • C – the office ceiling fan and lights plus our computer equipment, cable modem, and router
  • D – the family room lights, ceiling fan, flat screen 32” TV, and TiVo
  • E – the master bedroom lights and ceiling fan
  • F – garage lights and garage door opener, laundry room lights, and kitchen lights

The Time and Work Involved’

The only work I hired out was assistance in mounting my 15 solar panels, which is the maximum number you can use with the system. This number can produce almost 4kw. I purchased Sol-Ark’s panel mounting and grounding system. A friend and I measured and planned out the panel mounting configuration. We also installed the first row of panel mounting brackets. It took one man on the roof with me handing up the panels four hours to install the 15 panels.

The Sol-Ark Staff and Support

Throughout the entire process of buying the system in increments and then answering numerous e-mails and phone calls, the staff at Sol-Ark was awesome. There was one hiccup in the process. A wire was not connected in the transfer switch circuit breaker panel that caused most of the phone calls. Tom Brennan is the Sol-Ark engineer who handles installation questions and stars in their YouTube installation videos. He is a super gent to deal with!

Warranty

Had it not been for that one issue, which is a rare event per Tom, my installation would have gone flawlessly. Sol-Ark stands behind their product 100% and their warranty is the best!

My Final Evaluation

So, how does my system work? In a word, it is AWESOME! I produce three to four times as much power as I consume. I only wish I could use the excess to power my HVAC or sell back to the utility. But, since I have the EMP hardened version, I cannot connect any 220v powered items to it. I’d rather have the peace of mind knowing that I’ll have power no matter what happens.

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12 Responses to Sol-Ark Review, by James in Florida

  1. USexpat says:

    The author left out what the power output is. It seems a heavy duty robust system but only powering 6 – 110 volt circuits seems quite a bit underutilized.
    My off grid system is 1/2 the size and provides all my needs. It’s 220volt 4KW inverter in enough to power the house, barn and shop and well.
    Also cost is always a consideration. What did the system cost?

  2. Joe Borden says:

    You are scaring me. All lead acid batteries sealed and flooded cell alike give off hydrogen (flammable) gas to some extent. It is lighter than air and can accumulate in a poorly vented area, you have a potential bomb in your garage. Battery boxes are normally vented to the exterior, often with a brushless fan/blower assist and they are never located near a possible source of ignition. Also if you need 240 volts to run things a Buck and Boost transformer can turn 120vac to 240vac or the other way around. This is commonly used for 240vac water well pump installations. I am not sure of the wattage of this system but ac is a huge watt sucker and requires an initial starting current of at least 2 times it’s running current as do well pumps.

    • Ricky B says:

      Sealed AGM Batteries do not gas. They are used in airplanes and are perfectly safe without any venting.

      • SlowBro says:

        AGM batteries do have an emergency valve.
        http://batteriesbyfisher.com/agm-batteries

        • Ricky B says:

          The Emergency valve is only used if your charger to batteries were >16-17V per 12V battery. Example: you hooked solar panels directly to batteries without a solar charge controller. This is true for AGM & Gel. But Gel cells have to be charged at 3-4x slower rates than AGM because it is so easy to gas Gell cells (much older technology than AGM). So unless you have a massive (think 32+ battery) storage bank, AGM’s are far superior to Gel for 98% of people.
          As long as you keep your ~250W-330W Solar Panels in the same range as the number of AGM batteries, you will be fine. Or Watt hour of AGM batteries / 3 > Solar Panel Watts. Hint: The solar panels almost never produce what they are rated in the real world and your inverter is also taking power away from the battery charge.
          Example: 1500W of solar panels (6x250W) < 5000Wh (12v 100Ah x 4 = 4800Wh).

  3. meade says:

    I’ve also had a very positive experience with Sol-Ark I opted to get two of the 4K systems described by James. A total of 30 panels, 16 batteries, and two transfer switches. That lets me have a total of twelve circuits running on solar. Among other things we’re running three refrigerators, two freezers, various lights and receptacles, microwave, washer, etc.

    I ground mounted the panels in two rows on mounting hardware provided by Sol-Ark My panels are about 200 feet from the house. I had to build a small building about 100 feet from both the panels and the house to install the electronics. The battery boxes are located outside the building. I chose to use wet batteries and needed to be able to vent them to the atmosphere. The power produced by the Sol-Ark system goes from the building housing the electronics to the house where the transfer switches are located.
    The system has been working flawlessly for almost 8 months now.

    The system is designed so that during the day the circuits you have run through the transfer switch run on solar as long as the batteries do not discharge below, I believe, 90% of capacity. At night the system automatically switches to the grid. It also switches to the grid if the batteries discharge sufficiently. The equipment indicates whether you’re running on battery or grid power. For the first month I ran the system I never saw it switch to the grid as it was supposed to do. Occasionally my battery discharge would be more than 90% of capacity, and I was still running off the batteries at night. When I started carefully checking to determine the source of the problem I discovered I had neglected to connect the systems to the grid by plugging in the cords that feed grid power to the system. That was an unintentional error, but it provided a good real world test of the system in the absence of grid power. The system passed with flying colors.
    I also have the emp hardened version.

    One other feature of my system is that I also have my generator connected in a way that lets me use it if grid power is not available. That lets me use the generator to charge the batteries if necessary, but minimizes generator use to save fuel and minimize noise.

    First rate system. First rate people to deal with. If you’re going to get one deal directly with Sol-Ark.

  4. Interested reader says:

    So….What did the system cost? And no one has a link to any of the systems mentioned?

  5. just_AC says:

    Here’s a quick link on different systems and costs/savings

    https://www.portablesolarllc.com/sol-ark-pricing-2/

  6. meade says:

    You get what you pay for. These systems aren’t cheap, but they are quality, and they are emp hardened. You can have Sol-Ark set the system up to produce 240 instead of 120. Once it’s set up that way it’s software selectable. Usually 240 is the result of two 120 legs that are out of phase with one another. That’s not the way it works here. I’m not clear on how the inverter produces 240 but from what Tom Brennan told me it’s not that way. They chose the inverter they did because it has extremely low power consumption to run the inverter. My understanding is that more conventional inverters use a lot more power. That power is then unavailable to run your loads.

    The fact is you’re not going to run heavy starting loads like heating/ac or water heating with solar. At least not at a price that makes any sense. You can run window ac with solar, just be careful of the sizing. Solar central ac is available but uses a different technology than the usual compressor.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The only thing missing is a good battery charging section when you have grid power yet it rains for a few days while you are using battery power to keep grid cost down…

    • Anonymous says:

      The Sol-Ark has both an AC/DC Charger from the Grid/Generator and an internal AC transfer switch all the loads over. It’s all done automatically on cloudy days, nights, and Grid failures.

  8. Don says:

    James in Florida, You didn’t mention if you had this permitted.

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