Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Upgrading my home solar to solar edge

Yesterday I got my ground mount solar panels upgraded to solar edge. This is something people very rarely do, for very sensible reasons, so I thought I’d blog about it, as its something you wont ever find explained.

As some background, I have a 10-panel ground mount solar array in my driveway. We live in an very old ‘listed’ building in the UK so we cannot have roof mounted solar, but I’m a huge fan of green energy and wanted them anyway. 10 panels is all we could fit in the vaguely sunny part of the driveway so thats what we got, and the peak output is 2.1kw. Thats pretty low, and by Californian standards hilariously low, but this is the UK, and we don’t even have air-con (but I DO have an electric car to charge).

Because there is no other sunny part of the garden, and the neighbors are not likely to sell me extra space to put solar,m I have ended up starting a company to build a solar farm, but it still frustrates me that we are not energy independent at home. This is REALLY hard to do for an old house in the UK without a huge flat un-shaded garden. Thus I took it upon myself to try and squeeze as much efficiency out of our existing solar panels as possible. Enter solar edge!

Solar edge is a system that is almost ALWAYS fitted when you get new solar panels (if you opt for it, most don’t), and rarely done as a an upgrade. As an upgrade, it makes very sketchy financial sense, unless you are in my position, have variable shading, and are desperate for higher efficiency.

Solar edge fixes a problem in the way solar panels are wired, that almost no homeowners realize. They are wired so that power flows from one panel to the next, and the next, until eventually they reach the inverter, and get converted from DC to AC. What this means is, in practice, if you have 10 solar panels and solar panel number 1 is shaded, then the output of ALL TEN panels is reduced.

Yes really.

In almost all ground mount, and many rooftop installations, this does not matter. But if you have partial shading at some point during the day, or if you have constant shading of just one panel, you lose a massive amount of potential output. It also means that solar panels have to ideally all be facing the exact same way (not both sides of a roof, unless you literally live at the equator), and be the same type/output. Otherwise you are losing energy.

Solar edge is essentially a bunch of widgets (optimisers) that get wired onto the back of each panel. here is one on one of my panels:

All most all of that extra cabling and cable ties is due to the solar edge system, so its actually a lot of annoying, slow, fiddly work to do it. You need one of these for every single panel:

They are also not cheap, but frankly these days even if they cost $10, the main cost is getting an electrical engineer to come wire everything up. As ever, humans are the point at which renewable energy gets most of its costs these days… Anyway, you also get a new inverter, which is a lot smaller and simpler than many others. Like most inverters these days, it can talk to your wireless network and give you internet-based tracking of everything:

The beauty of this system for people with complex roofs is that a single inverter can now manage multiple groups of panels, even when one might be slightly shaded in the afternoon when the other is in full sunlight. The thing is, it also helps for stuff like partial shading due to clouds, or maybe in my case treetops which will affect coverage for one panel but not others. Check out this screenshot from the solar edge site:

Thats taken at a specific time this morning, around 10am, where either clouds or treetops have shaded a lot of the panels, except panels 4 and 8. In this case they get to produce 65w and 68w, instead of being limited to the 40w of that first panel. (its a cloudy day today, normally output would be way higher!)

What is especially cool about the site is it has a sort of ‘scrubber’ where you can slide through time on any day and see the output of each panel at each point in time. It will also show you total power for the day/week/month for each panel, so you can work out if one of the panels is maybe covered in bird crap or some fine dust, or if it has a technical problem and is failing. Its also apparently safer in case of electrical fires and faults.

This is all total nerdgasm silliness that only someone like me would ever actually do, because the extra output is likely about 10% and the costs are in the thousands, so although yup, I did get a spanking new inverter out of it, the actual economics of it make little sense in the UK, unless your inverter is failing anyway.

However, if you ARE thinking of getting solar, have a complex roof and some shading at parts of the day from a neighbors tree or a power-line or phone line, it may well be worth considering a solar edge setup.

Positech Energy. OH YES INDEED

So yeah… I have literally been wanting to type this for years, and I’m finally doing it. There is not THAT much concrete I can announce, but there are plans..real plans..and actual actions…

I’m a big renewable energy fan. If you follow this blog a lot you might know that I have solar panels in my garden (2.1kwp) and also have put some solar panels on a local school (as a charitable thing). I’m a big fan. I also have over the years invested in peer-to-peer networks that build solar farms, through sites like the westmill solar farm co-op and abundance. I got quite into it. It *can* be a reasonably good (and very safe & predictable) investment. I’ve wanted to do a lot more for years.

Luckily, I seem to be unusually good at running an indie game company, and also unusually good at investing the profits, which means I’m finally in a position to fulfill a very long-held dream and actually start a little solar energy company, which I have unimaginatively called Positech Energy. Its a real proper registered company, and everything! It even has an incredibly crap placeholder website that has almost zero content!

So…whats this for then?

I’m a big fan of solar farms, and have read about them a ridiculous amount., I always wanted to build one, not just invest in one someone else built. Frankly investment is easy, and lazy. You just read some financial documents and click a button. You could do it in the bath ffs. Its not the hard work. The hard work is the actual nitty gritty of where the tires hit the road and you have to talk to planning people, and local government, and solar installers, and energy companies, and regulators, and energy distribution companies… and about a bazillion other pieces of bureaucracy… This is what puts people off, and its PRECISELY because this is so awkward, and difficult, and stressful that I decided to do it…

I am aware of just how easy it is to be a ‘slacktivist’. Someone whose idea of activism is using a hashtag, or adding an emoji to their twitter profile. Thats all well and good, but its not even 0.000001% as effective as getting off your ass and physically making a change. I’ve already insulated my house to oblivion, put solar in the garden, bought an electric car, switched to a green electricity provider, and so on. I’ve done the green-investment thing, but really, its only one step up from slactivism. I haven’t really made an impact on the issue I care about: climate change and green energy’s part in all that.

So… I’m planning on building a solar farm. We have a potential site (actually potential site #2 now…#1 fell through), and are in the haggling stages. Its nowhere near me. I wont be able to nip out there to stare at it daily. It is in the UK though. Also… its kinda MASSIVE from the POV of me, but tiny from the POV of the big energy companies.

It turns out that roughly 1MWp is the size we are aiming for. So a peak output of about 1MW, which is quite a lot. over a year you generate maybe 1,000 MW(ish). For comparison to fill (from empty) a high performance Tesla model S is 100kw, so thats 10,000 cars recharged per year. Its also a lot of space, and solar panels. Thousands of them in fact.

The plan is also to incorporate some energy storage (effectively a shipping container or two full of lithium ion batteries wired into the grid). This allows you to get a better price for the power, as you can effectively ‘cache’ it for when its a good time to sell, and also you can sell ‘grid stabilization’ where you allow the national energy grid to rent space in your battery to dump excess power and then slurp it back a few minutes (or seconds) later if they are having trouble maintaining grid frequency. There is an open(ish) market for these kind of services.

This is going to take MONTHS to have any progress whatsoever. There will be a lot of staring at paperwork, and spreadsheets, and emails, and phonecalls/zoom meetings and bureaucracy and nonsense. I’ve already been driven MAD by the insane demands of simply opening a second bank account in a new company name… But hopefully it will be worth it.

Because I love stats, and the free market, and sharing, I intend to be very open about the technical and financial side once we actually have contracts signed. That might be a while…

(BTW I am still working 40+ hours/week on indie games with Democracy 4. This crazy adventure is my hobby. Its not a big time commitment)

Solar school photos!

My company (positech games) gave £10,000 to a local primary school to spend on solar panels, because the kids were really into environmental issues and had protested in our local town about it…and I thought, yup, go for it kids! They were installed yesterday so I went and took photos today by drone:

There are 32 panels, in 2 strings of 16, roughly 10.2 kwp. My panels at home are only 2.1 kwp :(. Really glad I did this.

Positive by default

I read a few replies to some tweets recently…and ended reporting half of them for abuse. Not replies to me, but to pretty famous people. Apparently nobody with over a certain threshhold of twitter followers can say anything without hateful abuse, insults, death threats, and the like being pasted to them. Some people stalk a celebrity and reply to every tweet of theirs with the same post, hoping to get the orgasmic thrill of thinking that person will see something that upsets them.

These people are sick, and need treatment, but mostly they need banning from twitter. Twitter of course doesnt care, because the platform is deliberately built to encourage hate.

This is a choice, and a bad one (for society) because it could quite happily have been based on a theme of positivity and inspiration and community instead. There is an assumption that all online communities collapse immediately into a horrific hate-fest because of human nature, but I don’t think people have seriously tried to do the opposite.

It would be trivial to train an AI (or even simpler) to bias the promotion of social media posts based on some analysis of tone. At the very least, you can hide, ban or even just auto-downvote posts containing negative terms and swear words, or in all-caps. If anything, twitter does the opposite, but thats a choice.

We live now in a society so corrupted by social media, that it has spilled over into life in general, especially the media. I recently watched (at my wifes suggestion) the disney film ‘moana‘. Not my kinda film, but it was ok, and a few days later I satill have this catchy, chirpy ‘your welcome’ song in my head. Whats notable about that film for me, is that its upbeat. Its positive. There is a happy ending, and not a lot of suffering or depression or hatred in it. Its sad that this sticks out, but a simple browse of whats trending on netflix shows you how unusual this is.

Dwayne Johnson's Moana-Obsessed Daughter Is Still Unaware Of One ...

Sadly we take these attitudes into our daily lives. We carry around the moods and thoughts and opinions of social media and netflix into social interactions. When I chat to my buddies each day they often say ‘whats todays twitter drama’ and we know that means accusations, or hatred or abuse. Its never ‘whats hilarious and exciting and awesome on twitter today’. We are all looking for todays 15 minutes of hate, not thanks, or celebration.

Its difficult for someone like me to preach about how everyone should be positive because 1) I’ve done very well out of life financially and 2) I actually have depression, so it can seem kinda ironic :D. However I shall try!

I read a good book last year about how everything in the world is getting better and better for all of us, and how things are amazing. Its sounds like bullshit but its true. By almost any metric, society just keeps getting better. Less hunger, Less disease, Less poverty, More education. We live in a time of relentless progress and awesomeness. This never gets on the news, but thats a CHOICE. We can choose to focus on whats good and awesome in the world if we choose to.

Even if you are on a low income, or unemployed right now, things are really not too bad compared with almost any point in history. Even given my own life, I would DEFINITELY prefer to be poor and unemployed right now than in the very early 1990s when I was both those things. We didnt have the internet to entertain/amuse/inform or educate us. Unemployment in the UK was pretty bad then (way worse than now). I had to learn computing by trips to the library as I couldnt afford the books. I’d listen to music on a casette player as I walked to the library. No mp3s, no spotify. shitty, poor quality clunky casettes.

Audio Tapes Vs. HD Audio?

The thing is, we DO live in great times, if you can brush apart the waves of monetized negativity and try to be positive by default. We are actually making phenomenal strides in renewable energy. Computers have got so laughably fast we all have a personal supercomputer we can talk to and it talks back. wtf! We can even carry them in our pockets and communicate with our friends wherever they are.

Just pause and imagine covid lockdown in 1990. No internet. No mobile phones. You cant see your friends, you cant even talk to them unless your parents let you use *the phone* for a short (expensive) period. You have to amuse yourself with books, a very, very primitive games console if you are super-lucky, or watch whatever your parents choose to watch from the 3 or 4 channels of terrestrial TV. And no, its not HD.

TV Whirl - ITV Teletext

Things are awesome now. People are landing rockets on boats to re-use them so even rural people can have super-fast internet soon. You can buy solar panels and use them to partially power your own house. Take that energy companies! There are a bazillion channels of entertainment in superb picture quality, and endless fun entertainment on youtube for everyone. You can make and sell video games FROM YOUR HOME, and you can learn how to do it from home too, for free.

And yes… believe it or not, you likely live in a society that is WAY less sexist, WAY less racist and WAY more accepting of people of all kinds than twenty or thirty years ago. Its telling that its totally unacceptable for me to even mention the derogatory words used for people of color routinely when I was a child. Sure, sexist, racist and transphobic people exist, but oh my god, the progress on these issues has been amazing.

But lastly, the thing that REALLY annoys me is that saying ‘hey, life is pretty cool isn’t it’ is something you will get ABUSE for posting on twitter. Its literally described as a ‘bad take‘. This is fucked up. People are so obsessed with doomscrolling and ‘calling out’ and hurling abuse they are actually subconciously banishing positivity from their lifes. This is nuts.

So yeah, life is good. Not perfect, but then it never was and never will be, but life is good. Dont be afraid to think it, or say it, or even tweet it. Its not a ‘bad take’ if its what you think.

Heres a final feel-good thingy. I love solar panels, and I like doing the odd charity thing. We just handed over a check for £10k (yes an actual check!) to our local primary school (which has an eco-school group and have been protesting about climate change), so they could have 32 solar panels installed on the roof. They gave me this cool certificate :D. I’ll take some drone pics of the fitting of them in a month or two when they get installed :D.

Solar Update

Since I got a new inverter, I have far better logging of the power output of my solar panels, even on my phone :D

I have a pretty small, 2.1kwp (10 panel) ground mount array in my driveway. Its partially shaded at certain points of the day and year, far from ideal. Nevertheless it looks like we are producing about 44% of our August energy consumption from our solar panels.

Thats better than it sounds, because our electrical consumption is relatively high due to

a) Working from home

b) Having an induction hob electric cooker and

c) Having an electric car that charges from home.

We use about 514kwh of energy in August, our peak is about 800 which is January, and probably due to some electric heating in certain rooms, and more hot food I guess.   If we had a new house, with better insulation (this one is insulated as much as it can be given its structure), and larger rooftop solar with zero shading, I reckon we could probably hit 100% renewable in the summer months. Why new-build homes are not mandated to include solar panels is a mystery to me. Its just such an obvious thing to do.