TBT–What killed the solar power?

Some of you might remember this.  It happened October, 1st 2010.  I’ll post the rest of the story next Thursday.  The tense may seem goofy because I was writing it that night but I’m not going to bother fixing it up.

There a lot of things that can mess around with a solar power system.  The obvious ones are things like cloudy days and snow and such.  And then your batteries can go bad.  That happened to us last year, but we never actually lost all power.  Batteries take time to die—you have time to replace them.  (They are insanely expensive to replace, but that’s another story.)  But the question is:  what can absolutely kill your solar power system?  And when I say kill, I mean dead…instantly…maybe permanently…

Friday at the end of the school day, we looked to the south to see a large dark thunder cell pounding the Walker River Canyon.  Karen said “Will it come up from the south and hit your house?”

And I said “They usually come in from the west.”  I know, I know—famous last words!

I raced home because I knew there was a window open on the truck I had left at home.  As I drove, I could see that I was racing the cell.  It was moving north and I could see the rain falling out of it.  I could also see I was going to lose the race.

About 2 miles from the house, a huge bolt of lightening struck about half a mile from where I was driving.   After that, there was some amazing sheet lightening that shot across the sky and struck in about three places at the same time.  It was raining by this time, but not heavily yet and I was worrying about fires open truck windows and trying to look for smoke.  Finally there was one last big bolt.  I wasn’t looking right at our house when it hit, so I wasn’t sure, but I remember thinking “holy cow—I think that just hit our house!”

Well, it didn’t hit the house as it turned out—it hit the garage… where the solar system is.  I worried all the way up the driveway that it might have hit the panels, but thank God it didn’t.I walked into the house to find…surprise!…no power.  David, naturally, was off camping and out of cell phone range until Sunday.  I tried the standard sort of turning off the breakers, then turning them back on, but no magic fix there.  So I called neighbor Bob down the hill to ask if he knew what to do after a lightening strike, but he had no idea.  He told me to call another neighbor, Murl, who had been hit by lightening and has the same power system we do.   So I called Murl, but he said he was hit by lightening before he put in his power system.

However, Murl did suggest I call Outback who is the maker of our power system. They are on the west coast and should still be open.  I waited on hold for about 10 minutes, but finally a nice lady came on.   She walked me through using a meter to test the voltage, telling her what red lights were flashing where and plugging and unplugging things.  The verdict is that the solar panels are still supplying power to the batteries, but the inverter isn’t sending it to the house.  So I gave the nice lady my credit card number and she will ship new circuit boards for the inverter first thing Monday morning.

In the meantime, we have no power.  We can no longer brag about not having power outages.  The gloat gods must have gotten us there.  We’ll probably lose all of the food in the fridge since David took off with the one generator I could use to run it.  I’m hoping the stuff in the freezer will make it a couple of days.

About 20 minutes after the cell left us, it started a fire in Smith Valley that is still burning as I write this.


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