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Energy Components: Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring (photo from Roman Electric Home – click here for more information)

I have been working towards getting my electricians license for years now, and while it’s a potentially a more lucrative position than getting a four-year degree and then starting to work, it is by no means an easy feat.

Electrical Wiring

Electrical Wiring (photo from GetBuilding.com – click here for more information)

You need two years of schooling to begin. Then, you can begin working as an apprentice electrician. After a couple years, and a few thousand hours logged in your work log, you can take a test and apply for your journeyman’s license, typically making a few more dollars per hour on each job. After a couple more years working as a journeyman (and a few more thousand hours), you can take your electrician’s license; subsequently (a couple more years working with an expert and logging a few more thousand hours…) you can take your Master Electrician’s license test.

For most people this test, as well as the entire process of obtaining a Master Electrician’s license, might take a few tries – even after having worked in the industry for eight+ years (minimum) already! However once you achieve this accolade, you are finally ready to work on your own, and since in many cases you’ll be handling dangerous equipment that could literally kill you, I guess it’s a good thing that you studied and practiced for so long before you set out to do the work on your own!

All that said, I am not yet a Master electrician (and when you come across one, you should definitely give due respect given what you now know about the process they took to get there), however I’d like to share with you what the professionals have to say about the wiring equipment used in solar panel installations; today’s focus: Wiring.

While any type of electrical wiring may seem daunting, and it certainly can be if you decide to DIY this component, when you’re working with a professional it becomes much easier. I’ve worked with electricians in solar panel installations for years, and with just a little bit of communication and creative problem solving, you can hide the necessary wiring components behind the walls, or within PVC or metal piping, while ensuring your project will have all of the wiring components connected efficiently.

Because I’m not the resident expert on electrical wiring of solar systems, or even simple appliances, I’d like to share with you a few links from the subject-matter-experts (SME’s) on the topic (click on the links below, or the images within this post to learn more also):

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Energy Components: The Main Panel and Breaker Boxes

How many times have you heard that when your power goes out you just need to “flip the switch in the main panel”? Likely you’ve never heard this before, since most people refer to these as “breaker boxes.” So what’s the difference?

What is a main panel?

Electrical Breaker Box

Typical Home Breaker Box (photo from The Prepper Journal – click here for more information)

Check out the picture to the right to get an idea – it’s likely something you’ve seen every single day without even really noticing it. I have many friends who vowed to hire electricians for everything when they moved into their first home, and in all honesty, this is not a terrible idea. Of course, there are a few things that you can DIY and hopefully this blog post will help you learn a little bit about how to do just that, or at least where to look as you get started.

How can we tell the difference between the main panel, and a sub panel? Take a look at the following link for a helpful explanation of the similarities and differences between the two electrical components: https://www.livewireelectricalcharlotte.com/2020/01/main-panel-vs-sub-panel-whats-the-difference/.

What is a Breaker Box?

This is another electrical component you’ve likely seen a million times before, but perhaps you never paid much attention to it before. Take a look at the photos within this post as examples – they’re often found within your garage, or laundry room, or outside of your home on the wall of the first floor – ideally somewhere that will stay dry even when it rains.

What do Breaker Boxes do? To learn more about the purpose they serve and how to read them, check out the following links:

Another good source of information I came across while doing research for this blog was familyhandyman.com – check out the following link to learn more about breaker boxes, also known as circuit boxes, and how to connect/disconnect them safely: https://www.familyhandyman.com/project/breaker-box-safety-how-to-connect-a-new-circuit/.

Please, please keep in mind that if you plan to look into these items in your home, especially if you decide to make changes or turn on/off your breaker box, that you do so safely! I would definitely recommend reading through the links provided above, as well as consulting YouTube, before attempting anything yourself, since the consequences for not doing so could be dire!

Main Panel vs. Sub Panel

Example Breaker Box (photo from LiveWire – click on the photo for more information)

The good news is that once you know what you’re looking at and what you’re looking for, you won’t have to hire a Master Electrician for every little thing in your home, and of course electrical project sizes and complexity vary greatly.

For example, almost every time there is a storm in my neighborhood, our outdoor plug trips, and the pump I use to circulate and clean the water in my pond stops working. Initially, I thought it had broken and was not looking forward to the large bill I anticipated to get it fixed. After consulting the expert however (aka my dad), he recommended that I look for the outdoor switch and simply “reset the breaker.”

I told him he had once again started speaking in a different language, and that I would have to pray for the survival of my goldfish until he returned to help me out. He laughed for a whole minute before finally explaining to me how to do this, and now, after doing adequate research and a little bit of *safe* testing, I’m the expert! Every time there is a storm and the pump stops working, I simply go into the garage and reset the switch to the outdoor plug, and my fish once again have circulating water.

Check out the following resources to see these processes for yourself:

As always, be sure to consult the professionals when needed! This week’s blog posts should really include Tim the Toolman’s “Don’t try this at home!” disclaimer, and one that should be strictly followed! However there are a few things you should also know as a home owner, that could save you hundreds of dollars in avoidable fees – just make sure you feel completely comfortable before making any changes.

There is no shame in calling an electrician, especially if you want to avoid “electrocuted himself” as the cause of death at your funeral. Just be safe, read and watch videos ahead of time, and if you don’t feel comfortable with what you’ve learned, consult the experts for help! At SUNTEX we have plenty of Electricians and contacts in the field, so reach out to us today if you have an electrical project in mind!

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Energy Components: The Electric Meter

Electric MeterHow many of my readers could turn off the electricity to your home, without looking it up first on what a former colleague of mine would refer to as, “the Julliard school of YouTube”? How many of you would feel confident doing it after looking it up?

When we bought our first home, my husband and I did two really important and likely very annoying things: 1) we asked the inspector about 1,000 questions about the power, wiring, and electrical systems in the home, which he gladly pointed out to us. The second important thing we did, and were grateful to have access to, was ask our parents to help us learn a little more about these systems, and what we might need to do to care for them.

To this day, I regret not having taken a home-economics class in high school, because I would imagine home maintenance is covered as at least part of that course, and it’s safe to say we were complete novices when we moved in!

So to help my fellow home owners, or anyone that might be curious about home-ownership in the future, this week we’ll discuss the electrical components of your home, starting today with the Electric Meter.

There are a couple of important components within every home that measure energy consumption, and/or allow you to power your light-switches and electrical components: the Electricity Meter, and the Breaker Box. If you know how these work then you’re ahead of the game, but for a quick refresher on Electric Meters or how to read them, please check out the following link, as well as the photos below: https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Electric_meter .

Now that you know what it is, let’s take a look at how to read an Electric Meter (check out the link above for guidance, but I’ve pasted the main steps below):

“Steps

  1. Start at the far right dial. Record the digit that the dial is on, or if it is between two digits record the smaller of the two.
  2. Now read the dial to its left, again recording the smaller of the two if it is between two digits.
  3. Continue until the far left dial is recorded, then read the recorded number normally.”

Electric Meters vs Smart Meters This is the same process your energy company rep will take in reading your meter, so it’s a good practice to compare your readings to what you’re seeing on your monthly bill from time to time, just to make sure you’re on the same page about the amount of energy you’re consuming.

Sometimes your electric meter will look differently in the one featured above. No worries there! It may be that your meter is newer, or older, or simply a different model all together. Take a look at the following link to learn a little more about these electric meters, how to read them, and how to determine whether or not an upgraded might be needed in your home: https://www.citizensutilityboard.org/five-things-need-know-new-electric-meter/.

We will build on this foundational knowledge to discuss Smart Meters, Net Meters, and Data Monitoring in subsequent Blog posts this week– you won’t want to miss out!

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries, Part 2

If you’ve been following along this week, you might already know where this story is headed, however the observations that led humanity to electric lighting where certainly unexpected at the time of their discoveries. While the source we’ve been using thus far to discuss the history of electricity is helpful (here’s the link: https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity), it leaves out one crucial person responsible for aggregating many of the previous findings and creating a historical record of electricity in his book titled, “The history and Present Stare of Electricity, With Original Experiments” which allowed countless others to further this exploratory work: Joseph Priestly. Some of Priestley’s most important work, in my opinion, included the initial findings of conductivity – please see the quote below from encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/science-and-technology/chemistry-biographies/joseph-priestley):

His experiments relate primarily to conductivities of different substances, although he also examined other modes of the motion of the electrical fluid. He discovered the conductivities of charcoal and of metallic salts, ranged the metals in a table of comparative conductivities, first noted the distinctive marks left by spark discharges on metallic surfaces—now known as “Priestley’s rings”—and examined the phenomena of “electric wind” and sideflash. His most remarkable electrical discovery came as an interpretation of an experiment by Franklin. From the observation that pith balls lowered within an electrified metallic cup were not influenced by electricity, Priestley deduced, on Newtonian grounds, the inverse-square form of the force law between electrical charges. The publication of this deduction in the History passed nearly unnoticed (as had that of Daniel Bernoulli in 1760), but it probably inspired Cavendish’s subsequent experimental determination of the force law.”

By combining and honing the information on electricity and conductivity, as well as requesting direct critiques from the experimenters themselves, Priestly was able to pass on a plethora of generational knowledge to other scientists who would later continue this important work. His book potentially led Henry Cavendish to his discovery of electric attraction and repulsion and his own discoveries on conductivity – priming us for Charles-Augustin de Coulomb’s famous “Coulomb’s law” which states the direct inverse relationship between electrostatic repulsion and attraction (see below).

Coulombs Law

In case you’re curious about the chemistry implications of this equation (which essentially hold our entire world together), click on the image to check out the source.

Priestley, Cavendish, and Coulomb’s works gave rise to another scientist, who’s name you might recognize: Alessandro Volta. While Volta has a plethora of findings, one of his most significant contributions to the world of electricity was the worlds first battery (https://www.thoughtco.com/alessandro-volta-1992584). As you can see from this link, the words “volt” and “photovoltaic” are credited to him.

It would still be roughly 80 years before we saw the first incandescent light bulb that led to harnessing light in street lamps and homes, but the painstaking work would may have taken even longer without these amazing discoveries. More to come on that in tomorrow’s post!

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Historical Figures: Electric Discoveries

There’s a lot to unpack in the history of electricity, but there’s also a ton of information online to help. So where do we begin? It’s easy to think that Benjamin Franklin “invented” electricity in 1752 during his experiment when he, to put simply, attached a key to a kite so that it might be struck by lightening and then the electricity would be harnessed via a Leyden jar (https://www.fi.edu/benjamin-franklin/kite-key-experiment), but in fact electricity itself existed long before that day, and humans had been well aware of it for centuries prior. His discovery however did help illustrate that lightening did in fact harness the same type of electrical charges that we use to power our homes today.

Even in his experiment however, Franklin was already building upon existing principals and prior inventions within the field of electricity. Namely, those of William 

Gilbert – whom had coined the phrase “electrica” in his book written in 1600 about electricity and magnetism, “De magnete, Magneticisique Corporibus” – or Otto von Guericke – whom was responsible for proving that a vacuum could exist– or Pieter van Musschenbroek and Ewald Christian Von Kleist – whom had invented the very Leyden jar that allowed Franklin to harness the electricity from his kite experiment (https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-electricity-1989860#:~:text=Ben%20Franklin%2C%20Henry%20Cavendish%2C%20and,first%20practical%20application%20of%20electricity).

After all of this progress however, humans were not quite able to turn on a light switch in their home to turn on their recessed lighting. It would take the delicate work of a few more people before we were ready to achieve that milestone. To be continued on tomorrow’s post – stay tuned!

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The Energy Grid: How Does It Work?

You may have a general understanding of the energy grid, though if you do not work in the industry it would be tough to understand the intricacies of the equipment and those in charge of regulating said equipment. At a basic level, energy is generated by a power plant, then transferred to a substation via power lines (for aggregation and distribution), then distributed to local power substations and energy regulators, until finally traveling through local power lines to your home. For a helpful graphic on how this works, check out the following link: https://www.choosetexaspower.org/energy-resources/how-the-power-grid-works/. The more power is generated, the more likely we are to be able to address high demand – like during the summer when temperatures increase to triple digits, or alternatively when – like we saw last week – they dip down to the single digits, and we all turn on our heaters at home. If there is too much energy demand on the grid, and demand surpasses supply, the entire grid could shut down or “fail,” causing systems to crash, which would require weeks or possibly months worth of infrastructure work to bring the power back online. Because of this delicate balance, there are several governance bodies in charge of regulating the grid – and making sure that we can meet demand for the entire state equitably. This is why when you decide to “go solar,” the company you work with will need to communicate your power production with the local utility via an “interconnection agreement” which allows them to plan ahead for your power generation to be connected to the grid.

Energy production in Texas comes from a variety of sources, including: Natural Gas, Coal, Oil/Petroleum, Nuclear energy, Hydro-electric power (dams), and Renewables such as Wind and Solar energy. The breakdown of how much of each material is used to power the state of Texas is as follows (chart found on U.S. Energy Information Administration, here: https://www.eia.gov/state/?sid=TX):

The more energy is produced, the more is available for consumption, which is why solar plays such a pivotal role in the summer time when Texans use their air-conditioners to moderate the hot temperatures inside their homes – the more solar energy we harness in the summer time, the more equipped we are to deal with energy demand. As you can see, this type of energy currently makes up the smallest portion of our energy production equation – ergo, there’s nothing but potential for additional energy to enter the market if we all “go solar” – the real issue here is information, and the money to implement it. This is why things like the Federal Tax Credit or local utility incentives for solar energy are so important because they help consumers like you and me afford the ticket price of a new solar energy system, while allowing us to pay no more than our current electric bill.

What about in the winter time, when the days are shorter and there is less sunlight to turn into power? Well, you’re not wrong to be skeptical – solar panels do typically produce less energy in the winter than in the summer – however they are not obsolete. More energy production allows for more energy consumption, so even if your solar panels produce less in the winter, if we all had solar energy on our roofs, can you imagine how much more energy we might have had last week to power the grid when the natural gas and coal plants froze? What’s stopping you from helping power the grid?

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