In addition to my SolarCity collectors I built an additional collector / yard art / garden shade. I saw something similar online and I thought “I need to build one of those.”

Yes – this is as simple as it looks. It’s 4 240 watt panels bolted together in a diamond. They are mounted on a 2 inch pipe. The 4 panels are connected in parallel and connected to a 1KW grid tie inverter that is plugged into a wall socket on my deck. It’s very simple. The sun shines on it, it makes DC power (40 volts / 20 amps) and the inverter turns it into AC power that is fed back into the grid. If the house is using less power than the collector it runs the meter backwards.

Technically this is a 1000 watt system. But in reality at the peak of the day I get about 750 – 800 watts of real power back into the grid so I’m calling it 800 watt.

The construction was fairly simple. I start with a 2″ pipe 10′ long and stuck 3 1/2 feet into the ground in concrete. The hole was about 18″ diameter. You want a lot of weight down there to handle the wind load. I also filled the pipe with concrete to stiffen it up. On top of that is a plumbing union, then 2 more feet of 2″ pipe and a 2″ tee. Then I reduce from 2″ to 1″ pipe. Used a 3″ nipple on both ends and into 2 more unions. Then that goes to 2 5′ lengths of 1″ galvanized steel pipes.

At the 4 corners that the pipe passes over I have L shaped brackets that I got at Home Depot and I drilled holes in them so I could bolt the pipe to the panels using 1 1/4 inch muffler clamps.


The unions act like bearings and when loosened allow the collector to be rotated horizontally using the 2″ union, and vertically using the two 1″ unions.





Then for decoration I made a bracket out of PVC fittings I bought at Lowes to mount the sun sconce in the middle.




Then I wired the sun sconce to the PVC mount and snapped it on the 1″ pipe and turned it into yard art.


You might be wondering – why build an additional system when I already have one from SolarCity? The Solar City install is much bigger and it’s 14 panels and works great. But I wanted to generate more power than needed. SolarCity usually right sizes the system so that you generate just a little less than 100% so as to be the most economical. But to me I wanted to make more power just because – and money wasn’t the most important factor. I might use some electric heat instead of gas if I feel like I need to use up the excess. Or I can just give it to PG&E cheap. PG&E pays 4 cents a KWH which isn’t the kind of price you make money from.

For what it’s worth I’m very happy with PG&E. They have been very pro solar. I even read somewhere where the president used to work for one of the big phone companies and said he saw what cell phones did to land lines and decided that solar is the coming thing and PG&E needs to be part of the future. So I don’t mind giving them some low cost power.


Also – I have a shading issue with my roof top install and in the middle of the afternoon the power output drops off. So I wanted an extra collector that would make additional power on those hot summer days.

And – this is Gilroy California and it’s hot and dry in the summer. My experience is that almost everything in the garden burns up in the hot Gilroy sun. So I’m adding some shade to see if that helps.

For what it’s worth, I think PG&E should pay a little more at peak demand times. That would create an incentive for people like me to see if I can make power when they need power on those hot summer days when everyone has the air conditioning cranked up. It could help them meet their peak demand and be able to make sure everyone has power without having to build more power plants.

    • bobbo, the pragmatic existential evangelical anti-theist and Green Energy Advocate says:

      One nice alternative is to place those hoses in the concrete surrounding the edge of the pool. This makes for an invisible collector that also cools the decking.

      Way back when, I thought about oversizing my pool and the decking and use the pool year round as a thermal storage medium connected to a heat pump to heat the house in winter, or cool it in summer. I never got around to plotting the different curves but even a casual look shows the pool would get too hot to swim in at times in summer…… have to cool the pool at night.

      Lots of passive vs active elements to play with.

  1. IM72 says:

    Nice work, Marc. Impressive.

  2. NewFormatSux says:

    >and in the middle of the afternoon the power output drops off.

    Say what? You put up this whole system and it fails when the sun is brightest?

  3. Ah_Yea says:

    Lovin’ it! Nice job well done.

    I can understand why PG&E doesn’t pay more for electricity. It would encourage more people to be as creative as you are, which would be bad for the bottom line.

    Not to mention it may also encourage more misogynistic decorations. May I suggest you use something more appropriate, like this??

  4. LibertyLover says:


  5. McCullough says:

    Not a huge artsy type, but what can be better than art that is actually useful? Win/Win.

  6. Ah_Yea says:

    I thank you both very much. I am glad you appreciate fine art as I do.

  7. PeterR says:

    Nice project. How about adding tracking to keep it pointed directly at the sun all day?

  8. to err is human to forgive is divine says:

    ohms law states: electonic theory is ‘silly’ woot woot wott

  9. if ye go to nightschool don't bicyle home dynmoless says:

    perpetual machine may not be for two trasons

    one: perpetual

    two: machine

  10. I.Dohno says:

    Is “yard art” a euphemism for making something ugly?

  11. Radar1 says:

    Good luck with wind load.

  12. NewFormatSux says:

    Reported estimates from Tesla’s certified shops include:

    $10,000 to repair a “minor but long” scratch
    $45,000 for “minor front-end damage”
    $7,000 for repair of a small dent and scratch that required no replacement of parts
    $30,000 for “minor fender and door damage”
    $11,000 for a minor scrape on the rear panel, including a $155 charge to “ensure battery remains charged” during the repair

    Source, The Truth About Cars website

  13. ngl says:

    I’m curious about this…. “connected to a 1KW grid tie inverter that is plugged into a wall socket on my deck.”

    Do you have more details?

  14. just_ac says:

    MY question is how much did your unit cost?


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