MidNite Solar, Inc.
A few months after having resigned as president of OutBack Power Systems (March 2005), the urge to design something overcame my daily routine of yard work and house maintenance. I started with a new approach to solve what seemed to me to be the last issue for RE circuit breaker boxes. My goal was to make a modular breaker box that could expand as required and yet take up the smallest footprint on the wall. The design breakthrough that allowed the small footprint was to incorporate a hinged door to which the inverter would mount. This task turned out to be easier than I thought. We were all a little concerned about the strength of the door since it was going to have a 60 pound inverter mounted to it. Thank goodness for UL standards. They require a test to cover just this issue. ETL now has pictures of two guys (300 pounds) standing on the inverter mounted to the door, and the door is open! The hinged door allows the installer to bolt the inverter to the door while the door is laying flat on a table. Once bolted together, simply hang the door on the chassis. Anyone that has had to hold an inverter up in the air while trying to screw it down will appreciate this feature. The installer no longer needs three hands and a back of steel to mount an inverter.
There is a certain amount of room required for breakers, terminal blocks and such so putting the inverter directly over these items made the footprint extremely small. Since the inverter was taking up the entire face of the new E-Panel, there was no place to put the circuit breakers but out the sides. This side exit allowed the depth of the E-Panel to be half that of previous designs. Din Rail mount breakers were selected due to their low cost and small size. In all of the tens of thousands of these Din Rail mount breakers I’ve sold in the past, I am aware of only one single Din Rail breaker that had a problem. This was just one more good reason to select these breakers for the E-Panel. The 63 amp 125VDC breakers used for charge controller disconnects cost half as much as other styles used today. CBI in South Africa who makes these breakers has graciously made changes on my recommendations to have the DC breakers re-tested to 125VDC. The industry has benefited from this change. They are now in the process of having the MidNite DC-GFP breaker assembly UL listed. This will finally allow DC-GFP assemblies to be priced as they should be, (affordable).
The more we got into the design features of the E-Panel the more real world features kept on growing. It was decided to pre-wire the AC bypass switch and generator/utility input disconnect breakers. We also decided to provide the inverter cables with the E-Panel to help make installation a snap. The installer has enough to do with solar panels, batteries and generators. The pre-wired E-Panel will make the installation go a little smoother and quicker, thus reducing overall cost. The fact that the E-Panel handles AC and DC circuits cuts hundreds of dollars out of the bill as opposed to the larger boxes offered today. A complete list of features is included at the end of this paper for your review. Comments are always welcome too.
The evolution of the E-Panel was the toughest of any breaker box I have done, but it has been worth it. There have been hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars spent in the design of the E-Panel. I’ve learned over the years that in a product like this, you need to actually build some, wire it up and especially get feedback from the people that will be using it. It took four different prototype runs to get all the features right. A big thanks goes out to all the industry people that helped in the development phase. The E-Panel is now ETL listed for the US and Canada and will commence shipping in November 2005. Following right behind the introduction of the E panel will be a version to work with Magnum Energy inverters too, "The MagNite".The people from Magnum also get their roots from Trace Engineering. They will be a welcome addition to the RE industry providing needed competition.
There are but a few optional parts to consider for E-Panels.