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Multimeter/Ammeter Recommendations

Discussion in 'Photovoltaics' started by Edward Lomax, Jun 6, 2006.

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  1. Edward Lomax

    Edward Lomax Guest

    Hello, Everyone.

    Recently, I attended an excellent 4-day workshop on the installation of
    residential photovoltaic systems. As a result, I plan to install such a
    system at my home after I rustle up some additional cash (sizing TBD).

    During the hands-on portion of the workshop, the instructor suggested
    that we eventually purchase a portable multimeter and clamp-on ammeter
    as a part of our installation toollkit. (She was using Wavetech and
    Fluke meters)

    I have sent this message to get your suggestions and recommendations
    regarding useful and effective meters for PV system installations.

    My budget for these tools? Within reason (<= $500 each), price is no

    Given that I am also seriously considering PV system installation as a
    second career I would be willing to invest some serious cash for quality

    Please respond to me directly as well as to this newsgroup.

  2. Anti-Spam

    Anti-Spam Guest

    I only use Fluke Digital multimeters, and AVO Analogue multimeters, in
    my opinion the best and I have been in electronics for some 30 years.
    Never used a clamp meter, so can't help you on that one.
  3. I'll reinforce the reccomendations for Fluke equipment, I've got an
    87-V meter that does more than I'll ever use, and gave the Fluke meter
    I bought in 1979(!) away just recently, though it was still perfectly

    Fluke also makes a really cool AC/DC clamp-on ammeter, so you can read
    battery charging currents and such.

    My mind's gone(?) blank, but I also have an AC tester that measures
    percent power drop on an outlet at various current levels, plus ground
    impedance and such, so you can check wiring and connections in the
    walls. Ask Google about a discussion of it in a
    while back (added that newsgroup to the list here).
  4. wmbjk

    wmbjk Guest

    Most meters don't have a DC amp clamp. But if you're going to be in
    the biz, you need one. The Fluke 337 is one example There are
    plenty of others for less money.

    You'll also want an AC Watt-hour meter such as a Kill a Watt or
    I recommend the Kill a Watt, because it's cheap enough that you can
    afford to have several, which will save time if you're auditing (as
    opposed to estimating) someone's use. Leave one behind for the
    customer when you're done. Get some short AC extension cords to make
    the Kill a Watts more convenient to hookup and use.

    None of the meters above can keep track of battery state of charge on
    an operating system though. For that you need something like this
    Consider it a mandatory on every system.

  5. News

    News Guest

    I wish I could say the same. My Fluke died. The LCD display disappeared.
  6. Yeah, I left my old one out in the sun and the display overheated. $20
    and 5 minutes to swap the display and it was as good as new, and still
    working almost 3 decades later.
  7. Lectron_Nuis

    Lectron_Nuis Guest

    And some years ago National Panasonic were marketing a entry
    level range that was surprisingly good quality. No longer
    available in Australia they may be a choice in your area of

    posted in response
    Having difficulty learning about Binary posts?
    Subscribe to alt.binaries.vj.tester - today.
  8. Check out the AC/DC digital clamp-on ammeter/voltmeter at Sears, about $50.

    Once you have used a DC clamp-on to troubleshoot a PV system, you
    will not give it up. There also have a $50 digital IR temperature probe
    with laser pointer that is a great buy.

    Bill Kaszeta
    Photovoltaic Resources Int'l
    Tempe Arizona USA
  9. News

    News Guest

    Well thrown out by now.

    My experinece and of others I know.

    <snip good opposed opinions>
  10. News

    News Guest

    Mine was well older than that. The cost of having them look at the meter and
    maybe replace the LCD display and maybe other components was just not worth
    it. I bought a mid-range meter, of which the Fluke was not twice as good in
    quality, but 3 to 4 times the price. Depending on what you are doing with
    the meter (high accuracy is essential, etc) I would consider other cheaper
    brands and even if you replace more often it is still better financially.
    If they are so cheap then have two, and one as stand by. It is the same
    argument of top range Panasonic, Makita, etc, battery drills. When they
    break down it is the down time that kills the tradesman, and they break down
    at sometime - and they don't bounce when dropped off ladders either. If he
    has 3 cheapies in the van he has no down time when one breaks down and still
    better off financially in the capital cost and the all important down time.
    That is the bargain basement meters. Decent quality mid-range meters can be
    had that are not built that way.
  11. Hawker

    Hawker Guest

    I won't repeat all the good advice you got.
    I will say that here we have perhaps 20-30 good meters.
    The Flukes are great, but lately I find myself grabbing the Waveteks
    more often. They have some nice feature and seem more stable than the
    flukes we have. I also have a great 4 1/2 digit Tektronix VOM that I
    love - mostly because it has a built in LCR meeter and seems darn
    accurate. Can't go wrong with any of those three actually.

    Wavetek has two lines, a semi pro and a pro line. Don't mess with the
    cheap line.

    My opinion is that Flukes are basic but rock solid, Waveteck is more
    accurate and more features that I am likely to use and almost as solid.

    As to why not a $50 or $100 meter. simple. They don't last and usually
    have issues. The cheap ones tend to drift, give funny readings in high
    humidity, not last etc. I have yet to see an accurate one for under $100
    and the $100-$200 stuff tends to not last or stand up to constant use.
    Also the nicer ones have room for ad-ons like AC clamps, Temp probes,
    large capacitance measurements (great for debugging an inverter) etc.

  12. Edward Lomax

    Edward Lomax Guest

    Beemerwacker, Hawker, Jeff, Dave, DJ, et al:

    MANY thanks to you all for your helpful advice and suggestions.

    I have ordered catalogs from Fluke, Wavetech, and Extech. I will also
    look into the Cen-Tech line. I will make a decision after read the
    catalogs and do some additional research on some of the models that were

    I did not mean to start a potential flame war over the merits of cheap
    versus expensive meters.

    In answer to DJ's question:

    I took the Residential Photovoltaic Installation Workshop in the Solar
    Energy Center at the State University of New York (SUNY) Farmingdale
    last month.

    Farmingdale is located on Long Island, New York.

    This was an *excellent* workshop and well worth my time.

    SUNY Farmingdale is also an exam site for the NABCEP certification exam.

    With this course and a minimum of two (2) PV system installations, one
    can sit for the NABCEP certification exam.

    Pass this exam, and you become NABCEP certified as a PV Installer. As I
    understand it, the NABCEP certification is rapidly becoming a valuable
    piece of paper in the PV installation universe.

    At present, I am looking for an opportunity to install some PV systems.

    If anyone out there is looking for an apprentice, intern, or an extra
    hand for your installation contracts, PLEASE feel free to contact me. :)

    (Although I could potentially travel anywhere in the lower 48 states, if
    your company is based in the Southeastern United States that would work
    better for me. If your company is based within driving distance of
    Atlanta, GA that would be ideal.)
  13. Hawker

    Hawker Guest

    Hey Ed,

    I'm assuming your down in HotLanta?
    If so, and you want to drive up three hours for a nice weekend in the
    mountains, and meet a pile of Solar installers (who might need
    Apprentices) or see what is out there...
    You might want to consider attending Back Home Mags shindig called SEE
    or Southern Energy Expo.
    It is up in Asheville (Ashevegas to us).. link is here.

    Lots of vendors and workshops with your ticket.

    A decent show - although the last year it has started becoming more
    political and less alternative energy.

  14. Edward Lomax

    Edward Lomax Guest

    Hi, Jeff.

    I'm not a native Atlantan, but I live in Decatur and think I can find
    Ack Radio.
    I know quite a few "brothers" and know exactly what you mean.

    Thanks for the tips.
  15. Edward Lomax

    Edward Lomax Guest

    Hi, Hawker.

    You'd be right.

    I just went to the SEE expo website. I will try to mosey up to Asheville
    for this event. I assume that I would meet you and that pile of
    installers during this event.

    In 2001, I attended the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Madison, WI

    The 2001 Fair was a sprawling show with a major focus on alternative
    energy and some related activities (for example, green building,
    sustainable agriculture).

    Unfortunately, I am unable to attend this year's Fair. James Howard
    Kunstler, noted social critic, Peak Oil activist, and author of "The
    Long Emergency", will be the keynote speaker this year. It may be that
    this fair is becoming increasingly political as well.

    I am not a native Atlantan or Georgian but, a LOT of folks here have
    nice things to say about Asheville and the many cool people who live

    I believe that I may have just met one. :)

    THANK YOU for both the advice and this excellent tip.
  16. Edward Lomax

    Edward Lomax Guest


    Over two-thirds of the people in my workshop class were either
    electricians or electrical contractors.

    To paraphrase my workshop instructor: Given the number of roofs that
    could host modules, the decreasing of those modules, and the increasing
    cost of electrical energy, it's not a matter of if there will be more
    than enough work for everyone, it's a matter of when there will be
    enough installers to meet the demand for residential and commercial PV

    Thank you for the encouraging words.
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