Powered by the Sun
LIVING OFF the GRID
Solar Power is a popular subject. Perhaps it is the government incentives and stores now offer financing to install solar panels on homes, that are on the grid. Solar power installed off grid is much different and far more expensive. In our area those incentives did not apply because the homes are completely off the grid.
"Off Grid" homes require the installation of an entire electrical system. After the system is installed, the system must be well maintained.
Up and running for 10 years, no problems, very satisfied.
LIVING OFF the GRID
Solar panels are not an efficient energy source by themselves. Solar panels must be paired up with a generator and/or wind turbine. This is true for wind turbine(power) also. When electricity is needed, a backup source is a requirement. Consider during a storm, the cloud cover has negatively affected the charging of the system and a fire breaks out. Without backup power, pressurized water may not be available. The consequences could be unthinkable.
The backup system is just as important as the main source of power and they should be designed for compatibility and efficiency. There is a simple way to bring this all together, it is not as complicated as it may seem. When purchasing components for an off grid power system, the companies should provide adequate support and materials.
An off grid power system will require a main source, a backup source, charge controller(s), deep cell batteries, inverter(s), the breaker box and optional components. Five lightning arresters and a transformer are optional components on our current system. A monitor to view the status of and reprogram the system is located in our home for convenience.
AC or DC
Alternating Current - Direct Current
Consult an electrician when considering the option of DC. DC may save in the initial purchase and setup of an off grid system but it has it's drawbacks. The home must be wired for DC and only DC appliances can be used. Our choice was to use AC for the following reasons.
1. I found it more difficult to find DC appliances.
2. The DC appliances were costly.
3. I was concerned about the availability and cost of parts for repairs for DC appliances.
4. I was concerned that a DC home may be hard to sell.
5. It was much easier and seemed more sensible to go with AC as
it was common in the homes in this part of the U.S.
Determining Output Need
The first step.
Determining how much power the solar panels need to produce is the first step. Increasing that number at least 20% is a very prudent thing to do. Once the need is determined, the size of a system can be calculated. It is simple, but may take time to gather the watts and amp usages of all devices drawing electricity. Including in the calculation should be electrical devices you hope to add to your home, shop etc in the future..
Provided are links to some sites that offer calculation forms and services.
Unrelated to a solar power system, are regulations and permits being required in some areas of the U.S.. System installers should be aware of requirements in the areas they service. Buyer beware, always check with building and safety officials to ensure the job is completed right the first time.
Right the First Time
Counting ourselves blessed that our installation and system were right for us from the start. Follow this link for the story.
SOLAR PANELS and SET UP
When establishing ourselves on our property, we had to decide how to provide electricity. The two major alternatives were wind and solar power. We had very consistent wind most of the year, and fairly consistent year-round sun, so the main consideration was cost and maintenance. At the time, the cost of wind vs. solar was fairly close. However, after talking to some other people in the area, and observing their difficulties, we chose solar. Those who had wind turbines seemed to have them down for repairs quite often, while solar panels being non-mechanical, just sat there soaking up the sun. Don’t get me wrong, I like wind turbines for small residential applications, and ultimately it might be nice to have all three (solar, wind, and generator), but solar seems to be the most trouble free.
The current price of solar panels makes solar power very inviting. The price of panels is less than half what it was when we put in our original system. Recently, we added more solar panels , more than doubling our intake of power. We are very happy with the outcome.
When I installed our first array of solar panels, I used a 6” diameter metal pipe anchored 10’ into the ground by yards of concrete and rebar. It would take a big bomb to move it. At the top of the pipe is a pivoting base attached to a rack that was custom made for the panels I ordered. It’s very nice, but it cost about $1000. With the concrete, the pole, and the backhoe rental, I’m sure it cost at least $2000 to put those panels there. By contrast, our most recent array is set on a rigid frame, made of galvanized steel pipe anchored with concrete. I attached the panels to the frame using steel construction studs. It cost around $400. The moral of the story for me is that sometimes simple, sturdy, and functional is better (and cheaper) than fancy and custom. Incidentally, these newer panels bring in more power than the original ones ever did, and at less than half the price.
I am not an electrician, but I have worked with electricity and have a (very) rudimentary understanding of it, AND a great respect for the dangers associated with working on it. If you are unsure of what you are doing--- STOP! Call an electrician or seek advice from a professional. I put in my own systems, but I made sure I asked questions when necessary. There are no stupid questions, but even if there are, I’d rather be stupid than dead.
We have 14 solar panels. They charge 32- 6 volt deep cell golf cart batteries – that’s 4 banks of 8 batteries each for a 48 volt system (8x6v=48v). When I built a bench for my batteries, I had a brilliant idea—the lower shelf would be on casters so you could pull it out to check the batteries. It was one of those “good ideas” that just plain didn’t work. Sixteen golf cart batteries are HEAVY!! So, when it came time to buy new batteries, which you usually end up doing every 5-7 years, I built a wooden bench with an upper and lower shelf with plenty of space between them. This way I can get in above the batteries on the lower shelf to visually check the water levels without having to use mirrors or other contortions in order to see.
The batteries are charged through two charge controllers. Then the DC (direct current) power goes through two inverters and becomes AC (alternating current) power that goes to the main house and the pump house. The two inverters are “balanced” by a transformer. If one inverter goes down, with a little rewiring and reprogramming, I can still have 240v power at the house with this transformer and only one inverter. All of our components are made by Outback and have proven to be very reliable. On both the DC and AC sides are circuit breakers and lightning arrestors to protect the system and reduce the likelihood of fire. All of this equipment is inside “the pump house” to protect it from the elements, with the exception of some breakers in weatherproof boxes outside.
There are many great resources that can show you how to locate a electrician and how to set up a solar power system. It is very rewarding when your power system supplies adequate power to live at a good comfort level. Mine has been a learning experience.