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first things first

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Kingfish, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. Kingfish

    Kingfish Self Reliant

    I got a little ahead of things my self . First of all a little background on where we are and what we have done so far. In 2008 we moved from a large Michigan city out to the sticks in Western Michigans lower peninsula. W e bought a repo house on a lake with 10 acres. Its built into a hillside with the back facing the lake. 1100 sq feet per floor. It was not constructed to meet todays energy standards with only 2 by4 walls has one of those damned vaulted ceilings in the living room. It has terrible insulation in the roof. We are planning some added truss work to create a dead air space or cold attic to get rid of ice dams on our eves. When we moved in we discovered the oil furnace was shot (hole in the heat exchanger) so we installed a new Wood stove in the basement. I built a barn last summer and have rabbits and Chickens producing both eggs and meat. We tilled two food plots and raise the food for those animals. Goats are next. Our Garden plot is huge and down near the lake where the ground is great for growing things. Lots of rabbit manure alrady enriching the soil.

    I have decided to build some type of renewable energy source to pull us through in the event that the grid collapses or fails us. I am finding this to be a daunting task but will succeed as I never quit . I have many resources available to me like a lake full of fish and water, high ground for wind and defense and ample areas for solar generation. I have thousands of acres of federal land all around me full of oak trees so wood will never be a problem and am starting to think that maybe a wood gasifier may be the way we should go for back up power. In fact I have a friend just down the street who is running a 4 cylinder car engine on wood gas to make his back up power. He can run his entire house on it as the generator is a 12k power plant. I do have many options but have to decide soon on a course and stick to it until its done. I have a 1947 Allis Chalmers B Tractor which has been converted to 12 volt and it runs great. aLSO A 1978 Jeep CJ-5 304 v-8 both of these are EMP PROOF. We have several boats from 14 to 24.5 feet and a 2000 4wd dodge truck and a 1996 f-350 ford van. My little Chevy Aveo rounds out the vehicles. We are well armed and stocked with fire arms and ammo and both my wife and I shoot well and hunt. Three deer this season so far.

    Our pantry is stocked with almost one years supply of canned veggies and fruit,salt,flour and assorted staples. Its a cool storage area never getting over 60 degrees and it stays dry. We have over 30,000 heirloom seeds and can restock our own garden. This winter we are rounding up a pressure cooker and canning jars ,lids etc. W e can cook on our wood stove and in a basement fireplace as well.

    After several post here I am finding that I better first get rid of a lot of energy eating older appliances before I attempt to use any solar or wind power. My next purchase and I hate this one is going to be a propane generator. Propane here is very expensive but it lasts forever so Ill just do it. Tanks in the 100 pound range are 129.00 each at Tractor supply. I have found a good Honda powered unit that will run our well. My next purchase will both freezer and refrigerator and we are going to swap out our electric range for a gas one. So I will wait to pick your brains on the solar power until these things are done. Time to get to work now .Thanks for everything and Ill be on and off here from now on. Kingfish
  2. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Just a thought... Does your tractor have a Universal PTO? (550 Rpm) If so, you might just look around for a PTO driven Generator, that can run of the Tractor. These are out there and sometimes can be had for Scrap prices. Might just make a nice backup power setup.
  3. Kingfish

    Kingfish Self Reliant

    Yes it has a pto but that would mean using Gas to run the tractor. I dont really want to go with gas as my back up but thanks for the suggestion. Also the tractor is very old(over 70 years) I use it just for the garden and food plots. I have an old pull behind disc(have no hydrolic three point hitch). Kingfish
  4. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Like most of us, there is ALWAYS plenty to do around a place. I tell folks I'm 25 years into a 50 year project. :D

    On running any kind of generator ( for home use )....you will probably find it to your advantage to put in a battery bank, and inverter(s), then use the generator to do things directly while it's running ( like clothes washer ), and also let it charge the battery bank so you don't run the generator 24/7.

    Otherwise, no matter what type of fuel you have, you're gonna be putting a lot into fuel to provide power at minimum times of use ( like the middle of the night, when the fridge may kick on once/twice ).....it's more efficient to use the generator as described above.

    THEN, once you're at that point, it's not too much more to start adding solar/wind to extend the times you DON'T run the generator.

    Food for thought.
  5. Gray Wolf

    Gray Wolf Monkey+++

    Congrats on a really good start Kingfish, you have a plan and are already better off than 95% of the US population!
  6. Joseph Thomas

    Joseph Thomas Monkey+

    That Allis Model B is a great asset to have around. Had one for a few years and sold it for something else with a three point. Wish I would have kept it just to use as a power unit. Welcome Kingfish. Glad your here.
  7. Joseph Thomas

    Joseph Thomas Monkey+

    Andy help me out here. I've got a PTO generator for power and I have a 16' x 34' due south exposure barn roof on an 8/12 pitch. I'd like to start buying solar panels one at a time as funds become available. The battery bank would probably have to be in the barn but it is not heated and can get sub zero, What would you recommend to start out. Also what type or brand of rack mount would you suggest. The roof is galvalume.
  8. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    I'll leave the electrical end to TNAndy. But for sure, you need to have the barn beefed up (or evaluated structurally) to handle the collector loads. Most barns aren't necessarily designed for loads other than snow, if that.
  9. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    The design of the Solar System is a "Planning for Expansion" problem. If you have an idea of what you finally want to end up with, then you can design your system to make that, in incremental steps. The biggest initial expense is going to be the Charge Controller, because it needs to be big enough to handle the FINAL Total Array Current, OR Stackable, so that as your Solar Array grows, a second Charge Controller will work together with the first one, as a integrated system. Outback makes a VERY GOOD MPPT Charge Controller, (MX60) that is Stackable, and can do 12, 24, or 48Vdc DC Buss Voltages, so it can GROW as you Solar Array Grows.

    Lead Acid Batteries are temperature sensitive, only insomuch as a discharged Battery can Freeze and split the case. A fully charged Battery will NOT Freeze, and it is unlikely that even a 50% discharged Battery will freeze. so that really isn't a big consideration, in the design of a system. Also, charging and discharging the battery will dissipate HEAT in the cells to keep their temps up. this is part of the conversion losses that are encountered in battery systems.

    As I stated in another thread, Inverters come in different DC Buss voltages, and less than 2Kw will be fine on 12Vdc. 2-4Kw really needs 24 Vdc Battery Buss Voltage and above 4Kw you should be looking at 48Vdc Battery Buss voltage. Many folks just go 12Vdc and then outgrow their inverters, and have to buy bigger ones mid stream. If you can Stack your Inverters, then you can start with 2-4 Kw and when your solar system can generate more input, add a second, or even third Inverter, that is a good system design.
  10. Joseph Thomas

    Joseph Thomas Monkey+

    Thanks B.T. that's good info. I'll Definitely be over 4 KW and that was one of my big questions about which voltage to set on. I like the stackable idea too, especially from a spending viewpoint.

    Ghrit as far as the roof goes I'm pretty confident with it. Did it myself and used 2x10 spf rafters 16" on center with 1x6 hardwood purlins every 18". No nails. The rafters have six 3-1/2" screws securing the birdsmouth cut to the 2x10 hardwood plate sitting on top two 2x10 hardwood girders and the top of the rafters I used six 3-1/2" screws to attach to the ridge board. Screws in the purlins too securing them to the rafter. 2x6 hardwood collar ties every four feet with six screws per end. Not your typical barn roof so it should be good to go.
  11. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    8/12 is right at a 34 degree angle. Most places, fixed mounted systems they recommend latitude, or a bit more, for mounting. Since I don't know your location, can't say if that's enough ( mine is about 37 degrees north lat ). That roof angle would produce a bit better in the summer here, and not as well in the winter....hence the recommendation for more angle to give you more in the winter when the days are shorter anyway.

    You're probably gonna want to get at least two, three, at a time. Here's some thinking on that:

    Let's say you buy a 24v rated panel. The typical voltage AT the panel will be around 35v @ 6-7-8amps ( depends on the wattage panel you buy, but in that range ) Now you'll most likely want a combiner box some where near the panels....this let's you bring the leads off the panel back into a box ( with breakers ) and "combine" the panel leads to a bus bar, and use a pair (pos/neg) of larger wires to run on down to your charge controller. Combiner boxes come in different configurations.....Midnite for example ( the ones I use ) make a 3 circuit, a 6, and a 12.

    Allow for expansion ( which you have in mind ), say you put a 6 circuit box up there...that would let you plug in 6 panels, use 6 breakers ( one per panel ) and run on down to your charge controller with, say (will depend on distance ) a #4 or #2 wire. ( you want to go big enough so you don't have a voltage loss before you even get to use it )

    Say you put a 6c box to start....but later you end up with more panels... another box ?.....no, not really.....again, depends on other things ( as SO much of this does....ahahaaa )

    IF you used that Outback MPPT charge controller BTPost said, you can INPUT up to about 125volts ( and up to a certain wattage depending on your panel voltage....1600watts in the case of a 24v system ).....SO, what you can do is series, or daisy chain, the panels. Use the panels leads and connect 3, or 3 ( in the case of the 24v that is really 35v ) panels in series, then run the leftover pos/neg connections into your combiner box....you can put 18 panels on a 6 circuit box that way.....BUT you HAVE to use the same voltage for ALL the panels.....so if you decide to series in pairs, you need to put the panels UP THERE in pairs.....or triples....whatever. You can change it later ( I started with 6 panels, all in parallel on two strings....two separate arrays....but later added panels, and wire them in pairs)

    This is getting quite into the nuts/bolts technical part.....hope I don't loose ya....

    OK, the charge controller. Again, I also like the Outback.....IF I were planning on expansion, I'd start with the Flexmax 80, not the 60 (amp). They run about 600 versus 500 for the FX60.

    Any charge controller (CC) has a limit as to the amount you can feed INTO it. The Outback units you program in the field to whatever output voltage you want ( to match your inverter/batteries)....12v, 24v, 36v, 48v, 60v. But they have limits on the INPUT side based on the output.

    For example: The FX60 CC:

    12v output, you can only feed 1200watts IN. 24v output, you can feed 1600w IN....and so on. Another reason for using HIGHER system voltage, like BPPost said.

    I have an 18 panel system ( 175w ), and that maxes out my two FX60's. I'm adding a new array of 10 more 240w panels in the spring, so I'm also adding an FX80, which has a 2500w panel rating...I'm up to three charge controllers now.

    Had I "thunk" this out ahead of time, I could have gotten by with 2 FX80's instead of 2 FX60's and THEN having to add an 80...for another 600 bucks.

    I know it's not easy to see where you're going right now, but the more you plan, the better off you are, moneywise.

    Couldn't make a recommendation without knowing what you want to power, and how long.

    The temps CAN affect batteries, but do what I did....put the electrical gear like the inverter(s) in the same room with the batteries...an insulated room... ( but build a vented box for your batteries IF flooded lead acid like most folks start with )..the inverters will put off plenty of heat to keep the room up to a reasonable temp.....in fact, in summer, you'll have to vent the room, so make provisions for that too.

    Unirac is about the industry standard. Look on this page, and you will see all kinds of info about the rails, and mounting pcs.

    UniRac Parts

    There's a PDF catalog of UniRac parts you can download off that page.

    Basically, you're gonna want an "L" foot, and use a lag screw thru the bottom, thru your metal roof, and into the purlin or rafter below. The holes in the side are to mount the rails.


    Then you need the rails ( again, in the catalog, they will list a LOT of different panels and what length rail they need.....download the catalog ).

    Then you need a clip that bolts to the rail, and clips over the panel, like this:


    That's a mid-rail clamp....holds a panel on either side. Also need end of the rail clamps.

    IF your roof happens to be a standing seam ( I assume not on a barn, but who knows ), the S-5 clip is COOL.....you can anchor it right on a the standing seam, and not have to buy rails !

    Good luck.....hope I didn't overwhelm ya....

  12. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Well, as for BT's comment I would like to correct something. You charge controller will NOT be your single most expensive piece but your invertor will be. A good invertor will cost you between $2500.00 and $5,000.00 depending upon what you choose. A xantrax C-60 (charge controller) minus the led plate which you really don't need is about $170.00 while an mx-60 is typically about 650.00. The best of the best charge controllers on the market. Both by the way are designed by the same people.

    On the method you assembled your barn, as a retired framer, I would have to poo poo your screw together method, as it is illegal in most places for a very simple reason. I was called by a man a few years ago as he had by himself framed up a two story house all with screws. After receiving a red tag , and being perplexed about it he called me in to fix it. I had to litterly take the entire house apart and re do with nails. Screws have NO lateral strength to speak of and will NOT support much if any weight, while a 16d common will support aprox 300 lbs per nail. However , since I also live off the grid and entirely on solar and wind, you can be assured that just mounting a few solar panels on your roof should not cause it to collapse. You can even build simple mtg frames for panels from old used bed rails as that is how I went for the first 15 years and they do work quite well. Also lightweight in nature. For an 8-12 pitch you need nothing more then a couple of peices of bed rails for two panels and four A-24 stand-off plates made by Simpsin Strong Tie avail at most Commerical builders supplies.
  13. Joseph Thomas

    Joseph Thomas Monkey+

    Thank you very much Andy! You didn't lose me and I really appreciate the information. I think I am going to backtrack and figure out exactly what capacity sytem I need to end up with so I can start with a finished design for a system and what it will take. Acquire the parts as I can and then build it out. I am going to print this and a few other threads you guys have going on solar power out so I don't lose the info. You guys are a Goldmine!
  14. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Nadja is correct and I mistyped on that one... Andy has some very good advice going there... Listen and learn....
  15. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Some pics of my setup:

    2 arrays, one of 10 panels (175w) and one of 8.
    Both on single axis homemade trackers.


    Picture from this morning. Sun just melted the snow off the arrays. Electrical/battery room is the small room on the end of the greenhouse.


    Inside the electrical room. Panels feed from the combiner boxes on the poles into the disconnect with east/west array, using one pole/fuse for each array. Then they feed the east and west charge controller. Then they feed into that small Square D panel ( SquareD QO series breakers are rated for DC up TO 48v....and you can buy SINGLE POLE breakers up to 80 amps !! ) so I have a disconnecting means on either side of the CC.


    From the little SqD panel, I feed the battery, not pictured below, AND the Xantrex 175 double pole disconnect ( white box on far end ), then into a pair of Outback 2500w inverters, then back into the AC Outback Flexware box that has a set of breakers for the house feed ( when the grid is down ) and grid feed ( when the grid is up ). The Outback inverter has a set of contacts that close when grid power goes down, and allows feed to a transfer switch at the house. I walk out, flip the transfer switch, and then the house operates on solar/battery only.


    Note also the Outback "Hub"....the black box on the side of the Flexware panel. That's the "brain" of the system that syncronizes the two inverters so you get true 240v poly phase, and you also plug in communications wire from both CC's and a temp sensor on the battery. The Hub has 10 input jacks, of which I'm using 5....so I have room for couple more CC's and inverters should I choose to add on.
  16. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Nice System TNAndy One thing you may have overlooked on your new spring additions though, is that if your system is producing 2400 watts and the flex max 80 will allow 2500 watts incomeing, are you forgetting the edge of cloud effect on snow days ? I find my panels to put out as much as 10% more on these types of days such as your pic shows right now with the snow reflection you are undoubtly getting at the moment.
  17. ghrit

    ghrit Ambulatory anachronism Administrator Founding Member

    Ah HA!! The light comes on. Was wondering about synchronization with separate sources. Tnx. Full or truncated sine wave?
  18. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Actually have a little experiment going on now with that issue.

    Those two arrays originally had 6 panels each ( 6x175= 1000w, or 2k for both ). Well, since I didn't know JACK about the equipment to start with, once I started to install the FX60 I had bought, and found thru reading the manual that 1600w STC rating was the limit, I had to buy another CC....which is why I have 2.

    THEN, that put me at 3200w for the 2, and only 2,000 up there....so, I figured, heck, buy 6 more panels, put 3 on each array, and that would be 1575, and max out the controllers.

    THEN, I got to noticing I never hit 1,000w on either array, even with my trackers.....they track east to west, but the tilt angle is fixed at 37 degrees.....which, ideally in the winter here, would need to be more like 45-50 degrees....Sooooo, heck, let's try 10 on one array ( 1750w ) and just SEE what happens !

    What HAS happened is I get very brief spikes of over 1600w on days like today....maybe 1650ish....which is more than the CC is supposed to handle, but it does ( heck....you KNOW they have a fudge factor built in :D ).....in the summer, never a problem.

    SO, my plan is to add two more 175's to the other array ( the one with 8 panels ), and I figure the new array with 2400 watts will be plenty good with the 2500w rating on the new FX80.

    I DO plan to make the next tracker dual axis....powered in the east/west, and a manual crank deal I'll adjust about 4 times a year in the tilt......if I run into a problem, I can always just crank the tilt angle back down a few degrees and knock off production slightly during the winter....heck, this is ALL experimentation as far as I'm concerned.....ahahaaaaaa
  19. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Full, true sine wave power.....very clean.
  20. BTPost

    BTPost Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    Very well thought out system... good Planning....
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