Getting Started with Solar

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Nadja, Feb 15, 2012.

  1. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    OK, so you've decided to go solar for an emergency back up system. Well, there are many things you will need to know. First of all, it will cost money and lots of it. There are many many factors that need to be addressed before you even begin to go with solar. IF your only wanting a small back up system for grid failure, you will be much better off and much cheaper by just getting a decent generator and a couple of long and heavy extension cords.

    You can get a fairly good generator at the nearest Home Depot or Lowes for around 6-800.00 and a couple of good cords for around 50.00 ea.

    To get the same power from solar , you would be looking at several thousand dollars minimum.

    Now, if you plan to live off grid, or even grid tied it does get a little better in value for the dollar, but not by much. Grid tie systems can cost you enough that it can take up to 20 years to break even. Where if like me, you had no choice in the matter but to go solar as there was and still is no power lines anywhere close, then money becomes a mute point at best.

    For most of us around my neck of the woods, living off grid on solar, we never discuss how much it costs, but rather does it all work as intended, and if not, what do we need to make it better. `

    So, if your wanting to go "solar" then this is the right place for you to start, as we will all try and steer you in the right direction, rather then to the nearest solar company where you will be tagged and bagged like so much fresh meat. Which is what you will be.

    -Many many of the so called solar salesmen are just that, salesmen. Last week they may have been selling cars or sham-wow's on tv. It is only a job to them and a lot of them are paid on commission. The more they can sell you, the more they make.

    So, after all of this, if your still interested in solar living, ask away !
  2. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama Monkey++

    I realize for Myself that I may be a pain in the axx. I started my new home 5 years ago and had to quit, but I am now ready to resume. Five years ago I studied Solar and figured that a "workable" system would cost about 110,000$ and that is completely out of the question. Now solar equiptment has come down in price and Im just trying to figure if I can do something on a small scall as I havent much funds avaiable.

    I do want to give a BIG thanks to you Nadja and to TnAndy for all the help and knowledge.
    TnAndy, Nadja and ColtCarbine like this.
  3. CATO

    CATO Monkey+++


    Here's a nice set of tools to determine a descent guesstimate for your array. In addition to this page, there's a couple of links at the bottom for 'Off-grid' and 'Grid-Tie'. The number you get on this page automatically gets plugged into the others. Play around with it some and see what it comes up with, then see what the experts here suggest.

    Load Calculators
  4. hank2222

    hank2222 Monkey+++

    That is a funny post because tonight at lunch i was explaining to someone about how much it would cost them to go off grid and broke down some numbers to them and they where like it to much.

    When i pointed out that if you need to power your house when after the grid has gone down you can do away with alot of the socalled luxurys items and get by with the basic set that going to run you around $35,000.oo dollars up to $50,000.oo depend on your set up .

    As i explained to them that this is the one area where you can not go chearp on and they go why and i explained to them in the end you get what you pay for something cheap that breaks down all the time or something that last along time with proper care of the unit .

    Also i explained to them that some appliances can be change out for Lp gas type and that also helps with the power needs just get a super large tank and that should help also .

    Aslo i add to the list was a good diesel generator as back up for those days when the sun does not shine enough to make power .

    They where looking me when i had finish explaining everything to them like i had three head's and was speaking in tounge's to them
    larryinalabama likes this.
  5. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    Ah, heck, we love ya anyway, Larry.....most good folks ARE a PITA........ :D

    Good to hear you're back on the house track. Taking that break MIGHT have actually had some benefits, prices have come down that much !

    Like Hank says above, with some good planning, using ANYTHING but electric everywhere you can on cooking, water heating, space heating, and get down the real basics of electric use, like lights, motors, you ought to be able to get your use down to 3-500kw/hrs/month without too much trouble.....and that becomes fairly do-able now days W/out a war pension.
  6. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    How would we better off with a gas generator if there is a grid failure?

    Even if a person had 500 gals. of fuel stored in a tank, what about when it runs out. There is a grid failure so once the gas runs out there is not anymore. A $500 generator, and 500 gals. of fuel plus the cost of a fuel tank is not a better option in my opinion. The total cost of a generator, 500 gals. of fuel and a tank is close to the cost of a solar power generator but is useless once your stored fuel is gone. Once the fuel is gone the generator is just a lawn ornament besides the noise a generator makes lets everybody else know you have power.

    Seems to me that spending a few grand on a build it yourself solar powered generator would be a much better option and a wiser investment. I knew before I even posted on a few kits and smaller solar system that they were not the thing to buy, to see what response I would get and continued to act like I knew nothing.

    I have been trying to let the experts lead the horse to the water but it seems that you guys are only interested in people that can spend $30K plus on an entire off-grid system.

    I find it ironic that people post all over this forum about how the world is coming to an end, there is going to be a total economic collapse, we are going to have a grid failure and then recommend we buy gas powered generators. Tell me how that makes any sense.

    The way I see it if we aren't off-grid and totally self sufficient by the Ides of March we all might as well just bend over and kiss our a$$ goodbye and give up on trying to find ways to make our lives easier if the SHTF.

    Maybe our time is better spent on mental excercises on fantasy football scenarios like civil unrest or whatever doomsday scenario that gets talked about around here. Those seem to be quite popular rather than trying to find a solution to a problem.

    There's my [2c]
  7. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    I keep a fair amount of gas....but mostly to run chainsaws to cut firewood before we'd have to get down to the old crosscut and axe days.
    larryinalabama and hank2222 like this.
  8. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    ColtCarbine. I am sorry if I misunderstood your question about solar generators. I assumed (my bad) that you were looking at one of these pieces of junk for a solution to a short term emergency like grid loss due to storms , drunks or whatever. Now, I of course realize that you want a small system permanently to be prepared for what possibly could be a long term or forever situation.

    I would still say to NOT go with those emergency solar generators as they will NOT do what they say for more then a few minutes or so. Also, those solar panels with those systems will not even come close to giving you 1800 watts. That would be about 8 - 225 watt solar panels alone, not just one or two little 45 or so watts. 1800 watts of incoming power would run most of your house all the time, providing you have the battery bank storage power and the charge controllers and inverter to do it.

    They are all part of a large system, combined as to the best units for the money for your needs. So, the first thing we would need to do is to find out exactly how much power you really need. Lights don't amount to much of anything, so lets take your refer to start. How much power does it consume ? I would need to know the watts, and amps being used.

    I would advise you to start by buying a "kill-a-watt" meter. They can be had on ebay for less then $20.00 or thereabouts. With that you can actually meter the amount of amps and watts you are using. Nice feature of mine is that you can push the red button and it will keep track of your usage from that appliance for lets say a 24 hour period. Now, you have a much better idea of what you will need.

    Don't kid yourself, we will help you get the most for your money possible. And none of us that I am aware of sell anything related to solar etc.
  9. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart,Deadman Walking, Snow Monkey Moderator

    Unless you happen to have a Fuel Tank Farm, next door, Petroleum Fueled Power is of limited use, for LONG Term Prep'en, simply because it is a Finite Source, and not easily replaced, once used. The cheapest LONG Term Power Source is Hydro. Then comes Wind, and Solar, which are roughly similar, in cost per KWH. Yea, Hydro has specific site requirements, but then so do Solar, and Wind, if you are expecting any significant amount of Generated Power. ...... YMMV.....
    chelloveck likes this.
  10. Cephus

    Cephus Monkey+++ Founding Member

    This a great discussion and I'm interested .
    Right now I'm looking at a NG set but don't want to run full time ,I have a battery bank of 6 marine batteries now that I use to run the fan on the heater when the ele. goes out and it works fine for that. I have 15 watt solar panel that keeps them charged but use the tractor to keep the charged when the power goes south.
  11. rsbhunter

    rsbhunter Monkey+

    off track???

    I read, and reread the posts, and i don't know where the post got to the point it did...I thought that the OP (Nadja) was explaining how a solar system that was to be used in the event of grid down, long term, or forever, was going to be fairly expensive, and if someone was looking at TEMPORARY power, like thunderstorm outtage, fire causing power outage, etc, that a generator would be better than a solar system, or the "solor generators" they sell on TV for cost effieciency. If i misread, than i apoligize....but it seems it went south from the intended purpose...rsbhunter
    Nadja likes this.
  12. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama Monkey++

    Yall fellers make sure to put Stabil in your fuel and run all your small engines at least onec a month, this new gas really sucks.

    Post SHITF axes spiltting malls bow saws sound enteraning
  13. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    I read in your OP that mentioned grid failure, to me that means no more power period. Maybe I misunderstood.

    I am not going to disagree that a gas/diesel generator is a better option for a temporary loss of power.

    Something to consider though when you have a generator, you can be a target if you do not take precautions.

    Bingo, now you guys are catching on. Trust me, I would like nothing more than to be a net zero home or close to it. However, I am unfortunately not in the financial position to do so. I'm guessing there are others in the same boat.

    I realize that one of those packaged solar generators has a limited capacity and length of how long the batteries last, all pending on what you run of it. I would not buy one of those things anyways and would build my own. If you would have read it I said build your own or buy it as a rhetorical question.

    You guys that are off-grid need to quit assuming that if a person ask a question about a small solar system, portable power station or solar power generator that we are all dumba$$ and are wanting to run our whole house. Give people some credit, please. You guys are on such a large scale you are not connecting with us folks that might be looking for the small scale and grow from there.
    BTPost, rsbhunter and Nadja like this.
  14. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    OK, I conced the point. You asked about the grid going down in relation to a small solar generator, and I assumed that you were refering to a temporary situation. My Bad. If you did everything like on the next post on how to build your own solar generator, you still would not have a lot of power. Two things are needed here more then anything else. The solar panels to bring in lots of sun and the capacity to store said power.
    What you need to consider first of all, is to understand how a system is rated in size. It is NOT how much your inverter can put out but rather how much power your panels are capable of producing under normal or ideal conditions.
    You can have a million watt inverter and a 15 watt solar panel. You would still only rate your system as 15 volts. The inverter cannot produce more power then it has in its bank account. When it comes to batteries, if you run them down below the 75%-80% from the top range, they will soon be about useless. In fact a good inverter will shut off in the event of that reading on your available power on your batteries. It does this in order to protect them from you.
    Some of those off the self cheap truck stop inverters can use as much as 20% of its total power just to be turned on. Which is a good reason for buying a good inverter in the first place. My inverter's use only about 2% of power to work.
    Batteries are also a big consideration as , cheap ones will not last and will not put out the power long term. A starting battery is really good for about 20 minutes, where as the deep cycle batteries that most of us use, is a slow release for many hours.
    So, when it comes to building a solar generator for home use, all of these things must be taken into very careful consideration.

    The problem with building a small cheap system is just that, it is a small cheap system. Adding to them can be really tough and expensive at best

    If you start with that morning star 30 amp charge controller, which I did, they can burn out in a few months, and then you have to spend more money to replace them If, like me you want to add a panel or two, they cannot take the additional amps and poof ! Now you have nothing to do the job. Inverters: the cheap ones almost never last over a long period of time and also use or gobble up a lot of power just to work Again, your back to buying a bigger and better one.
    Even the wiring most people originally do is under rated. I had this happen to me also. When I started with just one 85 watt panel many years ago, I just ran 12 ga wire from the panel to the charge control. No problem, but then when I added a second panel , I had to upgrade the power. And again. Now I am getting ready to go to #4 ga as the weather breaks and do it all over again.
    This is why I can say what I say. I have done it the hard way, in almost all phases of my system , and have learned from it. My system as it is was never planned to grow. But it did, and will continue if I can come up with the money . So think about it alot, and really think about where it may take you in the future, if we have a future.
  15. TnAndy

    TnAndy Senior Member Founding Member

    I think that's the key here.....plan a system to be able to grow EASY if you start with a small one....and there's nothing wrong in starting small.

    Like Nadja, I didn't really plan on expanding mine...I "hoped" a 2.1kw system would do 1/3 of my needs and figured that was all I'd need in a permanent grid down situation.

    When I figured out it wouldn't, I added more panels....fortunately, I had enough capacity on the 2 charge controllers to handle it.

    THEN, later, I decided "pre-paying" my electric bill ( which is actually what you're doing with a grid tie system) for the next 20 years or so made more sense than getting negative rate of return on money in the bank ( which with .25% interest, taxes on that, and rate of inflation, you're going in the hole with saved money), so I added another array, which involved another charge controller, more wiring, disconnect, etc....and now I've pretty much maxed out what my inverters will do, so without major changes, my system is topped out a 5.95kw.
  16. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    The problem that I have experienced over the years , also Andy, is that we ASSUMED wrong from the beginning. When I started, we didn't need much to be an improvement over running the gennie all the time. But, as it almost always happens, you need or want to grow.
    We are all working with rsbhunter right now, along the same lines. He just bought 10 225 watt solar panels, for about 3,000.00. Big expense, but mine were 5.00 per watt when I bought them. He is miles ahead of me and probably Andy's first panels also.

    Not sure where he will go next, but most likely an inverter. He will not and is not looking at the truck stop type inverters, but something that will do the job, day and night for many years to come.
    What rsb hunter is doing, is sitting down and thinking about the future, and where he needs and wants to be. So, his equipment right from the start will be able to handle the load he wants.
    But, for the most part, his system will get him there from the beginning, other then he will need to add a second charge controller if he is going to expand in the future. His wire from the beginning will be big enough to handle the additional loads placed on it with a large safety area.
    This is what planning will do for you also. Maybe you don't plan on running more then a refer and a couple of lights. But that can change without notice. I never planed to run an elec. refer/freezer and a chest freezer , let alone two desktop computers, ususally at the same time, and also a large 27" crt tv. It just happens. Think now , and save a lot of work and bad nights re-doing things later.
    ColtCarbine, rsbhunter and BTPost like this.
  17. ColtCarbine

    ColtCarbine Monkey+++ Founding Member

    The postings you are mentioning is where I found out about what components I would need and how it needs to be wired. I have no intention of wanting to build a cheap system, had you read the posting above the tutorial you would have realized that and saved yourself some writing.

    Here's the post I think you read past, this what I could use some advice on.

    hank2222 likes this.
  18. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Try looking at this one instead of the Samlex inverter. The samalex only has about an 85% efficiency rating. Ratings are just that , ratings by the company at best. Yes it will cost you more, but is about bullet proof in design

    I don't care for the morning star charge controllers, due to having one burn out in just months. Look instead at the xantrax C-60's or the Outback mppt charge controllers.
    Batteries, fine
    Panels should do the job for you, except that they will be 24volt, not 12 volt. Rule of thumb on solar panels is if it is over 135 watts, they usually jump to 24 volts
    ColtCarbine and rsbhunter like this.
  19. rsbhunter

    rsbhunter Monkey+

    help from the Three Amigos

    As i have been on this sight only a couple months now, i can emphatically state that these guy's here (and AlaskaChick) are not only willing to help, but go out of their way to help....TNAndy, Nadja, and BTPost, as well as the others have NEVER failed to answer one of my dumb questions....and even slap me around alittle when i need it!!! This is a field that is new to almost everyone, and it's not even a subject you can go to your book store and buy a hardback on ....So, if you ask the questions that you supply enough information about what you are seeking, these guy's will be on it like white on rice.....Compare this like going from newborn to 10 years'll learn the most in the first few years (months) and then the knowledge becomes much more refined, and takes longer....Just wanted to say thanks for all the info this site has provided, the great people here, and the knowledge i have gained.....If you REALLY want a reality check, there are other forums that rhyme with "molar Lanel walk", that will REALLY give you a reality check..........rsbhunter
    Nadja likes this.
  20. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Colt Carbine, I don't know who put the burr under your saddle, but we really do try and answer straightforward questions. Sometimes we miss something or overlook it, but it is not intentional to say the least. You really need to ask a direct question to get a direct answer. We don't know what is on your mind or what your trying to find out. Also, we need to know exactly where you are hoping to go in the future with your solar needs. As far as solar being expensive, yes it is if you want it to work for a long time.
    So, in saying this, I implore you to be specific in your questions. As for solar generators , as soon as I see the words, I tend to think in short emergencies such as local power outages due to storms , drunks and just plain maintenance.
    Nobody here is trying to steer you wrong or just blow you off. Of that I am sure. Nadja
    ColtCarbine and rsbhunter like this.
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