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How To start up with Solar Living

Discussion in 'Blogs' started by Nadja, Oct 10, 2010.

  1. Nadja

    Nadja RIP 3-11-2013 Forum Leader

    Basic How to Guide for those of you wishing or planning to live off the grid. Now this is being written for those of you on a budget, but wanting to get started. I know, when you call the solar stores and get the so-called "experts" they tell you that you will have to spend anwhere from $25,000.00 to as much as $100,000.00 to achieve these results. Bunk, pure and simple. I have been living off the grid for going on 16 years now. I started with one 85 watt 12 volt solar panel, 4-6 volt T-105 golf cart batteries , which are the standard of the industry even today. Next , I bought a cheap charge controller, as it was all I could afford at the time and a used Trace 1512 Mod. Sine Wave Invertor which by the way all were for 12 volt use. First off, most of the "expert" solar people that you will meet in the stores are there for one reason and one reason only. That is to sell their wares to you. The more they can sell you , the more they make. It is that simple.
    So, keeping in mind that I am doing this as a guide only, here we go. So First, try to decide whether you wish to go 12 volt or 24 volt. Here are a couple of quick differences in the two systems. Once you start either one, you would be advised to stick with it as to change gets horribly expensive once you have started purchasing either one. 12 Volt, allows you to buy one solar panel at a time as I did, while 24 volt you either buy two 12 volt and wire them to make 24 volt or buy a 24 volt solar panel to start off with. Was not availible at the time when I started. Next you would need to take 4 - 6 volt batteries to make a 24 volt battery. What this means is that if you are running a 24 volt system and a battery goes out, you will need to remove a bank of 4 batteries to keep your system up and working. With a 12 volt you would only have to remove 2 batteries to achieve the same results.
    Which is cheaper and also easier you ask ? Simple the 12 volt system. It is basicly just like the wiring in your car. Same thing.
    Next, you will need a charge controller. These work to ensure that you do not overcharge your batteries, which can happen without one of these. They are very important to have in your system, working at all times. There are several brands out there that will achieve the same results. Some bigger, some smaller and of course some more pricy then others. I recommend when considering one of these that you buy one of the best as the cheaper ones espeically made in China could end up starting a fire. Whatever you do , make sure it is "UL" approved. That stands for underwriter lab. Before you are allowed to put a ul approved label on your product , it must be ul approved. Do not attempt to save money here.
    The last major thing in your system will be the invertor. The invertor does several things and you really need to understand all of them. On a budget, the cheapest invertor you should consider would be a 1512 which are still being made now. The Name Trace no longer is made as a couple of years ago, the company was sold to new people and now bears the name Xantrax. It is the same invertor, but with a different name. The number 1512 is the designation number which is to say, it is a 12 volt 1500 watt invertor. The 1512, along with changing your 12 volt power to 115 volt ac which is standard house hold current also has overcharge protection, and also a battery charger. The battery charger in this invertor is aprox 70 amps, then when you would start up a generator will put 70 amps full charge into your batteries until the invertor senses the max charge and then goes into a "float" mode. Once that happens then it slows down the charge and for most practical intents and purposes , means that you no longer need to run a generator. The only thing I have found over the years that my mod. sine wave invertor will not do is to run my A.M. Radio. My computers, F.M. Radio , Refer/Freezer, Freezer, Large 27" old fashoned tv , lights etc all do just fine. Some ceiling fans will hum with these type's of invertors, as mine does, but the better ones will not.

    Lets do a little work on wiring. It is the link if you will that will either make or break your system. Regardless of how well you choose your componets, this is the one that will render all your work and expense useless if not done correctly. Going with the most common system being 12 volt. First of all, keep in mind that DC runs on the outside of the wire, so in order to get the max. avail use from your system always use Braided wire for all 12 volt DC links. Use solid copper wire for AC as it travels down the inside or main body of the wire. Sizes of the wire are also very cruciel to your system. I cannot tell you the exact sizes of each wire you will be using as it varies according to your system size, and length's between the components your are wiring.
    But, if your only starting with 4-6 volt batteries and really don't intend to go much further, then you should be able to get by with a wire size of 2ga. between the batteries The main two battery cables to your invertor however should be much larger. They should be 4.0 as they carry all of your avail. power all the time that your invertor is working. They will be expensive, so if your planning to make your system grow as I have done, go ahead and plan now how many batteries you are going to end up with and make sure that you get the right length of cables to allow you to add batteries and still reach your invertor. That way, you don't have to do as I did and keep replacing your main cables.
    From the invertor to your house, barn whatever you intend to power up, must meet the local builders code in your city, county or whatever In other words, if you have a 200 amp incoming service box on your house, and you want to power your house with stand alone solar, Then you will need to size your wire to carry the amps of your incoming box to the distance between the two. I will be putting pictures of some of these components and some of the wiring so that you will get a little bit of understanding of this info.

    Page 3 Solar How to
    Now, lets go into invertors a little bit. While I will not recomend who you buy from or which invertor, I will be expressing my opinon on what I prefer. First of all, I could not when I started my solar afford the True Sine Wave Invertors, as they cost more alone then I had to start up my whole system. I asked around and found that the mod sine wave invertors, as long as you bought a good one would work almost as well as the true sine wave versions. I started with a used Trace 1512 , which is a 12 volt 1500 watt version. I decided on it has it is totally programbable , including "sleep" mode, 1500 watts and a surge of 3500 watts , which takes care of the refer/freezer and reg freezer starting with no problems. Now, under normal conditions, my solar panels charge my batteries with little or no help to run my regular household, while on cloudy days and nights I sometimes need to "boost" my system with the help of my generator. The 1512 invertor has a batter charger built into it and when it is connected to my running generator, it puts as much as 70 amps into my batteries . That is a lot, and really brings the bank up fast. I learned early on, that you are only limited to your power by the size of your system. In other words, I have more batteries then my solar panels can charge and even though I would like to add more, at this time I just can't afford it. So, again, by going with a 12 volt system, I can add one panel at a time or two deep cycle golf cart batteries which keeps me from breaking the money bank. I polish petrified wood which I of course sell. So, while wet contour polishing a couple of times over the years picture this; Here I am with my hand held wet polisher running with a water jet which runs through the middle of my little grinder, polishing the rock, with a 55 gal. drum catching the excess water and also me totally soaked and standing in water.... and the grinder locked in the on position grabs a jagged edge and falls running into the water. Bad news right ? Wrong,as this invertor detects a short in a nano-second and shuts off the power . No shock, and my GFCI and reg. breaker box haven't even figured this out yet. After allowing my grinder to dry very very good, right back to work. Regular house current would have really been bad, even with the GFCI circut.
    The small cheap invertors you will find all over the net, will not do any of this. I am trying to convey to you the necissity of buying a good unit right off the bat rather the a cheap one that will get you by. The surge of your refer alone will kill these cheap invertors. In other words, cheap won't work. More to follow
  2. Gafarmboy

    Gafarmboy Monkey+++

    Thanks for you insight Najda, I keep coming back to your postings to "get my head straight" after hours of reading solar requirements and amps and watts and etc., etc, and etc.
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