Energy Solar, cost keeps going up!

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by starlys, Nov 18, 2016.

  1. starlys

    starlys Monkey

    I'm looking for ideas for getting the cost of off-grid solar down. It needs to be legit and permitted so a real electrician is needed.

    The place is wooded, a new 2-story house with a smallish south pitched roof (3-12 pitch). It has a much larger east and west pitch on the roof. It's on top of a mountain and there's crazy wind at times and snow.

    We need 6 x 300W panels and 8 batteries to start (with expansion later).

    The electrician first said the panels could go on the roof, then he said the snow would get in the way and shade them so they had to be pole mounted. And he wants to put the pole 100' away with a buried cable because there are too many trees around the house. So the cost is now $16,000 for just the panels and charge controller; 26,000 for the complete system. After this last revision, it just seems way too much, and too complex.

    I need creativity in how to do this cheaper, without the long trench/cable, but still legal. I'm thinking the south facing part of the roof will fit 4 or 5 panels without the need for a pole. There is a lot of snow, but there's a balcony and I could reach to brush it off. We could just survive with 4 panels, maybe. (If we only do laundry when it is sunny?) Or could some of the panels be mounted on the west facing slope high enough so the snow doesn't block it?
    UncleMorgan, Motomom34 and Seepalaces like this.
  2. Yard Dart

    Yard Dart Vigilant Monkey Moderator

    Welcome to the Monkey!!

    Have you received additional least two or three bidders will give you a better idea about true cost to install. He might be right or he may be trying to create extra work for himself.
    Pictures of the layout may help for some here to contribute better, as well as info on your load requirements.
  3. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    We can help a bit. Now, be aware that this will toss your OPSEC out the window, but Google Earth will show our experts exactly what you are dealing with so far as site layout goes. (I'm not one of those that know anything, so starting a conversation with me on Solar will just waste your time.)

    Now then, get a killawatt meter and start assembling your load requirements. 1800 watts is NOT enough.
  4. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Yup, someone is really upping the costs...I recently bought 4 320w 24v panels for well under 1k delivered. A good MPPT charge controller was about 500 or 600...rated at 90 amps or so.
    You really need a couple more estimates!
  5. starlys

    starlys Monkey

    The 1800 watts is not for a family playing wii and eating toast all day, it's more of a camping out and conserving system. The costs include labor and markup, so they are not really comparable to the retail prices of the equipment. I got 2 bids which were very close and everything was going to be ok, until the notion that snow would prevent panels from being installed on the roof.

    So I guess the main question is about creative ideas for mounting that handle snow and are cheaper (roof) as opposed to pole mounts.
    UncleMorgan and Seepalaces like this.
  6. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    26k is on the cheap side.
    You do realize that 1.8kw of panel capacity is only going to collect 9kwh a day and that's best case scenario.
    Then with an MPPT charger you will at least get around 95% of what you generate from the panels to the batteries. As long as you don't have any insane 100ft runs of cable.
    Then you have battery charge and discharge efficiency, some where around 70 to 80% for lead acid. And inverter efficiency which can be any where from 0% to over 90% efficient depending on how good of an inverter you get and how much you idle it and what the idle power consumption is.
    And we still don't know where you are, like how far north you are.

    So what kind of backup generator are you getting? Because I think I see a lot of generator run time in your future.
  7. azrancher

    azrancher Monkey +++

    Us Monkeys are pretty smart, or at least we think we are. We are not as smart at the users (not owners) of "Arizona Wind & Sun" Forum, but sometimes they talk over the heads of even the most experienced Techie.
    So let me ask:
    1. Are you off the grid now? It makes a difference on how you transport the power back to the house.
    2. Pole mount is a LOT more expensive, and yes you can put the panels on the East and West sides of your house. If you lay them flat expect twice as many panels, I have seen them elevated on the Northern edge to be almost as efficient as a South facing roof.
    3. A roof with a 3 in 12 pitch in snow country is basically a flat roof... chime in snow monkeys?
    4. So you've designed you solar system, 1,800 Watts, and 8 batteries, how have you planned to hook them up, 12v, 24v, 48v?

    I have 35 240 watt Sharp panels (8.4KW), grid tied back to the utility, I have a Schneider 6848 inverter/charger for when the Grid is down, waiting on the sale on batteries to install it and prepare for off the grid power. It's been in 4+ years, less than 3 left for full payoff.

    UncleMorgan, Motomom34 and Seepalaces like this.
  8. Texas Monkey

    Texas Monkey Monkey

    I recommend that you build your own starter system now, a 100 watt panel, a 100ah battery and a 20 amp charge controller, it will greatly improve you understanding of what is involved if you do one yourself. Making a small system yourself with a few hours of online research and you will be in a much better position to evaluate the professional system, and you will be better at asking question.

    You need to be chanting "efficiency" all day long, you want to get the most power out of you system, lots of electricians are used to AC systems which dont need to be too efficient, a little research before may give you a much better system and a system that you understand and can perform maintenance on.

    Roof mount makes it easier to be close to the batteries assuming they are in the home but you need to make sure they wont mess up your roof, make sure you roof can take the weight, make sure it is a new roof so you dont have to remove the panels in just a few years to replace your roof.

    A long skinny shed would do nicely to mount the panels. Or you could make your own mount out of pressure treated wood.

    If you mount the panels 100f from the home then you want to keep the batteries in a shed under the panels, DC does not travel distances well, panels must be very close to the batteries, batteries must be very close to the inverter,
    you will save a lot of power and money by running a 100ft long line that carries AC power.

    Tiny shadows kill your useful power, just a few square of inches of shadow on a panel will stop the majority of a panels output, so distance from trees really matter.
  9. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    When considering a 100 foot run of cable that automatically rules out 12 and 24 volt systems.

    Also you will need a good pellet gun. Kill anything that shits on your panels or could possibly chew on wiring coming off your panels.
    UncleMorgan and Motomom34 like this.
  10. Asia-Off-Grid

    Asia-Off-Grid RIP 11-8-2018

    I clicked on the link to this thread, solely because of the title. I thought to myself, "Solar costs increasing? No way!" It's cheaper now to install solar on a home, than ever before in history. Well, batteries still are up there in cost. But, panels are practically being given away, certainly by comparison of former prices.

    I was going to write, in fact, had already composed a pretty in depth write up about calculations for determining watt hours, etc. But, I feel that you probably should start before that. If for no other reason than to help make you more comfortable with what you are getting into there.

    I think that guy probably saw your ignorance of solar and may have been trying to take advantage of you. But, the short story here is, No, a proper installation for an 1,800 watts system should cost no where near $26,000 USD. For that kind of jack, you should be able to install a mighty fine, completely off-grid system. (Solar panels can be shipped to you, today, for under $1.00 USD per watt, in the continental USA.)

    When it comes time to get an installer, I would definitely find one with a good reputation. Get several estimates. Don't be shy about asking for multiple references for each installer in your area. Maybe some of those references will even let you see their installations? If any installer is apprehensive about providing any references at all, do not do business with them.

    From the cost I see that you listed, and depending on how much time you have to work with- and, I would really make it a point to TAKE the time necessary if I were you, I would start doing a LOT of research prior to jumping into this.

    Although I have been familiar with solar for a fair amount of my life, I still registered and began doing serious research six months before I took on my first (smaller) project. Since then, I have installed several other systems. Register AND read lots of threads on the following forums, especially the first two:

    Northern Arizona Wind & Sun Solar Forum - General information
    Solar Panels Forum - General information
    MidNite Solar Forum - Solar controllers by Midnite Solar
    OutBack Power Forum - Solar controllers, etc., by Outback

    You said, "... crazy wind at times." What percentage of the time are we talking here? If a decent number of days per month, did this electrician even suggest the possibility of using a wind mill, or two, to help generate some of your power needs?

    While there are some fly-by-night guys who deal with windmills out there, there are a few reputable businesses you will find, as well.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
    UncleMorgan and Motomom34 like this.
  11. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    This is what I did.
    I built a shop trailer and mounted my panels on it's roof and a wind mill as well.
    Having a tall house and interference with trees, I recommend a more unique solution.
    I recommend an awning that hinges off the south side of the house .
    !n the winter months the awning would be at the most vertical aspect thus getting the most sun during the day and shedding snow completely .
    During the sumer months the awning is raised more horizontally to be at the best aspect to the sun possible , and providing as shaded area against the south wall, thus adding to the cooling off of the house.
    Best of all one could use a boat cable wench to do the raising and lowering of the awning. Easy Pezy
    3cyl, UncleMorgan and Motomom34 like this.
  12. UncleMorgan

    UncleMorgan I like peeling bananas and (occasionally) people.

    Say what?

    If they can be pole mounted 100' away, they can be rack mounted four feet above your roof. Cheaper, faster, and easier to clean and maintain. And adjustable, if that's what you want.

    I think Mr. 'Lectrician is trying to bend you over a fender.
    techsar and Yard Dart like this.
  13. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    3 in 12 works. That said, it doesn't matter if you cover it with panels at the correct angle for best insolation. The snow on the panels is then the question, and that is NOT easily resolved.
    @starlys Methinks you ought NOT plan on scraping the snow off the panels by leaning off the balcony. Druther not read of your demise from slipping on the ice.
  14. Cruisin Sloth

    Cruisin Sloth Special & Slow

    CHAINSAW dude
    You need to create the HARVEST area !!

    Post your google area & after we figure it out , use edit to delete it.
    IM not going to swipe or anyone from here .
    1800W , as one said here Kill-a-watt & record .
    Quit dreaming , Learn & know MORE .
    MOST WILL HELP , But ya need to spout REAL info .
    One a month of these post !

    Yard Dart likes this.
  15. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    We still don't know where he is.
    For all we know just the shipping the batteries could cost 20k.
  16. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+++

    I don't know where you're getting your numbers from, but solar is cheaper now than it ever has been.

    If you have contractor do the work, then yeah, it's gonna be some $$. The off grid system I use cost me about $3500 for everything...batteries, controller, inverter, everything. I have 650 watts of solar but can expand it to 2500 watts with only minor reconfigurations. It's not a kit and no contractors were involved. I did the entire design and build myself.

    Most of the cost savings was from doing the work myself (labor). You also mention about keeping it "legal". It may depend on where you live, but off grid systems generally do not require permits as long as they are truly off grid, as in not physically connected to commercial power in any way. The local establishment does not even know my system exists. Hardly anyone does.

    If you are digging trenches...well yeah that might require tipping your hand. 100 feet is not that far. It would be easier and cheaper to run an aerial drop from the solar panels to the termination point. You'll have to bump your voltage to at least 24v and preferably 48.

    More cost savings can be found in the mountings, poles, and other hardware needed. For example, a set of panel roof mount clamps is about $60...for each panel. I made my own from some stainless steel door hinges and scrap lumber. Total cost was less than $25 for my entire array.

    And by the way, we get plenty of snow were I live and it's not that big of a deal. Most of the time it will melt off on its own. If it doesn't, just sweep it off (and let the sun melt the rest), or build in enough battery capacity so that you can run without the panels for a while.

    Building a large scale solar plant is not something I would recommend to a newb, but maybe you can find an experienced off gridder to help you instead of paying a contractor.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2016
  17. starlys

    starlys Monkey

    I have read about this stuff, and I took an electronics class in HS - the only girl in the class - so I'm not COMPLETELY uneducated!

    More info: 48v system, northern New Mexico. It's new construction on a mountain, far from any existing utilities. The generator is 2200 watts I think? It's the quiet kind in a plastic case.

    I'll look into windmlls too - good idea. It's a mountain so there's wind, but not every day.

    I'll look into non-permitted as well.My impression is that it's not legal in NM.
    Asia-Off-Grid likes this.
  18. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Also, look at the DSIRE site may find tax breaks and other info, such as registration of your solar rights (NM has this!)
    Asia-Off-Grid likes this.
  19. Mike

    Mike Ol' Army Sergeant Monkey

    I have been doing a lot of research and planning on building an off the grid system. I don't like roof mounted systems as I hate making any unnecessary penetrations in a nice, waterproof roof. Consider using some 4x4's to build something like a pergola, about roof height, with ladder access, just off the house. Run interconnecting cables through pvc, keeps chewing down on them. I have also considered putting a plexiglass cover over them as I currently am looking at a homestead site that is in hail country. I lived in NM for a while, know of some pretty strong hail storms there. The plexiglass lets them be sprayed off easily and protects them from impact damage. Panels have come down in cost, the pergola shouldn't be excessively expensive. I have even given thought to collocating a solar hot water system with the panels, allowing some diversion too a system below the panels that would allow warmth to do snow melting. But $26k seems really high. Batteries are expensive, but in a 48 volt system, adding an additional 4 batteries at a time, money allowing, is not hard. If you breaker each string, adding a string is just wiring till you flip the breaker. Removing a string for maintenance, replacement is also just a breaker flip operation. I work in telecom, have installed tons of power systems. I just haven't had a chance to do the solar system, yet.

    Good luck. Lot of good ideas before mine. Smart monkey pack in this place.
    Cruisin Sloth likes this.
  20. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    I would use chicken wire as hail and lightning guard.
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2016
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