Solar power help!

Discussion in 'Off Grid Living' started by Itchba, Apr 11, 2018.

  1. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    Ok, Im finally at the point to start living my dream! Im signing on my land this week. Will have well amd septic by summers end.

    Now i have a choice and want some advice please...

    I can pay to have power run to the back of my 7 acres or get solar. I prefer solar but dont wanna buy a kit that may limit me or be unable to grow.

    I dont have data on my usage atm. Im traveling, but can anyone help me figure out a starter setup that lets me run my RV and sometimes use powertools for building.

    Im trying to decide costs here. Im thinking if it looks doable in the near future I can get a propane genny to do me till then. But if Its too much im gonna have to go on grid.

    Any advice?
  2. Tevin

    Tevin Monkey+++

    You don't give a lot of details, but doing solar on an RV is relatively easy and inexpensive. A good 500 watt system will run you about $1500 if you're willing to do the work yourself.

    Being totally off grid does come with tradeoffs, some of them significant. You will not live like a normally connected person. If you can afford to have commercial power on your property then I say go for it. You can then be on solar most of the time but have a grid power source if you need it.

    This website is written for ham radio people but has great solar ideas for everyone else too:

    Off Grid Ham - Keeping amateur radio on when the grid is gone
  3. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    Ok. More details.

    I have an rv with 30amp hook up. One deep cell 12v battery and an off brand (inverter?) Electric pannel setup. Can post more on that tomorrow night.

    I hope be able to use one tool at a time as needed (maybe 3days a week) in my wood shop. This is a 28 by 12 garage type storage building.

    I have been thinking a 2500w inverter to start and add pannels as needed. But not sure how many to start with to run my basic set up.

    My fridge is gas, so is my stove. I have some battery tools that i recharge as needed. I tend to be slow on projects so waiting to charge or run a tool till charge builds up wont be an issue.

    I charge my phone and tablet often but again not a big loss is I cant.

    These are my imediate needs only. I eventually want to have an aquaponics set up in a green house for personal use, not commercial, most of this is still a long way off.

    I have outdoor projects to keep me busy outside and not using electric for the forseeable future. So is this doable off grid?

    If i can be off grid I know I can adapt my life to do whats needed. What I want is a realistic starting point to go from that lets me add luxuries when I can.

    If this is a viable option the the plan will be to get a propane generator for now that is big enough to run everything and have a large tank installed. When I get the solar up I can wean myself of the genny and use it as backup.

    Flaws in my thinking? Please point them out.
  4. T. Riley

    T. Riley Monkey+++

    How much is it going to cost to get on the grid? If zero, do that first then do solar. Tell the electric company you're in the RV until you can finish the 4BR, 3 bath 5000 sq ft all electric home. Where I live they base the charge for running the power on what will be built to recover their cost. When I was getting mine the guy from the power company kept clearing his throat until I doubled my square footage estimate and halved my cost. I'm not saying to lie, just dream big. Who knows, you may build it one day.
  5. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member

    FWIW, I think getting started in the RV is fine. But running power tools, well, get your gennie, it will always find a use whether you are on grid or off. Having commercial power is a seriously good idea in case all else fails (including your carcass getting damaged) but the grid stays up.
  6. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    So solar is a waste of time?
  7. SB21

    SB21 Monkey+++

    Solar as a backup in a way. I would get the power hooked up . And use what you need of it. Even if it's just to charge your RV batteries and the shop. Then slowly add your solar as your needs increase or decrease. Better to have it and not need it , than to need it and not have it. 7 acres sounds like a decent little spread for you. Not being nosy , but where bouts did you end up ? Come winter time , if you're up in the hills , that steady power may be nice if some of that global warming lays a thick blanket on you for a week or so. :ROFLMAO:
  8. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    South GA! They rarely see snow, 8a is my growing zone and im warm for the first time in awhile! Lol long winter...

    I was really hoping to get off grid. My electric has been less than $50 a moth for a full year now so I was hoping I was doing good enough to completely disconect!
    SB21 likes this.
  9. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    If your question is solar, my question is how much do you have to spend?
  10. T. Riley

    T. Riley Monkey+++

    No, solar is not a waste of time. Have both if you can and let the solar be your backup plan or let solar run your lights full time until it's all you have.
    chelloveck and Ganado like this.
  11. Borrego

    Borrego Monkey

    I just finished putting solar on my desert cabin and it is really worth it......there is a power about being free from the 'grid'. It cost me $8000 for really nice system (materials only) and a lot of work and research but it can be done...I use the genny for power tools of high amperage, but otherwise I am fine ....refer, cold beer and all :)
  12. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    Starting out, not much 2k at most, this is why the genny to start. As my water heater, fridge and stove are all propane makes sense to get a large tank and a genny for now with that.

    Then start building up my supplies to get the solar up. I have read alot about it, got the general idea and most concepts figured out but my practical knowledge is nonexistent and tbh I hate doing electrical! But I can if I make up my mind

    Its the math that gets me confused. I need to know what size inverter, because that's the biggest thing in the system. If Im understanding correctly, to small and I can't expand or too big and I'm wasting energy!
  13. BTPost

    BTPost Stumpy Old Fart Snow Monkey Moderator

    The Inverter Input Volrage is the Big Issue, in any Solar Design... It is the only piece that has a Fixed Voltage and can NOT be reconfigured, for different Volage senerios, in the design for growth or expansion of the Solar System...

    Rule of Thumb is:
    2Kw or less, 12 Vdc...
    2 - 4kw 24 Vdc
    4- 8 Kw 48 Vdc

    Batteries can be reconfigured, for any System Voltage... Same with most Quality Charge Controllers... and the same is true for Solar Panels...HOWEVER, Inverter/Chargers are designed at a Fixed Input Voltage.. so if you start with a 12Vdc Inverter, and out grow it with your System Expansion, then you will need to buy a Higher Input Volage Unit, down the Road...
  14. arleigh

    arleigh Goophy monkey

    For me ,I went what I call a battery system ,and use several means to support it.
    I lived in the mountains and power was questionable year round and the power company took no responsibility for brown or black outs.
    Normal appliances took a beating but we survived however when we bought our first home computer that was a while different story and I wasn't taking any chances .
    At that time I knew nothing about a UPS stand by power . So in essence I built my own . A battery charger run off the grid of course, and a gell cell battery, and an inverter, to run the computer and monitor and printer .
    That 386 out lasted every one else's computers and then some .
    As time went by I bought solar panels as I could afford them, and in those days they wern't cheap so I bought used ones people were up grading from .
    Cost me about $100 and amp .
    I have bought several through the years all different and all functional even some of the very old ARCO were already 10 years old or better when I got them 40 years ago.
    Far as I'm concerned matching is a fallacy . Variations in exposure on panels due to aim, dirt, size, time of day and manufacturing variations they don't matter in the over all picture .
    My system is built with every single component is on a 3 position 20 amp switch so that at any time I can test said components individually on and off line .
    solar panels all have their own switch and each panel is known for it's own out put and you can watch amperage rise proportionally to each panels own out put . Some put out 2 some 3 some 4 and some 1 , which doesn't seem like much but it is a contribution none the less .
    I do not have them arranged for optimum out put , I don't need it . I have spare panels I haven't even installed yet .
    I use 6 volt deep cycle golf cart batteries ,this coming from a recommendation I learned from a couple with a motor home that started with a big 24 volt truck battery and then converted and happy ever sense .
    I have 6 volt LED lighting so being able to tie off one of those makes it nice .

    Plan for a much larger system than you think you need , it's harder to add later .
    bigger controller .inverter and battery box /cabinet .
    Expect to learn something about batteries as modern technology is getting better, But I wouldn't wait around for it .
    I had found books on RV and boat living and repairs and if your going off grid this is a must .
    I have 3 amp meters and 30 amp permanent meters on line as well as hand healds .
    The sooner you decide to jump in with both feet the better .
    I never had a lot of money to work with , but I made it a priority . even though at the time I got ridiculed, my electric bill is some where between $20. amd $60. a month depending on work I'm doing using heaver shop equipment, air compressors welders and such. I'm still on grid but todays bill just arrived is $1.58
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2018
    inthewoods likes this.
  15. ghrit

    ghrit Bad company Administrator Founding Member


    Alright Itchy, you have the cart partially before the horse, trying to fill in a power need without knowing the loads. We do have a couple real knowledgeable folks here that can take you step by step thru design and construction of a solar system, soup to nuts. The very first thing you need to know is what your anticipated loads are NOW, and what you expect them to be in the future.

    12 volt DC is not going to make you happy outside of the RV. You mentioned a wood shop. Now I KNOW that they start out small, with a hand saw and battery drill, but I also KNOW that you will not be satisfied until you have a drill press, table saw, and maybe a lathe. Knowing that, you have to consider not only panels, but batteries as well as the charge controller and invertor and main power arrangements.

    Remember also that the RV will not last as long as the house you will be building; therefore your minimum power requirements will escalate, and what you start with should be expandable. Spend once for "big enough" hardware to save spending endlessly.

    So, the plan is entirely dependent on the loads. It's time for you to sum them up, and particularly to describe what they are, some can tolerate chopped sine waves and some cannot.
  16. oil pan 4

    oil pan 4 Monkey+++

    Yes direct combustion for heating is an excellent start.
    You need to spend money on a good inverter. You need to get a pure sine wave inverter. That's all I use. I had cheap ones, but I sold and gave them away and upgraded to pure sine wave.
    But $2,000 should just be your generator.
    You can build your self a DC generator fairly cheap, it would be far more efficient than charging 12v from a 120v generator of you only needed to charge a battery bank.

    I have built 3 small solar systems, my own DC generator/welder. I have an associate of applied science for wind and solar power generation, worked 13 years on diesel generators from 3kw to 1.5mw in the air force now I'm working on electricians journeyman. None of that is by coincidence.
    chelloveck likes this.
  17. Itchba

    Itchba Monkey+

    Now is just the RV and the shop, and Im pretty sure I can only use one tool at a time, but the genny can be used for that load if its too big. I honestly havent gotten I light bill all year because I only get one if the bill is over $50 (first 50 included in my rent).

    I do know the company charges $.11/kw so I have to be using less than 500kw a month right?

    I dont expect my current needs to change for at least 2 years, and I plan a small (maybe 24 by 24 one room place with a greenhouse attached for passive solar.
    Hopefully figure out a way to salvage the gas appliances to incorporate into the new place so at first the load shouldnt shift too much, but I would eventually need to run the pumps and ventilation, those being the biggest changes i see at this point. That said I would rather over plan than get stuck with too little.

    The idea I had was a set up now that covers my load as a minimum, with room for growth. And if that limit is reached add an additional comparable system to say the shop and separate the loads to adjust.

    As for the wood shop, its not just starting out...I only want three more power tools. A ban saw, a planer/joiner combo, and a floor size drill press. (The ex bought me tools when he cheated, lol I have pretty much everything else) but Im starting on hand tools now!
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2018
    chelloveck likes this.
  18. ochit

    ochit Monkey+

    A decent size diesel tractor 40 horse power and a 10K stub generator will fulfill all your power needs, and a good diesel tractor uses very little fuel compared to a gasoline motor even a small one.

    Solar is useful as a pocket on a shirt you do not want to run a generator if you don't have to. consider wind as well if your area has enough to make it worthwhile there are 400 watt wind generators these can be tied in to a charge controller. I would also consider a segmented system for specific areas like a barn work shed in this way if one is lets say struck by lightening or a fire to a building not all is lost and DC voltage does not travel well over wire line loss is great and wire size to convey power is exponentially expensive as the longer the run the larger size wire. the better wire for DC voltage is welding wire lead it is multistranded we called it angel hair. solid copper wire for long runs I would not go for. wire heats up if the connections are not tight stranded wire is better.

    Charge controllers prevent overcharging and over heating batteries and that can destroy a battery or lessen it's life and batteries are expensive. solar have a life span generally 20 years and then the output lessens by degrees. dust and dirt on the panels lessens the out put so you need to keep them clean to make them work at peak performance.

    Considering as many options as you can it is best to use Trojan 6 volt batteries these are the ones golf carts have deeper charge more amps and amp hours over a single 12 volt battery. The configuration to suit your solar panels 12 or 24 or 48 volts personally I would stick with 12 as most lights and appliances come in 12.

    Each of your buildings will use a bunch to little power if each has a separate system if there is an issue it makes finding the fault easier. There are laws against living totally off the grid unless your very remote so you may have to have a power pole another thing is electronics like Sine wave output it is level and unlike other inverters that cannot reliably output voltage these can harm or destroy your electronics fact is sine wave is better even that your utilities power output. most all generators do not supply sine wave power unless stated but they run tools very well. If you are required to have a power utility pole nothing states you have to use it more than the minimum bill. I can assure you that powering an air conditioner clothes dryer or even a ceramic heater is not a small feat.

    Power is nice but solar need to be over engineered because many appliances require a start load and that is a higher amperage than when running, many people I know are boatnicks they cannot run an AC but they have ice makers that run off of a wind generator and battery set when its still they can run fans small but enough to make some comfort, In an emergency having ice and a fan is a Godsend. remember that snow ice and dust can choke solar panels from light and giving optimum power. batteries are susceptible to extreme heat and cold. BY accident I watched a video where leaves were piled up and the heat from composting was warm enough to keep a battery size shed warm given the wall was open the leaves wiht some chicken wire or lath... and this seemed to last for months of course spring and it could be used for the garden and the leaves replaced start of winter.
    chelloveck likes this.
  19. Asia-Off-Grid

    Asia-Off-Grid RIP 11-8-2018

    People do this all the time. I suppose it is because they don't realize that, in a home that is on the grid, you just plug in, or switch on appliances without thinking of the specific power consumption of a given appliance, like we must do concerning a solar plan.

    @Itchba, the best way to determine your power needs, is to determine how much power you need, by taking the wattage of each appliance you wish to energize, and multiply it by the hours the appliance will need to be powered. For example, you have a table fan which will draw 45 watts. You want to power it for 3 hours per day. Take 45 and multiply it by 3, to get your total, which will be in watt hours. (I am under the impression all appliances will be typical US voltage of 120vac?) Do this for every appliance you wish to power and give us that figure. That will be the number you need, to start your battery, controller, and solar array calculations.

    People, quite often, wish to start from the other end - the solar array, and work backwards. That will be an excellent way to spend entirely too much money on a project.
    Seepalaces, Cruisin Sloth and ghrit like this.
  20. BenP

    BenP Monkey++

    This is the basic off-grid solar setup I used while building our house. It worked pretty well and could run a table saw all day long as long as the sun was shining.

    Solar Panels 1400W - Ebay, Price varies - $1,000.00
    Schneider Electric Conext XW MPPT 60 Amp Solar Charge Controller - $500.00
    Schneider Electric Conext SW 4024 3,400 Watts, 24VDC Inverter 120/240 VAC - $1,500.00
    Schneider Electric Conext XW+/SW System Control Panel (SCP) - $211.00
    LiFePO4 Prismatic Battery 24V, 200Ah - Not the cheapest option - $2,500.00
    Unistrut/Bolts/Nuts/Hardward for Panel Rack $500.00
    Seepalaces likes this.
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