Solar on a Budget... or am I chasing a unicorn?

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Brent S

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One key component that will increase the efficiency of a solar system in a sun tracker. If your using a pole mount for the solar panels a sun tracker will increase the efficiency of the panels by about 30%. I wanted one for my system but my panels are too big and heavy. In hindsight I should of split my panels on two poles then I could of used 2 trackers. I'm thinking about adding 5 or 6 more panels to my system, then I could utilize a tracker.
I’m in Ga so get pretty good sun all day. Being further north you need to try and catch every little bit you can. Sizing the system is really important too. I have two extra panels and two extra batteries from what I calculated on this first setup. Just in case we get bad weather with minimal sun for more than two days.
 

Brent S

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Still moving forward. I ran wires today and got everything into the Charge controller box. I also went under the house and installed the new circuit for the fridge and ran a line over to the main panel box. After testing the fridge and freezer on the new system then I will decide what other circuits I can add to the system. That’s about all I can do Until I get the DC breakers and mounts. Really close to firing this thing up now, and eager!
 

Arcticdude

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Still moving forward. I ran wires today and got everything into the Charge controller box. I also went under the house and installed the new circuit for the fridge and ran a line over to the main panel box. After testing the fridge and freezer on the new system then I will decide what other circuits I can add to the system. That’s about all I can do Until I get the DC breakers and mounts. Really close to firing this thing up now, and eager!
That was a great day when I got my system fired up. The only problem that I've had with my system was a breaker kept tripping between the solar charge controller and inverter. Once I replaced that breaker I haven't had any problem since. It's nice going out to look at the controller and see that I'm generating far more power than I'm using. Maybe around August it'll be hot enough to try out the AC and heat pump. Today hit 68.
 

bigpaul

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as far away from "civilisation" as i can get.
Take away modern technology from an advanced culture and you won't go back to those "simple times." The infrastructure that existed in the simple times doesn't exist anymore. You won't have the equipment or expertise necessary to sustain even horse and buggy age technology because with few exceptions that doesn't exist anymore. The factories that ran on steam power are all gone. Take away electricity and you are taking away nearly all manufacturing, including the ability to process steel. So without steel we are no longer in the Iron Age, that takes us back to the Bronze Age. But there are not enough people who know how to even produce and process bronze without any electricity. That technology is gone too for all practical purposes. So what came before the Bronze Age???

The Stone Age.

Be careful what you wish for!
future generations may as you say go back to the stone age, without the skills and the knowledge mankind will just get dumber and dumber, but immediately post SHTF we will revert to a pre industrial age.
these skills that are needed to survive can be learned and we wont be working exactly as we do now, adaption to the new normal will be necessary. those that dont adapt will die.
oh yes and they produced bronze in the bronze age without electricity because they didnt have it back then.
 

Brent S

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That was a great day when I got my system fired up. The only problem that I've had with my system was a breaker kept tripping between the solar charge controller and inverter. Once I replaced that breaker I haven't had any problem since. It's nice going out to look at the controller and see that I'm generating far more power than I'm using. Maybe around August it'll be hot enough to try out the AC and heat pump. Today hit 68.
I don’t imagine AC is your biggest energy guzzler like it is here. I would love to have my central unit on solar but will be ok with just a window unit for the master bedroom. Another thing I’m planning to compliment the solar is to install the propane water heater that I got a while back. I’m considering making a solar water pre heater for the hot water as well. I have 4 large pieces of tempered glass that with one I’m definitely going to use to warm the pool up with. I will do a separate thread for that project.
 

DrHenley

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oh yes and they produced bronze in the bronze age without electricity because they didnt have it back then.
That knowledge and expertise took centuries to develop. Like the process for making Toledo Steel, or Damascus Steel - things that took centuries to develop - that knowledge has been lost to posterity. Even with all our modern technology, we still have not been able to duplicate them.
 

Brent S

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Well, I didn’t get everything today but I did get most of the supplies today. Another step forward! Didn’t get the breakers for the charge controllers though, and that’s what I need to finish wiring the controller box. At least I can piddle some on it tomorrow.
 

Arcticdude

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I don’t imagine AC is your biggest energy guzzler like it is here. I would love to have my central unit on solar but will be ok with just a window unit for the master bedroom. Another thing I’m planning to compliment the solar is to install the propane water heater that I got a while back. I’m considering making a solar water pre heater for the hot water as well. I have 4 large pieces of tempered glass that with one I’m definitely going to use to warm the pool up with. I will do a separate thread for that project.
I have a little window a.c. unit for the fur shed. It hasn't been hot enough in the house yet to need a.c. Until last week we were still using the wood stove.
We have a propane water heater for the house. It provides plenty of hot water. I like the idea of a solar pre heater. You'll just need to keep it from freezing.
 

Brent S

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I have a little window a.c. unit for the fur shed. It hasn't been hot enough in the house yet to need a.c. Until last week we were still using the wood stove.
We have a propane water heater for the house. It provides plenty of hot water. I like the idea of a solar pre heater. You'll just need to keep it from freezing.
Not just to keep it from freezing but have it automatically drain the system with a thermostat in case I forget to do it manually.
 

Arcticdude

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Not just to keep it from freezing but have it automatically drain the system with a thermostat in case I forget to do it manually.
I'm all for making everything as automatic as possible. I like the concept of being able to kick back and not worry about anything.
I'm looking for a new generator for the well pump that I can add an auto start too. For an auto start to work I need a generator that has an auto choke or fuel injected.
 
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Brent S

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I'm all for making everything as automatic as possible. I like the concept of being able to kick back and not worry about anything.
I'm looking for a new generator for the well pump that I can add an auto start too. For an auto start to work I need a generator that has an auto choke or fuel injected.
Wouldn’t propane fill that need? Between it being the longest lasting fuel That needs no additives and the fact that it doesn't dirty up your oil like gas or diesel makes it my favorite fuel. I know you said you already invested in diesel tanks though.
 

pengyou

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The one thing from holding me up to being as self sufficient as possible is electrical. I have good water, food/ livestock, etc. I've researched solar and it seems so expensive. Any tips from people that have done it? Is it possible to do on a budget?
Let me toss my 2 cents worth in now...off grid energy production is expensive - no2 ways around that. #1. The first thing you should do is to find ways to minimize your need for electricity. As someone mentioned, heating a house with electricity generated by PV cells is a waste - scratch that off the list. Do you have a clothes dryer? I have not used one in 20 years. You can scratch that off the list. Hot water can be done with propane and a good solar pre-heater. Scratch that one off the list. Dish washer?? Really? I have a washing machine that is not automatic, but only requires a 300 watt motor to use it - overall electricity is proportionally lower, as is water usage. I could not do without a/c but if you landscape carefully, you will need less and less electricity to cool your house. The nice thing about a/c is that while you use more electricity to cool a house down on hot days, you also generate more electricity on those hot days. You generate the electricity for the a/c but you don't have to store it because it is used automatically...but then you might have to store some for the night. And how well insulated is your home? Do you have a way to change all ceiling lighting into 5v or 12v or some other form of dc? saves electricity. So, number 1, you reduce your need. #2. You change the time you need electricity. If you are home all day, you can do the wash while the sun is shining. The more tasks you do while the sun is shining, the smaller the battery pack you will need. Prepare all of your food during the day. Charge all of the batteries during the day. #3, related to #2 - is there some other form of energy you can use? I am going to set up a weather station on my property because the wind is very strong and consistent after dusk. If I can get a windmill to create the energy for tasks that I MUST do at night, that means I don't need a battery pack for that - or at least, not a very big one.
 

Arcticdude

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Wouldn’t propane fill that need? Between it being the longest lasting fuel That needs no additives and the fact that it doesn't dirty up your oil like gas or diesel makes it my favorite fuel. I know you said you already invested in diesel tanks though.
Actually I am looking at going with propane for the well pump generator. That way I can get 1 bulk tank to run the generator and the heater inside the pump house. I'm just having a hard time finding a generator that fits my needs. It has to be a minium of 8,000 watts and electric start, needs a 50 amp breaker and auto choke or fuel injected. So far I haven't found one yet that has all those features. Without internet it's hard to research generators.
 

DrHenley

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What kind of pressure does propane have at -40? Natural gas has a boiling point that is extremely low(−260 °F) but propane's boiling point is -43.6 °F. It seems you'd have to have a heated tank, or an extremely well insulated buried tank in the North Country to be able to get any pressure out of it in the dead of winter.
 

Brent S

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Let me toss my 2 cents worth in now...off grid energy production is expensive - no2 ways around that. #1. The first thing you should do is to find ways to minimize your need for electricity. As someone mentioned, heating a house with electricity generated by PV cells is a waste - scratch that off the list. Do you have a clothes dryer? I have not used one in 20 years. You can scratch that off the list. Hot water can be done with propane and a good solar pre-heater. Scratch that one off the list. Dish washer?? Really? I have a washing machine that is not automatic, but only requires a 300 watt motor to use it - overall electricity is proportionally lower, as is water usage. I could not do without a/c but if you landscape carefully, you will need less and less electricity to cool your house. The nice thing about a/c is that while you use more electricity to cool a house down on hot days, you also generate more electricity on those hot days. You generate the electricity for the a/c but you don't have to store it because it is used automatically...but then you might have to store some for the night. And how well insulated is your home? Do you have a way to change all ceiling lighting into 5v or 12v or some other form of dc? saves electricity. So, number 1, you reduce your need. #2. You change the time you need electricity. If you are home all day, you can do the wash while the sun is shining. The more tasks you do while the sun is shining, the smaller the battery pack you will need. Prepare all of your food during the day. Charge all of the batteries during the day. #3, related to #2 - is there some other form of energy you can use? I am going to set up a weather station on my property because the wind is very strong and consistent after dusk. If I can get a windmill to create the energy for tasks that I MUST do at night, that means I don't need a battery pack for that - or at least, not a very big one.
No doubt, reducing your consumption is just as important as the production of electricity. Unless your loaded with disposable income. Everyone in your household needs to be on board with being aware of how to minimize use which is likely going to be an issue for me here...
 

TexasFreedom

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I'll toss in my $0.02, speaking from experience. I've got about $25k into my system, 8kW solar. Grid tie-only as designed (did it 5-10 years ago). It was all DIY. For maybe $5k I can make it off-grid-ready (I've got most of those parts sitting around, just not connected). I regularly have $5-10k in new batteries that rotate through, so that part is good-to-go. But all of this was installed with sweat equity, you can double the costs if yo are paying someone to do the work.

Rule of thumb. Expect to spend $4-5 per watt for off-grid solar if you DIY. Call it $8-10 / watt for turn-key installation. On average through the year, expect 5 hours nationwide per day of usable output. So if you install 1,000 watts of solar, you'll get 5,000 watts out of it. Not near that in Seattle, and more than that in Texas. There will be inefficiencies, and as much as 30% of that power can get wasted via those inefficiencies.

When you are looking at what it can run, look at the annual expected power usage of a device. Let's say a fridge says it'll cost $150 per year at 12 cents / kilowatt-hour. Again, more $$ in Texas, less in Minnesota. The power they use will be $150 / $0.12 = 1250 kilowatt-hours. That is 1,250,000 watt-hours. Your solar panel needs for just this fridge will be 1,250,000 / 365 days / 5 hours/day = 685 watts of solar. Allow for some inefficiencies, consider nothing less than 900 watts. And being in Texas, I'd bump that up to 1200-1500 watts of solar. Add up all the things you want it to run, factor how long each runs per day (fridge runs 24/7)... let me give a second example for that.

OK, let's say you want some light. You want 10 bulbs, 15 watts each, to run for 4 hours per day. Power usage is 15 watts x 10 bulbs x 4 hours = 600 watt-hours per day. If you get 5 hours/day of sun, that means you need 600 / 5 = 120 watts of solar. Round that up to 150 watts of solar for inefficiencies. I hope this helps. Solar is not cheap.
 

Brent S

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So far I have about 6k in my system Which has a 4000w inverter with 1000AH of battery. That includes The solar mounts, panels, dual 60amp chargers and all wires and connectors and breakers. I also have 11 extra panels included in that cost, which will be used in my other two systems. The Main costs were 2500 for 20 200w panels and 10 100AH batteries for 2000. The other things like breakers, panels and connectors add up but nothing compared to the power generation and storage. I have Learned a lot since starting this project. If you just do a grid tied system you can save a lot of money. That’s good. The money comes from the off grid side in the inverter and batteries. The main reason I didn’t go with grid tied was I want this as a backup if the grid goes down. Grid tied produces greener energy which is great but doesn't help when the grid goes down.
My plan was to work on some connections today but after working a lot of hours this week I haven’t managed to get motivated to do much of anything yet and it’s 4pm now! I’m still waiting on some breakers anyways....
 
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