As you probably know if you've followed my blog for any length of time, I live off grid. And as I've mentioned before, I know that means different things to different people. To me, that means my house has no physical hard line connection to anything from the outside. I do have a wireless internet connection. I do have a cell phone, albeit a old and cheep flip phone. I do have electrical power. Here's how I get that and all the things I use to do so. If you are trying to decide if you really want to go off grid or not, please read my "Realities of Solar Power" post as well. This post is not really discussing that, just how I set things up if you have made that choice to go off grid already.
Here's a visual tour I did of all the components I discuss below if you would like to watch that first so you have an overview of the system and how everything fits together. I also list all the items in my house that use power.
First there is my solar panels. They are my main power source. I bought them as a kit that can be found here. The kit includes four 100 watt solar panels, anchoring clips, charge controller, cables, connectors, and a 1000 watt inverter for about $900.
They are not on my roof. Primarily because I need to be able to clean snow off of them all winter and having to access the roof to do so seemed like it would be far to big of a hassle. Secondly because my roof is not parked where it get's much sun. Initially they were placed beside my house which was most convenient. But due to living on the north side of the hill you can see pictured above, that location did not get a lot of sun either. Now they've been moved up to their current location just above the tree line on the edge of an open hay field where they get about as much sun as is possible in this northern clime.
A friend with a shop built these frames for me. Each frame holds two of the panels, so there are two frames total to hold four panels. It's just a basic 2x4 structure that has proved to be very sturdy. And by loosening that one bolt on the side that you can see above right at the peak of the legs, I can rotate the panels themselves. Allowing me to change the angle with the seasons as the sun moves. If I pull those two bolts, I have three separate pieces that will pack flat should I ever need to transport them. Two pairs of legs and one frame with the panels themselves. But with a good wide base and the weight of the wood it's self, they have been super stable. No issues at all with wind or anything else moving the frames. And I didn't have to sink a post into concrete in the ground. Which is good because I need to be mobile, and I don't own the ground I live on.
In their current location, the panels produce as much as power as possible in this snowy area. At this time of year there are a lot of morning where I wake up to this picture below though and it is a huge benefit to be able to just hike up the hill and use my soft broom to dust all the snow off.
As I mentioned in my video, there is close to 100 feet of cable from the panels to my house. These two shots above and below show taking readings at the panels and then where the cable goes into the house. There does not seem to be any noticeable line drop.
I did have to order extra cables and connectors to move them that far which you can find here and here.
Then there are the days where there is just no sun. Because it's snowing all day. Or raining. Or only a few hours of sun because it's winter and I live so far north. So I have a generator. Above, you can see the tiny house my generator lives in. It would not really need a house, but it does help reduce the noise, and more importantly, keeps snow from melting into it as it's running and then icing up when it cools down.
I wrote a whole post just about my generator which you can read here, or buy one here. This really is a great little generator costing only $180 and running as well or better, as I describe in the post dedicated to it, than the much more expensive Honda of the same size.
The power from the generator comes into the house through that red cord. The solar panel power comes in a black cord that you can't see pictured here since it hadn't been finished when this shot was taken, but is almost right beside the red one. That is the outside of the house before I stained it grey.
All the power heads to the rest of my equipment inside under the couch. You can see the air spaces in the way the couch frame was built which allow air to circulate freely so no equipment overheats. All the power stuff is under the back part of the couch. There is other stuff storage under the L part of the couch, but it's sealed off from the power equipment so nothing can tumble onto something where it would short anything out or possibly block air flow and start a fire.
Here you can see how I can prop it open if I want. It's also possible to lift that board and cushions the whole way off if you really need the space to get under there and work on something.
After the power created by the sun or the generator makes it inside, it has to be safely stored in the batteries. Above you can see the charge controller for the generator. It looks like this exact model is no longer offered by V-Max tanks, but you can find their similar charge controller here though it is a little smaller, and cheeper at only $110, than the model I'd bought.
And below, on the right, is the charge controller for the solar panels. This came as part of the kit I purchased the panels in that I linked to above.
And on the left is the monitor that allows me to easily see how full my batteries are etc. You can find this monitor here. Its expensive, adding $230 to the cost of the system, but very worth having. Without it, I would never know the state of my batteries. And knowing that is important to maintaining their health. Which as I'll explain below, is pretty important.
And then we get to the batteries themselves. This will probably be your single biggest expense in setting up a solar system. You can find the batteries here that I bought.
I have five, but as you can see in this photo, I didn't start with all five just because of the expense. I started with two. And then added two more about a month later. And the last one a month after that. You do want to keep all your batteries as close as possible to the same age. If you have even one old one, it can ruin your new batteries. And about $300 a piece, that's not something you want to ruin.
Above, you can see the little plate that all the power runs through allowing my monitor to know what's going on.
Here's where all the wiring comes into and back out of the back of that monitor.
All the batteries are wired in parallel, basically turning all 5 into one larger battery with more amp hours of storage. Above you can see all the negative wires bolted onto the terminal at one side of that battery bank. And below is all the positive wire on the terminal at the opposite side.
Finally, when power leaves the batteries to do something like turn on my lights, it flows through this inverter above and into the rest of the house. The inverter turns the DC power stored in the batteries into AC power which is what a standard wall outlet uses. This was also part of the kit with the solar panels.
So all total, my costs for my solar system are approximately as follows.
Solar panels, inverter, charge controller, mounting clips, and some cable - $900
Misc. lumber, screws, bolts for the panel frames and generator box - $300
Extra solar cable and connectors - $70
Generator - $180
Generator charge controller - $110
Batteries - $1500
Monitor - $230
Total = $3290 for parts. Labor I've not counted since it was all provided by me and one good friend. As I mentioned in the video tour, a quote I got from a local solar installer for a similar system ran about $17,000.
And that's how I get electricity! If you have any questions, please ask away.