Is Solar Worth It

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by abbiellieruby, Apr 4, 2005.

  1. abbiellieruby

    abbiellieruby Member

    Mar 31, 2005
    Well We Are Going To Live Far Away From The Closest Electric Pole..
    My Question Is How Do You Do Solar??????
    We Have 4 Children And Id Like To Be Able To Run A Washer Regularlyevery Other Day Or So..
    An Di Have My Compueter..
    What Would We Need??and Were Do You Find It ??
    Is There Such Things As Seconed Hand Solar Products??
    Ca Someone Help??
    Im Running Out Of Time..
  2. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

    Jun 16, 2002
    South Central Kansas
    This is just my opinion, but a washing machine has a pretty good draw to it, i.e. it uses a pretty fair amount of electricity. I figure on mine taking about a half hour per load, probably not that long, but that is what I allow if I'm doing another project while waiting.

    I think that you would probably be better off investing in a long life generator and simply running it for the time required to do laundry. While running, the generator could also be used to charge up a battery bank. An an inverter could then be used during generator off times for lights and your computer.

    Enough fuel to run a generator for ½ hour would be pretty cheap even at the gasoline prices of today, compared to the purchase of solar panels, a battery bank large enough to supply electricity for a washing machine, and an inverter large enough to provide the washer with adequate watts.

    The old threads and archives contain many messages inquiring about solar usage.

    Home Power magazine, the paper edition or on line can provide you a good starting point.

    Figure the ampere draw of your washing machine by seeing a label on either the machine or the motor on it. Figure amps multiplied by voltage (120) =watts. Multiply watts by the time the machine runs to get watt hours. As an example only, if your washing machine drew 8.3 amps, X volts (120)=1000 watts X by length of time of the draw a half hour which is .5 X 1000 watts = 500 watt hours per run time.

    There are variables, but in the example given to produce 500 watt hours you would need a 100 watt panel storing into batteries for 5 hours to get the required amount. If you could only figure on 2½ hours of sunlight per day you would need 200 watts of output panels. Remember I gave example only and I fully suspect that your washer would draw more amps than given. You would also need to figure how many watt hours your computer draws, i.e. amps per hour multiplied by the hours used per day. If already given in watts then you don't need to do the amps X volts routine.

    Just my opinion, but I think you will find it far less expensive up front to purchase a long life generator of the size you would need than a solary array of the size you would need. A generator would also be more reliable due to weather/snow/clouds limiting solar output.

  3. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

    Jun 16, 2002
    South Central Kansas
    Another option would be to use a small gasoline engine to drive an automobile alternator to charge up a battery bank. An invertor of adequate size would then supply the needed electricity for washer and computer.

    If you would switch to a wringer washing machine you can purchase them with gasoline engines and could by-pass most of your electrical needs.

    If your family will be traveling by auto each day to work, school, or other you could add an additional battery and charge it while driving. A battery isolator doesn't cost much and would keep a draw from running down the starting battery. An inverter would be used on the second battery to provide your computer power. Your auto would burn slightly more fuel as the alternator would be working harder, but it would save the cost of a small gas engine and another alternator. A battery isolator costs about $10 from J. C. Whitney.
  4. Darren

    Darren Still an :censored:

    May 10, 2002
    Back in the USA
    The Jan/Feb 2005 issue of Back Home has an article on energy efficient appliances. The Staber washing machine can be run off a 1500 watt inverter. It's also efficient in using water which means you save on pumping that as well. The article also covers the Speed Queen wringer washer (doesn't need pressurized water) and others appliances like freezers and refrigerators that are suited for off the grid use.

    If you're serious about buying a long life generator, look at the 1800 rpm Lister Petter diesel units. You can also buy them configured to run off propane or natural gas. The basic engine is still a diesel unit with different (still cast iron) heads for gaseous fuel. In some parts of the world folks won't buy anything but a Lister Petter powered generator. In fact generators are called Listers.
  5. BCR

    BCR Well-Known Member

    Jun 24, 2002
    This isn't something you can just up and do quickly. Do some research and know your site. How much sun exposure is there? Where will you be? If you are in a hurry, you can buy a system and have it set-up. Better to research and understand what it will truly mean. Otherwise, consider other options. (magazine) has lots of solar articles--go read them. Search this site for "solar" and check out all the good advice.

    Is it worth it? Only you can answer that. If you have the $ for you it might be, but for us the cost wasn't worth changing from being on the grid, which we already are.

    The Staber is an excellent machine where they have excellent service which allows you to perform all maintenance and repairs yourself-no technicians to deal with. Search this site for info on the Staber to get other opinions.

    You might find it more affordable to hand wash what you can and to take your clothes off the farm to work with you and stop at a laundromat for the heavy stuff. And a laptop can be less costly to run if you can keep the battery charged in a cheaper fashion. Or you can use a local library's computer when you are in town and save that expense, because if you are beyond utilities, then having dial-up won't be an option, and satellite internet access is not inexpensive.
  6. Lisa in WA

    Lisa in WA Well-Known Member Supporter

    Oct 11, 2004
    Yes, for us it is worth it. We've lived off the grid and on solar power for 3 years. We used a laundromat for the first 18 months. Not fun with 2 kids. When our laundry room was done we bought after lots of research, a Kenmore Elite front loading washer and propane dryer. They are the most water and power efficient out there, but fairly new so not in a lot of the magazines, and sold only thru Sears, so not in the solar catalogs. We do our laundry right off the batteries. We also use regular appliances (propane refrigerator, and cooking range) and my teenage daughter uses (gasp) the full battery of hair frying equipment..dryer, straightening and/or curling irons. It does take a while. While we were getting going, we used Aladdin oil lamps, an outhouse and we bathed in a rubbermaid tub with water heated on the stove. In retrospect it was a grand adventure and what we have now is well worth it. There are second hand solar dealers out there, my husband found a few locally here and used them a bit. We also live near Backwoods Solar, and they were quite helpful. It also didn't hurt that my husband is an Electrical Engineer, and this was a "fun" thing for him!

    This site could explain a lot. There are several various ways to install a solar system. Either just enough to run one certain appliance or run the whole house. Can be totally off-grid or along with the grid. Check the site out and you will know what the best choice for your needs are.
  8. mamagoose

    mamagoose Well-Known Member

    Nov 27, 2003
    SE Ohio
    I will offer our experience with alternative energy as 14-winter veterans, in SE Ohio. In the last year, we have started converting to an updated solar photovoltaic system in order to wean off our generator. In 14 years, we have gone through 4 generators, including 1 natural gas, and 2 Hondas running an average of 1 hour per day. The Hondas have been superior. Mitsibushi may have a comparable one for a little less $. We do not make any major repairs. The two times we did, they were only good for a few months. Generators are expensive. We have not had any experience with diesel G's.

    You can purchase used solar panels, although they will be less efficient than most newer models. More output is manufactured every year with newer designs. I can't tell you exactly how many watts we are up to right now, but I can tell you for the price we paid for all of those generators, we could have had a massive system that would have pumped our water from over 300' and had plenty to spare. That's what we're working towards now. Initially, we had less cash flow.

    From our experiece, the inverters, although expensive have been repair-free. We've only owned 2. The older one is our backup now, as the newer one was needed when we increased capacity. Our batteries run us right about 5 years and that's just something you have to deal with.

    Do a lot of research. There are sophisticated systems and more basic systems. Dealers will help educate you and we have found the ones we have dealt with to be intelligent and honest.

    It is not cheap, but if you want to live out, it's a way to have electricity. We have a Maytag front load washing machine and as efficient as it is, it is still our larger necessary user in the house. Our refrigerator is natural gas, as well as the hot water and cookstove. We have every other appliance except for humidifier/dehumidifer or anything that stays on all day long. Watch those TV's too, you really have to check out the amperage. We purchased a 36" Toshiba that uses less than our old 26" Zenith. TV's, computers, microwave - they all have surge box switches and are turned off when not in use to reduce ghost load. We keep a generator in the shop for heavy power tools like the table saw and planer. On a sunny day it's not needed, but where we're at you can't depend on full sun every day, especially in winter. Just remember, if it has a motor or heating unit, it's going to use a lot of power. What one superstore uses in fluorescent lighting in a day would power our house for years.

    We started out with a very small, used PV array and with a generator. It was adequate, but we conserved more than we do now. When we built our log cabin 14 years ago, the lines and service was going to be $440/month for 4 years and $220 thereafter, until someone else moved in. And after four years no one had to reimburse us if they tied in. We weren't about to pay for someone else's service when we don't even want neighbors that close. A cell tower is being raised 1000 ft from our driveway this summer, so now there will be lines run up the hill, but we have no plans to connect. We would rather invest in more panels and not depend on particular big businesses. (Okay, so big business is now in solar production, must be something to it!) Now, if there if only there was an alternative to battery storage other than tying into the grid.

    We are still looking into alternative cold storage, in the event our gas allotment dries up in the future. It's a storage well, so it shouldn't as the natural gas companies have convinced most homes in the past 10+ years to go all gas. But, you never know.

    I hope this was some help. Have a sunny day!

  9. Blu3duk

    Blu3duk Well-Known Member

    Jun 2, 2002
    central idaho republic
    My nieghbor uses 2 - 48 volt forklift batteries as they are less expensive in the begining and are maent to be drawn down in a deep cycle pattern.... he has a huge invertor, and uses a diesel genset to charge up his battery bank about every 3 days.... while his genset is on his wife does laundry... his genset has a redundent murphy switches, both low oil and over heated radiator, which saved him a couple weeks ago.... thermostat stuck, unit shut down.... only cost new thermostat.

    He uses a gas powered set until his diesel unit was finished [he built it up hisself] and figured it cost him about $60 per month in fuel and oil, which is about the cost of electricity here at .07 per kwh.

    For the broadband wireless towers i was administrating last year, we had 6 trojan L-16 which our cost was $160 each and we had to go pick them up 180 miles away, delivery isnt much but it can take up to 2 weeks depending upon when they decided to send a truck our way.... the L-16 are supposed to have a life of 15 years, but if they get cold, or under or over charged then you lose life... ours some how froze one day, and we replaced $900.00 of batteries overnight..... from that time on we had a heater running every few dayz as we charged by genset. We had one computer running, with 3 amplifiers drawing one amp each and 3 200mw radios, so our draw was not excessive, and even with a 3 -120 watt solar panels, and a 40 amp windcharger [airex 403] which ran constantly we still had to run the genset once a wekk in the summer when cloudy, twice in the spring and fall and 3 times a week in the winter months, and we are in central idaho 70 miles east of Lewiston give or take.

    So what i am trying to say, there aint no way of doing it cheap, the solar panels can be had for about $500 each, the wind charger [i would not recomend this unit btw] is about $500 depending where you find them, and you can buy used, however you usually end up with no warranty if used.... and almost pay the same price as buying new..... batteries should be replaced all at the same time, never add a couple more next year, as they tend to limit the life of the newer batteries so ive read, i am not sure how much life a person loses, but as expensive as the batteries are you want to keep them for as long as possible, perhaps one way of adding would be using isolators. I shall have to hnt up where i got my information from on adding batteries, but it was online.

    And worth it? yeah, you dont have to deal with the power company threating to shut off power cause your bill is late, or you used double this month and they turned you into the police for possible unlawful greenhouse growing, which has happened throughout the western states. plus you dont have to give right of way to the power company either, which may or may not be a bad thing, and depending upon the distance of power line you have to put in, you sometimes can purchase a really top of the line system, and still get a tax break if your state has such a thing.

  10. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jan 13, 2004
    Well, a laptop would use a minimal amount of electricity compared to a desktop, and can run directly off 12v DC, so the computer isn't a problem. For washing, a wringer washer can use much less electricity than an automatic, and you could do all the wash in a half-day's work instead of a little bit every day. That's what we did when our 3 sons were growing up and we were totally off grid for electricity.
    Of course, many people aren't willing to economize if it means changing their habits.
    An advantage of a solar electric system compared to a generator system is that you will be forever buying fuel and doing maintenance on an engine driven generator, but a solar/wind system will have little in maintenance or fuel costs over the years. Of course you will probably want a generator in addition to the solar panels so that if you have extended cloudy weather or unusually heavy power usage, you can run the generator and charge your batteries, etc.
    So, a good way to do it is to get the best generator you can afford, use it to power your heavy loads as needed, and also use it to charge a set of batteries that you use most of the time to run your computer, lights, radio, etc. As you can afford it, add solar panels to charge the batteries so that the generator is run less, saving money on fuel and on engine maintenance. The end goal would be to have a battery system that can power your needs and gets most of its charge from the sun, with a quality reliable generator for occassionaly use.
    Read and study as much as you can to help you make better decisions.

    Jim, living with wind and solar generated electricity since 1977.