Simple Plans for Off-grid Solar Energy?? (Entire homestead)

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by mommykood, Jan 10, 2005.

  1. mommykood

    mommykood Active Member

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    FINAL UPDATE: I discussed everything with my DH last night (he read this entire post, visited all the websites mentioned, and we talked about it all). We have decided to nix the entire solar energy idea for now, because it just doesn't seem "worth it" to spend $2k+ for a minimal solar system for ONLY lights and fans (and a few misc. things)!! Silly!

    We are back to what we had originally planned - we will be off-grid, but with no energy source (READ: No electricity). We will charge what few things we need to via DC in the vehicle or with a "charge station" that can be powered up from a vehicle for very short term use. We will then just nix all of our electrical things...

    We will use olive oil lamps and a kerosene lamp for brightness factor. Perhaps one "high lighting" kerosene light, too, for when "bright!!" is needed.

    We checked out the "gas lights" at www.lehmans.com and they are not what we need (we have no "gas" to hook them up to), although they are beautiful!

    We will deal with the need for fans when we get there, this summer... Perhaps we will do solar then, after we have been to the Midwest Energy Fair in WI.

    We still, however, need to work out something for the satellite internet, which draws an average of 30 watts/hour... :)

    Thanks, everyone,for all your help, advice, and knowledge, which allowed my DH and I to come to this decision! :)

    ***********************************************************

    UPDATED AGAIN (to delete toaster & microwave :) )
    ***********************************************************
    UPDATE:
    (I have changed my post to be more specific.)

    We plan to run 5,000 watt/hours a week (on AC), including the following:

    **Energy Efficient 15 watt light bulbs (4 @ 4 hrs/day each)

    **Misc. items:
    (rechargeable man's shaver @5 mins/day; rechargeable laptop battery; 5" tv every now and then, and constant satellite internet hookup)

    An easy website that I found for "How to Make a Solar Power Generator for Less Than $300" at http://www.rain.org/~philfear/how2solar.html describes a small generator.

    Can anyone let me know approx. what this type of setup (from the website noted above) would give me each week? How many of these types of setups would I need to make?

    If I can make a bigger setup for all of my solar power at once, how would I do it?

    Thanks so much! :)

    Jen :)
     
  2. aaatraker

    aaatraker Well-Known Member

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    Try the following link, lots of great info, has worksheets for figuring loads and sizing equipment

    http://www.solarexpert.com/Photovoltaics.html
     

  3. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    Have you looked at:

    www.backwoodssolar.com

    www.homepower.com

    www.otherpower.com

    They all have real informative web sites.

    I don't think a diy type of solar module will be adequate for what you want to do. Also, the toilet will require much more power than you will ever want to generate. I know you will have to have the NSF approved toilet. But you might consider actually using a sawdust toilet instead. There have been major discussions about the sawdust toilet in the past, but I'm sure someone will still have something to say on the subject. ;=)
     
  4. mommykood

    mommykood Active Member

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    I have updated my post with specific watt/hour requirements. Is my new detailed list more attainable with solar power?

    I think we will use the sawdust toilet instead, but I don't have access to "moist" sawdust like is recommended. What else can be used instead that is easily attainable?

    Thanks so much for the info! :)

    Jen :)
     
  5. wy_white_wolf

    wy_white_wolf Just howling at the moon

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    For what you get out of it multiplying that system would end up costins wat to much. I guessing by the size of the panel it only puts out about 10 watts. So 10 watts times 5 hours a day average would be 50 watts. Divide that into your 5000 watt consumption would be 100 of those little solar panels. More in the winter because of shorter days.

    5000 watts can be done with a solar system. Just need to look at ones designed to be closer to what you need. The system on our camp trailer is larger than that and we run very minimal power.

    Ours is 2-55 watt panels and 4 deep cycle batteries and a 700 watt converter (too large for present system but gives us room to expand). With buying everything off ebay (except batteries) it cost about $700.

    For what you have listed you inverter would have to be twice the size of mine just to run the microwave. They are high wattage items so we do without one and do our toast on the propane stove. That would cut your usage down a lot.
     
  6. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    I always used dry sawdust in the toilet. It really shoud be sawdust because I've tried lots of other things and nothing absorbs and keeps the odor under control like the sawdust. I've never used 'moist' sawdust.


    I agree about the microwave. They really aren't that good for you and pull way too much energy. I tossed mine years ago. I also make toast on top of the stove. Even living here in town at the present I like the toast better done this way. (Tho I hardly ever eat it any more because of DD's diet).

    I'm assuming you will be using a propane fridge? And not doing any vacuuming? Vacuums pull an awful lot of power too. For the razor, the dc type will pull much less power and work just as well as the ac. Any time you are recharging a battery with solar power, try to use dc. That way you don't waste so much power rectifying ac to dc. If you have a cell phone, you can charge that with dc also. It is a good idea to wire your house for both ac and dc. You will need the dc outlets and plugs to be totally incompatable with the ac in order to pass electrical code and for safety issues. The automotive type dc plugs are dangerous and will not pass code. The wiring for dc should be 10g or larger to lessen your power drop. If you wire your lights to run off of dc, you will need a smaller inverter. The dc bulbs are a little pricey, but that is outweighed by inverter cost. Also, it seems the inverter is the first thing that goes out if there is a problem. Then you will sit in the dark. You also might want to look into propane lights that are perm installed. Lehman's has them and so does Backwoods Solar. They work well and if properly installed are safe.

    So, when I was living off grid with a solar system, I found that the only things I really needed the electric for were:

    dc powered water pump
    dc powered fans
    dc powered battery charger
    dc flourescent lights when it was too warm to use propane
    my DD's stereo and DVD player (even if we had to sit in the dark we MUST have music!)


    You have to consider the fact that you are in an area which tends to be very overcast during the winter and are fairly far north so will have shorter periods of time to charge your batteries. A minimal system of two panels that put out 120 watts each will cost appx 1200 for panels. You will need at least 6 batteries of the Trojan T-105 type at $85 each. And then you need battery cables, a charge controller (prices vary), a fused disconnect and the usual breaker box, etc.

    Frankly, I would not use an inverter at all unless you really plan on putting in a very expensive large system. If we get the property that I'm looking at, we will be back on solar or a solar/wind hybrid. By rethinking all of our power usage we can get by quite well with a minimal system. There are some things I would LIKE to have but really don't HAVE to have that we might add down the road. But I won't be going into debt to have them, I'd rather do without than to be in debt.

    Now, did I clear the muddle any? Or make it worse? :)
     
  7. mommykood

    mommykood Active Member

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    Thank you very much for the information! :)

    Ok, so I need to basically ditch the plan on that link (it isn't enough watts, at all). How many watts can you use on your solar setup for your camp trailer? I can spend up to about $1-2K, but I don't want to spend more than I need to! :)

    I will go ahead and ditch the nuker (microwave :) ), as well as ditching the toaster (those were afterthoughts, anyways). What is your thoughts if I do that? Can I use a system like yours or if it doesn't have enough power, what would be my option?

    Thanks again so much for the response. I am truly "starting" out with the entire solar power issue, but I have just know I will find a way! (Especially with all this helpful advice!) :)

    Jen :)
     
  8. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I'm in western Wisconsin, been using a wind generator since 1977 and PV panels since 1981. As a very rough rule of thumb, I have decided that a watt of PV output at the panel will give about 1500 watt hours per year total output, where we are located. So for you to use 260 kwhrs per year (5000watt hours x 52 weeks), you would need about 180 watts rated output of PV panels. This isn't allowing anything for battery losses, inverter losses, etc. Of course, the power production isn't uniform throughout the year, so you need bigger batteries and more panels to get you through cloudy days, short days, or days of unexpectedly high power usage, or a standby generator to help out on days like that.
    Since you are in Wisconsin, the best thing for you to do is to go to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's Energy Fair in June, just east of Stevens Point, and take some workshops and look over the equipment that will be on display.
    http://www.the-mrea.org/energy_fair.php
    Also check out some of the other sites mentioned, especially Home Power magazine.

    Jim

    Where in Wis are you?
     
  9. wy_white_wolf

    wy_white_wolf Just howling at the moon

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    I would say my system puts out a usable 5000 to 6000 watts per day in the summer, 1500 to 2000 watts per day in the winter (average). We supplement with a gas generator to charge the batteries if we stay for 2 to 3nights in the winter. Our usage is for lighting (12v) and music or 13" color TV ( 95w, our biggest user). We are only at the camp trailer for 1 to 2 weekends a month so we generaly have enough power and it has the time we are away to recharge the batteries.
     
  10. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    A 1500 watt microwave is the energy output,the energy input required is a good 30% more.Also anything with a digital clock display isnt going to work unless you have a pure sinewave inverter(pricey),a modified(cheaper) sinewave will run appliances WITHOUT digital displays.Mod sinewave is fine for computers,but not some printers.Inverters can lose up to 30% in efficiency losses,batteries can lose 20% of your power in charging them.

    I know to run even an efficient 2000 sg ft house is very expensive with solar,plan on a generator unless you have MINIMUM 15,000 for solar,and minimal use of electric at that.11 light bulbs is a good sized power draw(Extravagant I think).3 fans is a lot of power too.
    Really rethink,then rethink again, your power draws.Changing CRT TV to LCD,laptop computer instead of tower,solar refers running on a 120 watt panel can be had.Figure every dollar spent on efficient appliances save 3 dollars in generating costs.Solar attic fans(they run during the day,just when you need em)Shade the house in summer.
    Electric coffee pots suck up BIG power,anything that produces heat takes large power.Run the genny when you use those items like coffee pot or vaccuum or hair dryer.
    You can listen to Cynbaeld,she knows of what she speaks.
    You will need a generator,nice thing though is you can charge batts when you need to run that big load,its a good way to go.Pure solar,VERY expensive.
    But VERY nice too if youre willing to invest 25,000 in it instead of a new car,you have pretty good system for life,though batts and inverters may wear out and need replacing,any quality panel should outlive you.Even at that,you wont be running refrigerated air or pool pumps with a 25000 system.

    All said,I still love my little solar system,and will cont. to expand it.Nice too is the modular aspect,just keep adding to it as finances allow.

    BooBoo
     
  11. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    White Wolf,your numbers arent right.110 watts of panels isnt putting out 5000 watts/day.I think realisticly you can put out close to 7 amps/hr of 12 volt maybe 5 hours/day.Are you including genny output in that 5000 watts?
    Best Ive done is 8.8 amps with 150 watts of panels,and that was a perfect day.

    BooBoo
     
  12. mommykood

    mommykood Active Member

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    I thought the humanure book said there had to be "moist sawdust..." Good to know dry sawdust will work! :)

    No fridge yet - maybe one of those charging coolers... Would prefer a fridge, but they are $1k+ from what I've seen... Any cheap options for refrigeration?

    Nope - wood floors... :) Phew! I *hate* vacuuming! LOL

    Would it be best to charge things in my car via the "cigarette lighter hole thing?" LOL Otherwise, how do I charge something that is already AC with DC power? Use a small inverter (one plug) inverter? If not, what? :)

    Do you know where there are plans on how to do this? I have not done much wiring in my lifetime... :) I need explanations and directions if at all possible, in simplified terms LOL (any websites?)...

    Again, where can I see this done? Any websites show how? It sounds do-able, but I need directions or a book or something to follow.

    I will look at those now... :)

    Ok, so I am down to:
    ** either AC energy efficient 15 watt bulbs/dc flourescent lights/propane lights (need to check them all out and choose)

    ** 12-volt fans (I found something called "Endless Breeze" - is anyone familiar with this? What brand fan do you use, if you don't mind me asking?)

    ** Misc. items (5" tv, rechargeable laptop battery, battery charger system) NOTE: Cell phone will be charged in the vehicle; Rechargeable shaver, microwave, and toaster have been ditched)

    How does a DC flourescent light differ from an AC flourescent light?

    How much power does this type of system put out that we can use? I understand the panels are each 120 watt - what does that mean for the amount of power it will give us? (Again, I am sorry if this is an elementary question - I am new at this! LOL)

    We are debt free currently, and I don't want to go into debt for anything either - I am looking to spend a max of $1-2k (the least amount humanly possible... :) )

    Thank you VERY much for the info! :) Now, in response, did I make the questions worse with my answers?? LOL

    Jen :)
     
  13. dreadstalker

    dreadstalker Well-Known Member

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    for the microwave and a few items of that sort check out the 12 volt mikes like the OTR truckers use
     
  14. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    Heres a NICE starter system for 2000 dollars,just scroll down the page to the prosine 2000 watter.
    Also good prices,they are an honest dealer too,been to the shop and have bought from them,no pressure sales tactics either,they are enthusiests.
    www.partsonsale.com

    BooBoo
     
  15. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

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    Those 'charging coolers' pull WAY too much power! You might look into usinf a large, 5 day ice chest. Since you are in WI, you can prob make your own ice most of the year by setting jugs of water outside and rotating them thru the ice chest. I've done this quite a bit. Went 3 yrs with no fridge till I could afford a propane one.

    Most of the recharging appliances and tools run on dc. They just use ac to charge the battery since that is what most people have. The ac is changed to dc by an adaptor and that wastes a lot of your power. You can buy a recharging razor that uses dc to charge the battery. I have one that I bought from Walmart.

    To wire for dc, basically is the same as for ac. There are many books that will go into detail. You can find some at your local library. You can also buy them online or at a bookstore. If you are going to wire for ac AND dc in the same house you will need two complete electric systems. Then you will need a different type of plug for the dc. Many people use the 220v type of plugs/outlets for dc when they are using the reg kind for ac. However, if you are wanting to keep the cost below 2k, only wire for dc and forget the inverter. In that case just use the standard cheaper outlets from the hardware that are sold for 110v ac use. Cut the ciggarette lighter plugs from all your dc appliances and put on the standard pronged plugs. A good source is the inexpensive extension cords. The cords on most dc is too small and causes major line drop in power and can overheat.

    Check the rv area in your local discount store for dc fans and appliances. They may also have dc flourescent lights. If not, locate a store that sells and services rv's. I have found a good many dc lights etc at those stores. The difference in ac and dc lights is in the ballast used. Too technical to try to go into, but they are not interchangable.

    The 120 watt kyocera panel is rated at 7.10 amps. This is the output when the sun is hitting the panel directly and does not have snow on it. I always figured about 4 hrs of charging in midwinter in NW CO on clear days. Less than half the midwinter days are clear. You will have less in WI. In the summer I could count on much more output. That is why we used propane lights. In the winter when we didn't have much sun we had the propane and benefitted by the heat. In the summer we had more power but were running the fans a good bit. The dc pump and DD music were the main things we had to keep going in the winter. I didn't have a laptop, but plan on having one when we move along with the satt internet. I rarely used a genny tho it isn't a bad idea for occasional use.

    Also, beware of 'phantom' loads. The best way to hadle these is to use a surge protector and turn the switch off when not using an appliance.
     
  16. rambler

    rambler Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I think as you go, you will find living off-grid is more a way of life than a different source of power. You will need to be obsessed with using less power, less power, less power.... :)

    I mean that in a good way. but you will need to find satisfaction in saving electricity & sweating more (no fans), and the like. You need the mind-set to make 'cheap' solar electric work.

    If you want a 'normal' electric lifestyle with solar especially, requires a lot of money spent today, so that you save a little bit of money every year. After 20-40 years, it actually pays off or comes close to break-even. BUT, you need to spend a big lump of money today to make that happen. We are talking $50,000 or so.

    If you have the bucks, no problem. If you have $2000, then you need to go the 'cheap' way, which means become the biggest miser (of energy) you could ever imagine! :)

    It is interesting to watch this thread develop, and much good information. I hope my observations are added to the mix, and not taken in a wrong way.

    --->Paul
     
  17. melinda

    melinda Well-Known Member

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    Rambler, you are on the money with your post. Mommykood- just reading a forum thread isn't going to do it for you, but it's a start! There are a ton of magazine articles, books, websites, etc, about RE - renewable energy - and off-grid living, and even then it could take you months or years to learn all there is to know about it. It's a lifestyle! We are upgrading our current, off-the-grid solar and wind stuff, and even with a knowledgable supplier, a good neighbor who's an electrician, and a couple of bucks to spend, it's a major undertaking. Just learning the lingo could take a month - "phantom loads" and all those amps and watts and stuff!!

    You might try googling "renewable energy" and "solar" and "off the grid" for a ton of online resources, and also go to http://www.homepower.com/ which is a great magazine with tons of articles on how people really use their systems. A trip to a bookstore with a good magazine selection will probably help too. Have fun!
     
  18. BobBoyce

    BobBoyce Well-Known Member

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    By the way, that website, http://www.rain.org/~philfear/how2solar.html has another page that recommends adding mirrors on both sides of a panel to increase it's output. http://www.rain.org/~philfear/panelplus.html

    The author takes a cheap shot at the manufacturers because they emailed him and told him that would violate their warranties. He is obviously ignorant of the damage that such an arrangement would do to the solar cells. They are designed for a maximum light intensity, and the heat generated at that light intensity. To focus more light onto solar cells not designed for that purpose "cooks" the cells, discoloring them, and causes a much accelerated degradation in output.

    A search on eBay will usually turn up sales of solar panels from an experimental PV solar power facility that used mirrors to increase output. The cells on those panels turned brown from the heat. They still work at reduced output, but most of the useful longevity has been cooked out of them.

    Bob
     
  19. wy_white_wolf

    wy_white_wolf Just howling at the moon

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    Whoops way off. Was just figuring in my head before and misplaced a decimal so off by 10X
     
  20. mommykood

    mommykood Active Member

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    UPDATE in first post!~

    Thanks for all the help, everyone! :)

    Jen