Category: Off Grid Power

DIY Solar: How To Size Your Off Grid Solar Power System

Whether you’re a prepper looking to set up a self-sustaining power system for the worst-case scenario, someone looking to meet his/her off-grid electricity needs, or you’re just a homeowner trying to cut down a hefty power bill, solar is a potentially great option. But it’s a venture that seems risky, complex, and sometimes unattainable for some homeowners.

The TinHatRanch YouTube channel aims to dispel some common fears of building a solar system by answering the most important questions. In this video, the host shows how to size your off-grid solar power system. The breakdown is simplified—making it easy to understand, even for beginners.

Sizing the off-grid/grid down solar system is all about:

• Determining your energy requirements: Measure the total energy your equipment use daily in watt-hours. You can also use a meter or your energy bills for a real-world measurement.

• Evaluating the site location: Get an estimate of the available solar energy in your region. For good measure, size your system by factoring in the winter months when the sun hours are shortest and power consumption is highest.

So, what is the takeaway? Going off-grid is a great idea for sustainability, cost-saving, and reliability purposes. And as long as you know what you’re doing, building a DIY solar system (main or backup) doesn’t have to be difficult. We advise you to watch the rest of the TinHatRanch videos for more valuable information and a complete picture of what is involved in solar power.

DIY How To Understand And Size Your Off Grid Solar Power System
DIY How To Understand And Size Your Off Grid Solar Power System – Images: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR4qhbJ2g3M

DIY Off Grid Solar Power: How To Understand, Choose, And Size Batteries

DIY Off Grid Solar Power How To Understand, Choose, And Size Batteries
DIY Off Grid Solar Power: How To Understand, Choose, and Size Batteries – Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PT8xBcgeZs

Planning to go off-grid with solar power? Cutting your reliance on power companies and distribution networks is a great way create some independence while possibly reducing the increasingly high monthly utility bill. Installing DIY Off-Grid solar power is an affordable and relatively straightforward process — as long as you have a good idea of the basics.

What is your average consumption? Can your solar panels supply enough electricity to power your daily needs? And most importantly, do you have the right size battery bank for your solar system? All these questions and more are covered in a YouTube video by TinHatRanch.

Solar Battery Sizing in a Nutshell

Solar panels are merely one facet of the off-grid equation. In most cases you cannot use the power directly, which is where batteries come in as a way to provide reliable and stable power. But this is also where it gets tricky. The wrong battery bank can sabotage your off-grid solar system.

As the Tin Hat Ranch insists, you must be extremely careful with the solar battery sizing and other relevant details. Below are some tips to help you understand and choose the right batteries for your off-grid solar power system:

• What are your power needs? The first step is estimating your consumption. You can either use an online solar calculator or manually calculate watt-hours based on the power ratings of your appliances.

• How many volts do your solar panels produce?

• How many batteries do you need? You can only store as much solar power as your batteries’ capacity—and you can’t completely drain the battery to prevent damage. The recommended depth of discharge for lead-acid batteries is 50%-60%. Your batteries should have the capacity to store as much as possible from what is produced by your solar panels. If you want your batteries to carry a bigger load, you can boost the total storage capacity by coupling batteries together in parallel (discussed in greater detail in the video). However having too many batteries could result in a situation where they never really get full.

• Which is the best battery type for an off-grid solar system? First things first; avoid car batteries like the plague! They’re designed for short bursts of energy and not designed to be deeply discharged (this can damage them and reduce their lifespan!) Instead, try lead-acid deep cycle batteries – i.e., they’re affordable and they deliver a low amount of power over a long period (perfect for appliances).

“You can only save so much, and you can never spend all that you save.”
—Tin Hat Ranch

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DIY Off Grid Solar Power How To Understand, Choose, And Size Batteries
DIY Off Grid Solar Power: How To Understand, Choose, and Size Batteries – Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PT8xBcgeZs

Power To The People: How To Survive If The Power Goes Out

Power To The People - How To Survive If The Power Goes Out
Image © Ariel Celeste Photography, licensed from Shutterstock (#532886983)

Carl Sagan once remarked that “we live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology”. Electricity it seems, that whole set of phenomena bundled with electromagnetism, is massive in that we all take it for granted — but almost no one understands just what it is, or quickly forgets after graduating from science class.

Almost all of us get our electricity from the “grid”. That is, the national infrastructure currently in place that wires energy produced elsewhere into our homes. But what if that electricity went out one day? We are so used to excessive light pollution that, during the Los Angeles blackout of 1994, terrified residents called 911 to describe a massive UFO hanging over the skyline — that “UFO” was actually the Milky Way galaxy, our galactic centre. They were seeing it for the first time.

Fortunately, we don’t all have to revisit the science textbooks to learn the fundamentals of power-generating technology. Years of technological advance have already greatly simplified — and made available — the right equipment to us.

In fact, an independent power supply is probably one of the easiest aspects of self-sufficiency. In the event the power goes out, here are some things you can do to be self-sufficient:

Harness the power of the sun

The most efficient and best thing for power self-sufficiency is to capture the infinite resource that is sunlight and convert it into energy. In recent years, solar technology has come on leaps and bounds. Solar panels now work pretty efficiently —  even when it is grey and overcast. Plus, solar panels are remarkably resilient. Take good care of one, and it should last well over a decade. And even then, it is likely that you will only have to replace the panels.

Related: Video Tutorial: Make Your Own Solar Panel

There are many different types of solar panel, but mounted-roof solar panels are especially handy. They are free-standing models, and you can re-orientate them to the sun as it moves across the sky for maximum energy absorption. Briefcase solar panels are also convenient. They look like their namesake, and open up like flowers to capture the sun’s rays. Both models can be packed away to prevent theft, which is especially important.

Adjusting to a solar-powered life

A life off of the grid does come with sacrifices. Thankfully, they aren’t great sacrifices — and there are lots of alternatives. For two people, a single 100-watt solar panel should be enough to provide a bit of energy for a life in the slow lane, one that’s wired into two 110-amp leisure panels.

That is, for a life without TV, a microwave oven, coffee-maker or toaster. But you can just as easily cook food and boil water on a wood stove. Lighting does not have to be a problem if you can swap out any LED-bulbs for their halogen cousins. And, assuming television would ever come back online, you could easily watch it on a laptop, after using solar energy to charge up the battery.

If the main energy grid ever goes down, solar panels should be your first and foremost source of power. You will soon learn to adjust to their capabilities, and probably quite easily. There are a few habits to get into: one being to keep everything battery-charged during the day, and not letting the battery voltage drop too sharply. In fact, the only drawback of solar panels is that their battery levels are quite expensive, but for the most part solar panels are a wonderful invention.

Gas systems — for high and low temperatures

Off-Grid Power
Images – cc0

After solar, gas is the next most important source of energy. Though in a post-grid world it might be hard to get a hold of any gas cylinders (which is why it is important to prepare, and stock up).

We burn gas in the winter to keep us warm, but we also use it in the summertime to keep our refrigerators running. Without mentioning any brands it is important to have a gas system of about two cylinders, with a third emergency cylinder as backup.

Two good-sized cylinders should last about three-weeks, based on average consumption. But in the winter — and especially if you live in a part of the world that’s prone to freezing — it might take about 34 litres of mostly propane gas to keep warm for one week above sub-zero. So keep that in mind.

It is hard to say how much exactly, but you may have to refill your gas cylinders about 10 times a year. Gas systems don’t cost the Earth, fortunately, but it is best to shop around for the best deals now, and stock up in case anything does happen to the power grid. 

Preparing for a low-consumption lifestyle

Aside from storing gas cylinders and mounting solar panels, there are a few other things you can do to make everything run more smoothly.
The first thing is to make sure you have an inverter on hand. What this crucial device does is convert direct-current (DC) electricity into alternating-currents (AC). Because DC is the industry standard, the likelihood is your solar cells and batteries will need an inverter to convert the energy output into AC.

It must be noted that different inverters are required for different energy demands, though. For example, a 75-watt inverter is more than enough to charge and handle little things such as camera batteries, or an electric shaver. But a 100-watt inverter will be needed for powering larger things, such as a laptop. It would also be a good idea to install 12-volt sockets to abet the lower consumption of power, whether you are living in a fixed-abode, or on the road in a motorhome.

The second most important thing is to stock up on power packs, charge them regularly and keep them charged. And finally, a bio-ethanol stove can act as a makeshift cooker (and even a heater) in case the gas system ever fails. Such a simple investment could make a huge difference in your quality of life down the road. 

Backup Generators

Backup generators are noisy and smelly, meaning they can attract unwanted attention. But they are useful on long, dark nights where the solar panels are struggling to get the necessary power. Turning them on will eat into your gas supply, though. A good generator — again without mentioning brands — will last over a decade if maintained properly, and if you don’t use too much power, you might even be able to get away with a 1000-watt or even 500-watt generator. 

Final Thoughts

Thanks to technological advancements, it has never been easier to be power self-sufficient. It can be expensive — well the gas cylinder bills can be — but it is relatively easy to switch to a calmer, slower way of life that uses much less energy, free from the whims of the national grid. 

Take care of everything, and you should have few problems, with only a few inconvenient sacrifices. 

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This Author:
Neil Wright is a copywriter and researcher. He has an interest in travel, science and the natural world, and has written extensively about off-grid living in the UK on his motorhome website.