It’s no secret that one massive barrier to living off grid in this modern age, is how to power the numerous appliances that make our daily lives more convenient. To be sure, some who prefer a rural existence eschew these time-saving devices entirely, but for the vast majority of homesteaders it’s a serious concern. Fortunately, the world has progressed to the point that many solutions exist to what was, at one time, almost an insurmountable problem. From solar panels to efficient generators to lithium batteries, there’s little you can’t power off grid, so long as you keep your expectations reasonable. Read on for a basic idea on how a solar system works.
Solar panels have seen a surge of popularity in recent years, and it’s not hard to see why. With increases in their efficiency thanks to more modern materials, solar panels are now capable of generating so much energy that folks in sunnier parts of the country, like Arizona, have taken to selling excess power captured by their panels BACK to energy conglomerates. So how exactly does one of these systems work? Where, for instance, do you plug them in. Well, to start, you’ll need …
First, obviously, you’ll need solar panels, though the selection process is not quite as simplistic as it seems. Solar panels come in either 12-, 24- or 48-volt capacities. The higher the voltage, the easier it is for the system to produce and maintain energy. Most folks on small homesteads find 24 to be a good middle ground between cost and efficiency, though larger operations often use 48.
Second, you’ll need a combiner box. For the first timer, I would recommend a prewired one. It will be more expensive, but save a helluva lot of headache. Instead of having to wire it yourself, you simply plug your panels into the provided sockets, and run cable out to the charge controller.
Third is your charge controller. This is where research becomes more important (though to be sure, you should be researching brands for your panels and combiner box as well). This is because, for your charge controller, you need one with a higher voltage capacity than can be produced by your system. As your charge controller is the link in your system which keeps your batteries from overcharging (which will damage them), if you feed it more voltage than it can handle, it will itself be damaged.
Fourth come the batteries. The best are far and away Absorbed Glass Matt (AGM) batteries, but they are EXPENSIVE. While they require more maintenance, go with regular Lead Acid batteries if you’re on a budget. As far as voltage goes, 24-volt batteries are common, particularly with AGMS, and provide an excellent option short of going with a full, 48-volt house system.
Fifth and finally, to utilize all the power you’re making, you’ll need a DC to AC inverter. This will connect directly to your batteries and convert the Direct Current power stored there into Alternating Current you can use with your appliances. If this is going to be stored outside, or anywhere damp, make sure you get one with a ground fault circuit interrupter, so you don’t get electrocuted.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this basic primer. Tune in next week as we begin to break down the intricacies of each category above.
A humble homesteader based in an undisclosed location, Lars Drecker splits his time between tending his little slice of self-sustaining heaven, and bothering his neighbors to do his work for him. This is mainly the fault of a debilitating predilection for fishing, hunting, camping and all other things outdoors. When not engaged in any of the above activities, you can normally find him broken down on the side of the road, in some piece of junk he just “fixed-up.”