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Old 11-17-2014, 09:07 PM
Mosquitomountain Mosquitomountain is offline
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"Here’s what a 400 watt setup would look like: four Renogy 100 watt panels ($600), a Renogy 40 amp MPPT charge controller ($210), ..."

Save a couple of C-notes right off the bat by purchasing a couple of high (voltage) output panels that sell for about a dollar per-watt. Your charge controller can take better advantage of those and the per-watt price of the panels is much lower.

They aren't that big to handle either and most solar panels are tough. You have to work to destroy them. I saw one set blown off the top of a motor home to the gravel below and escape without a scratch on them. They're still working great a couple of years later.
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Old 11-17-2014, 10:05 PM
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"Here’s what a 400 watt setup would look like: four Renogy 100 watt panels ($600), a Renogy 40 amp MPPT charge controller ($210), ..."

Save a couple of C-notes right off the bat by purchasing a couple of high (voltage) output panels that sell for about a dollar per-watt. Your charge controller can take better advantage of those and the per-watt price of the panels is much lower.

They aren't that big to handle either and most solar panels are tough. You have to work to destroy them. I saw one set blown off the top of a motor home to the gravel below and escape without a scratch on them. They're still working great a couple of years later.
What size panels are you talking about exactly? Do you have a link to them?
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Old 12-05-2014, 11:00 PM
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a little bumping is called for
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Old 12-23-2014, 07:59 AM
willthrill81 willthrill81 is offline
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Bumpity bump bump look at Frosty go!
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Old 01-07-2015, 10:13 AM
willthrill81 willthrill81 is offline
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This thread needs bumping. People are asking just the sort of questions addressed in this thread.
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Old 01-14-2015, 10:09 PM
willthrill81 willthrill81 is offline
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A little more bumpage for the new people.
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Old 01-15-2015, 10:54 AM
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This is a good thread. I was sour on off grid photovoltaics (PV) a few years ago. However, the recent and dramatic reduction in the pricing for panels and associated hardware, along with my learning of what's possible, has me converted. Not only has pricing improved, but the performance and reliability of battery charge controllers and inverters have advanced as well. I've come to conclude there is nothing better for micro-scale (i.e. individual/residential) off grid electricity generation than photovoltaics with battery storage.

A couple of topics have not be covered in the thread so far. One is opportunity loading, and the other is generator support. These are often considered more advanced strategies (especially the latter), but I think many people might consider PV more favorably after understanding these concepts. I also like the idea of going DC wherever practical (small fans, low power water pumps, basic lighting, small electronic devices), but that's another discussion.

Opportunity loading entails putting higher power loads on the system while the panel array is producing at a relatively high rate. It works to increase the useful energy yield from an off grid PV system. It does this in two primary ways: (1) a battery charge controller will decrease the charge rate as the battery approaches a high state of charge. So, much and even most of the potential energy yield from an array will not be seen. In this case, it's a use it or lose it proposition. Opportunity loading uses it instead of losing it. (2) A lot of battery losses are avoided since current is effectively diverted from the battery circuit to the parallel loads. To understand this, consider an alternative system that opts to use a massive battery to capture the additional energy potential, then discharging the battery overnight. Not only will this be a lot more expensive, but there will be less energy harvested, all else equal, due to battery losses.

In its simplest form, opportunity loading can be done by choosing to operate high power loads during sunny days. For example, vacuum floors, wash clothes (even drying in some cases - there are 120 volt dryers), cook with electricity, and yes - run that coffee maker. Timers can be useful here. For example, many window/wall a/c units have timers that can be used to this end. A freezer with some thermal mass might be operated during the day using a timer - for example, lower the thermostat setting all the way and chill it during the day so it will go overnight without going out of temperature specifications and without battery discharge. I've seen many systems that use a water heater as an opportunity load. One useful feature on some controllers will energize an auxiliary control circuit when the battery enters its absorption charge cycle, and this can be used to energize a relay to put opportunity loads on line. It's also possible to use diversion load controllers often used on wind turbines. These will put a circuit on line when the battery reaches a high voltage (indicating a relatively high state of charge). They're normally used to prevent a wind turbine from overcharging a battery, yet while keeping the alternator loaded to prevent an overspeed condition. However, there is no reason it can't be used with off grid PV. NOTE: Opportunity loading is limited with 12 volt systems - go 24 volt or higher.

Generator support is a feature requiring a more advanced inverter. Schneider Electric released their Conext SW units fairly recently with what I consider to be an excellent price point, and these include generator support among many other features: http://www.wholesalesolar.com/inverters.html#Schneider . Generator support allows a battery/inverter system to power loads in tandem with a small generator. It's ideal for powering large loads that would otherwise require a large generator. The unit can even be programmed to keep a small generator loaded at a constant high rate where efficiency is optimal. This feature plus being able to make use of solar energy to power such loads makes it possible the power the big loads with lower costs (especially lower fuel costs if a large generator is otherwise used, or lower costs if a larger battery/inverter system were otherwise selected), particularly over the long term. NOTE: As before, 24 volt or higher is generally required to make use of this feature.

In summary, I think a lot of people do not consider PV for anything but low power subsistence loads (i.e. just the essentials like lighting and refrigeration), and relatively modest 12 volt systems are good for this. However, I now believe the hardware is there to allow off grid living to approach the convenience of a grid connected home. If a home is modest and efficient, then I say we're there now. Sure, it's expensive, but I say it's now within reason. If one can take advantage of low land costs and low taxes with a remote site, then this might compensate to make it a financial wash. Imagine what we'll see in the near future. Personally, I'm convinced the central power plant model is the walking dead. In the future, energy will be decentralized, and PV will play a big role.
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Old 01-19-2015, 08:02 PM
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Tying in a generator to run inverter loads is a subject with scarce info - unless you have the big fancy inverter and it is all handled automatically. The inverter you mentioned costs $2,400 for a 4,000 watt unit. But I live off grid and my inverter is rated at 600 watts and it costs a hundred bucks or so!

I agree the fancy ones are awesome and so is my neighbors Outback Radian which I think does the same thing, but for those of us with a smaller budget they are beyond our means.

There are other, do-it-yourself ways to switch inverter loads to the generator. The simplest way is with a manual transfer switch. The catch is that it must be a 3-pole switch (most are 2-pole) because on most PSW inverters like mine the neutral is isolated from the ground and must be switched along with the 2 hot wires (assuming a 240V genny) in case the ground is connected to neutral at some point in the circuit.

I'm still trying to figure out how to do that and maintain the ground-neutral bond at the service panel as mandated by the NEC.
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Old 01-20-2015, 10:53 AM
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Tying in a generator to run inverter loads is a subject with scarce info - unless you have the big fancy inverter and it is all handled automatically. The inverter you mentioned costs $2,400 for a 4,000 watt unit. But I live off grid and my inverter is rated at 600 watts and it costs a hundred bucks or so!

I agree the fancy ones are awesome and so is my neighbors Outback Radian which I think does the same thing, but for those of us with a smaller budget they are beyond our means.

There are other, do-it-yourself ways to switch inverter loads to the generator. The simplest way is with a manual transfer switch. The catch is that it must be a 3-pole switch (most are 2-pole) because on most PSW inverters like mine the neutral is isolated from the ground and must be switched along with the 2 hot wires (assuming a 240V genny) in case the ground is connected to neutral at some point in the circuit.

I'm still trying to figure out how to do that and maintain the ground-neutral bond at the service panel as mandated by the NEC.
What you describe here is not generator support. You consider switching from one power source to another, where generator support has the two working in tandem (in phase) - kinda like a grid tie inverter, but with a generator playing the grid role.

These sophisticated inverters are expensive. However, the Conext SW units start at about $1200. Yeah, it's pricey, but consider the features. You get 2000 watts continuous, pure sine inverter, high surge capacity, generator support, and battery charging. In fact, it's possible to do battery charging while in generator support, and this should be useful to off grid folks who rely on generators during extended periods of inclement weather. It would allow for using a small generator to operate at optimal efficiency to power the home directly, but with the balance of output used to charge the battery. However, the system can remain in generator support to start and/or run intermittent high power loads. Sure, those who desire small off grid systems or backup power only for basic loads would probably not be interested.
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Old 01-21-2015, 01:20 AM
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What you describe here is not generator support. You consider switching from one power source to another, where generator support has the two working in tandem (in phase) - kinda like a grid tie inverter, but with a generator playing the grid role....
With the addition of an automatic transfer switch, I can change all AC loads to generator and use the genny to charge the battery within a few milliseconds of the switch being energized. End result to the user and the battery is the same thing. The only difference is that my system is less expensive and less complicated. But I guess I don't get what exactly is the practicality of using the inverter to share loads (in phase) with the generator? To save generator fuel? If its not marketing hype, then show me the real-world benefit.

I'm not trying to knock you off the soap box; just giving some real-world input from someone who counts watts and lives with this stuff every day.
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Old 01-21-2015, 10:42 AM
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I understand how "preppers" and many off grid folks may not have interest in generator support since the emphasis is often limited to basic energy requirements. However, the decreasing price for solar hardware makes it possible for many to assemble more sophisticated systems. In this setting, generator support can make sense for some applications. On a side note, I don't consider $1200 a bad price for a reliable pure sine inverter capable of a genuine 2000 watts continuous and high surge capacity (assuming one can make good use of it). However, it's a good price for a system that also provides battery charging and generator support (again, assuming one can make use of it). I'm not selling anything. I am merely noting that the hardware for off grid solar is advancing quickly (getting better and less expensive). I wasn't aware of generator support until fairly recently, and perhaps others are also not aware. One cannot consider whether or not it will be useful without first understanding it and/or becoming aware of its existence. Note that I am only sharing information (it's not good or bad, it just is).

One of the benefits of generator support is the ability to start and run intermittent high power loads with (1) a smaller battery/inverter system, and (2) a smaller generator. This can reduce overall costs for hardware and increase overall efficiency(*). Some examples include air conditioning, other large motors like power tools, electric cooking ranges/ovens, and electric clothes dryers (120v). Another interesting application I've seen is lessening battery discharge rate during extended periods of inclement weather. In that case, a small generator can be put online for several hours each day to share the loads. This makes sense if the loads are highly variable and sometimes fairly high power since the system can keep the generator under a constant load to optimize engine efficiency. Note that the efficiency of a generator varies significantly over its power range. Also, there are fewer losses in the charger and inverter in this configuration. So, this strategy can lessen fuel consumption over the alternative where a battery is bulk charged at a high rate once it reaches a low state of charge.

(*)Being able to load the generator at a constant output where efficiency is optimal will lower fuel consumption. Also, lessening battery charge and/or discharge rate will increase battery efficiency and effective battery capacity.
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Old 01-21-2015, 11:27 AM
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I could see the need to combine generator and battery power (especially if there is extra from the sun) to run the microwave or a big tool for a few minutes. But the rest of those things we don't use off grid - or shouldn't anyway.

And you're right - $1200 ain't bad.
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Old 01-21-2015, 11:34 AM
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I understand how "preppers" and many off grid folks may not have interest in generator support since the emphasis is often limited to basic energy requirements. However, the decreasing price for solar hardware makes it possible for many to assemble more sophisticated systems. In this setting, generator support can make sense for some applications. On a side note, I don't consider $1200 a bad price for a reliable pure sine inverter capable of a genuine 2000 watts continuous and high surge capacity (assuming one can make good use of it). However, it's a good price for a system that also provides battery charging and generator support (again, assuming one can make use of it). I'm not selling anything. I am merely noting that the hardware for off grid solar is advancing quickly (getting better and less expensive). I wasn't aware of generator support until fairly recently, and perhaps others are also not aware. One cannot consider whether or not it will be useful without first understanding it and/or becoming aware of its existence. Note that I am only sharing information (it's not good or bad, it just is).

One of the benefits of generator support is the ability to start and run intermittent high power loads with (1) a smaller battery/inverter system, and (2) a smaller generator. This can reduce overall costs for hardware and increase overall efficiency(*). Some examples include air conditioning, other large motors like power tools, electric cooking ranges/ovens, and electric clothes dryers (120v). Another interesting application I've seen is lessening battery discharge rate during extended periods of inclement weather. In that case, a small generator can be put online for several hours each day to share the loads. This makes sense if the loads are highly variable and sometimes fairly high power since the system can keep the generator under a constant load to optimize engine efficiency. Note that the efficiency of a generator varies significantly over its power range.

(*)Being able to load the generator at a constant output where efficiency is optimal will lower fuel consumption. Also, lessening battery discharge rate will increase battery efficiency and effective battery capacity.
It seems to me that it is a VERY good time to be getting in to off-grid solar. The tech has leaped and bounded over the past few years. It looks like it is now possible to build a system that can basically let you operate a house just as if it were still on the normal grid.
  • Solar plus things like wind and gen back-up.
  • LED lighting
  • Super efficient appliances
  • Even advances in building materials and insulation
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Old 01-21-2015, 09:17 PM
willthrill81 willthrill81 is offline
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It seems to me that it is a VERY good time to be getting in to off-grid solar. The tech has leaped and bounded over the past few years. It looks like it is now possible to build a system that can basically let you operate a house just as if it were still on the normal grid.
  • Solar plus things like wind and gen back-up.
  • LED lighting
  • Super efficient appliances
  • Even advances in building materials and insulation
The thread has strayed a bit from my original intentions, which were to show those with no solar experience what they can personally do to use it for emergency use only. But that's OK.

Yes, the cost of solar photovoltaic is such that if combined with other solar technologies such as solar hot air and solar water heating, solar PV can indeed power most home electronics just fine. But this does not include the biggest consumers of electric power: electric furnaces, water heaters, ovens and ranges, and dryers. Natural gas or propane are FAR better for these appliances.

One rub with solar PV even now, though, is air conditioning. You can run a relatively small window unit with a fairly big solar setup, but running a whole house heat pump? Forget it. It's not that there aren't other options for cooling your home (i.e. geothermal, evaporative coolers), but cooling with solar PV is almost as bad as heating with it.
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Old 01-21-2015, 09:25 PM
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The thread has strayed a bit from my original intentions, which were to show those with no solar experience what they can personally do to use it for emergency use only. But that's OK.

Yes, the cost of solar photovoltaic is such that if combined with other solar technologies such as solar hot air and solar water heating, solar PV can indeed power most home electronics just fine. But this does not include the biggest consumers of electric power: electric furnaces, water heaters, ovens and ranges, and dryers. Natural gas or propane are FAR better for these appliances.

One rub with solar PV even now, though, is air conditioning. You can run a relatively small window unit with a fairly big solar setup, but running a whole house heat pump? Forget it. It's not that there aren't other options for cooling your home (i.e. geothermal, evaporative coolers), but cooling with solar PV is almost as bad as heating with it.
Yes. I'm considering propane for stove/oven and clothes dryer. Would prefer 100% self-sustained, but the cost for those on solar outweighs the luxury. Plus, with a good size tank, I'd have a good long supply. If S flies, I'd just go into survival mode - clothes line and electric single burner and/or wood flame cooking.

How about those split system ductless heating/cooling units? They are coming out with some pretty efficient ones these days...
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Old 01-22-2015, 10:14 AM
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How about those split system ductless heating/cooling units? They are coming out with some pretty efficient ones these days...
The split ductless units can be extremely efficient. Also, many units show almost no motor starting surge, so low power inverters can often start them without difficulty. The main reason these can be so efficient is the ability for the compressor motor to operate at part load to meet cooling/heating demands as opposed to conventional units that use an on/off thermostat. At part load the size of the heat exchangers in the system (i.e. condenser and evaporator) are large relative to the lower compressor output. This effectively enhances cooling, lessens the temperature differential between the two components, and therefore lessens the differential pressure across the compressor to reduce compressor work for a given cooling rate (i.e. increasing efficiency). The lower current draw also makes it better suited to power with a battery system without opportunity loading, but opportunity loading can be used during the day to operate a unit at full blast to give the home a nice cooling shock. At night the unit can operate at a low sustained output for dehumidification. It really is a good match for off grid PV. However, the units are very expensive. A similar effect can be had with conventional window/wall a/c units by using two small units in tandem with both operated during the day as opportunity loads, and one unit operated at night on a high thermostat setting.

As far as heat pump goes, using a small unit as an opportunity load seems reasonable - just to augment space heating in some settings. The efficiency can be improved by placing a unit for solar thermal exposure during the day. Of course, you don't want this when in cooling mode. BTW, I've seen systems described that had small heat pumps placed for solar thermal heating using an enclosure much like a green house, and a thermostat use to enable the compressor circuit. One system even included a thermal mass. Interesting.
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Old 01-22-2015, 10:42 AM
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With the emphasis on propane mentioned here for space heating and water heating, consider a micro CHP system. Let's consider a small generator like the Honda EU2000i that can be easily converted to propane. During winter months the unit might be called upon for generator support and/or battery charging. However, the heat from the propane need not be lost. Rather most of it can be fairly easily captured by heating water, and this can be used to augment both water heating and space heating needs. Consider that this particular Honda unit contains a blower fan that directs all heat (both engine exhaust and cylinder air cooling) thru the single exhaust line. Well, place an efficient water heater there. I suggest a low power 12v DC mag drive pump powered off the 12v DC charging outlet also available in this engine unit. Use the pump to send water through a compact copper tubing coil heated by the exhaust. TIP: Rather than purchasing the special Honda DC charging cord, take a standard plug such as from a typical cheap extension cord, heat one of the prongs on the plug, then get some pliers and twist it 90 degrees to make a DC plug. Connect the cord to the pump, and the pump will start when the engine is started. Voila, you get water heating whenever the engine is started. NOTE: The exhaust temperature is fairly low due to the high volume of air sent by the fan, so it's hard to catch most of the heat. If someone wanted to get fancy, the most efficient set up would send heated water directly to a small fan coil unit for direct space heating while the unit is operating. This is something I might do, but most people probably wouldn't bother. For water heating, an efficient system would need to control the pump flow rate to send cool water through the heat exchanger in counterflow fashion and heat it as much as possible in a single pass. Simplest solution is to put a small valve in the line with a thermometer on the water outlet and throttle to find the best flow rate.

BTW, if the water heater coil is efficient, then this kind of system could provide the same space heating and/or water heating benefit as using the propane directly since the electricity generated would be dissipated as heat in the home anyway.
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Old 01-22-2015, 10:55 AM
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Yes. I'm considering propane for stove/oven and clothes dryer. Would prefer 100% self-sustained, but the cost for those on solar outweighs the luxury. Plus, with a good size tank, I'd have a good long supply. If S flies, I'd just go into survival mode - clothes line and electric single burner and/or wood flame cooking.
Actually, I've seen more than one off grid home use a 120v clothes dryer. In one case the outlet of the dryer was directed into the home during the winter months to augment space heating (and humidity). This should be used in an opportunity loading configuration, but generator support could also be used. If one is already heating with propane, and the heat from the generator captured with the aforementioned strategy, then this could be efficient and convenient.

.... also, cooking with electricity makes a lot of sense. Consider an induction cooktop. These are very efficient at getting the heat into the food. All the units I've examined can be dialed down with respect to output. Also, electric crock pots and even electric pressure cookers are not unreasonable. Generally opportunity loading is best, but all the units I've seen can be dialed down. I have seen one crock pot with added insulation that was very efficient.
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Old 02-06-2015, 11:44 AM
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This post has been very informative, until reading it i thought it would be possible to power my furnace with Solar power (hadn't started any preps in that direction yet but it was being considered) thanks for the info guys i'll have some questions in the future no doubt and i know just where to turn. (also using this comment to bust my three post cherry....sorry)
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Old 02-06-2015, 12:08 PM
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This post has been very informative, until reading it i thought it would be possible to power my furnace with Solar power (hadn't started any preps in that direction yet but it was being considered) thanks for the info guys i'll have some questions in the future no doubt and i know just where to turn. (also using this comment to bust my three post cherry....sorry)
Even running a gas furnace with solar power isn't easy. A furnace will easily draw 500+ watts, which is a lot in battery terms. It could be done briefly.

And an electric furnace? No way José.
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