Beginner’s Guide To Off-Grid Solar Power

The Benefits of a Solar Power
renewable solar panel

Remember the old conversational exchange between Timon, Pumba and Simba in the Lion King where they all sit under the stars contemplating the structure of stars? Well, these little dots that light up our sky are all individual suns, putting out over 380 septillion watts of energy every second. That’s a lot of power, no wonder solar power is predicted to make up 20 per cent of global energy production in the next 5 years.

Not only is this energy source renewable but with the advancement of solar panels, solar radiation can be harnessed and transformed directly into electrical power with very little losses due to entropy. With green initiatives across the world enforcing renewable energy subsidies, mostly targeted towards solar power, now is the best time to transfer to this almost endless supply of renewable energy. In case you agree, what exactly do you need?

Building Your Solar System

To build an effective solar power system is not as hard as one might think. You only need a few components to make all your electronics run smoothly on cosmic energy. Regardless of the power needs, you basically need 3 main components. First off, there are the solar panels that convert solar energy into electrical DC energy, a string inverter that converts the solar panel’s DC into 230V AC current and deep cycle solar batteries that store the remedial energy that is to be used during the evening or cloudy day.

Depending on your energy needs, the amount of these components may increase, but for most residential homes, a 6kW system won’t cost that much and will pay itself off in a couple of years. Remember, the sun produces a lot of light, so all that extra electrical energy is distributed back in the electrical grid, literally paying for itself. So let’s discuss your home solar system and what you might need.

Solar Panels

First off, we have to begin with the solar panels, which as stated previously, are devices that convert solar energy into usable electricity. They do this thanks to the photoelectric effect, the subject that won Albert Einstein the Noble Prize. This happens in the crystalline structure of the panel itself. Without getting too hung up on the physics of it, this effect produces DC current that is afterwards transported through the inverter to the household and the deep cycle battery for storage.

For a simple home installation, your best bet is going with a solar panel 200W system. These panels provide a current of 24V making them straight up useful for battery charging with PWM regulators. You can use one in series for a 24V system, two for a 48V system etc. They are also foldable and portable, allowing you to mount them both at your home and outdoors.

solar panels system rooftop

String Inverter

Moving on the chain of energy production, the 200w solar panel produces DC current, but due to the fact that most appliances require AC at 230V, something has to do the AC/DC transformation. This is where the string inverter comes in.

String inverters are used for when multiple solar panels are in play. The panels are all attached to a single string inverter that does the whole power transformation and then sends the power to the household grid.

Microinverters are the smaller version of this that are individual elements attached to each solar panel. This is the better option for when fewer panels are in play. With this device, you can plug in directly to the solar panel if need be, which is perfect for the 200w portable solar panels.

Due to their extraneous and constant work, inverters are the most likely component to fail in a solar power system in the first 10-15 years, so even if you are on a limited budget, premium-end inverters are recommended.

Deep Cycle Batteries

In case you are off the grid, you’re going to need something to provide power when you are using more than what the panels can provide. This is where deep cycle batteries come in.

A deep cycle battery is an energy container designed to contain and produce a long continuous stream of current for an extended period of time before having to be recharged. With normal batteries discharging up to 5-10% of their charge before needing a recharge, deep cycle batteries discharge up to 80% before they’re recharged, even though manufacturers wouldn’t recommend going past 50%. This allows the battery to produce a high current stream of power for hours with no disconnect or energy loss.

Rechargability is the keyword here. During the day, the solar battery is getting charged from the residual panel energy and via an AC coupled inverter, it returns this power back into your house or RV during the evening. The more solar batteries you have, the greater your energy storage is and the more power you can use up when the sun is not out. As long as this cycle continues, your batteries will be in good condition and your power will be uninterrupted.

The solar battery system is a pricier alternative to being connected to the local power grid during the non-sunny times of day, but, if you are a regular RV traveller or are stationed off the grid, a deep cycle solar the battery is a key element in bringing you some light in the darkness.


Let’s Run the Numbers

So let’s say you decided to go fully solar. What would you need?

For most homes, the minimum is buying 6.6 kW of panels (a 200 watt solar panel times 30) with a 5 kW inverter. If you’re going premium quality, this should cost around 5000 to 8000 dollars. With the battery, the cost would most likely double, but after listing the benefits of it, we recommend paying the extra price and in 10-15 years, not only will the solar system pay itself off, but you’ll actually make a profit.

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