Solar Fits On The Homestead Quite Well, We Discovered
It was one of those really blizzard-y nights, when the winds came from the north-northwest. It whistled like a freight train bound for Montreal, bearing down on the iron tracks, trying to stay ahead of the accumulation of snow. The four maples leaning against the carport roof overhang kept pounding the eaves. I’ve heard that sound many times before, and some inner sense warned me to prepare for the worst. Draw water for coffee, tooth brushing, and the animals, just in case the power goes out. We don’t use water to flush the toilet because we have a compost toilet. When we turned in there was about eight inches of snow already, with forecasts for another foot by day break. With that wind, I guessed there could be a decent chance of a power outage at least somewhere in the state, maybe even here.
Sure enough, by morning when the alarm on the phone went off, I noticed the WiFi had gone out at some juncture. Looking at the router on the way to the kitchen confirmed this. The power was out. Even though it was still pitch black outside, I turned the solar system on, and voila! we now had power again. Turned the kitchen lights on, and ground the coffee, all with the solar electric system.
“But wait!” you might innocently ask. “I thought the power was out?” It sure was. You see, our solar system is what we call a ‘hybrid’. We are tied to the grid, but we also have solar panels that collect the suns energy. And even though it was still dark out, we were using sun energy collected during the day, and stored for use when it is otherwise dark, like this time. How do you do that, without being tied to the grid?
Simple. We have three deep cell marine batteries and a charge controller, and so all of that plus the inverter and a small array of solar panels and we are pretty much set for just about anything. Just about, but not quite everything. Nice as this little system is, we cannot do everything – yet. We cannot operate the refrigerator, or the well pump. Two biggies, right there. We could if we wanted to spend the big bucks for that extensive of a system. But we are only a homestead, so part of our ‘mission statement’ is to keep it simple.
Simple is one thing, but under-powered is another. And right now, we are under-powered. The well pump alone to run with the solar system will cost heavily, if we want to go that route. Instead, we are looking into fixing a hand-operated pump onto the well, so that if the power goes off we can just do like our great grandparents did, or like our friends John and Nancy do, and pump the water by hand. So, we are researching this area still. If any of you have any suggestions, please include them in the comments section.
As far as the refrigerator is concerned, we were told that we ought to be able to run the unit with our current modified-sine inverter IF we had enough solar input. We are only running a one hundred thirty-five watt system. We need more panels.
One other problem is that we began building our system using thin film solar panels, and I wish that we’d used crystalline. They are much less expensive per watt of power. Our plan is to switch over and use the better panels, but it is just a matter of deciding where to purchase them. Then sell the older panels through the Uncle Henry’s, or somewhere.
So, that is us. What about you? I highly recommend some sort of solar system, even if only to charge your phone, and maybe a battery charger. We lived through Hurricane Sandy on the Jersey Shore, and the building held together okay. It’s just that the power had gone out, and we had no cell phone and could not listen to the radio for news updates. If we had had a small solar panel, that would have solved the problem. You can find some really small and inexpensive solar panel systems that are great for camping, that I think everyone should have for an emergency.
But if you want to get more elaborate, like we did, if you want my advise, I would start with one two hundred watt crystalline solar panel. You can always add to it with a second, then a third, and so on, as your budget allows. I would run this to a thirty amp charge controller mounted in the house. This can feed your battery, in our case three one hundred amperage deep cell marine batteries, wired together in parallel. Then from this you can run your inverter, which converts DC electricity to AC. Ours is a four thousand watt modified-sine, but if I had to do it again I would get a pure sine. It can make the difference between being able to run the fridge or not being able to.
That is about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts about any of this. As you can tell I am not a solar expert. I’m just a homesteader.