solar-power Off-Grid For Beginners

On this post:

  1. What does it mean to live outside the grid? (Off-Grid)
  2. Why be out of grid (Off-Grid)?
  3. Common Off-Grid Applications
  4. Before leaving the grid
  5. Advantages of Off-Grid Systems
  6. Disadvantages of Off-Grid
  7. Designing your Off-Grid System
  8. How much energy do I need?
  9. Sizing an Off-Grid Solar System
  10. Main Components of an Off-Grid System
  11. What are the best brands and products?
  12. How much will my Off-Grid Solar Energy system cost?
  13. Finally...

1. What does it mean to live outside the grid? (Off-Grid)

Living outside the grid does not mean living without electricity, nor should it mean a change in lifestyle. In simple words, being outside the grid only means that you are your own energy company.

2. Why be out of grid (Off-Grid)?

Among the most common reasons for being out of the grid we find: independent solar power electrical systems used in remote locations where the connection with the power grid company is impossible or prohibitively expensive; areas where the conventional energy connection is inconsistent (periods without electricity, or many power cuts); or simply because of the appeal of a more independent lifestyle.

With an Off-Grid system, be it solar panels, wind turbines, a water system, or a combination of these technologies and others, all the energy of a cabin, house, or even the needs of a business or company can be provided. On other occasions, an Off-Grid system can function as an energy backup for houses or complement the grid when renewable technologies cannot produce as much energy as the user consumes.

Living completely Off-Grid frees you from the dependence of an electricity company, because the system provides all your energy. Therefore, Off-Grid systems are generally larger than systems connected to the grid (On-Grid).

To be totally independent, a system must have a set of solar panels and batteries with a greater storage capacity than other simpler applications. However, if done properly, living outside the grid can grant total independence, greater opportunities (when there is no access to the conventional energy grid) and even save a lot of money throughout the life of your system.

3. Common Off-Grid Applications

Cabins and houses in remote places, water pump systems, irrigation and water systems, telecommunications, mobile homes, boats and boats, signage and traffic lights and emergencies, are some of the multiple options where we can find solar systems Off- Grid

4. Before leaving the grid

If you are considering an Off-Grid lifestyle, first you must learn about your energy consumption habits, along with knowing how exactly an Off-Grid system works. To live outside the grid it is very likely that you need to make adjustments in relation to when and how you use electricity, so you can adjust your lifestyle within the limitations of your system, keeping the design costs within reason. Usually, this implies a change to more conscious energy consumption.

When designing an Off-Grid System, it is essential that you can determine all your energy consumption, and always take into account the months with less radiation of the year, since the energy consumption tends to rise and the energy production of your system It is at its minimum. In Solar-Power, we first recommend taking energy saving measures, such as changing the lighting to LED bulbs and changing certain energy efficiency items, before sizing and investing in an Off-Grid system.

We also recommend that before choosing an Off-Grid lifestyle you can talk with those who already have an autonomous system. This can give you practical information that you may have missed before.

5. Advantages of Off-Grid Systems

An off-grid solar system allows you an independent life of an energy company and the possible cuts that may occur from the same grid. A well designed system also has multiple environmental advantages, helping to reduce your carbon footprint. In the long term it is economically convenient, and it also allows us to learn to have responsible energy consumption.

If we wanted to list the benefits of having an Off-Grid solar system, we could start by mentioning:

  1. Solar Energy can help you save. Installing solar energy allows you to generate your own electricity. By using your own energy - instead of buying it from an electric company - you will save money because for every kW / h of electricity you can use from your solar system, it is a kW/h of electricity that you don't have to buy from any external company .
  2. Environmental Benefits. By using energy generated from your solar panels, we reduce the need to generate electricity based on fossil fuels such as oil and gas that create carbon dioxide (CO2). This can reduce the potential for global warming and can contribute to cleaner and more sustainable energy, since solar panels last a long time.
  3. Energy independence. By owning your energy system, you have the ability to create your own electricity. This reduces your dependence on the energy grid, energy companies, etc., and increases your control over your future energy needs, expenses and lifestyle.
  4. Energy reliability. High-quality solar-based systems are a reliable source of energy. The sun rises and hides every day, and, as long as the sun shines, the solar panels will capture energy to transform it into electricity. While the weather and seasons may vary, the amount of energy produced by the panels is predictable. You can even increase the financial benefits of your solar system by changing the hours you use different electrical devices. For example, turn on your clothes washer when you leave home in the morning and avoid washing your clothes at night. Distributing your energy consumption intelligently during the day is free, and saves your energy reserves.

6. Disadvantages of Off-Grid

Generally it is not so cost-beneficial or as feasible to install a renewable energy-based system large enough to provide power from certain electrical appliances such as heaters, air conditioners, electric stoves or electric water heaters. For the above, there are more convenient options such as geothermal energy sources, solar heaters, the use of gas-based devices and others, just to mention a few.

Now that you have clearer the purpose, benefits and limitations of being Off-Grid, let's see how we can do it!

7. Designing your Off-Grid System

From now on we will focus on Off-Grid solar systems, but keep in mind that the process to determine how much energy you would need to produce and store in an Off-Grid application is basically the same, no matter what renewable energy source you decide to install. The main difference between renewable energy sources is the size and how much equipment you will need.

To answer these questions, we recommend that you give us a call and thus be able to help you size and determine exactly what products will make your Off-Grid life simple and comfortable.

8. How much energy do I need?

Determining how much energy you need to produce with your Solar System for a life disconnected from the grid is similar to sizing a system connected to the grid, only there will not be an invoice to review your historical consumption. Therefore, the first step is to make a list of all the devices that you plan to supply in your Off-Grid system/home. Just remember that the more energy you consume, the more energy you will have to produce and the bigger your system will have to be. To be as accurate as possible, you can use the labels of each of your electrical appliances, or piece of equipment.

Once you have reviewed the labels or technical sheets, you must estimate the time you use each device per day, and then do the calculation. For some items, it is reasonable to make an estimate, but for items that have higher consumption, we suggest doing prior research (consumption in watts and hours of use per day).

To start with a simple estimate, you can use our energy calculator.

But, the simplest way, is to let us help you. We can guide you and help you save time, and thus ensure that you have accurate information to be able to size a photovoltaic system.

Like any other question you may have about the use of solar energy, you can call us at +56 2 3267 8448.

9. Sizing an Off-Grid Solar System

Once you are clear how much energy you will use, you can proceed to size your photovoltaic solar system. In an Off-Grid application it is critical that the system is sized correctly, because you will no longer have an energy company from which to get energy if your system does not produce enough according to your energy demand.

That is why we recommend getting professional help to guide you in the process of sizing the Off-Grid system, so you can be sure that you will generate all the energy you will need.

As soon as you know the number of solar panels required to meet your energy demands, you can start choosing the appropriate products.

Here is a list of some of the items you will need or may need:

10. Main Components of an Off-Grid System

Solar panels

Solar panels absorb energy from the sun and convert it into energy in DC. Your energy consumption, like your geographic location, affects the type and quantity of panels that you will need.

Each solar panel produces a small amount of energy, so most solar systems consist of multiple solar panels interconnected with each other. This is called a Solar Array.

Mounts for solar panels (Racks) and Solar Trackers

Mounts for solar panels are important to maximize production, provide adequate angle and orientation, and provide the necessary stability to protect your investment from wind forces. Solar panels can be mounted on the roof, floor or on a pole.

A Solar Tracker is a device to orient a solar panel or a Array Solar towards the sun intelligently during the day. The Trackers Solar increase sun exposure in the morning and in the afternoon, which can substantially improve the amount of energy produced by your system.

Current Inverter

A DC power inverter converts the energy DC that comes from solar panels to energy AC for common use. Some power inverters include a charge controller for solar applications.

Some people choose to eliminate the power inverter to save money on their solar system, and instead buy artifacts and lighting that work on a DC basis. This is an option, however, we usually do not recommend it. Some of the reasons:

  • Artifacts and lighting based on DC are usually more expensive than standard products based on AC, which means that throughout the life of your solar system you can spend a little more money to have all the amenities you need.
  • Finding these specialized products can be difficult or inconvenient, because most of these are only available in specialized stores.
  • Some items are simply not available in DC versions, which means you will have to remove that item from your life with a solar system.

Deep Cycle Batteries.

A battery bank - a group of batteries connected to each other - is a key component in an Off-Grid system. Batteries store the energy you generate from your energy source (solar panels), or from a backup generator when you are generating less energy than you need.

When you are Off-Grid, if you don't have batteries, you can only use energy at the time you produce it. In other words, if you do not have batteries that store the energy you produce, you will not have energy when the sun is not delivering enough radiation to your solar panels, that is at night.

Important Note: Renewable energy systems require batteries that are designed for frequent deep cycles, properly called Deep Cycle Batteries. Car batteries, and even some types of deep cycle batteries, are not suitable for systems based on Renewable Energies. For more information on batteries for solar systems, you are welcome to contact us.

Solar Charge Controller

Battery-based renewable energy systems must have a charge controller to manage the charge of your battery bank. It is important that your charge controller is programmed with correct points, specifically for the type of your batteries, in order to reduce damage from inconsistent charges or discharges.

Battery monitors

Battery monitors provide crucial information to manage and protect your battery bank. Even so, many battery-based systems do not. A good quality battery monitor is relatively inexpensive, and provides important data, such as accumulated Amp / hour, state of charge of your battery bank, maintenance and information for the solution of possible problems.

The battery monitor should be mounted in a central location of your home, where it can be easily seen, and should be programmed based on the parameters of your system. This programming is usually only needed during the installation of a meter.

Auto Backup Generator

A backup generator is essential to compensate for changes in seasons and weather patterns that affect the energy production of your solar system. An automatic backup generator (in contrast to a manual ignition generator), can make Off-Grid life much more convenient and with less worries.

Other things you will need:

  • Distributor box (for solar panels).
  • Automatic/breaker panel (for AC).
  • Automatic/breaker (for DC).
  • Battery Cables.
  • Remote temperature sensor.
  • Cable connectors for solar panels (MC3 or MC4).
  • Wiring for AC and DC (Buy locally).
  • Other miscellaneous electrical items (Buy locally).
  • Gadgets / accessories and other extras you may need.

The above items are generally the ones you will need in an Off-Grid Solar System, but since each system is customized for each location and specific customer, you may not need all the items mentioned, as other extra items may also be suggested.

11. What are the best brands and products?

The number of companies offering solar equipment is growing rapidly, and every solar energy professional you speak with will have certain products to recommend. Usually, they usually have compelling reasons to recommend these products. This can make it difficult for the consumer to know which opinion to trust, and which products are really the best.

So, How to choose? Like any major purchase, you'll have to do a little work at home. With much of the focus on renewable energy, it is now easier than ever to be able to access reliable information about specific manufacturers and technologies. But this can also leave you with an overwhelming stack of information and lots of data to review.

Our best suggestion is to find a solar energy professional you trust, and allow me to guide you through the constant updates of renewable energy. Then, we suggest getting a second opinion, since renewable energy is an important investment. It will always be a good idea to speak with more than one professional to be sure that you are receiving information that is correct, relevant and complete.

In our opinion, here are some things you should consider while buying products and choosing brands:

As for the manufacturer: How long have you been developing renewable energy products?

There are many new companies that are being introduced in the industry, which is good and bad at the same time. Many times, new companies come hand in hand with new technologies and advances in many areas (efficiency, safety, etc ...), which should not be overlooked. But, for the same reason, there may not be many previous experiences, or customers who are already using these products regularly. Our recommendation? Always research and ask other people to confirm the quality of the products.

What is the information or market experience of your products?

Ask others to know the reputation of the manufacturer and learn how their products perform in reality. You can find information and resources on the internet, or you can talk to other customers who are already using these products.

Is there any certification for the products?

While the requirement for certain certifications varies by country and regulations tend to be constantly updated, this does not mean that the manufacturing of the products does not have specific certifications. Both solar panels, controllers, inverters and other electrical appliances must be certified by competent international companies to be distributed and commercialized.

It is always good to ask for product certifications and thus be sure that the product meets both international and national standards.

Is it the right product?

Sometimes you may be researching about different products that have proven to be reliable, with a good history in the market and manufactured or distributed by reliable companies. So, What is the right product? Obviously, the first consideration is whether or not they will do the work they need to do.

Again, our best recommendation is that you give us a call. Our job is to help you with clear and precise information on which you can base your decision. If we don't have the answers, we'll help you find them. Then, when the quality of the products is confirmed, the decision is reduced to practical details, such as price, warranty and extras.

12. How much will my Off-Grid Solar Energy system cost?

The price of your Off-Grid system goes strictly hand in hand with the number of solar panels you need and how to mount them, number of batteries, electrical equipment, length of your cables, among others. These are the most important factors that will vary the final value of your system.

In Solar-Power we work hard to provide as much information as possible and help you choose the energy solution with the highest possible value for your investment. This means that we don't just look at prices, despite being an important variable. In the first instance the initial cost of an equipment seems to be a good business, but when you look more carefully about quality, confidence, efficiency and useful life, you can realize that it is better to pay a little more in the beginning, since Over time that decision will save you a lot of time, money, and bad times.

13. Finally...

There is much to consider before investing in an Off-Grid renewable energy system, and we hope that the information we have given here can help you feel more comfortable when making your decision. But, most likely, you still have some questions, and we don't want to give up the opportunity to help you find the answers you need.

At Solar-Power we are available to answer your questions! Contact us and let's start thinking about a renewable future.

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