Going Solar?

For a time I was thinking that I’d like to have my primary residence outfitted with enough solar panels so I could run the place completely “off grid”. Lately I’ve been having second thoughts. I’m not so sure that’s the best investment for several reasons. First of all, if the power is out for just a few days that’s really not such a big deal and I would be fine without power. Secondly, if the power is out much longer, say weeks or even months, due to some kind of natural disaster or other disruption, then having the only house that’s all lit up with power makes me a target for bad guys. What I really need is something in between. With just the right balance of money invested to reasonable benefit in an emergency.

After a lot of thinking I’ve pretty much settled on trying to come up with a plan that gives me enough solar power so I can run a few critical breakers (Freezer, refrigerator, some lights and 110 outlets) but not the whole house. I think this is a cost effective option that improves the value of my house while remaining Prudent and Reasonable. Remember that none of your preparations should ever hurt the value of your home or offend the neighbors. There’s just no reason for it.

So, I had a preliminary conversation with a sales guy from a local solar power company but it didn’t go so well. The gist of it was me trying to explain what I wanted to achieve by adding solar panels and the salesman repeatedly telling me, “you don’t want that.” I finally ended the conversation by saying, “Please stop telling me what I want.” In his defense he was just trying to get me the package that would save me the most money per month on my utility bill. Unfortunately he couldn’t quite understand that while monthly savings to my energy bill are great what I really want is independence and self-sustainability. Something they don’t generally provide as there are batteries involved and they tend to like the systems that just dump energy back into the grid rather than storing it. Most of the homes you see with solar panels on their roofs are probably not self sufficient at all. If the grid is down, they have no power just like the rest of us. Solar panels and all.

What I really want is a relatively modest system that can collect solar energy as well as store it for later use so that I can function off grid in a limited capacity. The first vendor I spoke to didn’t have much interest in helping me here so I’ll need to look elsewhere to find a more creative firm or perhaps put something together on my own.

I’ve already begun to do the research and will keep you all updated as I stumble through this process on my own. I’m happy to make mistakes as long as others can learn from them and we can all benefit in the end.


3 Responses to Going Solar?

  1. Butch, I have been on a similar path as you for solar. I have been eyeing some products at Northern Tool. I spoke with one of the managers at the store and they guaranteed me 5% reduction in the kit I was going to put together myself. I had him write out a quote with the 5% deduction on all the items, ie. panels, regulator, pure sine wave converter, and batteries. I have not purchased anything yet but I am close to pulling the trigger. I was going to use the system as a back up to the Honda 3000is generator. Thanks for the website, I visit it everyday. Charlie Mike.

  2. If you are on the east coast you can try Green Street Solar. They recently installed on my home the type of system you described. Solar panels with battery back up. Its not cheap to do the battery back up but if you want that grid down power you have to have it.
    You will also need Opsec and use light and noise discipline to keep from advertising that you have power.

  3. Standard frost-free electric refrigerators and freezers meant for on-grid homes suck a lot of juice, 3-5 kWh a day probably to run both, depending on the size/models. If a backup generator to charge the batts (for back-to-back cloudy days) isn’t an option, that would require a pretty large solar system to run it reliably. We live off-grid, and run our whole house on 2-3kWh per day with 1.3kW of panels – but we have a propane frig and chest freezer. We use 500 gallon propane tanks, but even a 20# BBQ-sized propane tank will run a propane freezer for over a week. Just a thought, but have you considered a propane chest freezer for frozen food and to make ice for a couple coolers? You could get away with a much smaller solar system for lights, electronics, and other small electric items without the electric frig and freezer.