How many former suburbanites does it take to set up a solar power system? In our case that would be two. Only we haven’t succeeded quite yet.
Installing and tweaking our Solar power system is an ongoing process; like so many projects out here. The overall strategy we’ve taken is to tailer our power needs to the system and the system to our power needs. When we’re done, we expect to be totally independent except for the occasional use of the gas powered generator. And to not have to pay someone else for the juice? Priceless.
First off, we ordered too few panels to power even our fifth wheel. To date, we’ve ordered two sets of four more panels with their own controllers to augment our first. Secondly, we’ve focused on lowering our need for electricity in general by replacing regular light bulbs with LEDs and using gas appliances instead of electric. To wit, our power hogging fridge and water heater.
Obstacles have been our ignorance of wiring systems and electricity in general, but you have to start somewhere. We’ve had to learn not only about watts and amps as opposed to volts (I still don’t really get it), but also the wiring and using the right gauge and length for the particular application. I still maintain you have to have a college degree or some kind of diploma in “solarogy” to do this stuff.
Last week we graduated up to a 3000 watt inverter from a 1500 watt after we learned that one single appliance can use up to and beyond 1800 running watts (the amount of watts being pulled at any given moment) and they can exceed that or “spike” at certain moments. The inverter doesn’t like it when it’s overloaded and it will turn itself off.
When we installed the new inverter and plugged in though, it would sound it’s alarm immediately and trip off. We’ve spent the last week since researching the setup and we called the manufacturer for advice. They were extremely helpful and knowledgeable and set us in the right direction again.
We ordered larger gage cables for the batteries and found out we were supposed to use the same length cables between each, which we weren’t doing. Apparently, that’s a safety issue so I recommend researching this stuff beforehand or calling the manufacturer to clarify on all aspects of your system.
We also had eight panels running through one controller which is another big no-no. I think we’ve lucked out so far with any safety issues as nothing has gone amiss.
Today we received our latest four panels making a total of twelve. We spent the entire afternoon setting up the makeshift stand (we’re ordering a real one later), setting the panels up and wiring them in. Then it didn’t work. As of this evening, we’re still checking all of the connections with no luck so far. Dark fell so we’ll finish tomorrow.
I’m really excited to get all of this up and running though. True independence is right around the corner.
We purchased a small shed to keep the batteries and other equipment in and built a bench for the battery array and another for the inverter and controllers. We even bought a tiny fan heater (low wattage), to run right off the inverter inside the shed for when the temperatures reach the single digits. Out here, you have to consider the snow and temps when planning anything you set up.
Things are really coming together finally. I’m proud of us for the research and perseverance we’ve shown in tackling this project.
I see a “light” at the end of the tunnel!