We live on an off-grid homestead in NW Arkansas. Being big techie’s, my husband and I designed our own power system when we built our home. Several factors are important to consider when you install solar panels:
- How much energy do you need to run the things you will be using?
- Does your site have four or more hours of adequate sunlight to produce power?
- Where will you situate the panels?
- Have you the skills to do it yourself?
- Financial impact-is it the right thing for you?
Money: Financially, we weighed pro’s and con’s and decided, after crunching the numbers, that our investment would be returned after 10 years. It is important to us that we have a source of free, renewable energy. So we began a three phase purchase–solar panels to begin with, then a wind system and hopefully more panels later.
Research: We did a lot of research about how to decide how many and what size panels we would need, based on our power usage. Our best resource was Back Woods Solar. Their catalog had a wonderful, easy section on how to figure out what your power needs would be. It really helped to keep a power diary- what we turned on and how long it was used for, etc.
Panels: We ended up installing two one-thousand watt panels and four L-16 batteries. According to Wise Geek Photo Voltaic Panels need to be at least 250 watts for off-grid installation. Our goal was to install one third of our needs at a time- it was what we could do financially. It turns out it was a good plan. We learned a lot from this first round of panels. We chose to leave some ancient trees near the house- they cut our sunlight by about an hour per day, which was a trade-off. But it was important to us to preserve these giants.
Location: We needed to place the panels as high up on the horizon as we could to take advantage of the available solar. We decided that a roof mount was the best option for us. After reading extensively and talking to others who had installed panels before in our area, we did not use a traveling mount for installing ours. We had to balance our respect for our forest giants against the needs of the system. It worked out well.
Installation: Installing the panels was relatively easy. There are many good sites like Green Planet Ethics that show step by step instructions. Our best suggestion is to plan your installation, then recheck it twice before going forward. An accident on the roof can be fatal. Plan for your safety, layout what you need ahead of time, and have a helper/safety checker on the ground. Check all electric connections thoroughly- an electric shock can severely wound you.
Access: Be sure you have a plan for access- simple things like keeping the pollen wiped off in the spring, or cleaning off ice and snow in the winter can really make a difference in the amount of power you can store. Solar energy is very efficient, but does require awareness and maintenance.
Would we do it again? Oh yes! We learned a lot by doing it in increments, but yes, it is well worth it.
More about Off-Grid Living:
Living on Less: homesteading n the 21st Century
Wind and Solar to Power an Off-Grid Home
Passive Solar Orientation: How to Situate Your House