Hi Tom; I got my first solar panel in 1983... so I guess I've been off grid almost 40 years.
My system has gone thru many changes over the years ,including moving them to a new home.
We have solar and micro hydro for power. Propane fed backup generator.
We use propane for refrigeration, cooking , hot water
,the genset and 3 small heaters
Our panels are pole mounted up high .They can be, but never are hand turned. I have never cleaned them. Dust washes off with rain. Most the time the snow slides off quickly.
If I was to upgrade , it would be to a shorter pole mounted, automatic tracking system.
Not many regrets but I would do a few things different.
First, I wish I had gone 24 volt over 12. Nowadays even 48 volt is common. Power transmission is so much easier with higher voltage.
Second, refrigeration/freezing , I have used propane refrigerators (and still do) the whole time. Starting with the bear
resistant old Servel models thru the plastic dometics.
And finally to a 17' Amish built Diamond. It compares in quality and size to any modern electric fridge. Sips propane compared to the old ones.
Freezers are a different story. We have had a 110 vt ,1970's chest freezer for 35 years. (The power sucker) Have had to keep it at various neighbors house's. At a cost of $100 a year... over $3000 up in smoke.
It has not even arrived yet, but I just purchased a 12 vt Sundanzer chest freezer. I will give it a 600 watt stand alone system in the barn. I wish I had done this 20 years ago...
After I have had a chance to see just how well this freezer performs , I will be seriously looking at the 12 vt sundanzer refrigerators. Super insulated , full size, sips 12 vt power or they have them in 110 vt as well.
With one of those I could cut my propane usage back...
Third, Inverter's should
be pure sine wave only. I believe in having more than one. That way when (not if) one breaks you still have a working system.
Your whole home should be fully wired for 110. Outlets everywhere , you will want them.
In my case I also still have a 12 volt string with a few lights
that is in place and used. We shut our 110 power off at night.
Last is the heart of the system . BATTERY'S... What kind ? How big ? What brand ?
I wish there was a good answer
for those questions.
Lithium ion battery's are now available for off grid use, but the cost is still out of reach of Montana poor folk.
Nickle iron , nickle cadmium, and the long standing lead acid ???
Battery technology is improving but who knows what to invest in? Personally I currenly use AGM lead acid.
Will I in ten years? I hope there is a better choice by then.