I just dropped the price of
the permaculture playing cards
for a wee bit.

 

 

uses include:
- infecting brains with permaculture
- convincing folks that you are not crazy
- gift giving obligations
- stocking stuffer
- gambling distraction
- an hour or two of reading
- find the needle
- find the 26 hidden names

clickity-click-click

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Can off grid solar be done on a budget?  RSS feed

 
Chris Brooks
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Is it possible for off grid solar to be done on a budget? Yup! With some time and patience we were able to get all our solar items together and installed and only paid 20% of what it would have cost us! Check out our video about our solar 


What has everybody else been able to do with their off grid power without paying and arm and a leg?
 
Peter Kalokerinos
Posts: 95
Location: Hunter Valley, NSW, Australia
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We've gone with the arm, leg, first born option....its not a question of what can or cant be achieved on a  certain budget, its about "can you adjust the way you live to fit within the system that said budget can provide". You want to be certain that whatever you build will fit your expectations, around performance and life expectancy.

We're set for the next 16-20 years (probably longer) with zero restrictions...well within reason. We can have one coolroom for example.
 
Deedee weston
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Definitely possible to get a cheap system.  I bought mine at www.greengardenchicken.com  If you let them know you plan to add to the system later they easily set you up with a system in your budget for right now.  They are excellent people to work with.  You can watch my Youtube vid to see how I optimized my system by being more efficient.[youtube] 
  [/youtube]
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
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Not to rain on your parade Chris, but some important info should be brought up on buying used solar equipment. While in the short term you got a good deal, all those solar components have limited lifespan. Buying some of these things used means you likely have a much lower lifespan to work with, and very likely this is an unknown time span as you don't know the use buying used.

Batteries especially are going to be a big one, you got $1k each batteries for $150 each. That likely means their lifespan is pretty much used up. Solar panels that are 1/2 price, likely are close to half their life.

The inverter and charge controller, buying used can mean you don't have a warranty to go with them. While less of an issue of limited lifespan, electronic do have limited lifespans but have potential to be maintained and repaired. But buying them used often means no warranty, which can mean repair costs could equal buying new.

I am not trying to be a gloomy cloud over your getting a good deal on a solar set up. Honestly it is a wonderful example of bargain hunting. I just want to point out to folks the flip side to bargain hunting used equipment like this. Solar panels and batteries have a limited lifespan. Buying new is the only way to really know how long to expect them to last. Buying used is pretty much always a shot in the dark.

Now this isn't to say don't ever buy solar used. Only to say do so informed of the risks and potential issues. I think Chris got a great deal and it is getting him started many steps beyond what I have been able to get at higher cost to me. Now Chris may find he will need to get new batteries soon, and might find his solar panels are in need of replacing sooner than if bought new. But he is up and running now with a decent set up, and he can deal with the eventual replacements in the future. He can even start putting aside money for replacements now.
 
frank li
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Location: Michigan
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Most equipment and tools we like to get new. No worries about abuse or unknown defects being passed to the next guy... us!

That said, one of the items i dont mind buying used are pv modules and power electronics, especially the panels.

These things (modules) have shown to be capable of operating un-interrupted for 40 plus years (arco/siemens) and i have all kinds of 30-40 year old electronics that work fine.

Batteries... i tell eveyone not to mess with used batteries. Its the most likely part of an otherwise well done system to provide shortfalls and disappointment in solar... that said i am using up the last bit of some really great alpha gel cell batteries that came from catv industry.
Sourced used, they sat for a year or more uncharged and i have brutally punished them since 2011, i mean lend/lease style outdoor camping and utility duty, daily pump and dump and they still power the garage and outdoor lighting here, limpy for sure, but we got our miles out of them.

We run off grid, reliably and on half new/half used, the rest leftovers from installs. Not glamorous, just utilitarian and paid for years ago on no budget.

At $179 for new, canadian solar 315-320w modules, there is no reason to have to settle for broken junk or piece together a hundred overpriced harbor freight panels. We bought our modules for $550 apiece and only 185w each, so i couldnt sell them to recover money for upgrades now if i wanted to and since they are already paid for, they are better as a retirement investment.



 
Devin Lavign
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frank li wrote:Batteries... i tell eveyone not to mess with used batteries. Its the most likely part of an otherwise well done system to provide shortfalls and disappointment in solar... that said i am using up the last bit of some really great alpha gel cell batteries that came from catv industry.
Sourced used, they sat for a year or more uncharged and i have brutally punished them since 2011, i mean lend/lease style outdoor camping and utility duty, daily pump and dump and they still power the garage and outdoor lighting here, limpy for sure, but we got our miles out of them.


Pure Living For Life just put out a video discussing working on fixing 2 of the used batteries they picked up. Thought it would be good to sharing here.

 
Travis Roesler
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Location: Chester County Pennsylvania
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A half hour video, in the middle of which he takes a trip to the mountains, and NEVER GIVES THE RESULTS OF THE TEST?!

Excuse me while I punch myself in frustration.
 
Burra Maluca
Mother Tree
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Travis Roesler wrote:A half hour video, in the middle of which he takes a trip to the mountains, and NEVER GIVES THE RESULTS OF THE TEST?!

Excuse me while I punch myself in frustration.


Well there's always part 2 - maybe this will help?

 
Devin Lavign
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Sorry I figure that the video was labeled Part 1 was sort of self explanatory that there would be more coming. Thanks Burra for posting pt 2.

And here is part 3 (spoiler it looks like there will be at least a pt 4 in this series)



Something to note though, is how this has ended up being a multi day project with lots of frustration and confusing results. Jesse has had lots of ups and downs working on this. This is part of why so many folks warn against buying used batteries. Seeing what Jessie is going through shows how frustrating reconditioning used batteries can be. Especially if you aren't necessarily overly knowledgeable in the topic already.
 
Devin Lavign
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Well a sort of pt 4 is out. (fyi the title is intentional click bait and setting up an upcoming video on the topic of clickbait titles on youtube) But this episode's topic is on the battery bank and does discuss the issues and problems with the battery hack. Jesse did have some problems with loose wiring and loosing power to heat.

 
Bonnie Kuhlman
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Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
chicken food preservation forest garden
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Devin Lavign wrote:Not to rain on your parade Chris, but some important info should be brought up on buying used solar equipment. While in the short term you got a good deal, all those solar components have limited lifespan. Buying some of these things used means you likely have a much lower lifespan to work with, and very likely this is an unknown time span as you don't know the use buying used.

Batteries especially are going to be a big one, you got $1k each batteries for $150 each. That likely means their lifespan is pretty much used up. Solar panels that are 1/2 price, likely are close to half their life.

..................

Now this isn't to say don't ever buy solar used. Only to say do so informed of the risks and potential issues. I think Chris got a great deal and it is getting him started many steps beyond what I have been able to get at higher cost to me. Now Chris may find he will need to get new batteries soon, and might find his solar panels are in need of replacing sooner than if bought new. But he is up and running now with a decent set up, and he can deal with the eventual replacements in the future. He can even start putting aside money for replacements now.


While we're total noobies to solar (as in, just looking, don't have it yet) we're not new to budgeting.  The plan is that if we go solar, we will continue to *make payments* to our budget based on what we would be paying monthly to the electric co. so that we have the money saved to pay for replacement/repair.  We do the same for our vehicles; making car payments to ourselves even though they are paid off. 

As I said though, total noobies - what is *pv* please?  Could we start out with partial solar and add to it later?  Right now, our priority is to look at a solar pump.  This is our first summer on this property and there is the pressure tank (1 gallon) is kaput.  We can deal without lights, but no water is a bit more challenging when the power goes out.  Is there a solar 101 thread? page?
 
frank li
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Bonnie Kuhlman wrote:
..................

While we're total noobies to solar (as in, just looking, don't have it yet) we're not new to budgeting.  The plan is that if we go solar, we will continue to *make payments* to our budget based on what we would be paying monthly to the electric co. so that we have the money saved to pay for replacement/repair.  We do the same for our vehicles; making car payments to ourselves even though they are paid off. 

As I said though, total noobies - what is *pv* please?  Could we start out with partial solar and add to it later?  Right now, our priority is to look at a solar pump.  This is our first summer on this property and there is the pressure tank (1 gallon) is kaput.  We can deal without lights, but no water is a bit more challenging when the power goes out.  Is there a solar 101 thread? page?


PV* is short for Photovoltaics. Sunlight to electricity. 100 year old technology that started to mature almost 50 years ago.

Yes, you can start off small and expand. A good chunk of a systems sections are modular in component design. "PV modules", for example, batteries, inverters, chargers, etc., can be stacked for capacity.

In order to allow for this expandability you will want to know what you have in place and what you may want or need the system to do. This would be for any system, from a hot tub, to a outbuilding or a solar electric one.

In battery based systems, there is more than interconnection to the grid through the utility service conductors going on. If you are not supporting the entire building/property electrical system, you may have a critical loads panel where selected circuits are placed for isolation in back-up/grid interactive or even off grid/load defection modes. Specialty PV enclosures allow breaker space to accomplish this without additional load panels.

Most forms of expansion as well as initial integration, will require knowledge of what you need and what you may need and how this affects budget over time.
Kids about 10 years old? Your electric bill may just go down when they go out on their own.
In-laws or other relatives moving in for family reasons?
Planning on a home business, etc.

So, yes you can add a little as you are able. There are constraints to expansion in certain areas and certain ways to design around or preferrably ahead and instead of certain constraints...  so have enough battery (especially if lead), electrical infrastructure and a system type that has this in mind. That is sound investment and solid foundation.

If you are going to power a well, then communications/entertainment and lighting is almost a byproduct unless its a large family or irrigation and or livestock water. You might be suprised how little system it takes to provide utility. If you want luxury or have large critical loads like plants/animals or some medical equipment then it could get expensive.

Some of the parts suppliers have great tutorials. I cut my teeth on backwoods solar and new england solar catalogs. They can be a treasure. altestore has excellent text and videos.



 
Bonnie Kuhlman
Posts: 35
Location: Zone 7a, Paulden, AZ
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Thanks Frank.  We'll have to take some time to digest this and start doing some homework. 
 
Sarah Houlihan
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I want to point out also that an important aspect of going solar is using less energy.  When we got our solar set up (which is quite small) we had been charging our cell phones with a generator and buying batteries for camp lights.  The first time we charged something without the generator on was a huge celebration.  We only needed very minimal power, so it was really cheap to build.  We can upgrade whenever we have the money and the need. 
I point this out because we spent hours looking at charts trying to figure out how big a system we needed.  It was daunting and the amount it was going to cost to support our "needs" was insane.  Once we were actually living off grid and our needs became more realistic, then the price of the solar dropped dramatically.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Sarah Houlihan wrote:I want to point out also that an important aspect of going solar is using less energy.  


While true in most respects, with solar panels getting so cheap these days (under $1 a watt) it is often cheaper to buy more panels than it is to buy more efficient appliances.  For example you can buy "solar" refrigerators that use 30% less energy than a standard fridge, but they cost over $2000 more, or you can spend $200 on another solar panel.

It used to be that folks would buy propane stoves/heaters/etc to reduce the electrical needs and get away with a smaller solar setup.  However, these days I believe it's cheaper to buy a larger solar array/battery bank and avoid the reoccurring cost of buying propane.
 
Sarah Houlihan
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The way we live now, we don't have any appliances.  That is how we were able to build our solar so cheap.  We could buy more panels and have a refrigerator, but we can't afford all that and are perfectly fine without it.  I'm not saying that is a solution for everyone, it is drastic, but you could turn off the ac or get rid of the microwave and you won't need as large a system.
 
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