Building Our Solar Energy System

Peaceful Forest
The road in front of Peaceful Forest.

 

Building our solar energy system slowly, one piece at a time over the years, was a more affordable way to do that for us. As much as we enjoyed our simple life here, we had that yearning to watch our movie collection of over 300 VHS tapes. Especially on cold winter evenings. Even though we had given away my large screen television before we moved here, because I felt it was out of place in this house. Saying we wanted to live a life based on self-reliance and then having a huge screen television taking up half of our living room was saying otherwise. We still had our small DC powered television that had a VHS tape player built into it. It was what we used when my husband, Larry, drove an over the road truck. Our cat, Nutmeg and I traveled with him over the whole country searching for our potential homestead. As you can see, we ended up back here where we started from in New York state. We did not find another place as pretty (to us) as our home state. We both grew up here and loved our rolling hills, mountains, abundance of water sources and most important to us, our dark green forests.

Siemans 50 Watt Solar Panel
Siemans 50 Watt Solar Panel

It wasn’t too long before we got a 5o watt solar panel (still have it, in fact), a very small charge controller, an automotive inverter off the shelf at Walmart, wires and two batteries. Ah, yes……..batteries are the heart of the off the grid system! Best to learn to care for them right away. We started off with two fork-lift truck lead acid batteries purchased from Raymond Corp. where Larry was employed. We did not have a generator at that time. Instead we would pull our old car up to the house and connect the batteries to the car with cables and let the car charge the batteries. It was stinky, noisy and expensive, but it worked. Once we saw how well that was working, we set up a regular size television with surround sound and hooked up the VHS tape player (which was one of those older models that is quite large compared to the small compact DVD players now). We never used it to watch regular television, except for the week of September 11, 2001. Pretty soon Larry had our big desk top computer hooked up and we added dial-up to our phone service. So we were online, which opened up a whole lot of opportunities for us. I remember how during a long movie our batteries would need a charge and Larry would have to go hook up the car to run while we watched to the end of the movie. Very primitive now, when I think back to it.

Our First Solar Panel
Our First Solar Panel

With just one small panel on a wood frame we were able to move it from one side of the house to the other. Chasing the sun, so to speak. The addition of two more panels changed our ability to do that. Now we had to have a permanent spot for them. Kind of heavy to be moving them around all day long. So Larry built a wood frame for them and put it in front of the house. Another addition was a generator. First it was a Coleman generator that is usually used by campers. It wasn’t built for this kind of use and did not last very long. In 2004, we bought two more panels, these coming from Alte Store (highly recommend!). From Backwoods Solar we purchased an Xantrex charge controller, an Xantrex inverter and a TriMetric meter. Now we were getting serious!

Solar Panels on wood frame
Solar Panels on wood frame

From Backwoods Solar, we also purchased a generator kit they had at that time (they don’t sell it any longer). It was built for off the grid systems and charged DC only and that is the one we are still using today. It has a different motor though, as that has been changed and rebuilt many times. You know how those fuel powered things are! This new motor is working better than any of the other ones we have had in the past (knock on wood…..). The key to the generator is to buy a good one, then use it as little as possible. To hook up various components of the system we needed wires, fuses and hardware. I can’t begin to explain every detail of that since I did not do the actual work. I will share more details of the various components on future posts on this page.

The Generator
The Generator

My husband did a lot of research and learning while building our system over the years. He had a friend who helped in the beginning because he had his own system, though not off the grid. He maintained and built systems for other people in our area. So he helped us in the beginning. Now my husband has passed him in his knowledge of our system. Building your own system is good for you because then you KNOW your system and usually can troubleshoot it when need be. Sometimes the advice you get from others and even professional solar installers, might not apply to your system at all. A mistake can be deadly. Take a course, read some books, view some videos. Learn, while you plan and build your system. It is an on going process since this equipment is constantly updating and changing.

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Copyright © 2016 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 2016 Kathleen G. Lupole

I write this blog based on my experience living an off-the-grid life as a modern homesteader. Some of the links you may click or products I recommend may or may not compensate me for including them in my post. Be sure to read my disclosure page if you are concerned about that.

Welcome to Solar Baby!

solar and wind on Solar Baby
The alternative energy system at Peaceful Forest homestead in April 2017.

Welcome to Solar Baby and take a peek at my husband’s and my life of living off the grid in this day of fast paced living centered around easy convenience. Larry and I have been living this way since 1999. It has not always been easy and I am not saying it is, even today. I previously began this blog back in 2008, but it was attacked and I lost all those previous posts. I believe the people who destroyed it are web designers, SEO people and hosting sites. I just don’t need them. And I am going to rebuild this site, but now with more information than before.

I have been trying over the years to share how to live with a small system. It is more affordable that way. So here I am attempting to teach the average people about solar energy. To the average person the thought of solar or wind power is way beyond their world. Yet they think nothing of throwing their hard earned money to the grid powered systems daily. Most people think you have to be making a six figure income to put one in their modest homes. I am here on Solar Baby to tell you that is not so. I know because I live with it….every day and have since July of 1999. Yes, it is a learning experience over time, but it is VERY affordable for the simple living folks like us.

3 solar panels on Solar Baby
Three solar panels powered our system for many years.

Back when I started this blog, in 2008, we lived with 185 watts of power coming from three solar panels. In the dark days of winter, we had to use our generator more often. In the summer, it was a very different story. We only had to run our generator about once a week. In case you didn’t know, we have to run the generator to charge our batteries if the sun doesn’t shine enough to do it. I call our system a “add as you can system”. Meaning that we add a component as we can afford it. It is best to buy good equipment so you have to spend some money on each one. That is better than buying cheaper equipment that doesn’t last.

Right now we have 24 used locomotive batteries that we replaced our original fork-lift truck batteries with. A charge controller is essential to any alternative system as it controls how much of a charge is going into your batteries. Our controller is the Xantrex C-60 charge controller (60 amps, 12 volt) and back in 2004 it sold for $245. at Backwoods Solar. We have never had any problem with it at all. I would highly recommend it to anyone just building their system. A meter comes in handy for letting you know how much power you have going into the system and how much is going out or what you are using. The meter we have is the Tri-Metric meter made by Bogart Engineering.

generator wagon on Solar Baby
A generator powers the system when there is no sun.

The generator we use is made especially for off the grid systems and is sold at Backwoods Solar. It is a DC only generator and has made the biggest difference in our system. When we started out we used an old car for charging the batteries and not only did the exhaust stink, the car was noisy and the gas was expensive. The generator is not as loud as most generators, but you can definitely hear it. Works great and uses less gas than a regular generator. Some day when our system is built bigger, we will use our generator less and less.

My thought is that anybody can do this. How many people complain about the cost of their electric bill every month? Just start small. Hook up one 50 watt solar panel with a small charge controller and pick up a couple of the golf cart batteries. Then hook up an automotive inverter that can be bought at Walmart or any truck stop store to your system. Now you can run your lights and television without adding to your electric bill. Do you know what the best part is? You will not be without them during a power outage! Everyone else will be in the dark, and your house will be all lit up.

Be sure to check back here on Solar Baby as I rebuild my site. I hope to cover everything needed for anyone starting a new alternative energy system with a low budget. Thanks for reading!

katlupe

Copyright © 2017 Kathleen G. Lupole
All Photographs Copyright © 201
7 Kathleen G. Lupole