Harnessing the sun’s power has become a popular trend in the last ten years and we now have a large array of options for powering our homes using solar power. Living off the grid requires a lot of work and innovation in order to reach a certain level of self-sufficiency. Things get easier if you are able to harness the power of the sun and use it for all your needs.
From passive cooling to batch solar water heaters, everything is now available when it comes to DIY solar power projects. People are beginning to understand that solar power is not as complicated as certain individuals would want you to believe. This is a technology that has become extremely accessible in our modern times and you just need a few basic skills in order to make your own project.
If you plan to use solar power for your off-grid living or if you want to cut your electricity bill in half, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
Know your needs
Solar power is considered a universal power source because it can be used in ways few people imagine. Before you start to make a shopping list for your project, you should start by assessing your needs. Do you plan to use solar power for cooking? For water heating or just use it to make enough electric power to keep you tools powered up when the grid goes down?
There are stand-alone solar lighting systems that can be used to illuminate your home and even your courtyard. Solar ovens are becoming more and more popular and there are some clever designs that you can take with you anywhere you plan to bug out. You can also rely on water heaters, hot air collectors and space heating systems if you plan to use solar power for your off-grid systems.
It all depends on what you need to do and how much electric power you would need. The best part about harnessing the power of the sun is that you are not limited when building your power system. For example, you can always add more solar panels and extend your battery bank.
Learn the language
People think that solar power is complicated because they don’t bother to read and learn the solar energy-related terms. If you plan on using solar thermal applications, you should know that both passive and active systems exist. The passive systems are designed to not involve any mechanical devices while the active systems (such as photovoltaic panels) are designed to use mechanical devices so that the energy is stored for future use. When you start reading about solar power you will discover terms like open or closed system, charge controllers and inventers and all sorts of terminologies that may be confusing at first. To know more about solar power terminology I recommend consulting the glossary the good people at Energy.gov put together.
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Asses your off-grid site
You cannot install solar panels if your roof needs to be changed in the coming years, due to various factors. You will just increase the costs if you don’t fix the roof first, not to mention the possible discomfort of being left without power for the time needed to make the fixes. You should to a thorough assessment of your off-grid property and decide where the panels will be installed. You should check if there are any local codes that regulate these types of systems. You might live off the grid but you still need to respect the law, at least until it no longer applies. You need to find the right spot for your solar panels otherwise you risk of spending much more money on repairs and maintenance.
Once you have the system installed, you should move to the next step: gathering the right info to keep your panels up and running without exterior help. After all, living off the grid requires for you to develop all the needed skills to become self-sufficient in an austere environment. If your panels get damaged due to a blizzard, wild animals or any other uncontrollable factors, you should have spare parts or materials, but also the knowledge and practical skills to replace them. This is not hard to master and it requires time and dedication to learn the ropes.
Build your own solar panels
As alternative energy is becoming more mainstream, you can find a lot of DIY materials available at your local home center or online. Solar power has gained a lot of popularity due to visionary people such as Elon Musk and people are beginning to understand the potential of this unlimited source of energy. Materials and guidance is also available through specialty sellers and many organizations offer training, news and all sort of resources to help you get started. If you plan on building your own solar panels, go with something easy, something that you are able to build and maintain without professional help.
Related reading: How to handle refrigerator food when the power goes out
Solar power is all about conservation
While it is possible to keep an entire household powered with today’s technology, solar power teaches you how to embrace conservation. An off-grid life should be driven by self-reliance and in you can’t live off the grid if you aren’t self-sufficient, unless you have a huge disposable budget. If that’s not the case, efficiency becomes the number one step to self-reliance. Every task involving solar power should be as maximized as possible and cutting energy demands will become a lifestyle. Turning off electronics and improving your home’s insulation can lower your power needs considerably. You have to think of it this way, the better you are able to conserve energy, the lower the system you need to install for your home.
Commercial system recommendations:
Here are a few recommendations for solar power kits that can be installed and used by anyone:
- Goal Zero 31901 Yeti 1250 Silver/Black XX-Large Solar Generator, Wattage 1,200. Able to power lights, tools, refrigerators, freezers and health care equipment.
- Wagan (EL2547) Solar e Power Cube 1500 Plus, Wattage 1,500. A simple all in one unit is ready to be used as soon as it is charged.
- KISAE 40400 1800-Watt Power Kit with 40-Watt Solar Panel, Wattage 1,800. Complete solar power supply, ideal for your bug-out vehicle or an RV used as a bug out shelter.
Solar power can provide your home with a reliable energy source that will not be affected if the power grid collapses. Having your own, independent power source becomes essential if you plan on living off the grid or if you are preparing for natural or man-made disasters.
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