I have finally decided to try and create a living space that is run primarily from Solar Power and Alternative energy sources as opposed to grid power. This idea hit me when one of the upper units of a rental house I have suddenly lost power for no apparent reason. After a lot of discussion with a few electricians and contractors, the power could only really be restored after we ripped out the walls and ceilings to find the source of the problem – so in my case necessity is the mother of invention. UPDATE – July 22nd: $1500 later the source of the electrical issue was an old electrical box that was arcing. Very bad. I had this fixed because I want to later tied the solar panel system into the grid – so the electrical system needs to be up to par.
So how do I plan to do this? Well, I have taken into account that converting a house to run strictly off solar and other alternative energy sources as opposed to grid power can be expensive and time consuming. I am looking for the best DIY methods that are both effective and safe. I am also going to be looking to incorporate off-the-shelf products such as solar panels, inverters, batteries, and wind generators to help make this possible. I am also not going to rule out any practical clean sources of energy, such as solar, wind, and propane.
This project is going to be done in steps and I will try to tackle the biggest pressing power consumption issues that occur in our daily lives at home. Phase 1 of the project will be to simply integrate some simple solar panels and use them to power lights in the house. Phase 2 will be to step-up the solar panel output and put bigger inverters into the house to run standard AC appliances off the battery bank. Phase 3 will be to tied the system into the grid and try to make money back from the power company during the day!
To start out, I want to install a very basic off-the-shelf solar panel kit on my garage to power some garage lights and exterior lights. This will be a very basic unit that will be used to practice for the main event. This will also serve to show how the system works and will help me to scale up to the house. Right now, here are some of the things I am considering as an initial checklist for the garage install. Since Phase I is really just about using the Solar Panels to light the garage and practice, the list will be small and simple.
PHASE I LIST OF MATERIALS: (roughly $800 -$1000 total cost)
Solar Panels – 4 sets of 45watt solar panels (purchased from Harbor Freight) $450 combined total
Power Inverter – Harbor Freight Power inverter – 700watt: $100
Solar Charge Controller – Harbor Freight or Morningstar Unit: $40-$80
2 Deep cycle Marine Batteries: $120 (walmart)
Automotive battery wiring: $60
Phase 2 will simply be the setup to get the house ready for a solar panel installation. There is a lot of prep-work that goes into getting a house ready for solar power use, and a lot of this initial equipment is expensive, so I need to break this all down into bite-sized bits.
Phase 2 Material List
Install a Grid-Tie DC/AC Inverter (Looking at a Trace 4024 inverter) (basement)
Install a Trace Ground Fault Protector (basement)
Install a Combiner Box (array) to wire more solar panels to the house and into the battery bank (basement)
Install a breaker box for the solar panels only (basement)
Install a bigger battery bank system coming off the breaker box (battery amount not yet determined – basement)
Phase 3 will consist of wiring the new solar panel setup from Phase 2 and connecting it to the current Utility Breaker Box on the house. This will tie us into the grid and allow the system to be connected to both the solar panels as well as the utility fed power lines.
Phase 3 Material List:
Utility Net Metering Setup
Digital Measuring system to capture input and output
Boost the Solar Panel system to produce somewhere in the range of 780 Watt – 1000 Watts of energy that can be run fully off the grid.
– I need to set this system up to be a 24 – 48 volt electric system
– The system should produce 2 to 4 kilowatts of usable power on a sunny day.
– Should support a home of up to 3 people.
– System needs to provide enough power for high efficiency lighting, a small TV, DVD or satellite receiver, stereo, computer, dish washer, kitchen appliances including a microwave, hand-held power tools and a 120 volt AC or DC well water pump, and a small DC refrigerator.
Energy Use Considerations:
1) Lighting: I am going to install sky-lights and larger picture windows throughout the house to help light the home better throughout the day. At night, DC Lighting will be used initially, and will be installed into each room from the ceiling as primary light source. 5 rooms of the unit will need to be lit.
2) Power inverter system will be needed to convert DC power to AC power in order to run two computers, wireless internet, television, a radio, kitchen appliances, a microwave, and a dishwasher. Eventually this needs to be upgraded to run the furnace and washer and dryer as well.
3) Refrigerator – considering the purchase of a propane or solar powered refrigerator.
4) Cooking – convert the gas stove into a propane stove. Oven will not be used in the unit. Could investigate the use of a propane oven if needed.
5) Air Conditioning: I have found some really cool methods for creating a solar evaporative swamp cooler – so I want to try that, but that is not ideal. I do not have central air, so I will install “whole house fans” and I am also looking into purchasing some of those solar powered attic fans to keep air-flow moving in the home. Solar Power Air Conditioning units exist and are an option, but they are very expensive.
6) Heating: Right now it is the summer time, so I am not worried about heating the house. However I live in MI, so I have to figure this out soon because it gets really cold here. I am going to start with a system to heat my water using solar energy. There are also a lot of good DIY solar heater instructions using a solar heated air system I want to try.
7) Long term goal will be to run each outlet in the house off the battery bank and inverter system and have it powered from solar, wind, and grid power. Longer term will be to dump power back into the grid and make money off it.
UPDATE: FUTURE DESIGN OVERVIEW PLANS:
I want to purchase 40 100-watt solar panels and attache them to, the roof of the house. Ultimately I want to achieve a 24-48 volt system. I want to be able to divid the solar panels into array of 4 sections, each having 4-6 24V module pairs, depending on the size of that section of the roof. The wires from each module pair will run into a junction box for that section, and from the junction boxes down to the inverter setup that I hope to install in the basement. The wires from the 4 sections will then go through a ground fault interrupter, through a set of DC breakers and, then finally to the battery bank. I want to eventually install two of the Trace inversters, and so I will need to install 2 more DC breakers, one per inverter between the inverters and battery bank. The AC input from the power grid will connect to the inverter, as well as the AC output to the house loads. The inverter will manage the power from both sources. This will be done so that based on different power demand loads, power can be pulled from the panels or the grid to account for the difference. If the loads are not fully using the solar power, the extra juice will be dumped inot the grid, running the meter backwards – and paying me back.
So far that is the gameplan, and this is the first entry to help chronical the alternative power house experiment. I am going to start Phase I of the project by using some really simple solar panels and hooking up lights, a small TV, and a computer to the system. I already have 4 sets of the 45watt solar panel kits form Harbor Freight and these should work out nicely for the lights in the house. I will begin installing this system during the month of July over the next few weeks.
July 2nd, 2010 – purchased Four (4) 45watt solar panel kits from Harbor Freight
July 12th, 2010 – purchased two deep cycle marine batteries and created a make-shift containment box
July13th, 2010 – assembled and installed two of the kits and mounted on back roof. Connected them to the deep cycle batteries. Connected light and the house now has solar powered lights in the kitchen and bathroom. Temporary testing installation only – not permanent, but could easily be done for cabin’s sheds, or garage use.
July 19th – ordered a basic solar charge controller for use with the basic solar panel kit to be used in the garage install.
July 22nd – had to fix the power meters on the house, update the boxes, and have the wiring checked due to a short.
July 29th – received the solar charge controller.
August 7-8th, 2010: Moved a bunch of stuff in the garage and organized a place that I could use to mount my solar panel conversion equipment and battery bank. Drew diagrams for the simple garage solar power system. (will add to blog)
August 21st -22nd- installed a basic roof mount system on my garage for the solar panels to mount onto. Attached two sets of the solar panels to the garage. (I need to update this blog with photos). Now I need to run the wiring down into the garage and install the breaker box.