Off-grid Home: 6 Steps to Solar Self-sufficiency
Are you interested in taking your home off-grid? Want to learn more about putting together your own solar power system? You’re not alone. The market for DIY solar power has gone through the roof and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
At first glance, putting together a solar power system for your property may seem daunting. It isn’t. Like anything, if you break it down into logical steps, anyone can build their very own DIY solar power system.
If you can’t, there are lots of suppliers out there who can help!
Designing Your Own Off-grid Solar Power System
We have broken the process down into six logical steps. Each provides the foundations for the next and by the end of the process, you should have a fully functioning off-grid solar power system ready to deliver renewable energy to your home.
Those six steps are:
- Assess your power requirements
- Select the system type you want to build
- Calculate the size and number of solar panels needed
- Calculate battery storage requirements
- Select the ancillary equipment for the system
- Install it
1. Assess Your Power Requirements
Before you do anything else, you need to assess how much power you need to generate. That begins by looking at where you’re planning to install your off-grid solar power system and how you’ll use it.
Is it for your main home? Is it for a holiday home? How many people will be using power at once? What appliances will need energy?
Take a minute to write down the answers to those questions above. You can then use them as part of the specification process. Then use this off-grid solar calculator. It will give you an accurate idea of just how much energy you’ll need to generate and store.
2. Select the System Type You Want to Build
There are several main types of solar power system including DC, AC, AC hybrid and AC with generator backup. Each provides green energy for slightly different situations and each has strengths and weaknesses.
- A DC solar system is primarily for holiday homes, outbuildings and smaller installations with low power requirements.
- An AC solar system is capable of powering more appliances and handling higher energy requirements. They are often used in off-grid homes and larger installations.
- You can also build a hybrid mix of AC and DC systems that can balance both the strengths and weaknesses of individual AC and DC setups.
- AC hybrid systems include secondary power generation from a wind turbine. It combines solar panels for sunny days and a turbine for windy days. These systems are useful in many situations where energy is in constant demand.
- AC with generator backup is an AC solar system with a diesel generator that can power the batteries when there is no sun.
Our Most Popular Off-grid Solar Kits for Homes
3. Calculate the Size and Number of Solar Panels Needed
The solar energy calculator you used above is a good measure of the amount of energy you need to generate to live successfully off-grid. As this is the single most important decision you’ll be making, it’s worth giving it a lot of thought.
Consider roof or installation position, hours of daylight per day, average power requirement throughout the year, whether you need to generate energy in winter as well as spring and summer.
Use a worst case scenario calculation. Assess the minimum sun hours per day for your part of the world and calculate your solar panel requirements based on that.
4. Calculate Battery Storage Requirements
Once you know how you’re planning to use your off-grid solar power system and what type of system you’re going to have, you need to build enough storage so the energy you generate doesn’t go to waste. That’s where your battery bank comes in.
First, consider the use of the off-grid solar power system. Will it be used every day? Will you only need energy at weekends or during holidays? Will you require a steady flow of power to maintain appliances?
Smaller systems can use 12V battery banks but holiday homes and permanent residences may need 24V or 48V banks to be able to supply enough energy to run the property.
Then there’s capacity. Your battery bank needs to exceed the generative potential of your solar panels by around 10-15%. This is to ensure as little energy as possible is wasted.
5. Select the Ancillary Equipment for the System
A fully operational off-grid solar power system is made up of a series of components. A typical system comprises:
- Solar panels
- Power inverter
- Charge controller
- Cables, connections, router and ancillary equipment
As we have covered solar panels and batteries, let’s quickly cover power inverters and charge controllers.
A power inverter converts AC power to DC or vice versa. As household appliances use AC power, a system that generates DC power will need to convert it to AC to be usable. That’s the job of the power inverter.
A charge controller manages the energy throughout the system. It ensures batteries are not overcharged or drained too much. It also prevents the system reversing current which can damage the system.
Then there are the roof or ground mounts, cables, connections and router for remote management. All need to be included in your off-grid solar power system to make it work. Fortunately, most solar energy kits include all these parts as standard!
6. Installing Your Off-grid Solar Power System
With the planning and purchasing out of the way, it’s now time to set it all up. Installation of an off-grid solar power system is very straightforward. Many kits will come with full instructions and a competent DIY’er could perform the installation with no problem.
Ground mounted solar panels are the easiest to install but also take up garden space. Roof mounts are more challenging but use otherwise dead space on the roof. There is no ‘best’ option, only the option that works best for your situation.
We would suggest having it signed off by a qualified electrician before you use it though. Just in case!
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