This is module 3 of my blog series “How to build your own solar system – For the beginner on a small budget”
This series is for the person who wants to move off-grid in a small living space such as a cabin, tiny home, RV, Skoolie, camper or truck camper, etc. and, as a novice without a lot of money, wants to produce their own electricity through a small and simple solar system that is easy to install, use, and maintain.
If this describes you, then follow along as I take you through the basics of solar energy in a step by step fashion and walk you through the basic fundamentals, design, and installation process in a simple and easy to follow format, designed specifically for the beginner. My goal is to show you how to design and install a solar system that meets your basic living needs in an off-grid lifestyle.
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Is building my own solar system dangerous?
Building a solar system does involve electricity so, particular parts of the job can be dangerous. That being said this blog series is a description of and a tutorial for a simple 12 volt DC system. There are very minimal risks involved in building this system. That’s one of the reasons this solar system is perfect for the beginner with little to no experience.
The dangerous aspects of a solar system mostly involve the components dealing with AC electricity. Don’t get me wrong DC electricity can be dangerous too, but not at the levels or in the ways we will be handling it (we will be discussing the differences between DC and AC electricity in the next module). Even if you want to add a small inverter to this system, so you have use of a small amount of AC electricity, just follow the step by step instructions to avoid any danger.
This simple beginner level solar system does not involve a grid-tie component. If you want to use a grid-tie system, then the solar system described in this blog series is not the system for you and you should consider the help of a professional. Installing a grid-tie system can expose you to deadly electrical currents.
There could be some inherent risk involved in the installation of a solar array on a roof, but this has nothing to do with electricity. Falling off a roof or a ladder is dangerous, but if you are comfortable on a roof or ladder then there should be no concern. If you plan to do a ground-mounted array instead of a roof-mounted array then you don’t even have to worry about the heights. Just keep in mind, you should always use caution when working at elevated heights.
Certain types of batteries can be dangerous if the conditions are not favorable to the specific battery you are using. In the system we are going to be building I recommend AGM batteries. AGM batteries can have a potential for dangerous overheating if not charged correctly, but with the right charge controller the risk is nearly zero, and in a later module I will be telling you exactly which type of controller you should be using.
I will be highlighting in red any areas where caution should be used and will describe in detail safe procedures for the installation.
I’ve included this information to give the beginner complete confidence in their ability to safely build their own small solar system.
Is building my own solar system difficult?
For the construction side of this project, building this system does involve some use of basic tools like drill guns, wrenches, wire strippers, screwdrivers, and a hand saw or circular saw. The skills needed to do the activities in this installation are very basic and can be easily accomplished by most. It is important to note that you will need to be able to lift about 40 lbs. or have help from someone who can.
As far as the logistics of the project, it is important that you be able to visualize the process in a step by step fashion and follow along with the chronological process laid out in this blog series.
When it comes to the electrical portion of the project you might be a little anxious about doing something wrong and catastrophically ruining the equipment. Let me assure you, that is a difficult thing to do on a purely 12-volt system. It would almost have to be an intentional act of sabotage to cause catastrophic damage. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a professional level skill requirement, the degree of difficulty for this project will be around a 4 with the help of this blog series.
I would like at this time to talk a little bit about one of the philosophical aspects of living off-grid and being self-reliant. We all come into this world completely helpless and have to rely on others for our survival.
As we grow we learn skills that allow us more and more independence. We learn to walk and talk and feed ourselves. We learn how the world works and how to interact with others.
We then are given an education and are expected to specialize in certain skill sets to allow us to contribute to others and thereby earn a living. At this point, something begins to change for most people. They start to see themselves as educated or trained as if it has happened and is done. I think this is a mistake.
We should always be learning and pushing ourselves to learn new things. We should dare to try things we know will be hard. This is the pursuit of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
For some people, this will be a very challenging project and for others, it won’t be that hard at all. For those of you who might think you’re biting off more than you can chew I want to encourage you to just keep taking bites. One bite at a time is the only way to eat an elephant. When it’s all said and done you might find that you’ve learned a lot more about yourself than you did about solar power.