Solar power is usually the best choice when you are considering building your own energy production system on a budget because of affordability, simplicity, stackability, and reliability.
This post is module 2 of the 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 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.
If you would like to be notified when each module of this series is released just fill out the information below.
When it comes to small off-grid residential energy production systems, there are three realistic choices. You can go with solar, wind or hydro. All of these choices are good and each has specific advantages, but solar is the one to go with if you’re a beginner and you’re on a small budget.
Wind is more expensive, by around 35% more expensive and has a substantially higher degree of difficulty because of the installation process.
Hydro can be about the same price with only a slightly lower degree of difficulty, but it requires a year-round creek in close proximity to your living structure.
Solar on the other hand is the least expensive of the three because large amounts of corporate and government money have been poured into decades of research and development. Solar is also fairly simple for the DIY’er to install with some guidance. Solar is also the easiest to expand if your energy needs grow.
When we went solar we started with a small Harbor Freight system that served us well for years and was super easy to expand as our needs grew. What was great about that system was that it was already designed. There was no work in trying to figure out what kind or size components to get. It was all predesigned and ready to basically plug-n-play.
The downside to purchasing one-size-fits-all predesigned systems is that you have to adjust your energy consumption to the system as opposed to designing the system around your energy needs.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As I said, my wife and I started that way but we started living on our off-grid land without any electricity, so when we purchase our first 45-watt predesigned system it allowed us to have light at night. We went from having no electricity to having a little and it was a step forward for us.
I have since designed other solar systems in a piecemeal style. It wasn’t that hard with some research I was able to size all the components of the system based on energy needs and/or budget. I’m writing this blog series to guide you through the process of designing and installing your own small solar system.
Check out this 600-watt system. Click the image below
The most affordable way to go solar is to build a 12-volt DC system without an inverter. This means you won’t be able to use the standard AC appliances. Keep in mind the larger the system gets you reach a point of diminishing returns with this strategy.
If you want to run a lot of major appliances like a fridge, washer/dryer, air conditioner, etc. your system will get to a size where it makes more sense to go with an inverted system so you can use standard AC appliances.
But this blog series is for the minimalist off-gridder who may just want enough power to run some lights, charge some phones and run a computer/laptop and maybe a fridge.
For the beginner, simplicity can go a long way. If the system is simple it will be easier to install, easier to source parts and equipment, and easier to maintain. This will in total make it easier for you to reach your goal of self-sufficiency in an off-grid life.
Some good practical examples of the simplicity of a fully 12-volt system are:
You’ll be able to use most of the components from vehicles, boats, campers, RVs, motorcycles, well you get what I mean. If it runs on a 12-volt battery you’ll be able to use it.
If you want some music in your Tiny home you can install a car stereo and speakers. If you want a water pump to pump water to a sink from a tank you can use a water pump from a boat, RV, or camper. You can make your own light fixtures from vehicle tail lights. There are many possibilities.
12-volt solar systems are the easiest to stack, meaning, if you decide you want to add more appliances, thus consume more electricity, then adding to your solar system is easily done. Just add another panel our a battery or both. It’s very straight forward.
Note: if you exceed the rating for your charge controller you will need to upgrade it.
Because of the long history of solar panels and of 12-volt systems they are without a doubt the most reliable.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to build your own 12-volt solar system then sign up below to be notified whenever I publish the next article in This blog series I’m “How to build your own solar system – For the beginner on a small budget”
If you missed part one of this series click it below.