Off-grid living refers to the practice of living independently from the traditional power grid by generating one’s own electricity, water, and other necessities. This can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as solar power, wind power, hydropower, and even alternative energy solutions like biomass or geothermal.
One of the main benefits of off-grid living is the ability to be self-sufficient and not rely on the power grid or other public utilities. This can be especially appealing for those who live in remote or rural areas where access to the power grid is limited. Additionally, off-grid living can also be a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lifestyle choice, as it reduces the dependence on fossil fuels and reduces the carbon footprint.
However, off-grid living also has its challenges. It can be costly to set up and maintain an off-grid system, and it requires a significant level of knowledge and expertise to install and maintain the system. Additionally, off-grid living often means living with limited resources and without the luxury of modern conveniences such as air conditioning, dishwashers, or other high-energy-consuming appliances.
In order to successfully live off-grid, it’s important to carefully plan and design the system. It’s also important to be aware of local regulations, as there may be legal restrictions or permit requirements for installing off-grid systems.
In conclusion, off-grid living is the practice of living independently from the traditional power grid by generating one’s own electricity, water, and other necessities. This can be achieved through a variety of methods such as solar power, wind power, hydropower, and alternative energy solutions. Living off-grid offers the benefits of self-sufficiency and sustainability but also comes with its own set of challenges like cost, maintenance, and limited resources. It is important to plan and design the system accordingly and be aware of local regulations.
Hurricane Ian’s catastrophic winds and flooding are likely to bring long-lasting power outages to large parts of Florida. The storm is the latest in a line of hurricanes and extreme heat and cold events that have knocked out power to millions of Americans in recent years for days at a time.
In many disasters- and outage-prone areas, people are starting to ask whether investing in rooftop solar and battery storage systems can keep the lights on and the air conditioner running when the power grid can’t.
When the grid goes down, most solar systems that lack a battery will also shut down. But with batteries, a home can disconnect from the grid. Each day, the sun powers the home and charges up the batteries, which provide power through the night.
Our team at Berkeley Lab explored what it would take for homes and commercial buildings to ride out long power outages, of three days or more, with solar and batteries.
How much can solar + storage do?
For a new report, we modeled a generic power outage for every county in the U.S., testing whether a rooftop solar system combined with a 10- or 30-kilowatt-hour battery could power critical loads, like refrigeration, lighting, internet service, and well pumps; if it could go further and also power heating and air conditioning; or if it could even power a whole home.
To put that into perspective, the most popular battery on the market, the Tesla Powerwall, has just over 13 kWh of storage.
In general, we found that even a modest system of solar plus one battery can power critical loads in a home for days at a time, practically anywhere in the country.
But our maps show that providing backup for cooling and heat can be a challenge, though not an insurmountable one. Homes in the Southeast and Pacific Northwest often have power-hogging electric resistance heaters, exceeding the capability of solar and storage during winter outages. Homes with efficient heat pumps performed better. Summer air conditioning load can be heavy in the Southwest, making it harder to meet all cooling needs with solar and storage in a summer blackout.
Larger solar and battery systems can help, but meeting demand during outages still depends on the weather, how energy efficient the home is, and other factors. For example, simple thermostat adjustments during power outages reduce heating and cooling needs and allow solar with storage to maintain backup power over longer periods.
The ability to power commercial buildings varies widely, depending on the building type. Schools and big-box retail stores, with sufficient roof space for solar relative to building power demand, fare much better than multistory, energy-intensive buildings like hospitals.
How solar would have handled 10 past disasters
We also looked at 10 real-world outage events from 2017 to 2020, including hurricanes, wildfires, and storms, and modeled building performance for specific locations and real weather patterns during and after the outages.
We found that in seven of the outages, most homes would have been able to maintain critical loads plus heating and cooling using solar with 30 kWh of storage, or just over two Powerwalls.
But the weather around the outage can have a big impact, especially for hurricanes. AfterHurricane Florenceknocked out power in North Carolina in 2018, cloudy skies hung around for three days, dimming or even stopping solar panels’ output.
Hurricane Harvey, on the other hand, slammed the Texas coast in August 2017 but moved on to cause widespread damage elsewhere in Texas. The skies over Corpus Christi cleared even as it took a week or more to get power restored. Solar and storage would have been a big help in that case, providing virtually all power needs for a typical single-family home, once the skies cleared.
Similarly, we found solar can do well in less cloudy events, like wildfire prevention shutoffs in California, or after the 2020 derecho windstorm in Iowa.
The heat source in a home is also a key factor. In a five-to-10-day outage following an ice storm in Oklahoma in 2020, we found that solar plus a 30-kWh battery could have supplied nearly all the critical power and heat needed for homes with natural gas heaters or heat pumps. But homes with electric resistance heating would have fallen short.
In Texas, over half of the homes areheated with electricity, primarily resistance heaters. Energy Star-rated heat pumps – which provide both heating and cooling – usehalf as much electricityper unit of heat output as electric resistance heaters and are also more efficient at cooling than the average new air conditioner. Converting older resistance heaters to new heat pumps can not only save money and reduce peak demand but also increase resilience during outages.
New forms of backup
Setting up solar and storage to provide backup power in a home or building takes extra work and it costs more – just one Powerwall can runfrom US$12,000 to $16,500for a full system installation, before incentives and taxes. That’s as much as a fair-sized solar system. Nevertheless, a growing number of homeowners are installing both.
Over 90%of new solar installations in Hawaii in 2021 were paired with batteries after a regulation change. Now, these distributed power plants arehelping power the gridas coal plants are retired.
California hasover 1.5 millionrooftop solar systems. A growing number of customers are retrofitting batteries on their systems, or adding new solar plus storage, in part because utilities have resorted to “public safety power shutoffs” to lower the risk of wildfires sparked by power lines during dry, windy days.
And new forms of backup power are emerging, especially from electric cars. Ford is partnering with SunRun to combine its new F150 Lightning electric pickup truck with solar and a two-way charger that canuse the truck’s batteryto power a house. The standard version of the truck comes with a 98-kWh battery, the equivalent of more than seven Tesla Powerwall stationary batteries.
Critical power for critical services
A fire station in Puerto Rico offers a glimpse of what solar and storage can do. After Hurricane Mariacut power for monthsin 2017, over 40,000 solar systems were installed on the island, often paired with battery storage. One of those is at the fire station in the town of Guánica, which had been unable to receive emergency calls in previous outages.
When Hurricane Fiona’s wind and flooding again knocked out power to most of Puerto Rico in September 2022, the fire station was still operating.
“The solar system isworking beautifully!” Sgt. Luis Saez told Canary Media the day after Fiona knocked out power. “We did not lose power all throughout the hurricane.”
The angle at which a solar panel faces the sun determines how much energy it will receive.
The sun provides a huge amount of energy as its rays touch the Earth’s surface. But the quantity of energy that you can harness is another matter. The efficiency of solar cells, their arrangement, and the amount of sunlight they receive all affect their output. Before deciding whether solar panels are a good choice to save you money, determine if you can fully power your home with solar panel electricity.
Determine your solar panels’ efficiency rate. The amount of energy that can be taken in and converted into electrical energy per solar panel is its efficiency. For photovoltaic solar cells, efficiency can reach about 19 percent. But for concentrated photovoltaic cell panels or CPV panels, the efficiency can exceed 40 percent. Whether you are creating your own panels or purchasing pre-made panels, determine the efficiency per cell of the panels you plan to install. Keep in mind when choosing what type of panels to use that CPV panels usually require more work to set up, and more land, as they are designed to concentrate sunlight on a specific panel.
Size the area for your solar panels. Determine how many panels can fit on your designated area while taking into account the terrain, local construction laws, and other spacing issues. Solar panels come in several types and dimensions but, as an example, 100-200W solar panels usually measure 1 square meter in size.
Calculate the energy per acre. On average, 1 square meter of solar panels directly exposed to sunlight will receive about 1-kilowatt hour (kW/h) of energy per hour for the six hours it is exposed to effective sunlight, or 6-kilowatt hours of solar energy a day. One acre is approximately 4,046 square meters, so if you have an acre’s worth of solar cells, then you will receive about 4,046 kilowatt hours of electricity each hour, or 24,276-kilowatt hours a day.
Multiply the energy you receive by the efficiency of your solar panels to discover how much usable electricity you can yield. If your solar panels are 19 percent efficient and you receive 24,276 kilowatt hours a day of solar energy, then you will receive about 4,612-kilowatt hours of usable electricity through solar energy.
Subtract your maximum potential energy needs from the amount of energy being produced. You can find out how much energy you use by looking at a past electric bill or calling up the company that services your electricity directly. But for a general idea, the average American family uses about 920-kilowatt hours of electricity per month. So if you produced approximately 4,612-kilowatt hours of usable electricity per day, you would produce enough energy in a day to run four average households for a month.
The standard formula for rating solar panels looks at the amount of power the unit produces in full sunlight at 77 degrees Fahrenheit. However, many homeowners in northern latitudes might only reach that optimal standard for solar collection a few days per year. Suppose you live in an area where sunlight is weakened by such factors as inclement weather and the earth’s tilt, yet wish to take as full advantage of solar power as possible. In that case, you need solar panels that are optimized for better efficiency under substandard conditions.
Of the three basic solar panel types–monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous–monocrystalline is the most efficient in collecting solar energy and therefore somewhat more effective in regions with low sunlight. As the name suggests, they are made from a single large silicon crystal cut from an ingot. Polycrystalline panels use many small crystals to form the collection surface, while amorphous, or thin film, solar panels consist of silicon particles applied to the surface of large plates. Monocrystalline panels, while more efficient, are only slightly so. They are also the most expensive of the three types.
Some manufacturers, including industry leader Sanyo technologies, have combined monocrystalline and amorphous thin film to produce a hybrid panel that Sanyo has dubbed Heterojunction with an Intrinsic Thin Layer (HIT). According to Sanyo’s marketing literature, these hybrid panels “boast high conversion efficiency ranging from 15.3 to 16.4, excellent temperature characteristics, and considerable output under diffuse and low light conditions.” Sanyo’s 190-watt photovoltaic (PV) module has earned a 17.4 percent efficiency rating, well above the industry average of 12 percent.
Industry experts consider solar panels with a collection capacity of greater than 100 watts to be high-powered. The wattage of a panel describes the amount of power the panel can produce in full sunlight at 77 F. The selection of high-powered panels compatible with the typical household 12-volt system dwindles as the wattage soars upward because the highest powered panels are designed for grid-tie systems rather than stand-alone systems, which deposit the power in a battery storage bank. You must also keep in mind that two panels with lower wattage will add up to the same collection capacity and be less expensive. In the case of solar panels, bigger does not automatically equate to better.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Efficiency & Renewable Energy Program (EERE), established to develop innovations in the solar panel field, is working to optimize solar collector efficiency. One example is an experiment using a MicroDish composed of a concentration of Spectrolab solar cells–ultra-high-efficiency cells–in which EERE tested the use of mirrors designed to multiply the sun’s power. This application is intended “to substantially increase the viability of PV for cost-competitive applications.”
On these hot summer days, the sun shines directly on your roof and has a heating effect that permeates into your home. Is it true that solar panels can cool your home? Absolutely!
A study conducted by the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering completed tests with various solar panel layouts and tested roof temperatures with thermal imaging.
Solar Installation in Vancouver. Roof Thermal Imaging & Cooling effect!
Researchers discovered that exterior roof temperatures were 5 degrees Fahrenheit cooler with solar panels, as the panels blocked direct sunlight from hitting the roof. Also, the solar panels contributed to lowering roof temperatures because the panels themselves were reflecting the sun’s heat away from the building. Overall, the solar panels“reduced the amount of heat reaching the roof by about 38%!”
In addition to cooling your home during the Summer, solar panels also add an insulation value in the Winter by helping to keep warm air inside your home. How great is that? These factors alone make your home more energy-efficient and are estimated to provide a 5% payback of the solar panel system cost!
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A typical solar system has a charge controller situated between the solar panels and the battery. But is it that necessary? Can you connect solar panels directly to a battery? What would happen if you do?
A solar panel generates up to 20 volts, which is higher than the 12 volts required by a battery. Connecting the solar panels directly to the battery could overcharge and damage the battery.
What Happens If You Connect Solar Panels Directly To A Battery?
When sunlight hits the cells on a solar panel, it produces a chemical reaction and generates direct current (DC). The solar panel transmits this current into the battery. The current is used to charge the battery and can also be used to run appliances and other devices.
If the solar panel is directly connected to the battery, all of the currents are placed in the battery. A 12V battery needs only 12 volts, at most 14.4.V to charge. A 12V solar panel produces up to 20V.
If you put 20 volts in a 12-volt battery, it will overcharge. This is going to damage the battery and whatever device or appliance is connected to it.
By installing a charge controller like the Renogy 30A Charge Controller, this can be avoided. You place the charge controller between the solar panels and the battery, and it will regulate the current flowing into the system.
Why A Charge Controller Is Needed To Connect Batteries To Solar Panels
A charge controller manages the electrical current going into the battery, keeping it at a safe level. This device ensures the battery charges at the optimum level without the risk of overheating or overcharging. Some of the most important features of a charge controller are the following.
Display: the controller should display the solar panel amps, battery bank voltage, and charge level.
Customizable lighting control: for simplified operation
Auto low voltage connect / disconnect: turns on when the battery is charged and turns off when power is low
Multistate Charging: adjusts the battery power according to the battery’s charge level for optimum performance.
The battery installation depends on the solar panel system design. A lot of home solar panel systems today come with an inverter that simplifies battery configuration. If your system does not come with battery expansion capability, you have to replace the inverter.
Lead-acid batteries are the most widely and with good reason. Their electrical storage capacity is large and they discharge fast. However, lead-acid battery levels should not drop below 50% as it will shorten the lifespan.
Lead-acid batteries often have 2 V voltage and are made up of cells that generate the required power. In solar power batteries, that is 12 volts. These are called deep cycle batteries because they charge during the day and are discharged at night.
Sot the best way to avoid this is to install a charge controller. The controller will protect the battery and ensure only the right amount of current goes into the system. The following step-by-step guide shows you how it is done.
How To Connect A Charge Controller To A Battery And Solar Panel
Instead of connecting a battery directly to a solar panel, you should install a charge controller between the battery and the solar panel.The solar panel will charge the battery with current but the controller ensures only a safe amount goes into it. The following steps show how it is done.
Required Tools And Materials
Inverter (if you will use AC powered appliances)
Cable, wires, and connectors (these should be included in your solar panel kit)
Eye protection (goggles are recommended when working with lead-acid batteries)
Connect the charge controller to the lead battery.
Link the lead battery into the inverter.
Connect the charge controller to the solar panels.
To run, use the inverter to convert DC to AC, Clamp to the battery and turn the inverter on.
Step By Step Instructions
1.Prepare all the tools and materials. Set up the solar panel so you can link them to the main connector later on. Layout the panels first. Depending on your setup, an extension cord may or may not be required.
The wires should be covered for protection. If the battery is not yet charged, do this first. It’s a good idea to charge the battery while you set up the solar panels to save time. Make certain the battery’s negative terminal is on one side and the positive terminal on the other.
If your battery isalready parallel, proceed to step 3. If not, cut the cables and make some jumpers. The bigger the inverter, the longer the cable, but chances are your solar panel already has cables ready.
2.Hook up the charge controller onto the lead battery.There should be a wire on the controller that you can hook up or clamp onto the battery. The inverter must be turned off first. If the controller is waterproof you can position it anywhere. If it isn’t, make sure it is in a secure location.
Charge controllers come with digital displays for easy access to your system, so the best place to install them is in your RV. When installed properly, you can use the controller to monitor the energy situation in your RV.
3.Hook up the lead battery to the solar inverter. The battery can be configured parallel to the other batteries in the system. To add more batteries, connect them with cables. Make sure the cables are linked to the proper terminals.
4. Link the battery controller to the solarpanel. Run the line from the panel to the controller and it should be set. Depending on your setup, an extension cord may be required to connect the components.
Tips And Warnings
To test the system, turn on the inverter to convert DC to AC. Clamp to the battery and then activate the inverter. If everything is in order the system should run fine. Try different devices and check for signs of problems. Here are some more suggestions:
If you already bought a solar kit, follow the instructions given. Keep in mind that some of the steps in your solar panel kit may differ slightly. If you don’t want to manually put the whole thing together, look for solar panel system kits that require very little setup.
Double-check the wiring and cables. Make certain the connectors are tight and in the proper locations.
Run a test first to see if it works. Keep an eye on the charge controller and check if it’s controlling the voltage.
If the system does not run, check the wiring or if there is a loose screw somewhere. It is also possible the batteries are not installed correctly so look there first.
Your solar system kit comes with a manual and troubleshooting guide so use that as a reference.
How Long Does A Solar Panel Take To Charge A 12V Battery?
The charging time depends on thesolar panel watt capacityand how much sunlight is available. It also depends on the battery and how much power is required.
A 12V 100ah battery holds up to 1200 watts. A 100-watt solar panel can produce 600 watts with six hours of sunlight. So if the weather is ideal, a 100W solar panel can recharge a 12V 100ah battery in two days.
That assumes the two days have full sunlight so the solar panel can produce 100 watts for six hours. In reality, this can only happen under the most ideal situations. Passing clouds, shading, and other factors affect solar power output. if the conditions are not good, it might take 3 days or so to recharge the battery.
What Are The Parts Of A Solar Power System?
Now, let’s take a look at the 4 main components: the solar panels, the charge controller, the inverter, and the battery. The following information makes it clear why you should never connect the batteries directly to a solar panel unless it runs off DC power.
Solar Panel. These are the most recognizable parts of a solar system. Also called solar stations or solar cells, these are available in different configurations. The most popular solar panels are those with 36 cells, capable of producing 18 to 21 volts.
Inverter. Solar panels produce direct current (DC) which is then stored in the battery. To use this power for home appliances, you need an inverter to convert it into an alternating current (AC). The inverter must be joined to the battery before it is connected to other AC appliances or devices.
Your solar battery generates 12-volt power, but the inverter changes this into 120 volts, making it usable and compatible with electrical devices. Inverters come in various forms and some are bundled with portable solar system kits.
Battery. The battery serves as the repository of all the energy that the solar panel produces. For RVs and home use, a12V, deep cycle batteryis recommended. These batteries can handle several discharges, which is what you’ll be needing. Without the battery, there is nowhere to store all the power the solar panel generates.
Solar Charge Controller. A battery charge controller acts as a voltage regulator for your solar power system. Think of the voltage regulator that you use with your computer and you get an idea of what a batter charge controller does.
Connecting solar panels to the battery is a simple, straightforward process, provided you know the steps. A lot of the mistakes people make is not taking the time to learn how a solar panel system works with batteries. By understanding the process you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble.
And with homeowners increasingly working from home, and therefore using more energy during the day, many are looking at installing panels to cut costs, and even earn from the energy they generate.
Thomas Newby, chief executive of Leeds-based renewable energy company egg, says they received the same number of inquiries in the first nine days of this month as they did in the whole of November.
“Many consumers are still on fixed deals but which will likely come to an end shortly, so I expect we may see a further increase in demand in the coming year,” he says.
What it costs
Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity. Stronger sunlight creates more electricity, which can then either be used in your home or exported to the national grid.
But installing them comes at a cost. The average bill reaches almost £5,000 and rising labor bills and shortages of photovoltaic panels mean prices are going up.
Domestic systems are generally made up of between 10 and 15 panels, each of which generates between 200W and 350W of energy, according to theEnergySaving Trust, a charity promoting energy efficiency. The more panels on the roof, the higher the installation cost but also the potential for more energy.
The average price for an installation of a 3.5kW system is £4,800, including labor. This tends to be about 12 panels.
“This is the average size for domestic systems in the UK,” says Brian Horne, senior insight and analytics consultant at the Energy Saving Trust. “The amount you pay for installation will be influenced by the size of the system, and will also be affected by any difficulty with access to your roof.”
This price does not include the cost of a battery, which allows solar energy to be stored for use at a later time. They range between £1,200 and £6,000, according toGreenMatch, which compares green energy products.
Although prices for solar systems have come down over the last decade, the increased cost of labor as well as the shortage inpanels from Chinarecently, has sent costs on the way back up, says Newby. “That’s as a result of some increase in material prices but, more generally, it is labor. That’s a big part of the job.”
Planning and permissions
The ideal roof for solar panels is south-facing. East- or west-facing roofs yield up to 20% less energy; north-facing ones are the least productive anddeemed to be impractical in the UK.
For a 3.5kW system, you need room for 15 to 20 sq meters of panels. The best results will be achieved from a roof angled at 30 degrees. Most UK roofs are between 30 and 45 degrees, according to consumer group Which?.
Solar panels are classed as permitted developments so in most cases will not require planning permission. However, if you live in a listed building or a conservation area, there may be restrictions. It is best to contact your local council to be absolutely clear.
When solar panels are to be installed, the company which brings electricity to your home – the Distribution Network Operator (DNO) – must be informed. The Energy Networks Association has an online tool that, by entering your postcode, will tell you which company operates in your area.
If a solar system is above a certain size, prior permission is needed from the DNO and can take up to three months to obtain, according to Newby. After the preparation for putting the system in place is complete, installing the panels can take one to two days.
Whether you want to charge your electric vehicle at home, at work, or at a public station, one thing is essential: the outlet of the charging station has to match the outlet of your car. More precisely, the cable that connects the charging station with your vehicle has to have the right plug on both ends. Makes sense, right? Four types of plugs exist, two for alternating current (AC) which allow charging up to 43 kW, and two for direct current (DC) which allows fast-charging up to 350 kW.
Let’s start with AC. There are two types of AC plugs:
Type 1 is a single-phase plug and is standard for EVs from America and Asia. It allows you to charge your car at a speed of up to 7.4 kW, depending on the charging power of your car and grid capability.
Type 2 plugs are triple-phase plugs because they have three additional wires to let current run through. So naturally, they can charge your car faster. At home, the highest charging power rate is 22 kW, while public charging stations can have a charging power up to 43 kW, again depending on the charging power of your car and grid capability.
Two types of plugs exist for DC charging:
CHAdeMO: This quick charging system was developed in Japan, and allows for very high charging capacities as well as bidirectional charging. Currently, Asian car manufacturers are leading the way in offering electric cars that are compatible with a CHAdeMO plug. It allows charging up to 100 kW.
CCS: The CCS plug is an enhanced version of the Type 2 plug, with two additional power contacts for the purposes of quick charging. It supports AC and DC charging. It allows charging at a speed of up to 350 kW.
In Europe, the type 2 AC charger, a triple-phase plug, is the standard and most charging stations have a type 2 outlet. But watch out, some charging stations have a fixed cable. An attached cable can make a lot of sense at places where you always charge the same car, like at home or at a fixed employee parking spot. It’s convenient because you don’t have to carry around a cable in your vehicle. Be aware that if you charge your car at a public charging station with a fixed cord, you’ll have to check if the attached cable fits into your car’s socket. in Europe and have a European car like the Renault ZOE, you can charge it at a public station using a charging cable with type 2 plugs at both ends (type 2 to type 2). The maximum speed might be up to 43 kW.
Now, what do you do if you live in Europe and drive an Asian car like the Nissan LEAF? Well, you need a cable that connects the type 2 plug of the charging station with the type 1 outlet of your vehicle (type 2 to type 1). The maximum speed will be up to 7.4 kW.
Four types of plug exist, two for AC (type 1 and 2) and two for DC (CHAdeMo and CCS).
Type 1 is common for American vehicles, it’s a single-phase plug and can charge at a speed of up to 7.4 kW.
Type 2 is standard for European and Asian vehicles from 2018 onwards, it’s a triple-phase plug and can charge at a level of up to 43 kW.
CCS is a version of type 2 with two additional power contacts. It allows very fast charging.
CHAdeMO can be found in Asian cars and allows for high charging capacities as well as bidirectional charging.