How many have off-grid electric systems

Discussion in 'General Homesteading & Building' started by bunkerbob, Mar 9, 2012.

  1. bunkerbob

    bunkerbob Supporting Member

    Ok, how many of us here are living the good life off-grid. I don't care if you have a one panel setup or a hundred, if you make it work fantastic. Tell us how you are doing, add photos of your system, what makes you do it, what works and what doesn't.
    I know there are quite a bunch of us that have been doing this for quite a while, and some that are new. Share your ideas and even some of your failures for those who want to or wish to do the same.
  2. bunkerbob

    bunkerbob Supporting Member

    I'll be the first...
    Seven years ago we sold our house and planned to build a earth-sheltered home out in a rural area. I couldn't convince my wife to the idea of underground living, so, I built the next best thing, which was a above ground 'ICF' block home, with one foot thick walls made up of 2 1/2" foam panels filled with 6" of steel reinforced concrete, this is rated as R50 insulation factor. This is designed to withstand a R10 earthquake and is virtually fire resistant and penetration resistant. This is sheeted in a concrete based siding. This gave us the best energy efficient base to start with for the off-grid system.
    We live off the grid now in Southern California with a 3.5 kw renewable power system, made up of a solar array of 22-160watt and 2-210watt panels and wind power from a Bergey XL-1, 36 t-105 and 10 AGM batteries provide night time power, 2 xantrex sine-wave inverters provide 220 volts to the system and a MX60 and Flex80 charge controllers. I have a propane 12 kw back-up genset which in controlled automatically by the inverters if needed.

    Attached Files:

  3. timmie

    timmie timmie

    i would love to be totally off the grid,but for now our finances can't support that.. we are currently heating totally with wood and cooking mostly with propane. i am also trying to get as much as i can away from electricity,so therefore am emptying my freezers and canning it. we also grow 80% of our own food. we hunt and fish. we are getting chickens this year;so i will be concentrating on getting prepped with the things i can't grow or kill. we do have solar lights and panels to charge our boat batteries .just can't afford to do the house right now.
  4. gypsysue

    gypsysue The wanderer

    We didn't have ANY solar panels for the first few years we lived here. We used oil lamps for light, etc. Now we have 1,105 watts' worth of panels and a battery bank and the whole caboodle.

    The power company wanted $27,000 to run electricity back in here to our place, and we have less than $10,000 invested in our whole off-grid power system, plus we don't have a monthly electric bill! Win-win!

    We are very satisfied with our set-up and it's output.
  5. ContinualHarvest

    ContinualHarvest Member

    unfortunately until we get out of the apartment, we're stuck on the grid completely. Currently in the process of finding and purchasing a home. Will have more options then.
  6. OldCootHillbilly

    OldCootHillbilly Reverend Coot

    Well, we ain't off the grid an prolly won't be till the grid goes caput. But, I got some solar panels I wanna put up this summer fer emergency use an anythin we can cut back on now. Also got a couple generators fer when the power goes out which can be a few hours upta a week after a ice storm.

    I use wood ta heat the shop an soon will be heatin the house some with wood to.

    We strive ta get more self reliant all the time, just be slow in comin.
  7. jeramiez

    jeramiez Member

    Just moved off grid less then a year ago... built a small cabin for the SO and her 4 kids.... cabin is 600 sq ft 3bdrm, everything but the wood was salavaged from scrap campers and travel trailers... windows, shower, toilet, outlets, lights.... have 370w in solar panels, and an inverter that provides 2kw 120, have a 1000w and a 5000w gas gennertors as back up chargers and to run power tools and such.... (still finishing the cabin build... closets and such) most of the house is run on 12v but we do get most a day of 120 if the appliance use is low.... can run a radio all day, watch 2 movies on the desktop pc, and a few 40 w bulbs before we need to consider firing up a generator for back up... (that was this winter).... run a 900w coffee maker in the morning though and we have a wait period for the batteries to get back up.... currently running on 2 garden and 1 starter battery.... we pretty much by out the auto stores supply of reconditioned batteries when they have them and use them to death before getting the core charge out of them.... on our budget, an auto started battery that normally costs $50, and we get for $12, and use for 3-6 months works better then dropping the money on real solar batteries..... (next tax return.... lol). Have 3 solar collectors for hot water we still need to hook up as well... what fun!

    Plan is to be in an underground house in 3 to 5 years.... start the digging next summer... glad we are figuring out kinks in the system on our smaller scale now!
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2012
  8. md1911

    md1911 Member

    Sounds like a good start
  9. lamar5292

    lamar5292 Member

    My off grid cabin system is 580 watts solar and 400 watts wind which powers my water pump, lights, tvs, laptop, fridge and gadgets.

    I have a series of vids showing the system and installation:

  10. machinist

    machinist Rest In Peace

    Working On It

    We are taking a piecemeal approach to alternative energy, with the first priority being to reduce our electrical usage. Our home was all-electric when we bought it long ago.

    -Now, we heat with wood and the hot air is circulated by 12VDC. My shop building has wood heat. No heat bills.
    -Our water comes from our cistern and is delivered by gravity, or hand pump. No water or sewage bills. (Septic system.)
    -A separate water collection system for garden irrigation and livestock water has gravity flow to 3 gardens and a faucet. No pumps, no electric.
    -We reduced our cooling needs dramatically with super insulation, a reflective white metal roof, and porches added for shading.
    -My metal shop has a wide variety of hand and foot powered equipment, including a couple drill presses and a blacksmith shop.
    -We dry laundry on clothelines, outdoors in summer and indoors in winter.
    -We put in an LP gas stove to do canning and emergency cooking, and have a wood stove backup.
    -We replaced a lot of appliances with new, more efficient ones, notably the fridge and freezer (800 watt hours /day each instead of 2,200 each the old ones used), laptop computers (24 watts) instead of towers, a tiny flat screen (7 watts) TV, and much more.
    -LED and 12 volt CFL lights cut lighting usage dramatically.

    Our electric usage has been cut in half so far, but more is in the works. Still under construction are:

    -Solar hot water.
    -Solar hot air space heating to augment wood heat.
    -Solar food dehydrator.
    -And last, enough solar PV to operate the fridge, freezer, fans, computers and other comunitcations, lights and incidentals. We think we can do it with 1,400 watts of panels. Have that partially installed now, and it will make the house 100% off grid.
  11. Offgridgiles117

    Offgridgiles117 Member

    My wife and I are off grid. Originally not by choice, but by product of lack of income. Then it became by choice.

    We use a generator once a week for 3 hours. Cook by propane. Use car battery to keep cell phones charged. PVC Hand pump for water from our well.

    Now we are constructing an electrical shed to house batteries and electronics for a 1.25 KW solar array to provide about 50kW of power each month.

    We bought our land, then business went south for a few.

    Our goal is to always appear as if we have close to nothing. E grow our own food. E have 20+ acres with a ton of trees.

    old scrubber batteries are cheap and provide a goodly amount of power for off grid applications. 5 of them gives us 5 days of off-grid power before running the gennie to recharge them. We have approx 925Ah of battery storage when fully charged. We run 2 inverters. Once we drop the next pipe, we will have electric water supply as well.
  12. NooB2ItAll

    NooB2ItAll Well-Known Member

    My wife and I just moved to our little 10acres of heaven in April and are currently researching our options for off the grid power. We currently have grid power, well water, septic, wood fireplace and pot bellied stove, and propane for kitchen stove and furnace. Ultimately I would like to be off the grid with enough power to put in an electric furnace and to cut our electric bill completely and to only use propane for the stove and maybe a back up generator. We're just sorting thru the tax rebates and credits and looking at a grant thru the USDA. Anybody have any advice in those departments?
  13. machinist

    machinist Rest In Peace


    Well, my experience with solar electric so far has been that it is not practical/far too expensive to use for space heating or AC. They just use WAY to much power, and the solar costs far too much.

    We approached alternative energy as a series of individual problems, with various solutions for each part of it. We use a wood stove in the house for heat, having decided that it would cost too much to use solar power for the blower on an outdoor wood furnace. A SMALL 12 volt fan circulates the heat.

    Refrigeration was done by finding the most efficient 120 volt model we could, and provinding enough solar power for that. The alternatives were:
    -Very expensive, and TINY, 12 volt models. It was cheaper to buy enough panels to feed the 120 volt unit.
    -LP gas, which didn't meet our desire to be "off grid" entirely.

    AC we do not have. It would have cost another $12,000 to $20,000 to power AC, depending on how many window units we had. A central air setup was WAY too much power to even consider. Instead, when we had to replace the roof, we chose a reflective white metal material. Then, we added attic insulation to 12" deep, covered with perforated IR reflective foil. We added porches, front and back, for shade, and a sunroom on the South end that I built for under $5,000. Small 12 volt fans help a lot.

    We open the house on cool summer mornings to cool it as much as possible, and close it up until nightfall. That keeps it tolerable until the really hot weather in July and August, and we learned to live with it. Canning and baking are done on an LP gas stove located in the sunroom, so we can shut that off from the rest of the house as a summer kitchen, ventilated separately. It keeps that excess heat out of the house and really helps it stay cool.

    Other things, like TV, we chose a very small flat screen that runs of 12 volts. We hate TV anyway, and only keep it for storm warnings. We converted computers to low power laptops, and seldom if ever use a printer.

    Our lights are 12 volt CFL's, and would be LED's if we could actually SEE by their light. But, we are old and our eyes aren't so good.

    We aren't finished yet, but are well on the way now. So far, we have spent about $12,000 on panels, MPPT charge controllers, batteries, wiring, and other hardware. I'm doing all the work.

    For us, on a limited budget, the reality we found was that it is all about cutting our power usage. For somone who has scads of money, it could be done differently. But the bottom line was that we could never compete economically with cheap grid power. I don't think it can be done, with costs where they are now. In general, I think you'll find that a generator will cost even more per KWHR than solar power, in the long run. Maybe about even if you have cheap natural gas, but when that generator needs replaced, you'll be in the financial hole again when you do the numbers.

    This book has been invaluable to me for designing and building our solar system:,stripbooks,442

    When you crank through the calculations, you will find that solar PV will produce little enough power that you need to reduce your usage by an order of magnitude, or more. For example, our system has 1,520 watts of panels and we can expect about 4 hours or a bit more of sun per day, for planning purposes. That means a total production of maybe 6 KWHRS per day, MAX. I can buy that from the power company for about 65 cents a day. Amortized over the 25 year life of the panels, and assuming a new set of batteries every 7 years, all at today's costs, then it would take OVER 25 years to pay off the system, IIRC.

    You ain't gonna make any money at this. We are doing it simply to assure that we have SOME power if the grid goes down for an extended time. With that thinking, there would be no point to having a grid-tie system only, because if the grid goes down and you have no batteries, you are still out of power.

    Editted to fix the link for the book.
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2012
  14. Tweto

    Tweto I love the smell of Argon in the morning

    I hate to be a buzz kill here, but solar panels lose efficiency over time in the sun. People never factor in the lifespan of the solar panels themselves. Yes the batteries need to be replaced maybe every 10 years or so. But what about solar panels. Most experts say to start replacing the old solar panels with new solar panels at about 10 years so that you will not be hit with another huge expense 15 of 20 years into it to replace the whole system.

    I know what you are thinking, but I have a 25 year warranty. If you read the fine print most warranties say that they will not replace any solar cell that is not below 80% power rating in direct sun light. So if you think you have a 1000 watt system it is really only an 800 watt system. Besides, howmany of these solar manufacturing companies do you think will still be in business when you need warranty work.

    If you have access to the power grid and you have the solar array for post SHTF needs a smart person would cover the solar collectors up and save them for when you need them.

    If you don't have access to the grid and you need the power produced by the solar system then I would start buying more soler power panels and store them for the future.
  15. bunkerbob

    bunkerbob Supporting Member

  16. Bobbb

    Bobbb Well-Known Member

    Solar cell degradation is well known in physics and engineering disciplines which deal with this technology.

    Here's the first link I clinked:

    In the mix of renewable energies, photovoltaics plays an important role. However, the prolonged illumination of solar cells with sunlight usually leads to a slow reduction of the efficiency of the energy conversion. This effect is particularly pronounced in solar cells made from hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H). It is known that the concentration of deep defects in this material increases upon illumination, which leads to a reduction of the life time of photogenerated charge carriers and therefore to the reduction of the efficiency. ​
  17. Bobbb

    Bobbb Well-Known Member

    I think that were Tweto oversteps is in extrapolating the degradation into a constant phenomenon, which to the best of my understanding, it's not. There is a stabilization plateau which is reached after about six months and most manufacturers rate their product at the plateau level.

    Now if the new owner is a tinkerer and they monitor outputs over time in the beginning of their set-up, they will see a decline in output but I believe what they are seeing is a panel overperforming its listed rating and then plateauing at its listed rating.

    I think that this is something to be aware of, and I could be in error here, but I'm betting that it's not a constant rate decline and so the conclusion that one should expect a finite life of 25 years from a panel is a conclusion built on an erroneous foundation. The panel not performing to top efficiency, yeah, that I think can be an argument that is well defended.
  18. Tweto

    Tweto I love the smell of Argon in the morning


    I had to reread your're post several times. It sounds like you agree with me but you don't want to hear what i have to say. You said that you had to have 2 panels replaced after 12 years, that's what I was talking about.

    I can understand why someone would be defensive about a very expensive system. To be clear, I'm not just saying that a solar panel system should not be used, all I'm saying is that it is very expensive system and to understand the true expense is important.

    No I do not live off the grid, and the reasons why is because of what I posted above. In my previous life I was and engineer for a company that built cell phone remote terminals that provided the interconnection for the cell phone towers and the central offices. One of the projects I was on was to provide emergency power systems in case of power grid failure. One of the emergency power systems that we investigated was solar. We gave up on solar because of our power requirements and the inability of the state-of-the-art solar cells efficiency of 10 years ago to provide it wasn't there. But, while on the project I managed to pick up allot of knowledge. To verify that what I knew was not old knowledge I did research this through goggle and I found several articles about the lifespan of solar panels but the only one I can remember now was an article in "Low Tech" magazine. I had no trouble finding info about the lifespans of power panels.

    I did do a feasibility study of a solar system for my house and found that using the venders formula, I would have a 35 year pay-back, factoring in what I know and it turned into a 60 year pay back.

    Yes, I am old enough to remember the voyager and mariner space satellites. I do remember that they were very concerned about the launch of voyager because of the power system aboard and it was not solar it used Radioisotope Thermometric Generators powered by Plutonium and if it had crashed after launch it would contaminate the land for about 20 miles square. The mariner satellites used solar but after researching them found that it looks like none of them lasted more then a few years till their solar panels gave out.
  19. Crrrock

    Crrrock Expert in Everything

    After recieving our recent electricity bill, we are moving to reduce our on grid consumption. To that end, I have been amassing over time a collection of "stuff". I have two 100 watt panels, and I collect used batteries from the local outlets that meet my requirements. I have picked up several different sorts of LED lighting to be installed, and hope to have all our lighting converted this summer. I now have 3 small inverters, and we're hoping to divide our power consumption into "local" supplies, one for each area of the house and workshop. We heat/cook with wood, with propane as a backup. Our buggest consumer at the moment is our freezers, none of which are what you would call efficient, but with 300kg of recently killed beef, we have to run them until the girl can cook and can it all. I also have an old McCulloch 1500watt generator ($60 unused at auction) that can/is used in an emergency. The prepping continues. Mike, in Oz.
  20. dahur

    dahur Well-Known Member

    I'm grid connected, with a 3.6 KW solar array, and I would love to someday build an underground home, and be off the grid.

    I'm planning for it.