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OFF-GRID Solar System


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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 5/29/2008


Anyone out there going off-grid on their solar design?  We are thinking of going with a Kohler 15RES house generator with battery storage the first year  and then add on 3KW of solar panels.  At least this is our back up plan considering the projected costs of bringing in a power line may be in the $40,000 range.  While I wait for the official bids to come in for the power, I'm reading four books on solar systems.
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 6/1/2008


Howdy Pat:

I plan to be off-grid with a small solar component, but nowhere near as large as yours.  My primary source of power will almost certainly be wind-based, unless the next few months of measurements prove to be unsatisfactory. I do plan on 1.6Kw or so of panels, if all works out well and the budget allows it.  Otherwise like you it's something I'll add over time.

I'll be interested in how your bids work out.

Steve


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By Dustin in Enoch, UT on 6/3/2008


I wanted to go off-grid, but it has been impossible to find a bank that wants to touch an off-grid home. Even if they would think about it, they wanted three comparable off-grid homes that sold in the last three months! Impossible!

So I'm going to pay the power line tax and have a couple power poles run to the property ($9,000) then get a second mortgage or re-fi and add solar then cut my power. I will still plan on making my home as energy-efficient as possoble and to be ready for solar.

Sux, but when banks consider off-grid homes to be another horrifying species entirely... you're screwed.


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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 6/3/2008


I was afraid we might run in to the same problem.  We are going to borrow from a local bank and haven't asked about the off-grid situation yet.  However, there are several off-grid homes in our area so maybe we will luck out.
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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 6/4/2008


Yeah, I planned on either paying for it out of pocket or (depending on who does the install) lining up financing with them.  Some of the larger wind power installers have alternative financing since they know that it's hard to get a bank loan.

Steve
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By Dustin in Enoch, UT on 6/4/2008


Pat, since you're in CA, it may be actually more advantageous to be hooked up to the grid, since CA gives out such high rebates to grid-connected solar. Not so with UT. It's pretty sad here.
 
I'm interested in off-grid living for two reasons: one, independence, and two, rising energy costs. I don't like the idea of being dependent on a system that can screw you and keep on screwing you.

As I see it, one of the most expensive drawbacks to off-grid is batteries. They are painfully expensive and have to be replaced every so often. I have heard of using a combination of limited batteries and a hydrogen producer in conjunction with some sort of fuel cell. Hydrogen becomes your battery. A bit cutting edge, and probably too expensive right now, for sure.

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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 6/4/2008


They definitely make it look great being tied to the grid.  You get about 50% back from rebates and credits.  However, if the electric line takes $40K to install and then another $30K for the solar system of which I would get back approximately $15K, it still makes an initial investment of $55K in being grid-tied versus just $30K for being off-grid solar.  If we go solar, some day I plan on being grid tied... just not right off the bat.

The Trojan batteries we were looking at (16 of them) run about $5,000... but they will hold us three days of energy.


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By Pat in Arnold, CA on 6/10/2008


I called PG&E this past Friday to follow up on my submission paperwork that I submitted on-line.  It had been three weeks.  They are supposed to respond in five days, so they forward it to a supervisor.  I got the call yesterday that PG&E will visit the lot today and review the alternatives.  They said most likely they will have me put in an owner-owned power pole meter at the front of our property which is right across the street from their pole.  Then it's up to us and a third-party electrician to trench it down to the building site (about 480').  They said poles are cost prohibitive going that far.

So, we will see what our electrician will quote us to bring in the power via trench 480'.  Whatever it is... I'll have to pay it because I'm not having any luck find real estate comps for off-grid homes in our area having been sold recently and you have to have that before a bank will even talk to us about funding an off-grid home.


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By Dustin in Enoch, UT on 8/26/2008


I'm still interested in doing off-grid solar, but I'm in the same position you're in.

The banking industry has gotten itself in a big swirly right now, and it just doesn't feel good about taking any kind of risks. "Solar" is scary to them.

One thing to try, though it to see if there are and local "Solar Home Tours" in your area. These are a great opportunity because you get to visit other people's homes that have solar or other interesting systems installed you  might not see anywhere else. You also get to network with the owners and local installers. Often they can give you good practical advice and maybe tell you how they got their loan.

At the very least, you can install a system that is easy to get by the banks and will have a good payoff -- solar hot water in combination with an on-demand modulating gas water heater. You get the best of both worlds with these two: on-demand hot water with a solar pre-heated tank that will allow you to not use gas most of the year and prevents you from experiencing the downside of on-demand hot water, the wait and waste of cold water down the drain while the cold water in the pipes flushes out and the hot water starts. Because you have a backup on-demand system, you will always have hot water even when it may be too cold to generate much from the solar system.

Solar hot water systems run less than $5,000 installed and usually pay for themselves in under 10 years. There are also very significant rebates to be had this year from installing. It may pay for as much as 1/3 of the total cost.  In just about any climate, you can get away with not having to use gas to heat your water all summer and probably very little the rest of the year. Make sure you install a "modulating" on-demand hot water heater that senses when it needs to boost the temp of the water in the tank. Takagi and Rinnai have good track records and are both modulating systems.
If you have some basic plumbing skills you should be able to install it yourself without much trouble and save some money. Butler Sun Solutions (butlersunsolutions.com) makes an interesting DIY solar kit that allows you to screw their heat exchanger right into any standard electric hot water heater (you don't power it, of course) to use as your tank. Make sure you insulate it.

Also, try to get a solar hot water system with a small direct solar PV powered pump. The pump only runs when there is sun to heat the water,  with the added bonus that as long as you have water pressure and the sun you should have at least some hot water.


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By DCG in Lago Vista, TX on 10/1/2008


Check out the Rheem Solaraide series - under $3K, self-contained and has a backup electric element.


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 12/2/2008


Howdy Pat:

This may be OBE at this point, but things have changed for me since my last post.  I'm now going 100% solar (at least on the initial build) though I hope (eventually) to add a wind turbine component.

The main reason are the numbers.  I've had an anemometer up on the property for several months now and while my eyes tell me there's plenty of wind, the numbers tell a different story.  Maybe down the road I'll add a turbine as a project.

But until then, I'm going with a fairly large solar component.  I've been keeping electrical utilization numbers on the house here in town so I've got some numbers to use as a base, and I've been using those to extrapolate my best guess for the new house.  After much churning I spec'd out a basic system and our architect is now working with the local Planning Department to get everything approved (they naturally want to be sure that you won't a.) fry yourself and/or b.) burn down the house/forest).

How many days of backup power (i.e., no sunlight) are you planning for?  Do you still intend to have a backup generator just in case?

Steve

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 1/3/2009


An update since my last post!

Since that original post I've been measuring the site for wind potential and it turns out that, well, as I'd suspected it's just not quite there.  There is plenty of wind, but it's more erratic than I had thought--definitely not steady enough to depend on for the major portion of the house's power requirements as I'd hoped.  (There are more details over on my blog if anybody is interested.)

I'll post more when I know more.  If you've got any advice for me on this I'd be most grateful.

Steven

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