Solar Power is the future. I’ve posted many things about this that have all lead to this moment. This small solar power installation cost about $600 for EVERYTHING except my time.
Basically, as you know, my sister and her hubby have a nice new small house in an outskirt of Kingston, Ontario, and have been living with no electricity and no plumbing for over a year now. This is a mostly by choice I must add, since they want to live a simple life. They are both very “green” people and don’t like the idea of needing to chop down tree’s to get regular grid power installed. Despite all this, I want my little sister to have light in her home, and be able to run BASIC electric devices if they want too. (And to a point, they do)
This weekend was the weekend I put all the things i’ve been learning about for the last 3-4 months to use !
Here is the breakdown for my last 3 days. I’m TRYING to put details in order to help other people who may want to do a SMALL solar setup.
Click here to read the post about what specific hardware i’m installing. The only thing not mentioned is the 300 Watt Xantrex inverter I got at Canadian Tire.
Friday Night :
- I put the batteries in their container, and connected the 2 together in series with a #1 Car Battery Cable from Canadian Tire that cost $14. The connectors where already on it that fit the batteries I got them, so it was convenient. So 2 X 6 volts 225 amp/hour Deep Cycle batteries connected in series = 12 Volts 225 Amp/Hours.
- I connected the 300 Watt Xantrex Inverter (Also from Canadian Tire) to the batteries using #10 Cable. (This is plenty for the small loads it will be drawing)
- Then came the part I was worried about. When the house was built, it was all ready to have electricity. (All the wiring was installed, along with the sockets and fixtures. The only thing missing was the installation of grid power) So I had to connect the inverter to the existing fuse panel. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: With Grid power, the Neutral cable is linked with the Ground. When using an inverter, the positive, neutral, and ground cables must NEVER touch. So using a multimeter set on a continuity test, I had to fiddle with the panel until I found a big screw that when taken off removes the neutral bond to the ground. So basically : I checked for continuity between the NEUTRAL ( in my case, black) cables and the copper uninsulated ground cables in the fuse panel. Sure enough, there was continuity, so I fiddled until I found that screw that connected the ground to the neutral. PLEASE NOTE : There was NO power in this panel, so it was “ok” to fiddle. Don’t Fiddle with electrical panels that has ANY kind of power going into it if you don’t know what you’re doing. Once I was confident the neutral and ground cables where never connected together, I plugged the cable between the inverter to the input of the fuse panel. I backed away as far as my arm would let me, shielded my eyes, prayed to the techie-gods, and then turned on the switch. Woohoo nothing blew up ! !!! I started plugging in light bulbs and testing the switches, sockets one by one. Everything was working!! My sister was happy ..
I expected to spend HOURS AND HOURS on this part, but it took an hour or so. I called it a day, and spent the night chatting with Sharon and her hubby.
Saturday “Morning” :
To me morning starts at around 10-11. Before that, it’s coffee time. (Although I did go outside to check out where the sun was shining when it popped out from the clouds) Sharon and I went to the hardware store to get supplies to build some sort of pole mount for the solar panels that we decided to install in the backyard. This took alot of time, we had to go to 3 hardware stores, and the furthest one was a good 40 minute one way drive from their house. We got back from the stores at around 2:30pm. I missed out on alot of sun time there, but I had no choice, I couldn’t do anything without the materiels.
I made the pole mount for the solar panels out of long, L shaped kind of brackets with holes in them. (Sorry, really hard to describe, but you see what I mean when you look at the picture) . These brackets are great and made my job alot easier. I made a kind of big I shaped form with the brackets that I mounted the panels onto.
I got a fence post and drilled a hole through the CAP to put in a really long bolt that was mostly inside the post but stuck out through the top of the cap. This gave the panels the ability to turn. Another note : the big bolt type thing gave me a hard time, it was moving and making the whole mount sway and wobble. (The mount, not the pole) I simply compacted sand in the pole, THEN put the long bolty type thing through the sand and back onto the top of the pole. The sand was just what it needed to keep it in place.
We also got a bracket for the pole that is technically meant to be able to hold it up without having to dig. Instead, for extra support, I dug a 2ft hole and put the mount down there. The pole sits into a fixture for it on the mount and is secured with a bolt that holds it in place. I put a few big rocks right onto the mount, and then buried it.
The aluminum rack simply sits in the bolt sticking out of the pole and is kept there with a butterfly nut. How much you tighten the nut is what makes the angle. It wobbles a little still, but I don’t think it’s going anywhere. In high winds in might turn the direction it’s facing on it’s own, but the nut can easily be tightened MORE so that it can’t move AT ALL and faces directly up if needed. It’s not the ideal, but I only had a few days. I’m happy with it.
That’s pretty much the extent of what I got done that day. It’s winter and it gets dark really fast now, but atleast now they have a floodlight that works in the backyard that helped as it was getting dark and we were still “trying” to work. This took alot longer than I thought it would, but i’m on a learning curve.
I was originally planning on leaving today, but the combination of needing to work during sunny hours, and my hatred towards mornings slowed me down somewhat. I decided to leave on monday in order to not rush myself and get it done right.
Sunday was Trench diggin’ day ! It’s about 70 feet between where the panels are located, to where the batteries are. Luckily most of that I can run the cables along the house, attached to the lower part between the concrete foundation and the sidings of the house. It’s not too obvious. The rest however, needed to be buried. (About 25 feet) So I dug my trench and stuck the cables in there. I would have liked to put a pipe, but I didn’t think of that the day before when we were at the hardware store. It’s a bummer because i’m sure those cables will need changing when they get a couple of extra panels. I guess i’ll just re-dig it ! It actually took most of my available work hours to dig this trench, as some of the earth was still frozen, and there were lots of rocks and old roots in the ground.
Sharon’s in-laws came by and had supper with us that night. They seemed quiet happy to see that their kid’s finally have some light in there ! (Honestly, I think the people that care about Sharon and Calvin - aka the inlaws, myself, my mother, - may be more happy and comfortable knowing that they have power than they do ! Still .. i’m selfish .. I did all this for myself. It’s just too techie to resist.
Today was to finalize. I attached the cables to the house to make it nice and clean looking. I FINALLY connected the solar panels to the cables I ran and to the charge controller. I connected a permanent multimeter onto the batteries so that they can have an idea of what state they’re at. Everything was working perfectly. So I packed my bags, and made the 3:00 bus back to Montreal.
If you’re interested in Solar Power you should also read about :
- How to make power from the wind (Wind Generators / Turbines)
- SolarSuno Solar Power Installation in Spain
- Calculating your power consumption
- Solar Power Basics
- Figuring out how many solar panels you need.
- Choosing Batteries for your Renewable Energy System
If you’re looking for LOTS of information on solar power and wind power systems, you might consider buying these sets of e-books that are filled with tips and tricks for solar power.
Special thanks to the people at fieldlines.com !
UPDATE (2010) : The system has performed perfectly. They’ve decided to upgrade in a major way. Click here to read about the new solar power installation!