- Filed under: Solar Power and Off-Grid Living
- Date: Nov 22,2010
A few years ago I installed a small, 30 watt solar power system at my sisters off-grid home near Kingston, Ontario. This solar system was JUST enough to let them turn on some lights for a few hours every day. This year, they’ve decided to invest in solar power and really take it up a notch !
Step 1: How much power is needed ?
As usual, the first step in setting up a solar power system is figuring out how much electricity you actually need to do what you want. This particular project / upgrade is so that my brother in law can use his laptop WITH wireless internet all day every day from their off-grid home.
Here are the calculations I did and sent to my brother in law:
2 lightbulbs @ 20 watts each for 4 hours a day : 160 watts
Average laptop power consumption is 60 watts (hopefully I’m going a little high here) x 8 hours a day : 480 watts
Total guess of inverter losses while using all this for a day : 30 watts (just trying to be safe here)
Equipment for internet : Modem, Router, antenna, etc (TOTAL guess) @ 10 watts x 8 hours a day : 80 watts
So in an average work day, you’ll be using 750 Watts.
Lets say you get 4 hours of sun per day, you need 190 watts worth of solar panels. (you currently have 30)
Step 2 : Find the solar power equipment you need at the best price possible.
So now we know we need atleast 190 watts worth of solar panels. During our original 30 watt install, we got almost everything at Canadian Tire, but this kind of project goes beyond the kind of things Canadian Tire can supply. Finding a Canadian supplier was very important for me. Customs are a pain, and shipping delays are much more prone to happen when ordering across the border. Mostly though, the price of shipping batteries can’t be cheap, they weigh a ton ! The closer they come from, the better.
I lucked into finding a website of a solar company in Ontario. The thing is, Ontario has no shortage of suppliers for solar power equipment, the problem is finding an Ontario supplier that has pricing that’s comparable to the best deals I could find online. After a couple hours of going from site to site, I came across my saving grace, Flanagan and Sun.
I knew how much power I needed, I knew that I’d make the mount for the solar panels myself, and I knew that I was going to install it myself. I sent Sean (the owner of Flanagan and Sun) an email about what I needed, and then he made me a couple of quotes. He never once pushed me to have him install it. Quite the opposite actually. He’s been happily answering my questions about how I’m going to be installing this. The pricing was excellent. Not only that, but he had recommendations and advise that was very helpful. We accepted a quote for 370 Watts worth of solar panels, 4 x 115 amp hour 12 volt AGM batteries (Which makes for a battery bank that holds 5500 watts worth of power), and the appropriate inverter / charge controller. Flanagan and Sun couldn’t have made it easier for me. They literally put all the parts I would need together into a nice simple quote. (right down to the fuses and the box that holds them) It would have taken me weeks to research each individual part to make sure they all worked together properly.
Here’s the quote we ended up accepting :
2 x AS5M36 Amerisolar 185W PV module @ $666.00 each, Total $1,332.00
4 x MC4 MC4 Wire Connectors @ $30.00 each, total $120.00
1 x MNPV-3 Midnite Solar combiner box @ $86.58 each, total $86.58
2 x MNEPV-15A 15A Midnite Solar Din Rail DC breaker @ $12.48 each, total $24.96
1 x MM1524AE Magnum 1500 Watt, 24V Inverter/35 Amp PFC Charger @ $746.40, total $746.40
1 x SS-20L-24 Morningstar Sun Saver 20 Amp Regulator W/ LVD,TC – 24VDC @ $92.82, total $92.82
1 x BABY-Box Enclosure for 1-4 MNEPV or MNEAC Breakers @ $39.00, total $39.00
2 x MNEPV-20A 20A Midnite Solar Din Rail DC Breaker @ $12.48 each, total $24.96
4 x EV 31A Batteries AGM EV 31A batteries (114Ah at 20 hr rate) @ $163.80 each, total $655.20
4 x BAT_CABLE Battery Cables @ $25.20 each, total $100.80
1 x Inverter Cable… Pair of 5 ft inverter cables. @ $78.00, total $78.00
The only thing we didn’t know was the price of the shipping. This was a pretty large concern for me. I figured it would easily cost $500 JUST to ship the batteries, if not more. I figured if it cost too much, we’d buy everything from him EXCEPT the batteries which I’d pick up myself in Montreal before going to do this installation. I gave him the OK, and asked him to get back to me as to how much the shipping would cost. I didn’t hear from him in a couple of days. I assumed he was busy and it took a little bit of time and effort to calculate the size and weight of the shipment in order to give an accurate shipping estimate. What I didn’t realize was that he had already ordered and gotten everything, but was finding a way to get this to us without it costing a fortune. (I was very surprised that he didn’t ask for a deposit once I told him to get all this equipment together for us) In just a little over a week after I gave him the go-ahead, he had arranged to have one of his employees drive it all the way down to my sisters other (on the grid) home which is over 3 hours away from him for only $185 !! I don’t know what they were driving, but it seems to me like just the gas for the trip would cost over a hundred dollars, then you’ve still gotta compensate someone for spending over 6 hours of time doing the driving.
Step 3 : Plan the installation
In this case, even though this is a much larger installation, it will be pretty easy since there’s an existing setup. I already did all the work on the fuse panel the first time around so I don’t really need to touch that. However, this system is so large compared to the existing one that we decided to not use the parts from the original install (solar panels, batteries, inverter, charge controler) . This is a fresh solar power installation, and we’ll use the existing panels and batteries for something else which we haven’t decided yet. Since we’ve gone from 30 watts of panels to 370 watts, we pretty much had no choice but to upgrade to a 24 volt system instead of the 12 volt system they currently had. (Solar panels above 100 watts in the 12 volt range is rare, and more expensive per watt than solar panels that supply 24 volt power)
Also, at this point we’ve got 4 batteries instead of 2, and they’ll be getting charged much more aggresively than the current setup so we need to move it out of the house for safety reasons (Batteries produce flammable gasses while charging – this wasn’t really an issue before since we were basically just trickle charging them with 30 watts of solar panels).
We decided to house the batteries, inverter, and charge controller in an old freezer which will be outside right where the panels are. The freezer will help equalize the environment, but we’ll need to put a few air vents in it to make sure those battery gasses have somewhere to go. We’re also going to seperate the freezer into 2 sections. One for the batteries, and the other for the inverter / charge controller. The inverter may spark from time to time, and we don’t want the gasses from the batteries to ignite when that happens !!!
The batteries pretty much HAD to be outside because of the way their house is setup (just one room). However the inverter didn’t need to be outside. The reason we’ll be installing it outside is because of the distance between where the solar panels will be and the house. A cable run that will move 24 volts of power 100 feet with minimal losses is expensive, however a cable run that will move 120 volts isn’t. This will save a couple hundred dollars.
Step 4 : Install your Solar Power !
At this point, I’m under a week away from the installation date. All the equipment has been delivered, however I won’t get to actually see it until I’m there for the installation. The only thing that I don’t know how I’m going to do it is mounting the solar panels to the top of the freezer. I really need to see the panels to figure that out, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to use parts from the old solar panel mount for the new one.
Final Words :
I will be documenting every part of the installation and will post updates here as always ! Installation is scheduled for November 27th – 28th 2010.
If you have any questions regarding solar power, please feel free to ask in the comments section. If you’re looking for a supplier or installer located in Canada, contact Flanagan and Sun ! (Please mention that Jason from TechieNATION refered you)