OFF-THE-GRID LIVIN’ PART 2: PANELS & BATTERIES

As mentioned before, at first glance my home looks no different from the standard North American stick frame and stucco house. The only things that give it away as having anything to do with off-the-grid living, is the bank of solar panels and the 2000 gallon water tank in the front yard.

Compared with some of the other houses on our ridge our bank of solar panels is pretty humble: 8 panels total, mounted on a tracker which follows the path of the sun from sunrise to sunset. Together, at maximum, they put out 1400watts. That is my house’s electricity budget. For perspective, that is also the amount of energy needed to run a single space heater on full blast.

However, the solar panels do not directly feed the house. Instead the solar panels charge a bank of batteries. These batteries in turn run a DC to AC transformer which then power our home’s appliances & lights. The batteries act as a buffer.  Without them the whole house would shut down every time a cloud passed in front of the sun. They also allow for spikes and plunges in electricity usage. So if the cloths washer and the fridge are both running at the same time, the house can keep functioning. Then when the house is sitting quiet, the batteries can charge back up.

If I withdraw more power from the batteries than the solar panels are putting in over the course of a day, say on a heavy laundry day, or on a particularly overcast day, the whole system shuts down. This makes us acutely aware of both our environment, and the way we use our resources. The consequences of our actions become self evident within 12 hours or less, not at the end of the month when we get the electricity bill.