Living Off Grid: Our Solar Power System


Solar Power has come a long way in the past decade or so. We are living proof of that, after all, what did we know about solar power or even electricity for that matter? Yet here we are in our second full season, living off the grid with solar power. Systems today are so sophisticated they run by themselves and the only thing you really have to worry about is battery maintenance if you have a battery storage system as part of your package.

While I am sitting here telling you that modern solar power systems are relatively hands free, I don’t recommend that you operate them that way. I believe you should get as involved in your system as you can. For me, that meant there was a lot to learn and it has taken some time to do so.

PanelsMy system consists of 8 each 215 watt REC panels on a fixed position steel pole. The panels were recalled by REC, rebuilt and put back on the market at a discounted price. My inverter is a Xantrex XW 4024 with an automatic generator start control module. My charge controller is an Apollo T-80 HV. I also have 12 each Solar One 2Volt batteries for a 24 volt system. My backup generator is a propane fueled 12,000 watt Kohler Residential outdoor unit. I bought this unit knowing Kohler wouldn’t warranty it for off grid use.

The system capacities are as follows;
Panels - 1720 Watts
Inverter – 4000 watts
Battery Storage – 1160 Amp Hours or 22 Kwh Storage which means about 3 days for us because we don’t like our batteries to go below 60% capacity. (I actually don’t usually let them go below a 30 percent discharge or 70 percent capacity).

Inside the house we have a Trimetric Reader that allows us to see what our electrical usage is at all times and what state our battery capacity is at. It also helps to track how long it has been since our batteries were charged to 100% and how long it has been since we equalized our batteries which for me has to occur once a month.

Our system will run our house, barn and 220V water pump for two people easily. When the sun shines it produces more power than we need. The only reason we have the backup generator is because the sun doesn’t always shine. You could have as many panels or as much battery storage as you want. No sun, no power. We use our backup generator about 100 hours per year.

Total cost of this system was about $22,000. The current Federal tax code allows for a 30% credit so we only ended up paying $15,400 for our system. Our panels are warranted for 25 years and the batteries should go at least 10 and up to 15 years.

11/29/2015 10:00:03 PM

excellent well written article. I recently installed 10KW system. I paid $28K for equipment, $14K for labor. Commenters should mention the $.54/KW from WA State until 2020, no sales taxes & 30% tax credit from US IRS. Also mention the enourmeous paperwork needed & included in labor cost. Yes I coulda done this myself in 400 hours, but hired the Pros, still makes whole system "free/paid for" in 5 years. Local Utility PSE (now owned by non-American) now charges $.105 per KW. Ask me how I'll like free power after 2020? It's often true that it's marginal cost-benefit to compare grid vs. solar today. Look at the long term and DO THIS.

7/30/2013 9:13:15 AM

Joem, I feel the same about a $30k SUV or any car for that matter! Also solar gives you a payback instead of the constant drain on your wallet a car or SUV gives you. Build your own panels? Really? Do you know how long that takes? And would they be the same effiency? As far as insalltion cost, yes labor is expencive and if you can install yourself, then you can save. There is no lack of competition and there is no conpiracy with the installers. Sorry.

7/28/2013 11:23:27 PM

The cost of that system is outrageous. The only thing at all that justifies what you did is the fact that you don't already have electric hookup at your house. But under the majority of circumstances, it is a huge MISTAKE for anyone to spend $22K on solar. It would take many many years to pay for itself. 


A person is better off building their own solar panels and a system for making it all fit their needs. The materials and labor that companies put into solar is unnecessary. And they are just capitalizing on the lack of competition. Well forget business. It's high time people learn how to be self supporting instead of relying on companies to supply the demand. That's what keeps us in the mess we;re in politically. 

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