DIY Solar setup

Has anyone experimented with solar power? If so can you share your setup’s parts list, where you bought and the cost? There’s just so much information out there on the subject, and so many products. It is hard to know who to trust.

I have designed passive as well as active solar homes. I had , at one time, a solar powered cigarette lighter. [ unique, from radio shack back in the 70’s] I have messed with lighting a campfire with the lense from my glasses.
What do you want to know?

If you are looking to supplement your existing power supply you need an automatic transfer switch, this is the device that allows your solar power to be consumed first for you and if it exceeds your present demand (like if you are not home during a sunny day) it will return the excess to the grid and “turn your meter backwards” (giving you a credit you can consume later).

This is a fairly complex device to wire in, if done incorrectly you can endanger all the power company workers in the event of an outage by feeding power back into the grid while it is being repaired. Many other issues ranging from fire to surges that damage devices can also occur in your home if this junction is not correct.

That part requires a pro is what is I am saying.

The actual panels could be installed by just about anyone who is familiar with the basics of construction and tied into the transfer switch. The problem is finding some place that will sell you the panels direct for enough less to make it worth your while. The government subsidies for solar have kept the price of panels artificially high, that is why they have not appeared in “do it yourself” stores like home depot in the roofing section.

Here is the kicker, if you buy the panels individually you do not qualify for the subsidy, without the subsidy the panels are far too expensive to even come close to buying grid power over their realistic lifespan. That is why most everyone buys a complete installed package from a company who utilized the government money.

You can however sometimes find panels for sale on Craigslist for various reasons, if you become educated enough to determine their viability a lot of money can be saved and it is definitely worth it. You must be quick because the solar installer companies watch for the deals that are viable and jump on them to protect the market.

Any electrician can do transfer switch.

If you are looking for replacement to get off the grid entirely it can be wired by any Journeyman, usually you are utilizing a battery bank for power through an inverter and the solar keeps them charged. If the solar gets behind an auto-start generator fires up to charge the batteries.

This works quite well and efficiently if you plan your power scheme from the start.
Propane fridge
Propane dryer
Evaporative cooler instead of A/C
Propane hot water heater
A storage tank for water that can be filled during peak solar production and an inline 12 volt pump to feed the home from the tank the rest of the time
Propane heat

Or Natural gas if that is more available in your area.

The idea is to rely as little on electric as possible to keep you battery bank from cycling dramatically over and over again.
With careful planning you can live quite comfortable with all the amenities like internet, satellite tv, phone answering machine and plenty of light, also cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

There are plenty of hacks in the solar field trying to capitalize on the “Green Craze” and all the gullibility that goes with it so read up on how to tell the difference between a panel that performs and decorative roof piece.

Shirley, you asked the question, did you now lose interest?

C’mon, man; people often don’t have a regular schedule for being on the internet. Give it more than twenty-three hours.

My brother in law made a solar water heater simply by looping black plastic pipe back and forth across his roof. The water coming out of it was hot enough to scald. That won’t work in winter temps unless it is covered to prevent convection heat loss, but still, for his family of seven it knocked $25-$30 a month off his electric bill during the summer months. DIY solar is very possible, and doesn’t necessarily rely on conversion to electricity.

EDIT: Here’s a link to some solar water heater plans/ ideas. Solar Water Heating Projects and Plans

Except for the fridge & freezer & washing machine, all my appliances are natural gas. It would be nice to have an alternate source of electricity for those two items (as well as other electrical equipment) when we have power outages, although we don’t have them that often any more. But we don’t have to have the computer(s) up at all times, and we have kerosene lamps.
However, the dryer & furnace use electric ignition, as well as the fan on the furnace and the tumbler on the dryer. The stove also uses electric ignition, but the burners can be lit with a match. Not so the oven. But the fridge/freezer and furnace are the critical items in case of an outage.

Ok, then, a little info. I did a residence three years ago, made to be solar, about 2800 sf single floor. The roof was a special standing seam metal roof with under risers over the rafters where there was a continuous tubing wrap over the rafter under the metal roof, .This tubing held a glycol liquid that went to two storage tanks one storage tank heated domestic water the other tank with an assisting pump ran the glycol through under floor tubing which heated the house. Finally on the metal roofing I ran a nano sheet much like a solar panel between the standing seams .[ these sheets can be cut to size] wired together produce about 60 to 80 amps of 115 v power. This can change depending on the size of the roof.
This is an interesting system, but expensive, and workable on sunny days so backup is needed for cloudy and rainy days.
You can see this type of system on the "Dawn Solar.com"
I have done a couple of passive solar homes but the trombe wall takes up a lot of room. Along with trombe walls I have used brick on sand, floors, which do hold some heat for a short period of time once the sun goes down. Also roof overhang depth and direction is most imperitive.
Active solar homes are just not viable with the solar panels manufactured today. They corrode over a 5 to 8 year period and are expensive to replace. [ that’s why I was drawn to the Dawn solar system.]

I looked into solar electricity and did a calculation on a web site to determine how much I would need.

As it turned out, I would need to **double my roof area **in order to have enough square foot to attach solar cells for my needs. holy sheep

.

[quote=“njc17, post:2, topic:34169”]
I have designed passive as well as active solar homes. I had , at one time, a solar powered cigarette lighter. [ unique, from radio shack back in the 70’s] I have messed with lighting a campfire with the lense from my glasses. What do you want to know?
[/quote] Sorry everyone for not replying earlier. Def haven’t lost interest. So I am looking for a portable system (car) that I can simply setup to charge electronic devices, most notable being laptop. My laptop inputs 100-240v 1.5A 50-60Hz, output 19v-4.74A 90W. It is safe to assume that will be the most power hungry device I will run. So, ideally it would be a system capable of running my laptop so long the sun is out. I draw power from battery, and battery is kept filled by solar- concurrently. If this isn’t possible then something close. I just don’t know enough. I know there are complete systems out there but they’re all so confusing and mostly expensive.

RET,
Thank you. Yeah I just can’t distinguish between the hype and quality. I feel some are just gouging. Can you tell me what my options are for portable system? I am kinda assuming it is possible, but it may not be.

[quote=“Bucks, post:9, topic:34169”]
I looked into solar electricity and did a calculation on a web site to determine how much I would need. As it turned out, I would need to **double my roof area **in order to have enough square foot to attach solar cells for my needs. holy sheep .
[/quote] Do you by any chance remember the website?

If you are just looking for a portable way to power a laptop in real time I would consider this

For this limited need I would probably try buying a very small 12 volt to 110 power inverter like this
Amazon.com: Cobra CPI 480 400-Watt 12-Volt DC to 120-Volt AC Power Inverter with 5-Volt USB Output: Automotive

A small 12 volt battery like this to drive the inverter
Amazon.com: UPG UT6.5L 12N6.5-3B Sealed AGM Power Sport Battery: Automotive

And try one of these solar chargers to see if it keeps up
Amazon.com: Sunforce 50033 15-Watt Solar Charging Kit: Automotive

If you find that the solar is not keeping up you will have to add another panel or more until you find the sweet spot but for just a laptop this will probably be fine. If you have a 12volt power supply for the laptop you can skip the inverter and hook you laptop power supply directly to the battery but I prefer the inverter method and using a 110 volt laptop power supply.

The larger a battery you buy will determine how long it will run after sundown. If you bought a standard car battery your laptop would run all night but then it takes more solar performance the next day to get it back up.

That system I just described would cost about $140.00 to get up and going but if it will not keep the battery charged in real time usage and you have to pack it up and take it with you after you are done so it cannot recover in the off time then you might have to get one or more additional panels.

It is hard to say because solar panels tend to be rated pretty optimistically but if I needed sun power just to keep my laptop going I would start with this and then expand to more panels if they come up a little short. I doubt if you would need more than two panels tied to the battery to keep up on a sunny day but it depends on how many peripherals your driving on the laptop and how bright you have your display settings.

The newer the laptop the more power efficient, the first Pentium 4 laptops were absolute power hogs but anything post Centrino is pretty efficient, Intel CPU’s use less power than AMD’s but you give up a little performance. Any netbook is even more efficient.

Found a whole bunch of laptop solar chargers with prices ranging from $150± to $250± and builtin backpack chargers for a variety of uses.

They aren’t cheap or cost effective by any means. However, they are neat and convenient when you need them. The same goes for installing the various forms of solar power in your homes. It would take well into my retirement years or beyond to recoupe the cost installing such things into my home and I still would be dependent upon the grid. It doesn’t really offer a viable and cost effective form of back up power. In comparison to the cost of a gas powered generator, solar power can’t even try to beat it.

Well…your laptop uses 90 watts…according to the specs for the charger, so you are gonna need a solar array that puts MORE than that into your batteries (taking into account conversion losses/heat). Note also that a 90W rated panel is measured with the sun directly overhead and at 5000ft. altitude (so sunlight is maximized hitting the panel)… so you are unlikely to see that much. I would suggest that a minimum 120W panel is needed to keep up with your laptop. Those are roughly 3x4 ft. in a rigid panel…more in a flex panel. Add to that a charge controller to reduce the voltage to 12V-14V for the battery, a 12V deep cycle battery and a 90 watt+ inverter to allow you to plug in the laptop and you have a system that will power your laptop for 6 hours on average on a bright sunny day before you have to rely on the deep cycle battery. BTW…you will draw approximately 7.5 amps from a 12V battery alone running your laptop. In selecting a deep cycle battery, you should get one with an 20 hour amp.hour rating of the number of hours of DARKNESS/Lowlight you wish to to run you laptop times 7.5 times 2.
Example: If you wish to use the laptop for 5 hours without solar power a day… then 5 x 7.5 x 2 or 75 amp hours is the size rating of the DEEP CYCLE Battery you would need.
All of this will probably cost more than your laptop…but it is the reality of solar.

RET,
I appreciate this practical information, thank you. The system you described seems reasonable enough for the amount of investment. On the other hand, maybe it is time I look into a power efficient Netbook.

thank you cam. Any specific items you’d recommend to build a complete system? I feel there’s no getting around it- i must read up.

[quote=“njc17, post:8, topic:34169”]
Ok, then, a little info. I did a residence three years ago, made to be solar, about 2800 sf single floor. The roof was a special standing seam metal roof with under risers over the rafters where there was a continuous tubing wrap over the rafter under the metal roof, .This tubing held a glycol liquid that went to two storage tanks one storage tank heated domestic water the other tank with an assisting pump ran the glycol through under floor tubing which heated the house. Finally on the metal roofing I ran a nano sheet much like a solar panel between the standing seams .[ these sheets can be cut to size] wired together produce about 60 to 80 amps of 115 v power. This can change depending on the size of the roof.
This is an interesting system, but expensive, and workable on sunny days so backup is needed for cloudy and rainy days.
You can see this type of system on the "Dawn Solar.com"
I have done a couple of passive solar homes but the trombe wall takes up a lot of room. Along with trombe walls I have used brick on sand, floors, which do hold some heat for a short period of time once the sun goes down. Also roof overhang depth and direction is most imperitive.
Active solar homes are just not viable with the solar panels manufactured today. They corrode over a 5 to 8 year period and are expensive to replace. [ that’s why I was drawn to the Dawn solar system.]
[/quote]Interesting. I looked into going with one of those tankless water heaters with natural gas but the cost was prohibitive ($2500) and the guy wanted to put an outlet to exhaust right next to where the outside airconditioner sets.

Here’s a complete system:
Amazon.com: HQRP 120W Solar Panel 120 Watt Power 12V Mono-crystalline Photovoltaic PV Module plus HQRP UV Chain / UV Radiation Health Tester: Electronics $350
Buy.com - HQRP 10A 12V / 24V 120W Solar Panel Charge Controller / Regulator PWM charging mode + Mousepad $37 (Note, this charge controller is ONLY for a 120W range panel. If you want a big system down the road, you will need to upgrade big time…just trying to save you money now!)
AGM Deep Cycle Battery Group 31 AGM BATTERY. $279. Brand does not matter. Sam’s Club is the best place to get a good deal on something similar. You can ALSO go for a group 31 “Wet” cell battery…but it MUST be deep cycle and NOT starter or “dual purpose”. Wet cell batteries are not sold on line due to transportation issue. AGM is better if it is going to be “mobile”.
Voltec 400 Watt Power Inverter 10-00477 400watt inverter (includes cables and usb port…good deal.) $34

There ya have it. Roughly $700 bucks…but I think you can save $100 or more by buying your battery at Sam’s. Everything else is a good deal.
You’ll also need some duplex wire to connect from the panel to the controller and from the controller to the battery but size of the wire is dependent on the length of the wire run from the panel to your indoor setup. I can help you with this once you have it all figured out and are ready to do the install. Wire is available at any home depot or lowes. Suggestion if you go ahead with this…figure out a way to mount the panel so that you can face it at the sun and at a tilt angle (to the ground ) equal to your latitude or an adjustable tilt so you can point it right at the sun. (i.e. flat on the ground at the equator…perpindicular to the ground at the north pole…and 45 degrees to the ground midway between the two. )