The Components That Make Up Off-Grid Solar Systems
Even though the prices of solar panels have fallen dramatically over the past decade and a half, the cost of off-grid solar system setups is going in the opposite direction. But luckily, any remote homeowner can install their own off-grid solar system with a basic toolbox and some know-how, which can help reduce the overall cost of the system significantly.
The main reason why many people opt to hire a professional solar installer is that the process is seemingly too complex. However, if you cut the entire process into smaller bits, you’ll quickly notice that it’s not all that intricate. There are a few steps you can follow in order to make sure it all goes smoothly.
The Essential Components of Off-Grid Solar Systems
In order to build the most basic off-grid solar system, you’ll need to get a charge regulator solar panel, inverter and battery. You’ll also need a few items from your toolbox, such as copper wire, meter, breaker, fuses and MC4 connector. Before you set out to buy a solar inverter, battery, charge regulator solar panel, you’ll need to first calculate your energy needs.
Calculating Your Solar Energy Needs
In order to get an idea of your energy requirements, you need to make a list of all the devices and appliances that you’ll run at the same time, and define the number of hours they’ll be powered by the solar system. Next, check the spec sheet of each appliance and device to find out their power ratings. Lastly, calculate the watt-hour rating and add up the watt-hour ratings of all appliances. The number you get will give you an idea of how much energy your solar system will need to produce.
Choosing Solar Panels
The solar panels are the parts responsible for converting sunlight into DC electricity. They can be either monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive, but also more efficient. The panels you choose should be able to harness enough power to charge your battery and power the appliances in a single day. Of course, the amount of power they harness will depend on a few variables, such as the time of year, your geographical area, etc. Regardless, it’s safe to assume that the panels will receive at least 4 hours of sunlight a day. Many people think that solar panels harness power only when they receive direct sunlight and when the sky is clear, but they’re capable of producing power even in cloudy weather as well.
Choosing a Battery
Being off-grid means you rely on your solar system for power only. For that reason, you need a solar battery to store the excess energy gathered throughout the day. In order to make sure your devices get constant voltage and are powered at all times, solar systems use deep-cycle batteries. Deep-cycle batteries are designed to discharge slowly, no more than 45-75% of their total capacity. Before you move on to choosing any other component for your solar system, decide whether you’ll need 12/24V or a 48V system. If you’re powering a smaller home, RV or caravan, you’ll want a 12/24V system. 48V systems are generally reserved for high power-demanding structures.
Choosing a Solar Regulator
A solar panel regulator, also known as a charge controller is a part located between the panels and the batteries, and its purpose is to regulate the voltage and current that’s coming from the solar panels. The charge controller regulates the charge going to the battery as the input voltage from the panels increases, thus preventing the batteries from overcharging.
There are two basic types of solar charge controllers – PWM and MPPT. PWM charge controllers are the more simple and affordable ones, but are less efficient than MPPTs. Most people would advise you to go for an MPPT solar panel regulator if you can afford it.
Choosing an Inverter
The inverter converts the DC gathered by the panels into AC, which is the type of power used by your devices and appliances. There are two types of inverters – modified and pure sine wave. You’ll want a pure sine wave inverter, as they create clean power that’s just like the one you get from the utility grid.
Connecting and Wiring the Components
It’s best you start by connecting the charge controller to the battery so that it gets calibrated. Connect the negative terminal of the controller with the negative wire from the battery, then connect the positive one. If you do it properly, you’ll see indicator LED lights light up on the solar controller. Then, connect the controller to the panel by connecting wires found in the junction box, and you’ll also need an MC4 connector. It’s important that the solar panel faces away when you’re connecting it to the controller in order to avoid damaging the controller with the sudden high voltage from the panels.
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