New and Overwhelmed!

gj.gibsongj.gibson Registered Users Posts: 5
I thought that I was really ignorant when it came to wind/solar power. After scanning this forum, I have realized that it is much worse than I expected!
WOW! You folks are very knowledgeable about everything solar.
I am wanting to build my retirement home in the next 3 years. I have a spot very suitable. It is a Tennessee hilltop with great sun exposure and almost always a breeze. The problem I ran into was with the power company. I was nowhere near a power line and it was going to cost me a fortune to get power to the top of my hill, only to have the power company send me a bill every month.
So, I have the spot and and rough floorplan(subject to change). but nothing else.
I am looking for some direction. I plan on keeping the house under 2000 sq ft and want to incorporate wind, solar and geo-thermal to be completely energy independent.
My biggest question(s) is , Are there complete systems available for new construction houses? Can anyone give me some direction or point me to a reputable company that can help me?
I am just setting sail on this journey and I appreciate any and all advice, knowledge and direction this forum has to offer.
Thank you all for your time!
Jeff G.


  • icarusicarus ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 5,304 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    First question,,, how far away is grid power and how much is it going to cost to bring it to your door?

    Nearly all other answers hinge on that number.

    Next, spend as much time as you can so you can avoid the single biggest pit fall (s) of RE, Ready, fire, aim. (And overcoming preconceived notions!)

    If you are really going to be 100% off grid, realize that it is going to come at some considerable cost, (the power definitely won't be free!) and that everything you can do now, in the design stage to reduce total net energy use will pay very big dividends in terms of reducing RE costs going forward. Pay particular attention to HVAC options, energy recapturing or geothermal if you have to use A/C. Proper solar exposure for maximum solar gain during the heating season, and minimum during the cooling season. Roof overhang details that shade in summer, allow direct sunlight in winter, and so on. (Plantings/awnings too!) As you design, an eye for electrical loads are important, but other energy loads are also important, including water heat, water pumping, space heat etc.

    I would spend every available minute reading everything you can, (here and elsewhere) so that you know as best you can going in what it is going to cost, and most importantly, what the limitations are likely to be.

    That said, grid power is far and away your cheapest alternative. Grid tie solar is a great investment (in certain areas, depending on a number of factors) and battery based solar is far and away the most expensive option (on a per KWH basis) I like to say that battery based systems cost ~ twice as much as a similar grid tie system, and operate about 1/2 as efficiently, resulting in net/net four times as expensive power than grid tie.

    I would go to here first to see your solar potential :

    Then here :

    And here:

    That is enough homework for now,,,

    Good luck, welcome to the forum, and feel free to ask any question(s) you wish. the are some very sharp, very helpful people here, many who have forgotten more about PV than most of us will know,


    Ps I think you will find that most of the folks here are not real high on small scale wind. It comes with some pretty tough problems. The long and short of it, is in most cases if you have enough wind to make it viable, you then have too much to keep the hardware from self destrutcing quickly.

    Flowing water on the other hand,,,,

    PPS. I don't get it, but home power magazine is often considered the "bible" for off gridders. Worth reading some back issues.

    PPPS,, Some idea of your location would help answer some general questions better. Arizona has different solar dynamics than Maine for example.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot ✭✭ Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Just to address the "off-the-shelf" question; solar/wind/hydro are highly site specific. There really can't be a "one size fits all" solution by any standard, not even per Watt hour. That does not, however, stop companies from selling them.

    You have the advantage of being able to design for solar to begin with, getting orientation, insulation, and passive solar factors right from the start rather having to try and retrofit everything.

    Always remember the most important aspect of off-grid energy use: conservation!
    That should be the most important aspect of on-grid as well, but alas ...
  • gj.gibsongj.gibson Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Here's what I have in mind so far.
    "First question,,, how far away is grid power and how much is it going to cost to bring it to your door?"
    I am looking at 1/4 to 1/3 mile at $1k per power pole. That is the first reason but not the most important. I just don't want to be dependent on the power company. I guess on the other hand if I can't do repairs myself I will be dependent on the repair man LOL!
    The house will be or can be designed around the system within reason. I don't like the way earth houses look so it will have a more traditional look from the outside at least.
    It will sit in the middle of a bald hill roughly 1200 ft in elevation and about 3-5 acres in size in south-central Tennessee with great exposure southward. I will have plenty of room for panels, etc.
    Thank to you all for your introduction and your thoughts. They are welcome anytime!
  • icarusicarus ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 5,304 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    So let's just assume for the moment that it will cost ~$25k to bring a meter to the house.

    The same $25k will by a PV system that might be 3 kw say.

    Using my off grid rule of thumb, that 3 kw system might produce 3000/2*4=6kwh net/net out of the inverter of usable power. (Battery based systems run ~55% efficient (or less,, more on that later) and certainly on a year round basis one can't count on much more than 4 hours of good sun every day.

    Now, keep in mind, that a very efficient, well managed house might use anywhere from say 10-30 kwh/day. So you can easily see that battery based solar is hobbled by it's expense, and it's limited capacity.

    Add to that, ~1/2 the cost of a battery based system is the batteries, which have a finite life span,, seldom more than 10 years of full time use, so you have to calculate in the replacement cost of the batteries in this case. So let's say you have $10,000 worth of batteries in the above system, and they last 10 years,, that is $1000/year, or $83 per month, just to amortize the batteries.

    So while being free of the power company is a great idea, one has to seriously consider the cost, and the limitation. That said, I am not meaning to discourage you, but rather keep your eyes open.

    In addition to your PV system you will need a significant generator system to power the house during construction, and to keep the batteries up when the sun isn't sufficient. (Adding to the net cost, plus fuel/maintenance etc.)

    All this said, all the conservation choices you might make for an off grid house, you might rightly make for a grid tie house as well, as the benefits are just as important, even though they may "pay off" slower.

    All things being equal, I would bite the bullet, get the power, but design for (and hopefully) install grid tie, get the tax credits and the utility credits while they are still available. That way, you can turn the tables on the utility by making your meter run backwards all the time you live in the house. By being able to start with a clean slate, should make any install somewhat cheaper, and certainly more efficient.

    PS That same $25,000 that I was talking about earlier, might buy ~5kw of Pv, yielding ~ 5000*.90*4=18kwh/day, 6 times as much power for the same money. Add to that tax credits and utility rebates, state and local incentives that may or may not be able to off grid systems, and the net cost might ~1/2 of that, making a grid tie system ~12 times more financially efficient. (I don't know in the US if tax credits (state and local) are available to off grid,, I'm sure others will add)


    PS My per watt cost of battery based vs grid tie may not be quite on as the prices have change a bit in the last while, others can chime in, but the relationship between the two is still about the same.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot ✭✭ Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    You really have to get a firm price on running utility power in, right to the box.
    Then work up an estimate on what size off-grid system you'd need and its cost.
    Compare the two, and if the capital expenditure is roughly the same, then the O-G is good.

    But it won't be the 48 kW that houses are normally wired for.
  • BB.BB. admin Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,634 admin
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Running utility lines to your home will probably increase the value of your property too...

    Really rough numbers, off-grid solar power will net out costing you are around $1 to $2+ per kWhr... Ideally, off-grid system are not too bad (cost and size wise) for 100 kWhrs per month (or less).

    But, a 2,000 sqft home with A/C is going to chew up; a lot of power.

    See if you can get a good idea of how much electricity you will need by season (if A/C is used in your area) (assuming you use propane for all cooking, heating, hot water, drier, etc.). If you keep your usage down (lots of insulation, make usage of natural cooling/ventilation, etc.) and use mini-split A/C systems for just a couple rooms--you may be OK with off grid power.

    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • gj.gibsongj.gibson Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Thanks for your advice and knowledge. I may have been expecting too much from the technology itself. It is a shame in this day and age that you cannot run an entire house on wind and solar. Hopefully someday that may come to fruition. Hopefully it will by the time I decide to build. The first thing I will do is pin down a firm cost to run power to the hill and go from there. I do plan on designing a system that will use as little electricity as possible with generator power backup and gas appliances etc.
    I will continue to lurk here and learn as much as I can.
    Thanks again,
  • CariboocootCariboocoot ✭✭ Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    You can run a whole house on solar & wind. Several of us do so. You just have to make certain adjustments, and spend a lot of money. A LOT of money.

    You could even build a 48kW system. But then we'd need a new adjective for "LOT" of money! :p
  • icarusicarus ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 5,304 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    I would quibble with Marc just a bit. You don't have to spend "a lot of money" if you are prepared to make considerable compromises. (No electric heat devices, using the generator for the shop/laundry etc). If you expect to live just like one might in a grid connected house then yea, it gets expensive.

  • CariboocootCariboocoot ✭✭ Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Quibble on, Tony! :D

    "A lot" is a relative term. I'm sure some people would think the $8,000 my system cost is cheap, but it put a crimp in my bank account.

    Realistically, off-grid power is considerably more expensive than utility. Unless there is no utility. In my case it wouldn't be possible even if we could pay for it, as the poles and wires would have to traverse 23 kms of private and public land, requiring quite a lot of easement acquisition for starters.

    That makes solar power very cheap indeed!
  • nielniel ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 10,311 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    you could even go without electricity and save lots of $.:cry::p going back to caveman days or that's how it would seem for most of us. reminds me of that commercial for a certain insurance company.:roll:
  • icarusicarus ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 5,304 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!



    I have no idea what my system cost me. Between scrounging, used stuff, other cast offs etc,,let me think,,,,

    I'm probably into it ~ $3k between controllers, inverter, various used PV and batteries. I could by one hell of a lot of gas for the EU 1000 for the same money! $1/litre, .25 litre/hour,,~12,000 hours worth of fuel,, divided by say 4 hours/day, somewhere around 8 years worth! (I wish I hadn't done that!) and that would be with ~800 watts of load.

    What I gain is 24/7 power. I could do the same thing by buying the batteries, run the genny for four hours to charge and then live the same way.

  • CariboocootCariboocoot ✭✭ Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    And quiet! As good as the Hondas are they do make noise.

    My idea of noise these days is: "Somebody tell that eagle to be quiet; I can't hear the fish jumping in the lake!" :D

    The old Onan barks like a big dog. :p

    How do you assign a $ value to peace and quiet?
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit ✭✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 5,007 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!
    Realistically, off-grid power is considerably more expensive than utility. Unless there is no utility.

    Or, like in my case, I use maybe 15-20 kwh a month(9 months of the year) and the electric company wants a User fee of $25 per month before you buy the $2 of electric.

    Making the per Kwh well over $1

    I have @ $5,000 invested in my system and expect it will pay for it's self in it's life time.

    As lead prices have fallen and they are planning on increasing the user fee to $32, I'm looking smarter and smarter...
    Home system 4000 watt (Evergreen) array standing, with 2 Midnite Classic Lites,  Midnite E-panel, Prosine 1800 and Exeltech 1100, 660 ah 24v ForkLift battery. Off grid for @16 of last 17 years. Assorted other systems, and to many panels in the closet to not do
  • gj.gibsongj.gibson Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    Price is relative, true enough. Since it would be a part of new construction, I imagine I would be spending a considerable amount as a lot of it would be built in in addition to the desire to do it right the first time with quality equipment. I just need to find someone to design the system without ripping me off and get a good working knowledge of how it all works. "Best bang for the buck" also comes to mind;)
    This is truely an overwhelming subject. You can't just go to Walmart and get this stuff!
  • t00lst00ls ✭✭✭ Solar Expert Posts: 218 ✭✭✭
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    can you tell me how far you are to the kentucky state line...I live just 15 miles from I-65 in kentucky.....If you live close enough, I could evaluate the property for wind solar and possibly the micro may have a stream that you can use to produce enough power to tide you over in times where you have no sun or wind

    right now, I'm the only residential electric consumer that is selling power back in this T.V.A service area (tva service area 2)...there are others that are doing it, but they are either education centers or part of corporations ...such as dolly wood

    or let me know if I can send you a pm to give you my phone number and web address
  • gj.gibsongj.gibson Registered Users Posts: 5
    Re: New and Overwhelmed!

    I am closer to the Alabama line about the same distance east of I65. No streams, just an open hill(1200ft elev).
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