Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

suecosueco Registered Users Posts: 22
I want your suggestions for configuring a solar system (panels, controllers, batteries, inverters, etc.) to meet the requirements below. I truly believe this is an important group of people who are ignored because they are told that can't have [small] solar systems and drink their coffee, too! :D

It is my goal to create a resource in suburban Kansas City to assist folks EXACTLY like me :-) who want to reduce the need/demand on oil/fossil fuels, and do something solar towards cleaning up our environment. Here's the profile:

- middle class, with some money to spend:
*** My goal: keep it under $2500
*** Second goal: offer scaled up version at $5000
- environmentally conscience
*** I am willing to do this even at a loss (small), if it works
- educated:
*** I want to understand my solar system: how much/why it's helping
- I don't want to be TOO inconvenienced:
*** I already have the appliances I like, and I like my comforts
- protect my investments
*** I have a beautiful home; I don't want to alter it much - especially it's resale value.
- do-it-yourself
*** I can do anything, including this. Well, with SOME help from my friends/community/forums.
- stubborn
*** I know that we can do this. Also, I believe this is important.

OK - there are a few more things I could add. And, let's assume we've all already done the "non-solar" energy conservation things (sealing doors and windows, turning off lights, etc.).

There are some things here in this forum that I already know: electric heating is.... inefficient. Even the concept itself is stupid: introduce the very thing we are trying desparately to avoid in order to accomplish electrical heating: resistance.

However, I believe this is an important section of the population to get into solar. I've played with several things, and have accomplished all of the above. The problem: it takes an enormous solar environment to power the efficient things - my energy efficient refridgerater and air conditioner, for example - so the smaller appliances are good candidates. Unfortunately, most of the smaller appliances involve electric heating.

I believe many things could be improved with my existing solar systems, and I'd like to see how you would build the above.

Thanks in advance for all of your suggestions/advice.

Comments

  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Posted in your other thread:
    http://www.toddycafe.com/about/
  • suecosueco Registered Users Posts: 22
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    That's just a SMALL part of the answer, but, I'm checking with my partner about ordering a Toddy coffee maker, and if it's good, I'll add it to my $2500 (and $5000) solution.

    So, $30 dollars for Toddy coffee maker - that leaves $2470? Any other must have appliances? Then, how much for solar panels? what size? what controller? what battery? can you suggest the rest of the solar system that would work in suburbia, meeting the profile, below? First for under $2500, and then for under $5000?
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    It's unfortunate but you can't defy the laws of physics. Nor the laws of economics. In this case they coincide: you can't get something for nothing.

    All off-grid systems are based on loads. Or should be. The ones that aren't tend not to work very well.
    So how much does a coffee maker use? From another thread we have your @ 900 Watts.
    How long does it take? I don't know since I don't drink it, and wouldn't make it via electric anyway. Let's say 15 minutes to boil (there are many different machines, but you have to start somewhere).

    From that we know we must be able to supply 900 Watts resistive load, and 225 Watt hours to meet the time span. Now a resistive load can be run on a cheap MSW inverter, which would save expense (but limit other applications). There will be some power penalty for this, of course.

    Using a 12 Volt system (which goes against the grain for me) we need to plan for maximum current at minimum Voltage, or roughly 1000 Watts / 10 Volts: 100 Amps. The battery bank will need to be at least enough to meet the 250 Watt hours, or 50 Amp hours minimum. The trouble is a battery that small will fail very quickly if asked to supply 100 Amps at all. And there's the big problem: a 100 Amp discharge rate will be very hard on any small battery set. A large battery will be pretty expensive just for heating coffee. It's the Peukart effect here. A pair of 6 Volt 225 Amp hour "golf cart" batteries would just about work. I wouldn't want to be those batteries. :roll:

    Depending on the length of wire run from battery to inverter you'll need at least #1 AWG, and larger is better. 2/0 is probably a better bet.

    Oh and you'll need 400 Watts of panel and a charge controller capable of handling 20+ Amps to recharge the batteries.

    Roughly speaking, $1000 in panels. $120 for the controller. $300 for batteries. $1200 for an inverter (probably can by a cheap brand for 1/2 that). Plus misc. wiring, fuses, connectors, and hardware. Ought to come in under $3,000.

    Pretty expensive way to make coffee, if you ask me.

    Have you considered an RE system for supplying lighting instead? Much easier and cheaper to do, and people use their lights a lot. Even people who don't drink coffee.
  • suecosueco Registered Users Posts: 22
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    mmmm.... philosophically, I disagree with much in your email, below. Starting at the beginning, we get something for nothing all the time. For example, the sun is giving us a boat load of energy - what do we give the sun???? The world works this way.... ESPECIALLY around solar....

    Another example - that I do not take lightly - several of you in the forum have given me some very good advice/answers about solar stuff - you are giving me something invaluable, but what are you getting from me? see? I'm getting something for nothing all the time.... we all do....

    Ok, back to the point (solar for the small guys): I feel like there is a LOT available (especially around encouragement) for the guys that want to do it all, and little available for those like me who only want to dip our feet. And, yet, I believe there are millions more just like me who would dip their feet in solar if they could be successful doing so. Just imagine what the cost of YOUR solar cells would be if that happened....

    So, I have finally made solar coffee, yes, and you are not the ONLY person who has pointed out that it is a very expensive way to make coffee (".... perhaps you could buy a Starbucks for less....").... However, coffee making is brief: for the rest of my day I power my office and garage, and run many other appliances.... and have reduced my electric bill by over 30%.... If we can be open about what a "successful" solar system might look like, that would help.

    Among the many things I don't know is the best battery choices, especially around wear/life. What are the best batteries for these smaller systems. I started with gel cell, and moved to flooded (no, they are not mixed). I have a gel cell in a nice oak case I made that I can easily move around the house/patio to power fans/lights/etc. This is nice because it get's the solar energy to more places in my house. You guys with the big systems wouldn't need to do that, but I really like this capability. And I wouldn't do that with a flooded battery, but maybe I could.

    BTW, if you have 400W of panels for $1000, I want to know where you get your panels. I have 475W that have roughly cost $1500.

    Then, about the inverter - that's another question (but I've not been wanting to influence the suggestions with specifics): I have used cheap inverters (msw); my thinking has been specifically around the fact that for %98 of the time, the cheap ones work OK, and then I can spend that money on an additional solar panel/battery(s). But I'm open - maybe I'm even looking for someone to convince me that the cheap inverter is a poor choice for many reason's I'm not thinking about.

    The controller is another question I have. I'm not pleased with mine, so I was open to get some ideas here as well. Are there certain types of controllers that work better, especially with the smaller systems (500W/ 4-8 batteries, 1500 W inverter, for example). Are there certain types of controllers that allow you to grow your system, a little at a time (which is what I've done).
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Actually, going off-grid is all about small systems not big ones. The first rule of that is to reduce consumption as much as possible. You get rid of what is inefficient to run first. Unfortunately that means two of the items you want to run from solar would be on the hit list to begin with: coffee maker and air conditioner. Once you get the power needs down as far as possible, then you figure out how to supply it. Going about it the other way ("this is how much power I have; what can I do with it?") isn't very practical. Considering that the stuff is enormously expensive it is important to be practical about it.

    On a cost-per-Watt basis, the very small is outrageously expensive if bought all new. The larger panels are a better value, but the very large panels start going up in price again. The same with batteries and with inverters. In between the very small and the very large is a "sweet spot" where it's simply hugely expensive, not mind-bogglingly so. :roll:

    I shan't get into a philosophical discussion because that's not the intent of the forum. Some people do go off-grid just on the basis of political or social principals and that's their choice; they pay for it. But I will say that we do get something from handing out free advice: the industry as a whole suffers from hyperbole and con artists who make ridiculous claims about running your whole house from 45 Watts of amorphous panel and such. That ultimately does harm to legitimate retailers like our host. We benefit from giving out facts and truth and explaining reality. Even us oldsters learn things daily, as new products and even new problems arise. If it weren't for the challenge of solving problems for folk here I think my brain would atrophy from lack of use! :p
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    sueco wrote: »
    BTW, if you have 400W of panels for $1000, I want to know where you get your panels. I have 475W that have roughly cost $1500.

    NAWS, our host, lists some quite good values in panels: http://www.solar-electric.com/hiposopa.html
    Note the Kyocera 215's at $452 apiece. Unfortunately panel prices fluctuate quite a bit. If you live up here in Canada you can only dream of such prices.
    Then, about the inverter - that's another question (but I've not been wanting to influence the suggestions with specifics): I have used cheap inverters (msw); my thinking has been specifically around the fact that for %98 of the time, the cheap ones work OK, and then I can spend that money on an additional solar panel/battery(s). But I'm open - maybe I'm even looking for someone to convince me that the cheap inverter is a poor choice for many reason's I'm not thinking about.

    Reasons to choose PSW over MSW: you need to run an induction motor that won't take MSW. You need an exceptionally clean power source for A/V or RF equipment. You need some of the extra features found only on the higher-priced inverters which happen to be PSW.
    The controller is another question I have. I'm not pleased with mine, so I was open to get some ideas here as well. Are there certain types of controllers that work better, especially with the smaller systems (500W/ 4-8 batteries, 1500 W inverter, for example). Are there certain types of controllers that allow you to grow your system, a little at a time (which is what I've done).

    There are three basic types of controller. The first is the ridiculously cheap things they sell in retail stores which just regulate Voltage (to a greater or lesser degree) and don't actually control charge. The second is the PWM type, which is most economical for smaller systems. The third is the MPPT type, which has advantages in some case but especially on larger arrays (like over 400 Watts). There are even small array MPPT types like the little Morningstar 15 Amp or the Rogue 3024. In certain specific applications they might be the right choice.

    You might also want to look over our glossary of terms. We use a lot of acronyms around here; sometimes it's hard to tell what we're talking about! http://forum.solar-electric.com/showthread.php?t=6136
  • The Only SargeThe Only Sarge Solar Expert Posts: 164 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Two words....French Press.:blush:
  • bmetbmet Solar Expert Posts: 630 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    I dipped my feet first, so to speak, and even though the Moderators told me how bad my components were, I got over it. Guided by this forum, my system now is convenient and useful in my location. This is one of the few forums that holds your hand though technical challenges, and I am very grateful.

    On your quest for best pricing, how much patience do you have? My single panel was competitively priced because it had sat so long in the store that the proprietor took a loss to clear it out. I've tried to respect this by purchasing all my subsequent cabling and deep cycle products from them.
    I think that in the case of one often-mentioned Seller, service is better when they are fully stocked. When their majority of product is 'sold out', what's left is substituted and swapped to approximate the same value. It doesn't always work.

    On your question about cheap inverters, I'd like to say that mine has been worth the purchase price. It was $50 from a retailer that carries re-manufactured product. I don't make a habit of shopping there, but those couple of instances saved me a lot of money over new, and they haven't had any problems. This inverter meets the spec printed for it, and doesn't' drain my system when it's shut off. Because of the great advice that is freely available from this forum, I don't attempt unrealistic loads, and I read the label for everything that gets plugged into it.

    About your controller question, I had to upgrade my expectations from what I had, to what I needed. My original controller is cheap but had a great display! When I upgraded I chose a SunSaver(based purely on reputation) but it didn't give me the display I was accustomed to. I was unhappy with it, until my meter proved that it was performing exactly the way it is advertised. If I could do it over, I'd probably go with a 24V version for future expansion(This was another thing my cheap controller did, could use either 12 or 24VDC automatically, the only reason I had to upgrade is because the cheap CC doesn't support the higher charge rate of my current battery).
    sueco wrote: »
    mmmm.... philosophically, I disagree with much in your email, below. Starting at the beginning, we get something for nothing all the time. For example, the sun is giving us a boat load of energy - what do we give the sun???? The world works this way.... ESPECIALLY around solar....

    Another example - that I do not take lightly - several of you in the forum have given me some very good advice/answers about solar stuff - you are giving me something invaluable, but what are you getting from me? see? I'm getting something for nothing all the time.... we all do....

    Ok, back to the point (solar for the small guys): I feel like there is a LOT available (especially around encouragement) for the guys that want to do it all, and little available for those like me who only want to dip our feet. And, yet, I believe there are millions more just like me who would dip their feet in solar if they could be successful doing so. Just imagine what the cost of YOUR solar cells would be if that happened....

    So, I have finally made solar coffee, yes, and you are not the ONLY person who has pointed out that it is a very expensive way to make coffee (".... perhaps you could buy a Starbucks for less....").... However, coffee making is brief: for the rest of my day I power my office and garage, and run many other appliances.... and have reduced my electric bill by over 30%.... If we can be open about what a "successful" solar system might look like, that would help.

    Among the many things I don't know is the best battery choices, especially around wear/life. What are the best batteries for these smaller systems. I started with gel cell, and moved to flooded (no, they are not mixed). I have a gel cell in a nice oak case I made that I can easily move around the house/patio to power fans/lights/etc. This is nice because it get's the solar energy to more places in my house. You guys with the big systems wouldn't need to do that, but I really like this capability. And I wouldn't do that with a flooded battery, but maybe I could.

    BTW, if you have 400W of panels for $1000, I want to know where you get your panels. I have 475W that have roughly cost $1500.

    Then, about the inverter - that's another question (but I've not been wanting to influence the suggestions with specifics): I have used cheap inverters (msw); my thinking has been specifically around the fact that for %98 of the time, the cheap ones work OK, and then I can spend that money on an additional solar panel/battery(s). But I'm open - maybe I'm even looking for someone to convince me that the cheap inverter is a poor choice for many reason's I'm not thinking about.

    The controller is another question I have. I'm not pleased with mine, so I was open to get some ideas here as well. Are there certain types of controllers that work better, especially with the smaller systems (500W/ 4-8 batteries, 1500 W inverter, for example). Are there certain types of controllers that allow you to grow your system, a little at a time (which is what I've done).
  • johnljohnl Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    This likely takes the discussion on a different tangent...but ....

    It seems to me that the answer to the original poster's question about how to provide uncomplicated, small scale solar pv to suburbia is to forget batteries and charge controllers altogether and go with a grid-tie system. This is the market that Andalay/Westinghouse is targeting with their panels with built in racking and enphase inverters. Just hop over to the nearest Lowes that carries them (California only, I understand), buy a few off the shelf, pop 'em on your roof, and get a sparky to wire them in to your breaker panel following your local utility/AHJ rules.

    Now, I know there's a whole bunch of issues that this sort of idea would involve, including product choices, cost, and the wide variety of local utility and building code requirements....but wouldn't a small roof mount or ground mount grid-tie system be a more sensible place to start from for a typical suburban install?
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    johnl;

    You are perfectly correct. Grid-tie solar is much more practical for existing, utility-connected homes no matter what the scale. In response to another of sueco's posts elsewhere on this forum I pointed that out. Even so it is not without expense and bother. There really is no one-size-fits-all answer. Whenever you design a system and leave out the site specifics you're in for disappointment.

    I'm glad you mention the need for licensed electricians and AHJ approval for those over-the-counter grid-tie units. One day some "guerrilla install" system is going to burn a house down and all solar RE will get blamed. :grr
  • suecosueco Registered Users Posts: 22
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Again, thanks - I really do appreciate all of the comments, it's incredible how knowledgeable/helpful you all are, and how much I'm learning....

    However, as previously stated, I am staying away from grid-tie for this SPECIFIC problem/solving for the following reasons: I want to do it myself (and help others who want to do it themselves), I want to keep it small, simple, and cheap, and I don't want to alter my home.... much.

    And, again, this thread is INTENTIALLY trying to address simple applications of solar for the average joe. You are all very conscientious and want to give good information about how to be the most efficient, and be clear it's way expensive.... and I understand why - I myself am a victim :-) of bad or mis-information. But you scare the beegeezus out of folks with your honest knowledge. What I'm I'm asking is for is the technical gurus to be willing to see this differently. You want to tell folks how to be the most efficient. I want to tell folks how they can get started in solar for cheap. You say (over and over again, I've read through the forum) that's backwards. Maybe so, but it worked for me: I started with one battery and one panel, and then I changed how I lived so I could get 2 more panels and 2 more batteries to do a little more.... then I changed again .... and now I save over 30% on my electric bills....

    Backwards, maybe, but I now know what just about everything in my house draws, more or less. I have replaced my AC fans with 12V DC fans that run on much less energy. I've replaced every light in my house with energy efficient bulbs. I turn off lights, and my computers at night. I've sealed my house. I'm even looking into an energy efficient refrigerator.... And ALL of this because of one solar panel/battery - which is actually horribly inefficient, but it got me started - I wanted to run more and more on solar, and I had to change my life to do so. Backwards, yes, but here I am.

    I believe in this approach for some people - it's not right for you, but I think it's right for middle america: non-committal in general, not wanting to be inconvenienced, but having some extra money to play with. I think this approach for this population ONLY will actually help the solar industry AND, it will allow many people to feel good about helping. I'm not saying be dishonest - bottom line is I always tell people they will not even break even - most of my friends are ok with that - we talk about this as a part of our "tything" back to the Universe - that's what it is for me.

    And, the only reason I'm in solar now is because I'm frickin' stubborn, and didn't listen to the well -intentioned heavies that told me I needed at LEAST 6 panels and 8 batteries to run my office. And, yes, I got myself into trouble - on more than one occasion, but, also, I have many successess.

    So, no grid-ties. It's too complex for what I'm trying to do.

    THINK SIMPLE: 1 or 2 125W Solar panel; 2 or 4 flooded batteries; 1 ?? controller ??; 1 ??CHEAP inverter??; some 8 guage wire, some 4 guage wire; some fuses. What's the BEST you would personally recommend if the rules are that you can't know what it's being used for - you have to guess/imagine? Maybe we don't get the 900W coffee maker on this, but the smaller 700W? or, as previously stated, I'll include the Toddy coffee maker with the package.

    What would you go out and buy/configure for you mother for Mother's day? she doesn't want anything too big/complex, doesn't want to alter her house, much, doesn't really want to worry too much about it, but it will???? run her small flat screen TV??? or her short wave radio??

    No one is committing to anything here.... just, playing... what if.... what if you HAD to do it backwards - what would you suggest, and then WHY would you suggest what you're suggesting!
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Simple can be done. No doubt about it. Just don't expect "simple" to run an air conditioner or a 1000 Watt coffee pot. Physics can get in the way of simple really fast, and spoil your plans.

    You don't see many posts about it, but in the off-grid cabin world simple is the watchword. Occasional use cabins, for instance, may want a low power DC only system for lighting and to run a radio. RV/camping applications often have similar criteria. But the power demands catch up with you eventually.

    How small can you go and still have good value? There's several ways to look at it. Here's one:

    Kyocera 135 Watt panel ($350) can support a UB 90 Amp hour battery ($154) through a SunSaver 10 Amp controller ($45) and run a Samlex 300 Watt inverter ( $158 ) providing 500 Watt hours of power. What you do with that power is your choice. Total system with wires, fuses, et cetera could be had new for under $1,000, depending on location. Won't run a coffee pot, won't run an air conditioner and there's absolutely no way to make it do so.

    So unless you nail down some selection criteria you're just shooting in the dark. You either fix a power requirement which requires system design "X" and a cost of "Y" or you put together a system at a cost of "Z" and try to find what it will power. Doing it the latter way ends up being more expensive in the long run. Might make a good learning experience, but it's cheaper to do it "on paper" and see whether or not it would work than to buy stuff and see what you can do with it.

    Although engineers are wont to take a problem and solve it, the problem needs to be defined first. Otherwise there are thousands of permutations we could throw at you, and what would you get from that? You already know there's tons of equipment out there with different specs.

    I wouldn't buy my mother any solar for Mother's Day; where she lives it would be a complete waste of money. :roll:
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,381 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    sueco wrote: »
    Again, thanks - I really do appreciate all of the comments, it's incredible how knowledgeable/helpful you all are, and how much I'm learning....

    However, as previously stated, I am staying away from grid-tie for this SPECIFIC problem/solving for the following reasons: I want to do it myself (and help others who want to do it themselves), I want to keep it small, simple, and cheap, and I don't want to alter my home.... much.

    Simple and cheap, battery systems are neither! Grid tie gets way more bang for the buck. There are several people that did Grid-tie themselves around here and just got bless by code and electrician.

    Got power line coming in? It is the perfect battery, no maintenance, no purchase price, no charge controller to setup and watch.
  • SCharlesSCharles Solar Expert Posts: 123 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    You mentioned appliances besides the coffee maker. You need to list those, as many will not be running on a small, inexpensive system. If you are thinking that you will use PV to run some things but the grid to continue running the bigger and more power-hungry things, that is a different deal.

    What exactly do you want [or wish] to run off your proposed PV system? If you want to plan to run your entire operation PV, or even run it some of the time [like during daylight only, with grid use at night], another deal.

    It is not that you can't do what you propose, but as someone else already pointed out, the first step will be to figure out just what you will be running off electricity. Then you [and we] can start to look at it in more depth.
  • solarixsolarix Solar Expert Posts: 713 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Check into the little 1800W package solar system called the PowerHub1800 by Xantrex. All set to go, just add two batteries, a few PV panels and a simple charge controller and you can run the critical loads of your house including the coffee maker for about $3k. PM me and I can get them for you.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    solarix wrote: »
    Check into the little 1800W package solar system called the PowerHub1800 by Xantrex. All set to go, just add two batteries, a few PV panels and a simple charge controller and you can run the critical loads of your house including the coffee maker for about $3k. PM me and I can get them for you.

    Pardon me for asking, but if you have to add the batteries, controller, and panels what is "all set to go" about it? Sounds like it's just an inverter.
  • johnljohnl Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    sueco wrote: »
    No one is committing to anything here.... just, playing... what if.... what if you HAD to do it backwards - what would you suggest, and then WHY would you suggest what you're suggesting!

    OK...in my jurisdiction (ie Canadian Building Code), anything over 5 sq. meters of panels requires a building permit and structural plans stamped by a p.eng. So to avoid that $3,000+ cost, my starting point would be 3 panels with each panel no more than 2583 sq inches in size. Using our forum host's products as a starting point, 3 Suntech STP190s would fit within this space at a cost of $464 each. For racking, the Iron Ridge XRS product that NAWS carries looks like it would work nicely. The IronRidge configurator web site says that list price for roof mount racking for one row of three STP190 modules in portrait orientation would be about $260, but NAWS seems to have slightly better pricing, so lets call it $250. So far we're at $1,642 for 570 watts of panels with racks.

    Now, I'll take this down the route of what I'd suggest for a trouble-free, zero-maintenance install for the average homeowner. Add 3 enphase M-190s at about $200 each, plus their branch install kit at $75, and we're now at $2317. Lets say we need another $500 for romex, a small spa-type breaker box and 15amp breaker, 15 amp disconnect switch, meter base, lightning arrestor, and a few other bits and pieces. Lets call it $2750 in hardware. (No Envoy unit included/required). Some careful comparison shopping might allow the cost to be reduced a bit, or for the cost to stay the same but to go up a little in wattage within the same 3-panel, 5 sq meter footprint.

    In my jurisdiction, the electrical inspection is $400 for DIY installs, or $250 if a licensed electrician hooks it up. Then my local utility company charges a flat rate of $100 for a generation meter and $100 to connect the meter to the existing service and to the pv disconnect switch. So now we're at $3350 with DIY electrical, or $3200 plus the electrician's labor. Of course, these costs for inspection, utility hookup, and labor will vary widely from place to place.

    Why?
    - Maximum bang (ie output) for the buck, and no real worries about mtce or upkeep for the homeowner.
    - Simpler than pv with batteries and chargers.
    - Works with what the homeowner has and doesn't require any special appliances.
    - Allows the homeowner to take advantage of the utility's net metering or feed in tarrif plans.
    - Can be scaled down a bit in cost by doing only two panels and inverters.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    johnl; grid-tie has already been rejected by the OP, sueco.

    Kinda hard to do this without a fix power target, eh?
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 31,625 admin
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    And that system Johnl scoped out will generate around $8-$16 per month worth of electricity per month around 9 months of the year (depends on your location, weather, and local cost of power).

    By the way, some utilities charge $10-$20+ per month for Net Metered GT Systems for special meters+billing.

    In California (where I live), we have a requirement that people must use Time of Use Net Metered billing--Basically, you pay more for power during summer/afternoons/evenings.

    For people that want legally install a small GT solar system--If they cannot drop their power usage during the "six months" of TOU summer billing peak and partial peak time periods--They will actually see their power bill increase because the small "trial" solar GT system does not generate enough energy to offset their afternoon loads (A/C, cooking, washing up, etc.). So--for our area--you either have to go "full sized" GT Solar system, or forget it as a small system + TOU net meter plan will increase your electrical bills significantly.

    You could avoid all of the regulator/building permit/etc. and save a few dollars by going guerrilla (no approvals). Of course there are downsides (including the utility having the right to turn off your power).

    We try to persuade people to always follow the local rules and regulations. But following the rules sometimes makes small GT Solar Systems completely uneconomic.

    So, you are back to building out a small off-grid battery backed system. And the limits that a battery has (limited peak current, limited storage, various rules for charging/discharging/storing/etc.).

    Don't get me wrong, you can learn a lot from building your own off grid system. But knowledge and pleasure of a successful project will be the major reward.

    Here is another thread where we walked through designing a small off-grid system for emergency power use. It goes through all of the decision making processes, selecting components, and how to wire it up safely:

    Emergency Power

    You can certainly make your own decisions about MSW vs TSW inverters, size of panels, used or new components, etc....

    Also, you might wish to look at first building your system out as a UPS type system. Get the batteries + Inverter you wish to try--And get a (relatively) inexpensive AC battery charger (Iota or similar). You can do all of your testing without having to purchase a solar array and charge controller.

    If you have the occasional day or several day long power outages--look at getting a backup genset (gas, propane, natural gas, diesel, etc.) that can run your home and recharge the battery bank during the day. We actually recommend this for people that have somewhat unreliable power but are not ready for the cost and mounting of $olar panel$ yet.

    Once you have the system working the way you like--then it is simply plugging in the numbers for the right size solar array and charge controller.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • johnljohnl Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    BB. wrote: »
    And that system Johnl scoped out will generate around $8-$16 per month worth of electricity per month around 9 months of the year (depends on your location, weather, and local cost of power).

    Well, um, er, every little bit counts, uh, right?:blush:


    In the far away land called Ontario, the magical 80.2 cents per kwh microFIT program means that this sort of tiny grid-tied system put together with components meeting Ontario rules would generate about $600 per year. I suppose even $16/mo for 20 years might come close to break-even. But for the OP in Kansas with net metering, PV Watts tells a very depressing story ($68 per year for a 570 watt system at a state-average 7.7 cents per kwh).
  • Ralph DayRalph Day Solar Expert Posts: 940 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    Johnl,

    Where are you in Canada? My microFIT, since it was ground mounted needed no building permit. ESA permit and inspection yes, but unless you were mounting panels on a roof permits and engineered drawings were not needed. My system was designed and built to 100mile per hour standard (the engineer/designer likes to sleep well on windy nights), but the municipality was totally out of the loop regarding permits (the first and only time!).

    Ralph
  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    sueco wrote: »

    So, no grid-ties. It's too complex for what I'm trying to do.
    A grid tied system without batteries is by far the least complex PV system possible for a residence.
  • The Only SargeThe Only Sarge Solar Expert Posts: 164 ✭✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!

    If you consider being under the thumb and scrutiny of "Big Brother" "the least complex" then your definition and mine differ!
  • johnljohnl Solar Expert Posts: 30
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    Ralph Day wrote: »
    Johnl,

    Where are you in Canada? My microFIT, since it was ground mounted needed no building permit. ESA permit and inspection yes, but unless you were mounting panels on a roof permits and engineered drawings were not needed. My system was designed and built to 100mile per hour standard (the engineer/designer likes to sleep well on windy nights), but the municipality was totally out of the loop regarding permits (the first and only time!).

    Ralph
    I'm up in NW Ontario. I decided to do ground mount for my 10kW microFIT system, partly because of these sort of extra challenges involved in a roof mount system. I ended up with 48 panels and 2 Solectria 5kw inverters all on pole mounts from True North Power.

    The permit office in my municipality had seen enough microFIT-related inquiries that they had the section of the Ontario Building Code dealing with roof mount pV handy at the front counter when I went in to see what their requirements would be. For roof mount, I would have paid 1% of the total project cost for a building permit, plus the cost of engineering fees. For ground mount, no permit was required, and all the permit office cared about was that I ensured the arrays were positioned with sufficient setback from property lines. I gather that this is fairly standard for Ontario, but likely differs from requirements elsewhere.

    (For the purposes of this thread, I made the assumption that the typical solar-for-suburbia system would be on a tiny postage stamp of a building lot with no room for ground mount and hopefully some amount of available south facing roof space)
  • ggunnggunn Solar Expert Posts: 1,973 ✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    If you consider being under the thumb and scrutiny of "Big Brother" "the least complex" then your definition and mine differ!
    I was, of course, speaking purely of the complexity of the hardware and the design effort necessary to implement it; my political views did not enter into it.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,381 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Solar for Suburbia: I want my solar and my coffee, too!
    If you consider being under the thumb and scrutiny of "Big Brother" "the least complex" then your definition and mine differ!

    If you mean interconnecting to a utilities grid for buy off, or NEC code and permitting for safe installation then under the thumb is for your own good and a consistent power system.

    But then there is always burning the place down by going guerrilla.
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