Help Choosing System

maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
Hello Everyone, ok so I am trying to learn as much as possible about solar off-grid living and also trying to figure out a good backup system as we are having lots of power outages where I live. The last one was almost a week long. I am most interested in a backup system that would power the following items:

Refrigerator (full size) - 11.5 amps, 115 Volts

Freezer (5.3 cubic feet) 115 volts
microwave or hotplate

750 Watt Heater (the Eco setting) - http://www.edenpuresale.com/fireplace-edenpure.html?limit=all

Portable Air Conditioner

I live in the Midwest and our winters are cold and summers very hot. Having a child with asthma I need to keep at least one room warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I also don't want my food to spoil

I have been looking at the following systems and was wondering the forums thoughts on if they are good systems and which one would most meet my needs. I would like a complete kit in order to simplify the process: http://offgridsolar.com/off-grid-solar-home-kits.html

My ultimate future plans is to go completely off grid if possible as we are going to experience a 20% rate hike within the next year. Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Comments

  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Welcome to the forum.

    Let me say I understand your wishes, but if you've got grid you should use it. Even a 20% rate hike is unlikely to bring power up to the $1.00+ per kW hour that a fully off-grid system costs. Coming up with week-long back-up power is another issue. Check to see if your utility allows grid-tie. If so you would be better off with a "hybrid" grid-tie system; one that has batteries capable of supplying emergency power when the grid is down. When it is up, the solar panels' production is sold back to the power company for credit against your bill.

    The next concern is the items you want to be able to supply: refrigerator, freezer, heater, air conditioner. These are four of the biggest power consumers there are. It's not that it isn't possible, but be forewarned that to supply those power needs in an off-grid or even grid-tie (w/back-up) system will cost a lot of money.

    The first thing you should invest in is a Kill-A-Watt meter. About $30, and with it you'll be able t get real power consumption figures for everything you need to keep running. The manufacturers' power labels are not good enough, frankly. The K-A-W will actually tally how many kW hours are used in a day without your having to do any math; just plug the appliance in through the meter. Once you get a real set of numbers for potential power use you can plan a system properly. Don't just go buy someone's "kit" that has a bunch of arbitrary-choice equipment stuck together; it's not likely to be suitable for your particular needs.

    I'm not keen on that electric fireplace. Heating with electric is all the same; no one unit is any more efficient than any other. That's because the Watts turn in to heat the same. I have had good experience with the electric oil-filled radiators for keeping rooms comfortable. They can be set at different Watt levels (likely all the "eco setting" is) according to room size and because they have mass that heats (to a safe "touchable" temperature) once the room is warmed it stays consistently comfortable.

    As for Air conditioning, take a look at this thread on mini-split units: http://forum.solar-electric.com/showthread.php?t=5104 They are more efficient than standard A/C types.

    As for refrigerators, you'll find a lot of discussion about those power-hungry monsters on this forum. Including converting chest freezers, using DC units, small vs. large, et cetera. I've done some of the testing myself and found the best standard units come in at around 1 to 2 kW hours per day.

    Those are key numbers: total kW hours per day you'll need to supply and maximum Watts at any one time. It's very important to invest time, effort, and money in minimizing power consumption before you spend a dime on power production.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,356 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Welcome Maddy, I think you came to the right place, lots of off grid guys here.

    Rule of thumb as a first step is get some real measurements of your intended loads. Google up a kill-a-watt meter and start measuring what your appliances actually use over a day. Heating and cooling with off grid battery systems is generally frown on as an expensive solution but a few folks do use mini split high seer AC/heat pump units off batteries on a limited basis. look to propane for your emergency cooking heeds.

    Edit, what did I tell ya, the coot beat me to the punch!
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Thank you both for the replies. I will have to look into the killometer item.

    Propane is not an option for me as my daughter has asthma and I have a sensitivity to propane. Also, I expect there will be a huge oil shortage in the very near future so trying to find a way to produce heat/cooling on my own. Solar power seemed the way to go.

    Once I have the right measurements from the killometer I will be back to post the results and move on from there. Thanks so much once again!
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,167 admin
    Re: Help Choosing System

    You really need to look into conservation first... It is almost always less expensive and an better "investment" to reduce your power usage first.

    Lots of attic insulation (R40 or better), add wall insulation for older homes, double pane windows, energy star appliances, new A/C and heat pump systems both for cooling and heating the home and providing hot water too (air sourced or ground sourced depending on your area).

    If you want/need to work off-grid--Look at 100 kWH per month (~3.3 kWH per day) as a nice size off-grid system. You can certainly go larger, but the expenses for installation and maintenance go way up too.

    With natural gas and a well insulated home and no A/C--I can get around 200-300 kWH per month with my suburban grid tied home.

    The "average" home in the US uses around 1,000 kWH per month. And people in temperature extremes (like Texas, Florida, etc.) can use 1,000-2,000 kWH per month very easily.

    While it is possible to build off-grid systems that will support that kind of power usage--it usually is not very cost effective (possible hundreds of thousands of dollars to build out such a large system).

    And remember batteries will only last 5-15 years (depending on quality), and the major electronics will probably last around 10 years (you are replacing much of your system every ~10 years or so--solar panels should last 25+ years).

    A 1,000 kWH per month power bill will cost you around $1,000 to $2,000 per month (costs spread out over twenty years--Assuming ~$1-$2+ per kWH off grid system costs).

    Basically, off-grid power is easily 10x the cost of utility power... Plan on using utility power for your major usage and then look at emergency power (1-4 weeks is a pretty long time running on pure generator--just storing enough fuel can be an issue if you are looking at a 10-20kW genset--The larger gensets will suck around 1 gallon per hour--or ~24 gallons per day of fuel).

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Thanks Bill for the info. I average around 600 kWh per month currently, trying to find a 100 KWh system, any suggestions? I was hoping that there would be a system or kit I would be able to use. My first priority would be to find something usable to power the 'essentials" in case of another power outage. Making sure the food doesn't spoil and having enough power for heat or cooling. I must say I am getting a little discouraged and totally overwhelmed trying to figure this stuff out.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    I don't want to scare you but 600 kW hours per month is seven times what my system produces. It cost $8,000, self-installed. Recently I "re-priced" the same system and found it is possible to get a bit more Watt hours for about $2,000 less, and their are some economies of scale but ... At that power consumption rate you could very easily spend $50,000 on a system.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Ok. So what type of system could I get away with to use as a back up power source then? What should I be looking for and what vendor would have the package I need?
  • VicVic Solar Expert Posts: 2,987 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    maddy1,

    Most of what needs to be said about your needs has been said.

    BUT,
    1. Either that refer is HUGE, very specialized, or OLD. That appears to be a large power hog, Have your verified that number -- 11.5 Amps? Is that running current? Where did you get the exact number?

    2. Not to pick at the seller of the kit you linked, but that site seems to emit a lot of hot air. Please look at these folks:
    http://www.solar-electric.com/

    That is the company that hosts this great site. They are honest, responsive, and have been in the business for decades. They may not have kits, but kits, sometimes use items that are hard to sell as individual items -- substandard units, unknown brands etc.

    As has been stated above, with more info on your current power useage, some healthy conservation, and good advice from the likes of those here, you can spec a system with quality parts that closely meets your needs.

    My first thought in response to your first post was, "Generator" They are very cost-effective for Grid backup, even if the outages are long and/or frequent.

    Good Luck, Vic
    Off Grid - Two systems -- 4 SW+ 5548 Inverters, Surrette 4KS25 1280 AH [email protected], 11.1 KW STC PV, 4X MidNite Classic 150 w/ WBjrs, Beta KID on S-530s, MX-60s, MN Bkrs/Boxes.  25 KVA Polyphase Kubota diesel,  Honda Eu6500isa,  Eu3000is-es, Eu2000,  Eu1000 gensets.  Thanks Wind-Sun for this great Forum.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Thanks for the reply Vic. 11.5 I got from the inside tag of the fridge. Maybe I read it wrong?

    I will look at solar-electric.com.

    Your last sentence when you mention generator, you were referring to a solar one right? A gas powered one is not an option for me.
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System
    maddy1 wrote: »
    Ok. So what type of system could I get away with to use as a back up power source then? What should I be looking for and what vendor would have the package I need?

    This is where your Kill-A-Watt meter shines. You get actual measurements of the essential items. Then you know how much power you really need in an outage. That's what you have to know to start.

    As far as "packages" are concerned ... I would be leery of any system sold in that manner. What you want to find (if you're not a DIY kind of person) is an installer in your area whom you can trust. Once you know how much power is needed you can get quotes on ways of fulfilling that need. There will be a significant difference between strictly off-grid back-up power and a grid-tied system with battery back-up. The GT system will be a better value because it will reduce all your purchased power costs no matter when you use it by selling surplus power when you don't. It's definitely something to consider.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Ok, this is the fridge I have http://www.frigidaire.com/products/kitchen/refrigerators/fftr1814lm
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Thank you very much Cariboocoot (interesting name). No I am not a DIY at all so your suggestions are great. My first step will be to get the Kill-A-Watt meter and test those appliances to see what the actual usage is. I did look at the solar-electric site and see everything is sold separately. I feel better about this process though now that I know I have experienced people to help answer my questions, this forum is a great resource.

    Thanks to everyone, will let you know what the results of the test are as soon as I am able to get the meter.
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 30,167 admin
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Your fridge's Energy Star Tag rates it at ~479 kWH per year or ~1.3 kWH per day...

    That is not too bad--But you should measure it with a Kill-a-Watt meter (or equivalent). Hot weather, dirty condenser coils, making lots of ice, etc., can all run up the power usage.

    The 11.5 amps is probably peak load (motor starting, defrost heaters, etc.).

    As you can see, the one appliance can take upwards of ~1/3 to 1/2 of your total energy harvest from a "smaller" off grid system.

    Add cooking, water pumping, A/C-Heating, lots of lights, computer systems, etc.--and the power needs dramatically increase.

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • VicVic Solar Expert Posts: 2,987 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Hi maddy1,

    When I said "generator", I was referring to an engine-driven type. For GT systems, they are by far the lowest cost to buy and to operate, compared to battery backed GT, or off grid style grid backup (ie with batteries).

    Battery based systems simply cannot compete against gensets, unless the batteries are small.

    You mentioned a run-up in cost of fossil fuels. This may happen. But it will take a while. You could do some form of hedging to help hedge any cost increase. I expect that part of this desire to avoid gensets may be the desire to be green.

    Just my opinions. Vic
    Off Grid - Two systems -- 4 SW+ 5548 Inverters, Surrette 4KS25 1280 AH [email protected], 11.1 KW STC PV, 4X MidNite Classic 150 w/ WBjrs, Beta KID on S-530s, MX-60s, MN Bkrs/Boxes.  25 KVA Polyphase Kubota diesel,  Honda Eu6500isa,  Eu3000is-es, Eu2000,  Eu1000 gensets.  Thanks Wind-Sun for this great Forum.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Hi Vic, I cannot use an engine driven generator because it requires fuel. I have an asthmatic child and I myself cannot tolerate the fumes, that's why I am looking at solar powered ones.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Just came across this, can't find any more info about this company though:
    http://news.yahoo.com/tri-beka-enterprises-shines-light-portable-solar-generator-184612032.html
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,356 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Do you have natural gas at your location? There are fully automation generators that run on nat gas and the servicing is minimal. The cost is reasonable as well.
  • rbtrrerrbtrrer Registered Users Posts: 22
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Regarding the "solar generator", referenced, unfortionatly,a vile of disapeering dust (misslabled, thus inadvertantly stored inncorrectly) was tipped over rendering the magic wand developed to create the critical component needed to make this device work within specs, and rendering it totally unusable,

    This may effect availability of this item to, as of yet, an indeterminal time delay.

    Don't kill the messenger, please:blush:
  • FrxddyFrxddy Solar Expert Posts: 113 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System
    rbtrrer wrote: »
    Regarding the "solar generator", referenced,,a vile of disappearing dust was tipped over rendering the magic wand developed to create the critical component needed to make this device work within specs, and rendering it totally unusable,

    I heard this same report. LOL

    Gosh, it's laughable how they make it sound all so groovy, yet fail to mention anything important, like how many watts the panel is or how many amps & volts the battery is or if the inverter is modified sine wave or pure or even if it's 120 V or 240! The one hint that this is a toy is when it mentions replacing "the battery" every five years. Unless it's one humungous size battery, you're not going to be powering much of anything for too long. It's a good thing "it can be linked parallel to other units" because you'll probably need 19 of them to power a 'fridge. Such a pity that dust got tipped over.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Hi Solar_Dave, yes I have natural gas at my location. I didn't know that was an option. Could you please point me in the right direction of where to start looking at such systems? That might be a viable option for me then.

    RBTRRER thanks for the update on that other system :p
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,356 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System
    maddy1 wrote: »
    Hi Solar_Dave, yes I have natural gas at my location. I didn't know that was an option. Could you please point me in the right direction of where to start looking at such systems? That might be a viable option for me then.

    RBTRRER thanks for the update on that other system :p

    Here are some examples

    http://www.northerntool.com/shop/tools/category_generators+residential-standby-generators
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Fantastic! Thanks Solar_Dave, I think this might be the better option for me and the price is right. Now I just have to figure out the total wattage I would need, or now, since I am moving in this direction I could just use my average usage from my electric bill to figure out what system would be best for me? These are powerful enough to also run the central air conditioner/central heat or would it be best to purchase portable electrical units for emergencies instead?
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,356 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System
    maddy1 wrote: »
    Fantastic! Thanks Solar_Dave, I think this might be the better option for me and the price is right. Now I just have to figure out the total wattage I would need, or now, since I am moving in this direction I could just use my average usage from my electric bill to figure out what system would be best for me? These are powerful enough to also run the central air conditioner/central heat or would it be best to purchase portable electrical units for emergencies instead?

    I would consider high efficency replacements if it is in your budget, then size accordingly. Mini splits would be my choice.

    Yes you can get rough sizing from your loads, your bill is probably not granular enough to make the estimate. They run the gambit in size but too large and they become less fuel efficent.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Ok Solar_Dave just got back from Menards. Talked to the salesperson and he showed me the Generac model. I looked at the Guardian Series 8-17 kW Model and the 20kW Model. These are priced within my budget. He showed me the whole house panels and explained exactly how the system works. This is the perfect solution for me, I am so thankful to have found this forum!

    He gave me a booklet and I am going to call Generac tomorrow. I am looking at either the Managed Whole-House (8-60 kW) or the Complete Whole-House (8 kW and up). Hopefully they can also give me the name of someone who does installation so I can get an estimate on the labor cost of this type of job.

    Once again thanks to everyone on this forum for your help. After weeks of trying to figure out what to do I seem to have an answer I am really happy with.
  • solar_davesolar_dave Solar Expert Posts: 2,356 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System
    maddy1 wrote: »
    Ok Solar_Dave just got back from Menards. Talked to the salesperson and he showed me the Generac model. I looked at the Guardian Series 8-17 kW Model and the 20kW Model. These are priced within my budget. He showed me the whole house panels and explained exactly how the system works. This is the perfect solution for me, I am so thankful to have found this forum!

    He gave me a booklet and I am going to call Generac tomorrow. I am looking at either the Managed Whole-House (8-60 kW) or the Complete Whole-House (8 kW and up). Hopefully they can also give me the name of someone who does installation so I can get an estimate on the labor cost of this type of job.

    Once again thanks to everyone on this forum for your help. After weeks of trying to figure out what to do I seem to have an answer I am really happy with.

    FYI Menards will accept a competitor coupon, in a post office change of address kit there is a Lowes 10% off coupon. ;) pick up a couple and split your order if you can. Each is good for up to $200 on your purchase.
  • maddy1maddy1 Registered Users Posts: 13
    Re: Help Choosing System

    Thanks so much! Now, what do you mean by a split order? Never mind, I answered my own question, just buy the parts separately. Duh. Thanks.
  • tmarchtmarch Solar Expert Posts: 143 ✭✭
    Re: Help Choosing System

    I suggest going to Menards and getting their price and then contacting someone to install the unit or one they sell.
    After doing that ask the installer and another installer to give you a bid.
    Menards in my neighborhood often doesn't carry the best brands and you are making a MAJOR investment.
    Most installers will want to install something they a familiar with and will offer a better warranty than their installed system.
    While I like Menards for some things, major purchases??????????
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