Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
I would like to ask you good folk for some assistance / input here, if you would be so kind.

My idea is to see if I can build small, but quality built solar systems for Khmers (Cambodians) who reside in areas where there is no power. (Most areas in this country that are pitch dark at night.) I'm trying to get the parts as cheaply as possible. Here is what I have started with:
I think, on a personal level, I am going to start trying to get solar systems set up for Khmers who may want / need them. I hate going up and down the road to the farm, knowing every night my family has power, while others are sitting in the dark.

I am currently in negotiations with a company (I was talking about Midnite Solar, here) to build a solar controller that will be reliable, yet much cheaper than your average controller offered by companies here. The controller would be manufactured in the USA. My first PWM controller here was $250 USD! This controller should easily come in under $100 USD, and will be customized for this project. It would be a 20a controller, offering a 10a load circuit. It will be enclosed for the environment of Cambodia as well. So, it could even be mounted at an outside location, if necessary.

I am going to try to get a solar panel manufacturer on board, to buy direct. If I can do that, the only significant cost then will be the batteries. (I got Just Solar to go to .66c US per watt, if I buy direct from their Shanghai plant. These would be monocrystalline panels.)

So far, my plan is to include all of the following in one package price:


PV Panel Parts
1 - 100 watts 12vdc PV Module
1 - 1.5" angle iron mount (could go with aluminum here)
1 - Assorted hardware for mounting the panel


PV Panel to Controller Parts
5 - meters two conductor #10 wire (these are small houses)
1 - Assorted hardware to secure the wire against the building


Battery to Controller Parts
1 - Custom PWM Solar Controller
1 - 30a 12vdc fuse / breaker
1.5 meters red #10 awg wire
1.5 meters black #10 awg wire
1 - Assorted hardware to mount the controller and secure wiring against the wall


Controller to Loads Parts
1 - 12vdc - 50ah Deep Cycle Battery
2 - Brass Bus Bars (to attach loads)
1 - 10a 12vdc fuse / breaker
1.5 meters red #12 awg wire
1.5 meters black #12 awg wire
1 - Assorted hardware to mount the bus bars and attach the wiring against the wall

If all goes well, this may actually come to life by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

This may sound crazy, but I am going to try to do these for under / around $450 USD.

Anyway, is there anything any of you folks can see that I am missing? Anything that should be added / altered / removed?
Paul

Comments

  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 4,994 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    Nothing 'Crazy' about it. Kind sad! I'm sure I could source those things for well under $450 in the U.S.

    What type of loads do you intend to make possible? I pondered this here, and asked my mom's boyfriend who grew up with out electric until in his teens and it was primarily a light! If you wanted to provide a single or couple lights for 4-5 hours, you might be able to do a couple 6 watt LED lights with a 20-50 watt panel and a depending on the amount of dependable sun light, even throw in some radio time.

    I managed a reading light, radio, even some tiny TV time on a "10 watt" 12v panel charging 2 - 6 volt 3ah agm batteries directly, no CC (though I believe it was a 32 cell panel) for 8 months on a bicycle trip.

    I have some 6v 4-5watt panels, which are 2nds, designed for a used directly connected to any scrounged battery they have 16 cells so the theory was they would be unable/less likely to over charge a battery without a controller, used in pairs where a 12 volt battery was involved. There were panels made in the late 70's early 80's in this manner available in the states! Not a great idea or it would still be done. They would supply these and a 12v 4 watt compact florescent bulb and base (they had some bases around and I grabbed a couple)

    Midnite makes great stuff! and they are coming out with a controller much like what you need. There are others who make similar controllers as well that are basically sealed units. Specialty Concepts is one. I've used one of their previous unsealed units, which was @20 years old when I pulled it from service, and had a mostly sealed unit that lived on my dad's pontoon boat in salt water with minimal protection for a couple years. Morningstar's sunsaver and sunkeeper lines may meet the goals as well. The sunkeeper line is designed to mount on the back of a solar panel. I believe these are made in Asia(I might be wrong) which might make for drop shipping savings.

    I might shoot for $100 to $150 system and 3 times the penetration. A candle is light to be jealous of if every one else is in the dark....
    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 more...lol
  • CariboocootCariboocoot Banned Posts: 17,615 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    A 100 Watt panel will produce less than 10 Amps. Keep this in mind when sizing charge controller (you said 20 Amp) and its fuse (you have a 30 Amp listed - no point). It will be enough to keep a 50 Amp hour battery charged. More than enough.

    All the hardware, wire sizes & lengths are totally subjective. Unless you are building a fixed box unit this will vary with the installation. There's no "one size fits all" in solar. The biggest concern is usually the distance between the PV and controller. 5 meter of 10 AWG would be fine under the circumstances, but changing the distance and/or current can have a significant effect.

    I hope the charge controller will include a LVD. Otherwise they will probably leave the lights on too long and destroy the battery very soon.

    Over here the basic equipment would probably be a little different (for example 10 Amp SunSaver is $60). I tried some numbers and found I could get a similar design's basic components for just over $400 in the US.

    People may think you can't do a lot with 300 Watt hours, but it's a huge increase over zero Watt hours eh?
  • BB.BB. Super Moderators, Administrators Posts: 29,482 admin
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    Agree with Photowhit's questions about loads...

    Small lights, cell phone charger, etc... So, something to connect power easily (cigarette receptacle, some sort of "standard" DC connector scheme, etc.). 12 VDC to USB may be a good option. LED lighting systems (wired/rechargeable, etc.).

    Also, are AA rechargeable batteries popular (flash lights, portable radios, etc.)? Having a battery charger kit too as an offering.

    And something to monitor voltage/state of charge and maintain the battery . Small volt meter, hydrometer, filter/instructions for rain water to refill battery (if flooded cell battery).

    Lastly--Low voltage/state of charge disconnect. Knowing human nature and what others have experienced with "subsistence" solar power users--Pretty much they will use power at night until the battery is dead. And as soon as the sun is up, they will start plugging stuff in again. Really difficult conditions for any rechargeable battery system.

    So, choice of battery bank will be important. Do you go with "cheap", rugged, LVD as part of load control (easily bypassed--unfortunately), etc. Do you pick something off the wall (AA "battery bank"--cheap, easy to replace, mix/match with portable equipment).

    Do you go with two systems... A small AA battery bank based system and a larger one with your smallish lead acid for people that need the power/willing to maintain properly?

    -Bill
    Near San Francisco California: 3.5kWatt Grid Tied Solar power system+small backup genset
  • zonebluezoneblue Solar Expert Posts: 1,218 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    For the controller, midnite are near release on the Brat. Its a 30A PWM controller with a retail around $70. They put calls out for beta testers a few weeks back.
    1.8kWp CSUN, 10kWh AGM, Midnite Classic 150, Outback VFX3024E,
    http://zoneblue.org/cms/page.php?view=off-grid-solar


  • ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    First, thanks to all who have replied. I was trying to post a reply last night, but my internet was too slow. Anyway, I will reply to each of your posts now, as quickly as I can.
    Photowhit wrote: »
    Nothing 'Crazy' about it. Kind sad! I'm sure I could source those things for well under $450 in the U.S.

    What type of loads do you intend to make possible? I pondered this here, and asked my mom's boyfriend who grew up with out electric until in his teens and it was primarily a light! If you wanted to provide a single or couple lights for 4-5 hours, you might be able to do a couple 6 watt LED lights with a 20-50 watt panel and a depending on the amount of dependable sun light, even throw in some radio time.

    I managed a reading light, radio, even some tiny TV time on a "10 watt" 12v panel charging 2 - 6 volt 3ah agm batteries directly, no CC (though I believe it was a 32 cell panel) for 8 months on a bicycle trip.

    I have some 6v 4-5watt panels, which are 2nds, designed for a used directly connected to any scrounged battery they have 16 cells so the theory was they would be unable/less likely to over charge a battery without a controller, used in pairs where a 12 volt battery was involved. There were panels made in the late 70's early 80's in this manner available in the states! Not a great idea or it would still be done. They would supply these and a 12v 4 watt compact florescent bulb and base (they had some bases around and I grabbed a couple)

    Midnite makes great stuff! and they are coming out with a controller much like what you need. There are others who make similar controllers as well that are basically sealed units. Specialty Concepts is one. I've used one of their previous unsealed units, which was @20 years old when I pulled it from service, and had a mostly sealed unit that lived on my dad's pontoon boat in salt water with minimal protection for a couple years. Morningstar's sunsaver and sunkeeper lines may meet the goals as well. The sunkeeper line is designed to mount on the back of a solar panel. I believe these are made in Asia(I might be wrong) which might make for drop shipping savings.

    I might shoot for $100 to $150 system and 3 times the penetration. A candle is light to be jealous of if every one else is in the dark....

    If you noticed the bus bars to add? I want to show them to use only the busbars and to keep any / all connections off the battery to (hopefully) prevent killing it. These systems would be fore farmers who do not understand the concept of discharging a battery to God only knows what SOC - maybe 10 - 20%. I want to make this as maintenance free as possible, because they will not know what to do in order to keep their systems properly maintained.

    I have already communicated with Robin at Midnite, in depth, about possibly modifying the "Brat" for this. We would have more than what the MorningStar controllers currently offer, along with load control, low voltage disconnect, etc. To be perfectly honest, if I can go with Midnite here, I would really like to do so. He agreed in using a Brat with the 10 ampere load option.

    I know I don't want any Chinese made controllers. I want to make sure they have something that will be reliable, durable, and long lasting. I don't want to go with a controller that cannot be mounted outside if necessary, or in a home with a possible leaking roof that could destroy a typical controller.

    EDIT: I just read up on the SunKeepers. I stand corrected. I see where they are weather proof as well. Still, though, I am sure the Brat would be much better suited for the systems I am trying to design. Thanks for letting me know about them. I don't recall reading up on that specific line, previously.

    Everyone deserves to have a bit of light in their lives, if only for a couple / few hours at night to make their lives just a bit easier. I just can't get past it, knowing what I have done for my g/f's family, yet all these other people are still in the dark.

    I figure they can run a couple / few LEDs at night, if only for a few hours, I have done something to help them along.
    Paul
  • ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project
    A 100 Watt panel will produce less than 10 Amps. Keep this in mind when sizing charge controller (you said 20 Amp) and its fuse (you have a 30 Amp listed - no point). It will be enough to keep a 50 Amp hour battery charged. More than enough.

    All the hardware, wire sizes & lengths are totally subjective. Unless you are building a fixed box unit this will vary with the installation. There's no "one size fits all" in solar. The biggest concern is usually the distance between the PV and controller. 5 meter of 10 AWG would be fine under the circumstances, but changing the distance and/or current can have a significant effect.

    I hope the charge controller will include a LVD. Otherwise they will probably leave the lights on too long and destroy the battery very soon.

    Over here the basic equipment would probably be a little different (for example 10 Amp SunSaver is $60). I tried some numbers and found I could get a similar design's basic components for just over $400 in the US.

    People may think you can't do a lot with 300 Watt hours, but it's a huge increase over zero Watt hours eh?

    Yep. The panel should produce what my identical panels are generating at our farm, between 5 and 6 amperes, each.

    You certainly have a point about the line protection. I will change those accordingly.

    LVD is a must, hence the reason to encourage them to ONLY use the bus bars coming off the load side of the controller. Again, something Robin agreed with.

    The homes I am talking about here are pretty close to the same size. One room, typically. Most are about 4 x 5 meters, or so. They usually have a 3 meters high CGI metal covered roof. I probably could get away with a "typical" package. But, I figure if I buy wire by the spool, each one can be specifically tailored, as apposed to creating a package deal. I was going by the system I originally installed in my g/f's parents' home at the farm.
    Paul
  • ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project
    BB. wrote: »
    Agree with Photowhit's questions about loads...

    Small lights, cell phone charger, etc... So, something to connect power easily (cigarette receptacle, some sort of "standard" DC connector scheme, etc.). 12 VDC to USB may be a good option. LED lighting systems (wired/rechargeable, etc.).

    Also, are AA rechargeable batteries popular (flash lights, portable radios, etc.)? Having a battery charger kit too as an offering.

    And something to monitor voltage/state of charge and maintain the battery . Small volt meter, hydrometer, filter/instructions for rain water to refill battery (if flooded cell battery).

    Lastly--Low voltage/state of charge disconnect. Knowing human nature and what others have experienced with "subsistence" solar power users--Pretty much they will use power at night until the battery is dead. And as soon as the sun is up, they will start plugging stuff in again. Really difficult conditions for any rechargeable battery system.

    So, choice of battery bank will be important. Do you go with "cheap", rugged, LVD as part of load control (easily bypassed--unfortunately), etc. Do you pick something off the wall (AA "battery bank"--cheap, easy to replace, mix/match with portable equipment).

    Do you go with two systems... A small AA battery bank based system and a larger one with your smallish lead acid for people that need the power/willing to maintain properly?

    -Bill

    I think most would use their systems for cell phone battery charging. (I don't get it. They will live in a shack, but buy a $700 USD cell phone. That seems to be a common thing throughout SE Asia. It certainly has been in every country I have lived in, so far.) Additionally, they would use them for LED lighting, and perhaps a 12vdc fan for those hot, humid evenings.

    As I mentioned in my first reply to Photowit, they certainly will run a battery until they are dead. You want TRUE battery longevity tested? Do your testing here in Cambodia. If it survives Khmers, it will survive ANYTHING. :D :D They abuse the heck out of their batteries, then give them to some guy who trickle charges 50 of them in line for the day. They love the way my solar array charges them, a full, complete charge in well under six hours. :)

    Good idea regarding the AA battery kit. I will need to check on that. I have seen a lot of rechargeable lanterns and flashlights (torches). Have seen a few headlamps that take disposable / rechargable AA batteries. Thanks for the suggestion.

    I am considering going with sealed lead acid batteries, as apposed to flooded with caps, as they will not check acid levels. They certainly would not go to the trouble of popping caps and using a hydrometer. I want to "scare" them into strictly using the bus bars, so the controller will determine when they have power and when they do not, hopefully extending the lives of their batteries.
    Paul
  • ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project
    zoneblue wrote: »
    For the controller, midnite are near release on the Brat. Its a 30A PWM controller with a retail around $70. They put calls out for beta testers a few weeks back.

    Yeah, zoneblue, initially seeing the "Brat" on a website showing where it would be released next, I contacted Midnite to be beta tester. (I am Free Energy Freak on the Midnite Forum). I think I will be able to work something out with them on a volume production of units customized for this project. If they can remove some features, they will be able to drop the price a bit more on the lot.
    Paul
  • PhotowhitPhotowhit Solar Expert Posts: 4,994 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project
    ILFE wrote: »
    I know I don't want any Chinese made controllers. I want to make sure they have something that will be reliable, durable, and long lasting..
    I believe Morningstar are made in Taiwan, but they may also have some made in China, they are proven and reliable! I'm very glad Robin is helping you out. More power to them!
    ILFE wrote: »
    I don't want to go with a controller that cannot be mounted outside if necessary, or in a home with a possible leaking roof that could destroy a typical controller.
    Since I don't believe you followed my link, I also want to say that Specialty Concepts make very nice Charge Controllers, Made in the USA, have an industry leading 10 year warranty and are "•Completely encapsulated and waterproof" It was my first charge controller and I was very happy with it, I used it for 3-4 years and then stored it for a couple year then installed it on my dad's boat, under the canopy but exposed to salt air and even with it only being mostly sealed with contacts behind view plastic, it lasted another 2 years, this was before they made water proof units though it was largely sealed. Purchased over 20 years ago!
    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 more...lol
  • ILFEILFE Solar Expert Posts: 364 ✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project
    Photowhit wrote: »
    I believe Morningstar are made in Taiwan, but they may also have some made in China, they are proven and reliable! I'm very glad Robin is helping you out. More power to them!

    I believe they are as well. My apologies. I was referring to the cheap looking ones from Mainland China, that I have seen online, a couple I even ordered to test out here, having purchased them both for around $25 USD, delivered.

    Regarding the Midnite Crew, I have seen how they treat customers, myself included, when they are in need. Mario, for example, went out of his way to chat via Skype, so I would not have to send my Beta Kid half way around the world, costing me (probably) $200 USD in shipping, round trip, not to mention the time involved that I would have been without the controller. THAT is customer service.

    I further agree about the quality of MorningStar controllers. However, their customer service, concerning my experience anyway, leaves a lot to be desired. Enough so, that it put me off from buying anymore of their products. With that said, a friend did purchase a SureSine inverter for me, as a gift. I will pick it up while in the US later this year. :D

    Photowhit wrote: »
    Since I don't believe you followed my link, I also want to say that Specialty Concepts make very nice Charge Controllers, Made in the USA, have an industry leading 10 year warranty and are "•Completely encapsulated and waterproof" It was my first charge controller and I was very happy with it, I used it for 3-4 years and then stored it for a couple year then installed it on my dad's boat, under the canopy but exposed to salt air and even with it only being mostly sealed with contacts behind view plastic, it lasted another 2 years, this was before they made water proof units though it was largely sealed. Purchased over 20 years ago!

    Yes, I did. But, I was so exhausted by the time I read your reply, that I am sure I missed it. I always make a point to follow links people post for me. It would be disrespectful not to do so, after they took the time to share them with me. Again, my apologies. I will make it a point to go back through them again, shortly.

    That was an impressive controller. I have to say, some of these companies, I think, may just not market their products well enough, Rogue, I have always heard positive things about. But, they don't seem to have much of the market share. I can't help but wonder why. Perhaps SC needs a similar boost? Or, maybe I have just not been around enough, yet.

    Steca, German made, I think? They are fairly popular controllers here in Cambodia. The only ones you will find here, though, are PWM units. Looking for an MPPT controller is like pulling hens teeth, just about impossible to locate, even if they are listed on a company's website! My installer thought I was nuts, wiring 24vdc panels to a 12vdc battery system, a couple months back. You should have seen the look on his face. :D Think - Dark Ages, and you will be about right regarding technology here.
    Paul
  • westbranchwestbranch Solar Expert Posts: 5,142 ✭✭✭✭
    Re: Off Grid Cheap(er) Solar Project

    I think you might consider adding the MidNite BCM to the package as you said that you re going sealed as most will not use a Hydrometer... I think it will save whatever is left of your hair once you pull all of this good project together. It is a great tool for the un-solar/ un-battery types out there. Green 60 is the aim,....
     
    KID #51B  4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM
    CL#29032 FW 2126/ 2073/ 2133 175A E-Panel WBjr, 3 x 4s 140W to 24V 900Ah C&D AGM 
    Cotek ST1500W 24V Inverter,OmniCharge 3024,
    2 x Cisco WRT54GL i/c DD-WRT Rtr & Bridge,
    Eu3/2/1000i Gens, 1680W & E-Panel/WBjr to come, CL #647 asleep
    West Chilcotin, BC, Canada
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