Solar renewable energy goes hand-in-hand with preparedness. We prepare for if, and when, the power goes out. When that happens we still want to be able to keep our radios on, our cookers running and our lights on.
The question is, how do we harness the sun’s energy so that we can use off-the-grid power to keep our lives functioning the way it would when the power is run? And how can we do that without paying huge amounts of money on expensive solar panels?
Alternatively, once we get to the point where we are generating renewable energy from solar power, we are less reliant on the grid, and less stung by power bills at the end of the month. If you think cutting down on the power bill, and having a means of backup renewable energy, let’s take a look at what we need to start farming some of that sunlight above us.
The Budget Guide To Generating Cheap Renewable Energy
Solar panels are getting cheaper and cheaper, especially since the mainstream market widely adopted them in the 2008 global financial crisis, as everyone was trying to find alternative methods to chop down outgoing payments. This same period is seeing an influx in the number of sales for cheap solar systems and we are not even in a financial crisis, it just seems to be a lifestyle option for many who are looking to grow toward a more self-reliant lifestyle.
Step 1: find a reliable and affordable solar panel
Finding affordable solar panels is no easy task. The market is absolutely flooded with solar panels at the moment, just take one look online and you will see that there is a compendium of choices available.
When you are looking for a solar panel, there are some things to look out for. First, and a big one for me, is the size. Ideally, if you are on a homestead or have a family you are probably going to want to buy more than one, but for ease of use and making any DIY solar racks anything under 20 lbs (10kg) is ideal.
I chose to stick with the common makeup of solar panels, which is the monocrystalline cells, they are predominantly the most popular on the market. There are other solar panel options, including foldable solar panel and ‘briefcase’ panels, but they all seem to be twice the price of cheaper versions just because of that simple functionality. For me, I take the budget option.
The type of cheap panel you should be looking at, and what I have been using (four of them connected) is the Renogy 100W 16lb panel. This panel is one of the most popular in the industry because of its cheap price and a great 100-watt power rate. Because of the size of these (47 x 24 in) there are various ways you can use these, such as on the top of a vehicle (like the image below), a house or a holiday home.
Step 2: Get some long cabling
In an ideal world you would put your solar panel in one spot and keep it there. For me, I tested out a number of positions to get the best effective power rate for the solar panels. In that context, it pays to get a long connector cable.
If you are looking at getting a kit which already has the accessories included with it, they will generally come with cables that are less than eight feet. I have found that this is far too short as you are dealing with something that needs to run from the roof to a stored battery pack, so you want to have the ability to use that space and not be limited by cable length.
I went for a 20ft option, but you can choose to go higher if you need it. When you are buying the cable, make sure it has a weather-proof skin as this is going to be running from the roof or wherever you use your panels and will be under a lot of sunlight exposure. Because I chose the Renogy solar panel, I stuck with their counterpart Renogy cables which are suitable for 100W panels.
Step 3: Renewable energy battery storage
There are two options when it comes to renewable energy batteries, you can either use a kit battery, which has the inverter inside of it, or you can choose to have a larger deep cycle battery. The difference between the two is, if you are looking to run small portable operations, such as electronic device charging, large outdoor lights or a small refrigerator then the combined battery works in your favor. If you are looking at running a home, then the deep cycle battery and separate inverter are more for you.
Put simply, the first option allows for portability in camping and outdoors and is able to be carried easily. The second option is meant for homes, homesteads and more permanent fixtures.
The portable way: battery and inverter in one
Now when you are shopping for a battery, you need to think ‘what will I be using power for?’. If you are only going to be using backup power for minimal electricity use such as the television, electrical devices and a small fridge, that’s easy and very affordable. If you are planning on running much more power-heavy activities then you are going to need a bigger (more expensive) battery pack and a separate inverter.
For my setup, which is capable of running a small fridge, electrical devices and the internet, I am able to get away by using an inverter/battery pack 2 in 1 kit. The kit I use is a Paxcess 100-watt portable generator and power inverter. You can think of it as essentially an electric portable generator, that can charge via wall, car or, you guessed it, our solar panels. It is a lithium power pack and is a very silent gas-free pack that is very popular with the outdoors campers and caravanners, as well as basic off-gridders. It’s popular not only because it is a 2 in 1, light and convenient, but it’s also very affordable. Something we all like.
If you are going to be running energy-intensive projects, you would need to be using a stronger power source with a 400Wh system such as the Goal Zero Yeti or a Suaoki Solar Generator.
The Homestead way: battery and inverter separate
If you are looking for space to expand, getting a separate battery pack and a separate unit inverter will allow you to expand as you go along. Essentially all you would need to do is hook up another battery to your system in this manner, whereas the system mentioned above is a standalone system.
With this in mind, you would need:
- A deep cycle rechargeable battery to store the power
- A solar charge controller with a battery temperature sensor
- A power inverter to supply the power to your electrical goods
And that’s all you need. While having this sort of kit is great for solar panel expansions, the effect of using the battery and inverter in one means you don’t have to cross manage batteries with a charge controller and inverter.
Total expenses for renewable energy?
With the first option, which is more suited for portability and for campers, of using the battery and inverter in one by Paxcess and using an easy 100W solar panel from Renogy, coupled with the extra long solar panel adaptor cables we are looking at a price of less than $350 at the time of writing this post.
For the second option, which is more suited to homesteads and fixed renewable energy spots, you would be using a deep cycle battery, inverter, control panel, solar panel and extension cable. All of this would be also less than $350. So for a similar price you can have something that you can ultimately build upon.
If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in our power generation hacks to keep your mobile phone powered in a disaster