How To Setup A Basic Off Grid Solar Energy System...
Easy to Assemble “Plug and Play” Solar Power
The sun produces an enormous amount of energy and it will keep on doing so for the next 5 billion years. The best and most reliable way to harness this source of renewable energy is with a solar power system. Solar energy systems can be either grid (Grid Tied) connected or work completely independant of the grid (off grid), grid tied systems are the most common with consumers. Grid tied energy systems work together with the power that's supplied to your home from the power lines and hence, would often require the services of a professional (government accredited) contractor to install the whole sytem. Off grid energy systems are different in the way it does not need to be connected to the grid. Instead, any excess power that is generated by the solar panels, is stored in batteries. Hence, anyone with a little tech savvy can easily setup their own off grid energy system! We'll show you (below) how to setup your own basic off grid energy system and for those more tech savvy, you may want to read further down...
Working with solar energy can be safe, as long as the voltages and currents you are working with are well below 50 volts and 1 ma. But solar energy systems can contain high DC voltages within the networked solar panels and high AC voltages within the inverter - there is simply no room for mistakes when working with high voltages, especially where high currents are present. DON'T DO IT! If you have no idea about electricity, then consult with a professional!
Where some solar energy systems may contain batteries, this is especially dangerous as high currents can burn wires and cause fires/hazards. Again, if you don't understand electricity, then consult a professional... It's NOT worth risking you and your family's life safety!
Basic Quick Solar Setup and Tutorial Guide
Below is my simple off grid system. We take this camping with us to power a small fridge, TV and toaster oven...
Technical Info: AGM 260 AH, 12V Battery, 2000 watt inverter, 30 Amp solar charger and 3 x 12 Volt, 200 watts solar panels... 260 AH x 12 Volts = 3120 watts - 7 hours x 600 watts = 4200 Watt hours... A simple system, that's BETTER than a fuel powered generator of similar size!
Setting up a basic energy system is easy, as everything is basically modular; where everything just "snaps" together like legos. The basic off grid system is comprised of: Solar panels, batteries, solar charger controller and inverter... The only tools you will need to setup your energy system, are: wire strippers, side cutters and a philips head screwdriver...
The first connections that are made in an off grid energy system, is the solar charger and batteries. Solar chargers can usually accept a multiple range of voltage inputs, the basic being 12-24 volt chargers. That's why the first connections has to be the charger to the battery. what happens is this: When the charger senses the batteries being connected, i.e. 12 or 24 volts, the charger automatically adjust to the specifications of the batteries that are connected - A totally flat battery will not charge properly in this case!
When the solar panels are finally connected, the voltages being generated by the panels is regulated and then applied to the battery(s)...
|+||= FREE ELECTRICITY!|
Here's How to Set One Up...
For this system, we will be using a 12/24 volt charger that's rated at 30 amps... This system will be set at 12 volts, meaning, when the charger is connected to a 12 volt battery, it will automatically set itself to that charging specification... The charging voltage of any 12 volt system is 18 volts or 36 volts for a 24 volt system. A 12 volt solar panel can easily generate voltages over 20 volts, although the charge controller will regulate it at the appropriate charge voltage of 18 volts DC... So in this case, you DEFINATELY do not want to hard wire a solar panel directly to a battery!
The solar 30 charger has various functions, which along with instructions can be found in the documentation when purchased...
#1. To begin, you need to first connect your battery(s) to your solar charger... Solar chargers basically have 6 terminals; -Negative and +Positive for panel input, -Negative and +Positive for battery output and -Negative and +Positive for regulated output... See example below...
Solar Charger Terminals
The terminals are self explanatory... Solar, Battery, 12/24 volt, 30 Ampere Output...
Here is a side view of the terminals... Unscrewing opens the clamps to accept the terminal connections...
Locate the battery connections (Battery Symbol) and connect the battery... To clamp the wires in place, first loosen the terminals with your screwdriver. Then simply push your stripped battery connector in place and then tighten the clamp with your screwdriver. The wire should now be secured in place... Do the same for the other connector, so that both the Negative and Positive connections are complete.
#2. Once the battery(s) has been connected and the charger display (or status lights) turn on, you are ready to connect the solar panels. Solar panels come as 12 or 24 volts. So if a 12 volt battery is connected to the system, you will need a solar panel(s) rated at 12 volts and vice versa... This charger can accept 30 Amps worth of solar panels, which equates to 30Amps x 12 = 360 Watts, which is about 3 x 120 watts solar panels total... But 1 single 100 watt solar panel is efficient for our setup...
First (battery) connection...
#3. Once your system is assembled, i.e, solar panels, solar charger, battery and (Optionally) the inverter , you can either use the power output from the charger (Globe Symbol) to power small devices, or you can simply connect an inverter directly to the battery(s) so that you can power household appliances. The completed system example (above) should basically look like the example below... pretty straight forward!
What can I power with this energy system?
With this basic energy system, you can operate TVs, small fridges, computer and a whole range of other appliances. You can easily use a system like this one for camping or even on construction sites... For the HUGE benefit of not requiring fuel, the biggest con I guess, is probably finding the space to mount your solar panel(s) - Our system simply has the panels resting against the garage wall!
Here are the average costs?
Solar panels x 1: $120.00AU (Later upgraded to 3 x 200 watt solar panels)
Solar charge controller: $56.00AU
AGM Deep Cycle battery x 1: $550.00AU
Where to buy: Solar chargers, inverters and solar panels can be bought from either eBay or Alibaba for really cheap - we found these to be the best places on finding great deals. Take your time on finding the best deal, if you want the best deal...
Batteries, unfortunately need to be sourced locally as postage/delivery cost are excessive; this is due to the weight of the battery!
Related Articles/How Tos
Solar energy system various configurations...
12 Volt System
Charging system without inverter...
Charging system with inverter...
24 volt System
2 x 12 volt solar panels connected in series...
A single 24 volt solar panel...
Driving larger currents with your energy system...
Using regulated charger output to control a relay, so that higher currents can be used to power devices directly off, of the battery. So if battery voltage falls too low, the relay switches off, in turn switching off the devices connected directly to the battery!
A typical MPPT (Multiple Power Point Tracking) controller setup...
The charger that's used in our examples (Above) is the PWM type. MPPT (example below) controller types have the same wiring connections as PWM charger types, however, the panels in a MPPT controller system may need to be connected in series to increase voltage - A combination of both series and parallel can achieve both power and voltage requirements... Higher voltages flow more efficiently and with lower losses through extended cables with minimal diameters, than lower voltages, given the same parameters. So if the solar panel array was going to be a great distance from the energy system and long cables were used, then the best results for energy production would be achieved with higher voltages - Shorter distances don't care much for losses.
Where to get it?
Again, you could try eBay, although this typ of charger is now rarely seen there. Alibaba still have these, along with many other types of chargers, which you can buy directly off of the manufacturer...
Solar Panel Connectors/Connectors...
More details can be found on this page, here...
"Y" MC4 connector configuration for 3 parallel connected solar panels - "S" represents "Solar Panel" or an array of solar panels.
MC4 connector types
Connectors and cables makes solar installation like child's play!
MC4, "Y" Parallel Connector
MC4 Parallel branch Connector
2 x 120 watt solar panels are connected in parallel to double the power output of a 12 volt system -
Notice how easy connecting 2 solar panels in parallel is? Everything just plugs together easily!
Here are two 12 volt solar panels connected in series to double the volts...