Living on solar

Solar energy is booming:
what you need to consider

Go to Portugal Home
Solar house


The sun is free energy, but in order to make it usable you need a solar system: read the information below so that you know which questions you need to ask which can save you a lot of money and disappointments.

Not an advertisement, but looks like it

(Not an advertisement) 

Think about it: do you really need all that electricity?

It's so easy when you live on-grid in a regular house, you never have to worry about anything: you turn on the lights, the television, the PC etc. whatever. You are not even thinking about it, it's like it comes naturally. But take a good look at your energy-bill: how many Kilowatt-hours are you consuming? And do you really need to consume all that?

Making a decision on solar starts with knowing what you are doing and thinking about ways to save on your energy-consumption. And that's not only buying energy-efficient goods like lights and a refrigerator, but also your uwn consuming habits. Once you realise that you can consume less by changing your habits, you have saved yourself the first thousands of euro's / dollars etc. on your future solar system. Do you really need that huge chestfreezer when it mostly all of the time is filled for 20%? Maybe you buy a lot of meat at once because they lowered the price temporarily for 10%, but everyday that it's in your freezer it becomes more and more expensive. There are other ways to keep food edible for a longer time like canning, drying, smoking etc.

Another example: you're used to do the laundry in the evening, but when you're on solar all the energy comes at daytime so changing that habit to daytime, will save you a lot of money on batteries, which are the most expensive part of your solar-system.

Measure: you can buy simple measuring tools to start measuring the energy consumption of everything that's in your house, they are very cheap and you don't need to have technical skills or knowledge for them.

Solar measuring

For about 10 euros or dollars you buy these things and you can start making measurements about the energy-consumption of everything that's in your house. This is not only a good way of getting to know these things but just as important:
creating awareness about your consumption habits, what once seemed to come naturally now makes you realise that you yourself are the one who has been unaware about it and you will start seeing that it's actually pretty easy to do things in another way.

Congratulations: you have just laid the basis for huge savings in the future!

Fully off-grid or hybrid?

Solar allsorts

First of all: depending on the cost of electricity and the cost of solar-systems in the country where you are living it might not even be money-saving to switch to solar, so if saving money is the only reason, then you really need to look into the costs of the solar equipment that you think you are going to need, because it is not a one-time investment: solar panels deteriorate (slowly, but they do), inverters and chargers can stop functioning and most important and most expensive of all: batteries deteriorate quickest of all.

Example: we live in Portugal, on average people around us pay 50 euros a month for grid-electricity, that is 600 euros a year, 3.000 euros in 5 years.
Regular deep-cycle flooded lead-acid batteries live about 5 years, after that you will have to buy new ones.
You need to set money aside every month for new batteries every 5 years, say that you're on a 24v. system with 900Ah. of energy storage, that means that you need 8 batteries for a system like that (which is pretty comparable to the power that you use from the grid for 50 euros a month). A good solar battery which can last 5 years costs around 400 euros each and you need 8 of them, so that's 3.200 euros, that's even more than you would have paid for grid-electricity in 5 years! And don't forget that a solar system not only exists of batteries, once every 15-20 years you need to buy new solar panels, you might have to buy a new inverter or charger ánd you need cables, switches and fuses etc. to connect everything together and make it work too and that raises the cost of a solar system even more...

We have a very low income and people sometimes say to us: "uhhh, but you don't have any bills from the electricity-company so you hardly have any costs and your income is well enough to have a good life". But they are forgetting that we have to buy new batteries every 5 years and gasoline for the generator and that we can not save on cheap groceries when there's a discount because we can not have a freezer on our tiny system etc. etc.: we make all kinds of extra costs for which we have to set money apart every month and I tell you: we would have been cheaper off if we only had grid-power.
So why are we on solar then? Because for us, money-saving is not the only reason: we believe strongly that using solar instead of grid is better for our planet and next to that, we have this apocalyptic view that during our lifes a situation may come that the economy gets shattered or a deadly virus will rampage the earth or asteroids, extreme drought, hurricanes etc. will be a possibility in the future and we want to be prepared. So many more reasons for us to be on solar than just money, thát all together made us decide to go off-grid.

The technical part:

There are basically two types of solar systems: fully off-grid and hybrid. With an off-grid system there's no mains electricity connected in any way while a hybrid system can switch between these two depending on several parameters that are suitable for your situation (this can vary a lot: climate, hours of full sunshine, how much energy you consume, what time of day you consume the most etc.).
So you have: solar panels, a battery charger, batteries and an inverter (you can also buy chargers with integrated inverter). The inverter has all kinds of settings, one of these settings is the low-battery-voltage cut off point (often standard at around 11 volts on a 12 volt system, which actually is a bit low because batteries get harmed quickly when the voltage drops under 12 volts). You can set up the inverters' "low-battery-voltage cut off point" basically at any value that you want, só that it switches to grid-power when the battery voltage drops below that setting. In an off-grid system you can have the inverter switch on the generator automatically when the battery-voltage becomes too low (when you have an electric-start generator).

When you do it this way, you don't need to buy like 24 panels and a huge amounts of batteries only for those spare moments that you use more energy than average, because the grid or your generator will take over automatically and will switch back to solar when the energy-consumption drops again. This can save you thousands to tens of thousands! (the only thing that you need to do when using a generator is keeping a fair amount of fuel in it).

Generator: I didn´t mention this one before because it is not part of a solar system, but it can be a huge gamechanger: suppose there's only a small part of the day, week, month or year in which you use more electricity than normal, do you then really have to buy a huge amount of panels and batteries only for that, while 90% of that timeperiod you use only a little bit? That would mean that for this 90% of that timeperiod your system is way too big and I am talking like 10k euro's / dollars or even much more here.
A good generator, that gives nice pure sinewave electricity and with electric start costs around 800, you can hook that up to your inverter and when the battery-voltage becomes too low then the inverter can switch on the generator automatically. You don't need to put the generator close to the house, it can be like 100 metres away so that the noise isn't disturbing (there are even generators that do not make much noise either).

Solar generator

If you can not afford an expensive generator, then you can also buy a cheaper one. They mostly can not be directly connected to the inverter to charge the batteries, because the inverter rejects the low quality electricity that the generator gives, but you cán buy a cheap 220 volt battery-charger for about 50 euros which you put in between the generator and the batteries and start it when the battery-voltage becomes too low and thén charge your batteries with it, been there, done that (and still doing that).

You can also plug in your heavy users like a washing machine, heavy tools or air-conditioner directly into the generator and use the solar system only for the lights in the house, charging your cellphone or laptop, for the television and the refrigerator for example (just for comparison: a refrigerator uses around 65 watts nowadays when the motor is running while a washing machine uses like 2500 watts and a sawing-machine like 800-1500 watts).

So like I said in the first paragraph: think about what you really need to use and when you need it and how often and just as important: are you willing to change your own electricity-consuming behaviour? Because those are the main factors that you have to take into account before going to a solar-shop and ask for a quote for your solar-installation.

Know what to ask before investing in a solar-system

Ofcourse: I could have written an extra paragraph in which I sum up different kinds of solar equipment, with prices, specifications etc. and many more technical stuff (like most other sites about solar do), but there's one essential difference here: most of these sites are selling or promoting because they hope to make a bit of money from it and I am not.

Making money is not what I wrote this article for, it's not why I design webpages for either, my intention with this article is providing you with objective information that might help you determine A: what you really need and B: who is being honest and who is not.

You know: a lot of companies that sell solar equipment make more profit by selling you a huge amount of panels and batteries, than by offering you less panels and batteries combined with a generator and that's perfectly normal (who doesn't want to make a lot of money nowadays?). But their advices are not always in your best interest.

Next to that: you get better answers if you ask better questions and to ask better questions you need to know some things about the basics of solar energy ánd you need to know what you are consuming now and if you are okay with that for the future or that you now are realising yourself that you can and want to bring your energy-consumption down, so that you not only will save money but get a solar-system that fits you better too (shoes or a coat that are too big or too small will bring you a lot of frustration and the same goes for solar systems).

If however, you feel that you need to know more or you are ready to step up to level two (deciding what equipment you want to buy) and you would like to have a little bit of help on that, please don't hesitate to ask me and if necessary I will stop by your place and have a look myself so that I can be of better assistance for you, like for a nice cup of tea or a cool glass of beer Winkingsmiley (but I will be happy with a "thank you, my good friend" too).


Social (and other) things: