Going off-grid is often the first thing people think about when they think of going solar. While it’s definitely not for everyone, DIY off-grid solar can be a great solution for those living in a remote area without reliable and affordable access to the grid, want to live a self-reliant lifestyle without monthly utility bills, or have the ability to access power during a blackout.
Off-grid solar systems utilize batteries to store energy produced from solar panels. Systems must be sized and designed to fit a variety of needs throughout the year, especially in the winter when there are fewer sunlight hours. Off-grid systems are great for those wanting to go the DIY route since you’re not connecting to the grid. But you’ll definitely want to educate yourself before you dive in. The key components of every off-grid solar installation include solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and inverters. We highly recommend taking the time to read up on all the different components, as well as how to plan and size your system to be efficient for years to come.
In this guide, we’ll help you navigate calculating how much energy you’ll need to produce, how to store that energy, and how to select your components, from solar panels to inverters.
Calculate your power load
One of the most important parts of going off-grid is calculating your energy needs. This is because you won’t be able to tap into the electric grid, but rather relying solely on your own system. Having an accurate understanding of your energy needs will give you a better idea of the costs and ensure you don’t under- or over-build a system.
The Renogy solar panel calculator is a great tool that makes it a quick and easy process to help determine your specific needs. The solar sizing calculator allows you to input information about your lifestyle to help you decide on your solar panel requirements. You’ll need to know what total watts your electronics will consume, how long you plan on running the devices, your charge controller efficiency, and average sun hours per day (taking into consideration those darker winter months).
In this section, learn more about off-grid solar systems as well as sizing your system to best fit you and your home’s needs.
Figure out how many batteries you need to store it
Batteries are a crucial component of off-grid solar systems. After all, how are you going to store all the energy produced from your panels? There is a range of deep cycle battery options available to you, such as lead acid, absorbed glass matt, and lithium ion batteries. Lead acid batteries are the most inexpensive option and are available at most big-box and auto stores. Absorbed glass matt batteries store 10 to 15 percent more energy than lead acid batteries and charge up to four times faster. Lithium ion batteries are the most expensive options, but also last four times longer than lead-acid batteries and weigh much less. They also don’t require much maintenance to keep them running strong.
The amount of battery storage you need is based on your energy usage, so again refer to your results from the Renogy solar panel calculator. To give you an idea, a battery capacity of 4 to 8 kWh is usually sufficient for an average four-person home. We’ll talk about everything there is to know about batteries and solar, from the pros and cons of each type, how large of a battery bank to have, and the different options available from Renogy.
Select your solar panels
When it comes to actually collecting energy from the sun, that’s where solar panels come in. There are a few different solar panel options available to choose from. First off, panels monocrystalline or polycrystalline. Polycrystalline panels are less efficient than monocrystalline panels, but are also cheaper. Monocrystalline panels are more space-efficient.
Solar panels are also available in flexible and rigid forms. Flexible panels weigh less than the rigid solar panels and can be installed directly on the roof of your RV or van. Rigid panels, which are more typically durable, can also be mounted to tilt, which makes their solar energy collection more efficient. If you’ll be mounting panels to your roof, you’ll want to take into consideration the condition of your roof and how old it is. If it’s nearing the end of its life, you’ll want to replace it before going solar.
Learn more about all of this and more in the following posts about solar panels and how to select the right one for you.
Select a solar charge controller
Charge controllers are another crucial component of your system. They sit between the energy source and storage and prevent any overcharging of batteries by limiting the amount and rate of charge to your batteries. They also prevent battery drainage by shutting down the system if stored power falls below 50 percent capacity.
Overcharging a battery is very dangerous as it can damage your battery and possibly cause a fire. With a charge controller constantly monitoring the flow of power from the panel, it not only prevents disaster but makes using and monitoring the system less of a hassle. When shopping for charge controllers, you’ll learn there are two main types: pulse width modulator (PWM) and maximum power point tracking (MPPT) controllers. Each offers their own unique benefits.
In this section, you’ll learn how many charge controllers you’ll need for your system, as well as selecting the right charge controller.
Select an inverter
Inverters are the final, crucial component to consider when piecing together your solar installation. Inverters turn DC power produced from your solar panels and stored in your battery into AC power. An inverter is necessary to power the common appliances found in your home or RV, from TV’s to microwaves. When shopping around for inverters, you’ll quickly learn there are different types and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Renogy sells a range of pure sine wave inverters of varying capacities. Sine wave inverters are capable of producing cleaner, smoother, quieter, and more reliable electricity to operate fans, lights, and other electronics without interference. In this section we’ll talk about the different types of inverters, what to look for when shoppings, and what size inverter to purchase for your system.
Put it all together
Solar is definitely becoming more popular amongst homeowners and travelers alike, and it is easy to see why. There’s a lot that goes into going solar, from sorting through technology options to handling permitting, but thanks to a growing number of solar panels kits, going solar on your own has never been easier.
If you are interested in going off-grid or living a remote or mobile lifestyle in a van or RV, and have the time and energy to dedicate toward a solar project, DIY off-grid solar can be a great way to meet your energy needs, be energy reliant, sustainable, and save money. Plus, if you live a lifestyle without accessible, reliable, and affordable access to power, off-grid solar is often the best way to meet those needs and live your dream life.
We hope this guide has answered your big questions about going off-grid. Taking into consideration the different solar components, properly sizing your system, and making a plan for the entire installation process, will help ensure you have a smooth transition to start collecting and storing energy from the sun.