This guest post is from Dave over at A Self Sufficient Life.
Many people have a lot of misconceptions about using solar to run a home and here I want to talk a little about living in the modern age and what can be achieved with a minimal system that does not cost the earth.
What I want to get out of the way straight away is that if you are thinking of running your home of solar panels as a financial investment then don’t. You will be waiting a long time to see any return on your purchase. Although there are now many more cheap solar panels available then there were when I made my purchase five years ago it would still take a long time to see a monetary return.
That being said I had no choice so the return was not an issue. But, it does give peace of mind that I never have to find money for an electricity bill as those do who live of mains electricity. Here is a little information about just what we use to power our home. You may be quite surprised how minimal it is.
- 1300 Watt Pure Sinewave Inverter
- A bank of 6 2 Volt Deep Cycle Batteries combined to store 560 Amp Hours as a 12 Volt system
- 4 80 Watt solar panels
- Various charge controllers and cut off safeties
Many will look at this as being woefully inadequate. We were unsure if it would be sufficient when we purchased. But never having lived via solar before we took our chances, and more importantly we purchased what we could afford. Solar panels sales have increased significantly since we bought our system and with that prices have fallen so if I actually were to start again from scratch I would be able to buy slightly more than I did 5 years ago.
So, for a minimal investment like I made just what can you expect in real life? It is far from perfect but you can live with a lot of mod cons that we take for granted in our homes, but if you want to live off-grid and live as you once did then a much large system would be preferable, but not necessary. Here is what we can typically run in Spain, where we get a lot of sunshine on an almost daily basis.
We run a laptop for at least 8 hours a day, and often 2. We run household lights which are all energy efficient and none of them consumes more than 8 watts. We watch tv in the evenings, but on a small television (no big plasma screens for us I am afraid). We use DVD players, a wireless router and a satellite box. What we do not do is have either an electric fridge or oven. They would consume too much so we use gas.
We use the washing machine but only ever on a cold cycle. The heating element consumes too much power. Try a wash only on cold, as far as I can tell it works fine at getting anything but the most stubborn of marks out of clothes.
Our lifestyle is very different from what it used to be but you can run regular appliances in your home with a minimal investment of a solar system. Of course the larger the Inverter, the bank of batteries and the number of panels the more appliances you can run, and the more like a regular on-grid home your house will be. But, as you can see, with a few changes to your lifestyle and a conscious effort to never leave any appliance on, even on standby, when not in use, you can actually be free of the electricity companies for a relatively low cost. It is not perfect but I feel much happier knowing that the way I live is not ruled by finding money for bills and that it is amazing how wasteful of electricity I used to be when I never had to consider a cloudy day in to the equation.