After collecting dust for a few years through our transition from last house to current house, we have our solar panels once again producing energy for us! I installed the solar panels on our house roof this last summer while re-roofing. Over the last month or so, we have once again started utilizing the power they provide.
Future plans include a significant expansion of solar panels, on the south side of either our garage or barn roof that would supply 230/120VAC power through an inverter. While we do have a 120VAC inverter on-site, I try to avoid using it as it wastes power just sitting there connected to the system, even if no connected devices are consuming any power. My system is just not large enough to handle that much waste. For sake of efficiency, at least for the time being, we are consuming all the power generated by the system as 12VDC.
We have two 12VDC 150Ah AGM marine batteries used to store power for use when the sun is not shining. Those are fed to a small breaker box that is then fed out to various systems in the house.
Now you may wonder, what could we do with a 12VDC power source in the house? Turns out, a lot!
For starters, we save money by running the well less through the use of a compositing toilet. Turns out, our compositing toilet’s fan is 12VDC and can be powered straight off of our solar charged batteries.
How about lighting? All of our kitchen under counter lighting, closet lighting, desk lighting, and other various areas of the house are lit with 12VDC LED strip lighting. They are extremely cheap and extremely bright! They come in 16.5ft lengths with can be easily cut and soldered to any length.
(Ignore our beautiful back-splash, just waiting for it to warm up outside so I can run the tile saw)
We implemented 12VDC motion sensors in two rooms that auto turn the lights on (and more importantly, off).
In our central vacuum closet, I installed a magnetic switch that will be mounted to the future door, so when the door opens, the lights turn on (think Maytag refrigerator commercials from the early 2000’s). When the door closes, the lights turn off. I will be installing the same switches in our coat closet that I started building last weekend, along with installing them inside all of our kitchen cabinets.
We installed 12VDC USB outlets throughout the house. These outlets provide (5VDC) USB ports that allow you to power any USB devices. For example, we now charge our phones, tablet, kindle, cycling cameras, and bike computers using solar generated energy. We even recharge our AA and AAA batteries using solar energy.
(my new desk/work area is lit with solar power LEDs)
How about our Ethernet switch? Yep, turns out that will accept 12VDC and will be getting migrated in short time too!
Spring power plans include adding two panels and a battery to the garage and three panels and two batteries to the barn. I will be installing inexpensive 12VDC LED lighting throughout the barn and garage. I will also be installing a small 12VDC stock tank heater I have waiting patiently for me in the garage, before next winter hits.
As we are slowly transitioning to an off-grid lifestyle, I think these simple projects show that living off-grid does not mean saying goodbye to modern conveniences.
When running the numbers, out solar system will provide a ROI after about 10 years. It also brings a piece of mind in the case of a power outage and an overall warm-and-fuzzy feel when thinking about all of these devices being powered in a sustainable manner with no costly inputs after the initial investment.
Are you currently converting solar energy into electricity? Are you running off 12VDC? What kind of things are you powering?