Off Grid Life: Practicalities of Solar Panels

14th April 2019  (Part 1)

Remember rule one of going off-grid – prepare for everything! Unfortunately, as did not have electricity for over two weeks after arriving on our land it became apparent I had prepared for nothing!  I’m being slightly hard on myself, I guess. We had invested in a decent battery, efficient solar panels, 10m of cable and a pure sine-wave inverter. We didn’t have electricity because I failed to take into account a few essential facts. Firstly, we should have thought more closely about panels out the field because this flew in the face of the very thing we were trying to achieve, namely an undetectable presence in our field. Secondly, I failed to consider precisely how the various parts would fit together. Just how was the charge controller going to be attached to the battery? The materials needed to get the system up and running had taken their sweet time to be delivered to the local post office, but on the morning of 19th March we were finally ready to get the system up and running.

Having exhausted all the card games we could play, we were well overdue a bit of television. Today was the day. With a small set of screwdrivers, a wire cutter and 25 metres of photo valvic cable, we positioned the solar panels in the alternative place we’d spent much time deliberating and ran the wires from them.

I’m not the best person to be providing detailed instructions on how to connect your  panels. I don’t want to be responsible for giving out information and you perhaps getting it wrong because of a typo, or something. I couldn’t bear the responsibility. But, if you read on, I will give you some things to think about, based on my own experience as someone who’s always been ‘handy’ but never particularly adept.  So here is Solar Panels; Things to think about.

1. Be clear how you’re going to connect your equipment together. What will you use when attaching the inverter and controller to the battery? Will you use clamps, crocodile clips? How will it fit to the terminal? Do you need a solution of your own?

2. Asses your own skills. Are you good at fiddly jobs? If not, make sure you have plenty of patience in reserve because if fiddly jobs are not your forte, or if you’ve not done it before there’s a good chance are one or more of your connections will come loose as you go along connecting, necessitating a do-over, or two. But it’s all good practice. Electrical tape is a must-have item for wiring up your connectors

3. Before you start, decide where the charge controller and battery will be housed. You need the controller somewhere you can read and adjust it, and of course both should be stored somewhere dry. Personally, I would recommend putting the two close together. We settled for a large plastic crate as the place it would all be housed. It was easy to run the wires into it, and it can be sealed too.

5. If you’re using an inverter, go for  a pure sinewave inverter. Don’t mess about with any of the others.

6. You need one or more good batteries. Ideally you’ll want a leaisure battery that says it’s suitable for wind or solar charging. It’s good to have a battery the explictly states it can be used for alt-energy charging because, especially with solar, it’s a hell of a lot of power coming down that wire. The charge controller will protect the battery against overcharging, but the right type of battery will be able to handle the unique type of charge from solar and wind.

7. The order in which you connect things is important. This brings home the recklessness of the UK Government’s 2016-2018 solar energy suppression campaign (read here)  The lack of readily available information for do-it-yourself installations was not wise. Only when I received the second charge controller was I first advised of something crucially important, not mentioned anywhere else. The tiny booklet that came with the controller, was written in bad English found amongst a great multitude different languages. In tiny, faded print were the words “Caution; failure to connect as instruct could cause fatale” [sic] Without that important bit of information I might have zapped myself across the field! The information is now readily available so please look it up!

8. Decide on a dry, level place to store the battery and the right location for the charge controller; it needs to be somewhere you can access to alter the settings and monitor the charg.

9. Measure the distance from the charge controller to the panels so you know how much cable you’re going to need and then make sure you have half as much in reserve in case you need to detour.

10. It should proabably go without saying but,I recommend against connecting up solar panels in wet weather. If the ground is wet or it’s drizzling, don’t press on. Just save it for a dry day. When setting up our solar network, we had to wait a few days for dry enough conditions. It was worth it because we were being safety conscious and it meant we could take as long as it needed to complete the job, without wondering if we could finish before the next shower washed over.

When you’re connected up and your battery is charging, you’ll feel great. It was a very nice feeling to know we were making your own energy from a sustainable source. For me, the proudest pinch-me moment was settling down to watch a DVD of the WWE Survivor Series from 1995. A forgotten slice of mid-90’s wrestling mania, playing out on the screen in front of us as we sat, in the trailer tent, in the barn, in our field in the middle of nowhere. Another pinch-me moment occurred when the first episode of a 1960‘s Doctor Who story began was put into the player, and another when the lap top had its flat as a pancake battery fully charged in just over an hour. Oh. Oh. Oh. The joy was palpable.

Read 14th April 2019 Part 2 here.







Copyright Martin Gregory 2019

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