Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunny Days = Solar Installation

We finally had a break in all the rain so we took an opportunity to install the new solar power system. Our electrician friend Dann (who helped us wire the house during construction) is in town so he helped with the solar install as well.

I tried to convince Matt to write this post for you but instead you'll have to deal with my note taking. Please feel free to ask any questions about the system or parts and I will find out the answers.


We replaced our temporary 60 watt solar panel system with a new Kyocera 490 watt system. This consists of two 245 watt panels that connect to 45 amp Tristar MPPT charge controller made by Morning Star. These all feed into three 110 amp hour AGM batteries. We used the same trusty 1800 watt inverter from our original system to convert all the power to AC inside the house. There are separate breakers throughout the system so they can be safely isolated and serviced at any time. 

All of the wiring runs underground in rigid conduit. 

We had bought a traditional pole and top of pole mount but we wanted more flexibility to move the panels since the sun varies in position in our clearing throughout the year. Matt custom designed a mount that allow us to move the panels around as needed. They are heavy but it is possible.

We bought everything at the AltE Store online and they were quite helpful throughout the process.

Let me take you on a short photo tour of our system.

Here are the solar panels and their dedicated breaker box. Matt designed and built this re-positionable stand for the panels.

And the sexy new batteries
Here are all the breakers and such safely wired under the house.

My favorite photo - you can see how much power we have. With our old system we never got more than three green bars and that was on an extremely good day. The new system has lots of power.

19 comments:

  1. I love it! The movable stand is a great idea also. If you don't mind me asking, approximately what was the cost for the whole solar set up including inverter and batteries?

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    1. The panels, inverter, batteries, and change controller cost just over $2000 total.

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  2. So incredibly jealous. I need a couple Matt's and at least 4 times as many panels. Topping out at 103 degrees today in Michigan. Seems like a great time to build a house underground.

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  3. There is so much I want to learn about this. Let me start with a simple question. Is there a battery system that stores power for a certain period of time? Or, when the sun goes out, how long does the power last?

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    1. Yep. The batteries store power generated by the panels and transferred via the charge controller. Our 330 Amp/hour battery setup can meet our needs for a few days without sun.

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  4. Amazing! That is so much less expensive than I was counting on. I am thinking of using a combination of solar, wind and generator (if needed)and I was estimating the cost to be upwards of $15000 for everything. When I get to that point in building my house hopefully I can get some names and numbers from you to find the equipment.

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  5. aren't you worried about animals chewing those wires under the house?

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    1. We had the old set up here for a couple of years and never had a problem. The wires are visible and we are often under the house for storage or just to look at the power information so we can keep an eye on it.

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  6. I was curious what you are going to do to keep the batteries from freezing this winter?

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    1. We plan to build an insulated battery box to prevent them from freezing. Also, one of the reasons we spent the extra money on AGM batteries is that they are less susceptible to freezing damage than flooded or gel batteries. The electrolyte is almost fully absorbed in a fiber mat. Freezing temperatures can reduce the battery life, but the battery will usually not be ruined.

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  7. Thx SO much for sharing your experience w your tiny home? I am thrilled to hear the Wolof system was reasonable.

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  8. Wow, catching up on your blog. This is really, really cool. Very good Matt and Laura!

    I'm trying to picture where you have the panel, exacty? Is it by the house? I don't remember that much sun there. Or is it down by the barn and you ran cables up? Or is it in the far clearing?

    -Bill

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    1. Hey Bill! I just realized I hadn't answered you yet.

      If you're facing the front door of the house, the solar panels are situated to your right closer to the trees and lined up with the back corner of the house. There is a pretty big space between the house and the panels - big enough to drive the ATV through.

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  9. We too are hoping to set ourselves up for solar. I need to chat with other Michiganders who use solar to see how they fare in the winter. Nice work guys!

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    1. You may want to reach out to Jonathan - his Livejournal is on my blog roll. He lived in Michigan in his tiny house before moving out west. I know that he had a pretty sweet solar set up. He can probably walk you through his processes.

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  10. I'm beginning to build my tiny house this spring when the weather breaks in Cleveland. I'd be really interested in any connections in the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and PA area. I'll check in with Johnathon on the blog roll. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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    1. Unfortunately Jonathan moved to Oregon last year and his blog has been largely neglected. However, I'm sure he would be willing to share some of his experience with you.

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  11. If you are concerned about electrical safety, you should stop trying electrical installation and maintenance appliances on your own, and hire a qualified electrical contractor for all such purposes.

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    1. While this comment may be spam, I think it is important to note that we did have a qualified electrician help us with all of our electrical installation - which is apparent in the first paragraph of this post.

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