Harnessing the Sun: A Beginner’s Guide to Off-Grid Solar Systems

Curious to learn how off-grid solar systems work and how to design your own system?

A Beginner’s Guide to Off-Grid Solar Systems

The Off Grid Cabin Starlink eBike

Welcome to our most enlightening blog post yet “A Beginner’s Guide to Off-Grid Solar Systems”. Today we’ll embark on a rather illuminating journey into the realm of sustainable living by harnessing the power of the sun and the basics of off-grid solar power. We’ll cover five main categories in this introduction to off-grid solar systems.

  • Understanding Off-Grid Solar Systems
  • Advantages of Off-Grid Solar Systems
  • Designing Your Off-Grid System
  • Installation and Maintenance
  • Off-Grid Living Considerations

Along the way, we’ll also include the complete breakdown of the solar system we use here at the off grid cabin and the links for specific component details. 

NOTE: This serves as a reference solely. To access the technical details of a specific solar system, refer to the manufactures company/manual for choosing the proper solar system and battery for your off-grid situation. The installation of solar and battery storage systems necessitates the expertise of a licensed electrical professional with experience. These systems harness and store substantial energy quantities, carrying the potential for damage, fire, or severe injury if the installation fails to adhere to pertinent regulations, standards, and guidelines. 

In a world increasingly defined by its voracious energy demands, a growing number of individuals are embracing a life off grid by unplugging from city utilities. More and more people are embracing a life of self-generated power. While most , if not all our community, are off grid and/or homesteaders there is a growing population that are still grid tied but 100% solar. This vision was a distant dream for most just a few years ago. Fast Forward to today and there are millions of homes and businesses generating the majority, if not all, of their energy requirements through solar. Let’s get started…

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1 Understanding Off-Grid Solar Systems

Off-grid solar systems, also known as standalone solar systems, are self-contained energy solutions designed to provide electricity in areas without access to centralized power grids or for folks like us who choose to live off the grid. Unlike grid-tied systems that rely on utility companies, off-grid systems generate electricity from sunlight, store it in batteries, and convert it into usable power for household needs.

Understanding off-grid solar systems

The primary purpose of off-grid solar systems is to enable energy independence and still enjoy all the technologies of today. By harnessing the abundant energy of the sun, individuals can reduce or eliminate their dependence on fossil fuels and completely eliminate a monthly utility bill. These systems empower not only individual homeowners but remote communities and perhaps in the future entire villages, towns, and cites.

Our solar system was purchased from a company here in Canada that specializes in complete off grid solar systems.

We have decided to partner a very trustworthy and knowledgeable company here in Canada called Solar Power Store.

Solar Power Store Logo

They have a complete range of Off Grid Solar Energy Kits

Their solar energy kits are popular among cabin owners, people looking to live “off the grid,” and average homeowners alike. Inside their collection of solar energy kits, you’ll find solar panel and battery kits in a variety of wattages and styles to suit your specific setup. You’ll find solar panel starter kits and large off-grid solar kits that are intuitive and high quality. Best of all they offer technical support with each purchase to give you the tools you need to start using sustainable solar power today. You can use our Solar Power Store link and we’ll get a small kickback if you purchase anything using our link.

We’ve broken down each component below and included additional links which cover the fine details and specs regarding that piece of the system. We will also be posting future blog posts covering the exact details of how each individual component works, the role they play in the solar system and where you can find these components yourself. We’ve taken all the work out of selecting a solar system that’s right for you

the off grid cabin solar fall 3

the of grid cabin solar panel and battery box

The Building Blocks of Off-Grid Solar Systems

Off-grid solar systems consist of several crucial components working in harmony to generate, store, and deliver electricity. Here’s a breakdown of the main element. 

Solar Panels

Photovoltaic solar panels capture sunlight and convert it into direct current (DC) electricity. These panels are typically mounted on rooftops or open areas to maximize sun exposure. We’ll dive deeper in additional posts of how to choose the proper size panels, orientation, and angle for optimal energy absorption based on your geographic location and seasonal changes. While there are several types of solar panels available the majority of off grid systems use either…

Monocrystalline (mono) panels: These panels offer the best efficiency and generate more power than other types. Because of their high performance, you’ll need fewer panels to power your home. Monocrystalline panels are more expensive but last 25 years or longer.  

Polycrystalline (poly) panels: These panels are less expensive than mono options but offer less power and efficiency. They last up to 20 years with regular maintenance. Because of their lower performance, you’ll need more panels to meet your energy needs. Consider your available roof space, power needs, and budget when comparing mono to poly panels. 

We currently have three 280W Monocrystalline solar panels for our setup. On a clear sunny day this relatively small setup can produce up to 5Kw of power. More than enough to fully charge the battery bank, run our full sized fridge, Keurig, Starlink internet, Shurflo water pump, LED projector, all the lights (ten LED ceiling pot lights) and even partially charge our Tesla Model Y.

The Off Grid Cabin Solar Panels

Charge Controllers

Charge controllers regulate the flow of electricity from the solar panels to the batteries. They prevent overcharging, which can damage the batteries, and ensure efficient energy storage. Just like there are different types of solar panels there are also different charge controllers.

SRNE 48V 3500W Inverter Charger

PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) Charge Controllers: are one of the earlier types and are suitable for basic off-grid systems. They regulate the charging process by pulsing the battery voltage, maintaining a relatively constant charging voltage. As the battery voltage increases, the controller reduces the pulse width to prevent overcharging.

MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking) Charge Controllers: are advanced and highly efficient, making them a popular choice for larger and more complex off-grid systems. They use advanced algorithms to track the maximum power point of the solar panels, allowing them to harvest more energy from varying solar conditions. MPPT controllers can convert excess voltage into additional current, maximizing the energy transferred to the batteries.

PWM with MPPT Functionality: some controllers combine PWM regulation with basic MPPT functionality. While not as efficient as dedicated MPPT controllers, they offer a balance between cost and performance for mid-range off-grid systems.

Diversion Load Charge Controllers: these are used in systems with excess energy that can’t be stored in the batteries. They divert surplus energy to other loads, such as water heaters or dump loads, preventing overcharging of batteries. 

Lighting Charge Controllers: are designed specifically for solar lighting systems, these controllers regulate the charge and discharge of batteries powering outdoor lights. They often include features like dusk-to-dawn settings and timer controls.

Our system uses the very popular Midnite Solar Classic 150V MPPT Charge Controller. This unit is capable of not only controlling input power from solar panels but also hydro and wind. With the Midnite Classic 150 we are also able to monitor our solar system remotely over the internet using either a computer or smartphone. That’s the black component on the bottom right side of our setup below. 

the of grid cabin solar panel and battery box

Batteries

Energy captured by the solar panels is stored in batteries for use when the sun isn’t shining. Deep-cycle batteries, designed to discharge and recharge repeatedly, are commonly used in off-grid systems. The two main types of batteries used in off grid systems are lead-acid and lithium-ion.

Lead-Acid Batteries

Off-Grid-Battery-Bank-Solar-System-Box

The Flooded Lead-Acid: These are traditional, affordable batteries with a liquid electrolyte. They require regular maintenance and proper ventilation due to off-gassing. 

Sealed Lead-Acid (AGM and Gel): These maintenance-free batteries use absorbed glass mat (AGM) or gel electrolytes. They are more expensive but offer better safety and can be placed indoors.

Lithium-Ion Batteries