Entire books are written the subject of solar setups so I will try to digest it down to the basics. The book I would recommend for learning about setting up a solar power system is the Solar Electric Handbook. (Purchase of any of these items through our links will give us a few pennies to cover internet costs and allow us to continue providing additional content, thank you).
Designing a solar power system can be fraught with tension and stress. There are so many terms and it seems each device uses a different nomenclature. There are watts, amps, amp hours, volts, etc. It is enough to make you think you are at the United Nations and no one has a translator.
In a series of post, I will show you how I designed my solar power system and I will detail the reasons for each item I selected. I am assuming you want a basic system that cost $5,000 or less and will provide for basic needs such as a refrigerator, LED lights, tv, fans, laptop and mobile phone charger, and other basic needs. Appliances requiring high electrical needs (heaters, large air conditioners, clothes dryers, etc) can be operated with solar but require a larger system and most likely you will need a qualified professional for the install. What I will detail is a basic system I use in my tiny house.
Let us first list the required components: solar panels, solar controller, inverter, batteries, fuses, maybe a battery charger, transfer switch and monitors, and wires to connect all together. I installed the solar controller, inverter, transfer switch and my main electrical panel in a box on the tongue of my tiny house trailer. These items are outside my home but protected from the elements. The attached photograph shows the basic components. I will detail my reasons for each item in a series of blog posts but many other items work just as well if not better.
Batteries can not be stored outside in my region because they will loose amperage in cold weather. I have four deep cycle AGM batteries installed into a cabinet that is also my lamp stand adjacent to my chair.
Your first duty is to determine: Can you afford to go solar. If all you need is one or two LED lights and charging your mobile phone, you can setup a system for $100 or so. However, operating a tiny house with more comfortable needs will cost a bit more and will depend on your needs. A basic system will cost approximately $3-4,000 dollars (assuming new components). I define a basic system as one that can power an apartment size refrigerator, tv and dvd player, laptop computer, LED lights, fans, and other basic needs. Therefore, moving forward, we are designing a basic system as I defined above.
Wow, $4,000 dollars, that is a bit steep for a basic system-some will say. However, the cost to get electrical service in the bonnies can top well over $30,000 or more. Solar is also an investment, being off-grid frees you from the invoices of the power grid. If you are a prepper, solar will be the only power available when the grid is shutdown by unrest or other problems.
Most books and professionals will tell you first need to add up all your electrical needs to design your system. I prefer to work backwards designing my system (figure out the system I could afford and then see what it would power) because I am on a limited income. I have no choice but to do solar because the electrical grid is not available to me.
So, this is how I started. I planned for a $3500 system with all new quality components. This would be able to generate 400 watts of power from four 100 watts solar panels. This is where it get confusing; it is not complicated but can be tedious because not all items speak the same language. Your friend is the following formulas: