Thursday, December 18, 2014

Running On Solar Power: Minimal Life Adjustments

A perfect balance- we were using exactly
as much as we were producing.
It's been a few weeks now, living off grid, and we have learned a lot about our system's production abilities and our usage.

Last week, we went the longest yet without any sun. Five days of overcast skies still didn't stop us from lighting our home or powering up devices. We designed our system to work on a 1.5 day battery bank, meaning we could expect to continue general power use for 1.5 days without any sun, thanks to our battery bank.

We were a bit wary of that number in the beginning, but like most things we quickly found a way around it. If it's cloudy- use less power! I'm sure most everyone reading this has lived through a major storm which caused power outages. If you live in New England then you have probably had the pleasure of living through more than one snow/ice storm. When I lived in Southern Maine- two winters in a row we had ice storms and lost power for 5+ days. I ended up temporarily relocating to a family's house each time. Bottom line- I lived.

Arriving home..looking through my clean windshield
at 8 more "windshields" that need to be scraped. Fun.

With those memories floating by, I quickly adjusted my attitude. Dan and I now have a much keener eye to the skies. We follow weather reports closely, make note of our battery bank percentage on a daily basis, and keep a close eye on use of the items that pull the most power.

A sight for sore eyes! After 6 days of
no sun, this was a relief!
Here's what we have learned....
-On a beautiful day in November- we can gain about 15-20% of our bank back.
-On a semi cloudy or "light cloud" day- we can still gain about 5-8% of our bank back.
-On a dark cloud day - we get no juice.
-Solar panels will gather zero power when covered in snow and ice.
-Our house- sitting alone for the day uses about 2% of the power bank. (Only the fridge and an alarm clock remain plugged in all day.)
-In the evenings when we get home- we use roughly 6-8% of our power bank. That includes running both interior lights for 3-4 hours, the outdoor light for 1 hour, 1 laptop for 3-4 hours, and miscellaneous mobile device charging.
-We can go upwards of 7 days without any sun. We went about 6 days with no sun and our bank dropped to it's lowest so far- about 31%.

Overall, the switch to solar hasn't made much of an impact on our daily lives. We don't feel restricted by any means. We like to keep conservative to begin with. Once the bank was getting into the 50 percent range, we scaled back our use. We ran devices off battery power, shut off lights and turned to candles- which actually makes for a very cozy atmosphere!

We even had our first trouble shooting instance. We noticed that the amperage was not reading anything other than zero, and then also noticed that our battery level hadn't moved either. We checked all of our connections outside- everything looked fine. So we turned to the monitor itself. After moving it around a little, I noticed the numbers go all wonky. It was definitely the wiring in the battery monitor itself. Dan fixed it in less than a minute. Man, am I glad it was an easy issue to fix.
With all the heater troubleshooting, I was not ready to have solar go on the fritz too!

Other than that, we haven't had a lot of movement around here. Well not in the building sense. We have been running around getting gifts, finishing errands, decorating, wrapping, and so on. This will probably be my last post until after Christmas. 
We want to thank you all so much for taking the time to read our adventures, share your thoughts and encouragement, and make us feel we are part of a community. We hope you all have a lovely Christmas (or equally wonderful December holiday) full of family and friends, love, laughter, and happiness.

Thanks for reading!


  1. That is a really nice picture of you two. Merry Christmas.

    1. Thanks so much, Connie! Merry Christmas!

  2. Nice Christmas pic!

    Have you thought of getting a small generator to juice up the batteries when dangerously low? I thought that letting them get below 50% seriously affects longevity. I got a nice little unit, like the small Honda, at Northern Tool for $89 on sale (reg $129?)

    I love your gumption in reducing use, but I'd hate to see you ruin an expensive battery bank.

    p.s. I tried to thank you for the "solar tech lessons" a while ago, but couldn't make my comment go through. So ThankYou!!!ThankYou!!!ThankYou!!!

    1. Hi Terry,
      Thanks so much! I'm glad we were able to shed a little more light on the subject for you! And yes, you are correct- as a general rule, letting batteries go below 50% is not a good idea. However, based on what I read about sealed AGM batteries- they are the best suited for off grid applications because they can withstand deep discharges over longer periods of time. They have the ability to "recover" a number of times from a deep discharge if they are cycled and "floated" as needed. Since we didn't have much choice in the matter of the sun hiding away for 6 days, we just bit down and bared it. Typically though, we are pretty easy on the system and it doesn't drop below 75%.

      We got an inverter with the ability to plug a generator in and charge up the battery bank- so we certainly plan to get one. After the holidays we will probably go shop for one with our gift money!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    I have always thought that modifying our relationships with the things we take for granted
    is as important as the technology we employ when living an off grid and independent lifestyle.
    Water, power and waste regain true importance in our relationship with our environment.

    Thanks again for illuminating the path for others.


    1. Hi Alan,

      Thanks so much! You know, that is probably the most concise way I have ever heard it put! It is incredibly true. When you choose to take more into your own hands, you learn the true value. :)

  4. You two look so happy! Merry christmas:))

  5. Nowadays, having a solar panel is really convenient, simply because it gives you the assurance that you will never run out of electricity for necessary functions in your home. It's a good thing that it only required minimal adjustments on your part, and that it isn't an inconvenience at all. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that again, though it seems that you are already preparing for such scenarios in the future. Cheers!

    Johnie Schueller @ Terratek

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by to read about our experiences so far. :) Dan and I have already made several jokes about being excited for the first storm that causes a power outage. The whole block might be in the dark, be we will be just fine! Thank you sun power! It feels great to be getting our energy from a renewable source. I'm finally BEING the difference I wish to see in the world. Cheers!

  6. It’s nice to know that you’ve adjusted to these situations, and that you’ve found ways on how to save energy. For solar power users, cloudy days are really bad, and it’s always best to have a bit of juice left in the battery for emergencies. Anyway, I hope things are doing a lot better for you guys nowadays. Thanks for sharing!

    Douglas Berry @ Solar Energy Designs Inc.

    1. Thanks, Douglas! We are doing quite well now! We have figured out what we can and can't do with our daily habits to make sure we always stay above 85% and its been quite easy!

  7. You might be qualified for a new solar energy program.
    Find out if you qualify now!

  8. The Solar Power is considered as the new energy for us and it is green power for the environment. We should encourage more people using it in the life.

  9. Really nice blog!! I am glad to read your post, pretty informative.

  10. Maybe if you add a wind turbine generator, it can charge your batteries even at night as long as the wind is blowing. I'm not sure about the cost, but I think that's another win-win solution. :)