2016 Tiny House Jamboree

John at TinyJam2016Tiny House Jam imageAt the beginning of August 2016, John O’Hara and Krista Miller from Backwoods Solar attended for the very first time, The Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO. The event was held on a Friday through Sunday on the field just west of Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy. Tiny House people of all types from builders, dwellers, vendors, and tiny living enthusiasts came for inspiration, ideas, and perhaps even to buy a tiny house. John said, “There were lots of different people with different life experiences heading toward a similar goal of living with less. Also, people seemed interested in the personal/financial freedom that went along with a Tiny House movement.”

Last year’s inaugural event attracted 40,000 attendees and increased in size so much this year causing the organizers to choose a new larger site or face being shut down. “The incredible attendance numbers showed us that the tiny house movement is more popular than anyone imagined,” says Coles Whalen, president of Tiny House Jamboree and event lead coordinator. She’s also the vice president of marketing for EcoCabins. “We had supporters from all over the nation – people from every state. Tiny house enthusiasts have been under the radar – they prefer to be under the radar – but they all came out of the woodwork for this event.”

Tiny house systems
An example of the tiny house systems we can design

The Backwoods Solar booth experienced a large number of attendees stopping by on their way to and from the speakers or tours of the houses. “We had several hundred people come by our booth to check out how to power their tiny houses with solar, micro-hydro, or wind. They were very interested in our flyer showing some example systems that we can design for people,” said Krista. And, “We pointed out to folks that Renewable Energy of a Tiny House can vary as much as the homes themselves do,” said John.

Mandi Kinder from Primus wind, manufactured in Colorado, joined us in our booth for one of the days to be on hand to answer questions about wind power systems specifically for tiny homes as well as general questions regarding wind power. “It was a joy to represent Primus Wind Power and to interact with so many different people.  I loved being able to discuss the benefits of combining wind and solar ultimately creating a smart hybrid system.  Tiny house people are so cool!” said Mandi. We were thankful to have her there to help.

The event featured 50 tiny buildings ranging in size from 150 to 308 square feet, including a handicap-accessible house, a tiny tailgater house by the Air Force Academy and a mini chapel by EcoCabins. Nearly two dozen speakers lead informative talks, question-and-answer sessions and book signings. Completing the picture were 40 vendors including Backwoods Solar, a kids’ corner, food, beer and wine. Friday night featured live music, and on Saturday night one of last year’s tiny house speakers was married in the tiny chapel.image - Tiny Home Flyer

“Tiny houses are a way to build equity. They’re easier than traditional real estate. Also, people are looking for a home they can own that is relocatable – they can take their whole lifestyle with them. They don’t have to settle down in one place”, Coles said.

Backwoods left the 2nd annual Tiny House Jamboree event feeling exhausted from the excitement of thunderstorms and a very engaged crowd, but looking forward to next year. John remarked that, “It’s neat to see so many people engaged in DIY on such a human scale. On a personal level – I enjoyed helping people – all at various stages of the process – continue to move in the direction of their dreams. The process is filled with excitement for a new future and it was fun to share that with them!”

Solar Panels Powered Water Pumping




Solar panels that power water pumping systems are an excellent solution to the water and water storage issues on our minds. As availability to solar energy becomes more affordable and much more efficient, the choice to change to a DC solar-powered water pumping in remote applications becomes clear.

There are many remote situations where a solar-powered water pump just makes more sense compared with a conventional grid-connected AC pump. Using solar panels to pump water can greatly relieve the work load and expense for many rural people.

AC vs. DC Pumps

Depending on the application-irrigation, ponds, livestock, deep well water storage, or for an off grid water source-consider changing your existing AC pump and/or installing a new DC solar-powered pumping system closer to the water source.

The age old argument is that AC pumps are faster and can last longer. However, they use 4-8 times the amount of power per gallon than slower DC pumps. AC pumps can also be maintenance intensive and unpredictable at times, causing additional strain on inverters in off-grid systems when other loads are running.

Most DC solar-powered pumps use half the energy consumed by an AC jet pump and can be more cost effective due to location and/or fuel dependence. A solar solution is cleaner and now cheaper than it has ever been.

Things to Consider With A Solar-Powered Water Pump

There are some basics you will need to know before you make the move to a solar direct water pump. We have also included a diagram near the end of the article that defines some of these terms further.

  • How deep is your well or other water source? “Water source,” can refer to any well, spring, creek, or storage tank. Depth is a crucial measurement and is usually measured in feet and is incredibly helpful when communicating with manufacturers or distributors. The depth of your well or water source determines the type of pump you will need. When pumping from a storage tank, cistern, spring, or creek you may need a shallow level submersible pump or surface pump.
  • What is the Static Water Level or Static Head in the well? This is the measurement from ground level of the well to the top the surface of the water rises within the well on its own with the natural production of the underground spring or stream.
  • If you have an existing well, do you know how many gallons per minute your well produces? Usually your well driller can provide you with this information, you might have it already, or you will have to estimate how much “draw-down” the well will have during pumping.
  • How many gallons per day will you need?
  • Are you planning on pumping to a non-pressurized holding tank or to a pressure tank?
  • How many feet above the well head is the tank located?
  • If you will be using a pressure tank is how many pounds of pressure will you need from the pumps performance?
  • If PV direct, without batteries, how many feet from the array to the well head (either of the surface pump or a submersible pump deep in the well? Some of the finer details that are often overlooked in the planning stage are the distances that the wire or conduit from the PV modules will need to be to get to the well head. If there is a battery bank, the distance from the well head to the battery system will have to be measured.

Utilizing a Storage Tank

Adding a storage tank and increasing the size of the pumping system means that you can have excess water stored for continual use during the night or when it’s cloudy and the pump is off.

The purpose of a storage tank or drinking trough is to allow a very consistent trickle flow of water constantly pumping throughout the day building up a large volume of water to supply brief periods of high water use. DC powered submersible deep well pumps may be the best choice because they do not require large bursts of power or use the inverter at all.

As touched on previously, DC submersible pumps only use 20% to 50% as much energy per gallon pumped as an AC centrifugal pump. Most of these pump very slowly and have less of a chance of depleting the water level in a slow recovery well.

They can be powered direct by solar modules, without batteries, or they can be powered by the same battery bank in an off-grid power home like any DC appliance as long as the well is within about 200 feet from the house. These submersible pumps will not freeze or lose their prime.

Designing a Solar-Powered Water Pump

Technical drawing of an example solar powered water pumping
An example diagram of a solar powered water pumping and storage solution.

So, this leads to the next couple of questions to consider as you design your system.

Do you want to power the pump directly from a PV array, which implies that you will only get water when the sun is shining unless you have a storage tank?

Or are you considering that you would need to have your pump powered by a battery bank for additional pumping in times of little to no sun and into the evening? Batteries are also sometimes desirable to provide sufficient surge power for starting the pump.

At this point, drawing a rough diagram of your proposed system is a good idea so that you can indicate which measurements you will need and identify sources, storage, final discharge points, and required components to go solar. A solar-powered water system is one of the easiest solar power systems to install and will ultimately save you time and money.

As with any system, Backwoods Solar is here to answer any questions and help design the perfect solar panels off-grid power system to meet your needs. Contact Us for help with your off-grid power project today.

Rapid Shutdown Code Changes for PV Systems

rapidShutdownSystem

NEC Code Changes for Rapid Shutdown & What it Means for You.

In 2014, the NEC instituted code 690.12 in regards to rapid shutdown of PV systems. The code was implemented in order to protect First Responders from the dangers of an energized PV system, even after the AC service has been shutoff. More than half of all states have adopted the code change, and further changes and amendments are on the horizon for 2017.

GRID TIED SYSTEMS

Rapid Shutdown requirements came to play in the 2014 code, and most grid-tied inverter manufacturers and installers started adopting relatively quickly. Electrical inspectors also came quickly up to speed, but the language within the code left some questions unanswered. For the 2017 code changes, the NEC elected to simplify and clarify some elements, which also allows many inspectors to come up to speed and manufacturers to streamline their offerings to match.

Fronius Rapid Shutdown Add On
Fronius Grid-Tie RSD Add On

Backwoods is here to offer solutions and support to meet the changing requirements of the electrical code. Many inverters that we carry now have proprietary RSD accessories available, as shown to the left. Most Grid-Tied inverters have a solution readily available and at a decent price.

OFF-GRID and BATTERY BACK-UP SYSTEMS

Off-Grid and Hybrid systems utilizing storage are also included in the code changes. Companies such as Schneider and Outback have proprietary solutions for some of their off-grid inverters. Others don’t have something that ties in under the same branding. For those systems, we have third-party options offered by Midnite Solar which have additional features that allow inverters with on-board AC outlets to continue to work during power outages. (Such as the SMA Sunny Boy line).  A third party solution may also be a great way to retrofit an existing system should you need to add RSD. Keep in touch via our website as more solutions become available.

MidniteSolarRapidShutdownSystem
Midnite Solar RSD Diagram with Birdhouse

As stated above, these code requirements affect both grid-connected and off-grid homes. Standalone ground mount or pole mounts should be excluded, however we have run into inspectors that challenge that thought. Understanding the code and how it applies to where the PV is installed and how the conductors (wires) are run within the dwelling and between the array and AC source is important to explain. The requirement states that all PV System Circuits installed on or in buildings shall include a rapid shutdown function that controls specific conductors that meet the following conditions:

  1. Systems that include PV system conductors (wires) of more than 5 feet inside a building or 10 feet from a PV array.
  2. Controlled conductors shall be limited to not more than 30 volts and 240 volt-amperes within 10 SECONDS of shutdown.
  3. Voltage and power shall be measured between any two conductors and between any conductor and ground.
  4. The rapid shutdown methods shall be labeled as such: PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM EQUIPPED WITH RAPID SHUTDOWN (in white, capitalized, reflective letters on a red background). – Backwoods has labels available for this purpose.
  5. Equipment that performs the rapid shutdown shall be listed and identified.

As we design systems for individuals that require rapid shutdown, we will include the appropriate solution for your situation and the inverter choice that was made.

Off-Grid Battery Care – It Happens to the Best of Us

Written by: Alan Smith

This past summer Backwoods had a visit from one of our retired co-workers, Terry.  While it is always good to have friends visit, the circumstances for his dropping by were less than ideal.

A small, catastrophic failure had led to the loss of a battery bank, two inverters, and a voltage converter.  Ultimately, the failure was traced back to a single nut and bolt in the battery bank cable connections, that had developed hidden corrosion over time.  Corrosion causes resistance to the flow of electricity, which in turn generates heat.  With enough corrosion, and enough current flow, the amount of heat generated can be sufficient to melt battery terminal connections; which is exactly what happened in Terry’s case.  The melted metal flowed between the negative and positive terminals of his industrial battery, causing a high power short that was beyond the capabilities of any of the circuit protection, resulting in the damage to the equipment.

Now keep in mind, Terry is one of the more detail-oriented people we’ve had here at Backwoods.  The discipline of a military background, along with critical thinking of an engineer, were still not enough to overlook one very tiny detail.  Terry does his mechanical maintenance on a routine schedule; checking for tightness in wiring connections, cleaning accumulated spray off battery tops, cleaning out dust and spider webs, and keeping his battery terminal posts coated with anti-corrosion paste.  This is not the type of person you’d expect to see such a failure.

Corroded terminal bolts, off grid battery care
The pictures below are the actual culprit, and one of the clean assemblies, for comparison.

So what happened?  It all boiled down to the battery terminal connections.  What Terry had NOT done, was dissembled the nut and bolts from the battery terminals and cables to check for internal, hidden corrosion.  It had been about 6 years since he had done that level of inspection.  When previously reviewed, the hardware had been thoroughly inspected, cleaned, and re-assembled, and then coated with anti-corrosion paste on the exterior.  In one of the 16 nut/bolt pairs, a small bit of contamination or moisture must have been left trapped inside.  Over the course of the next six years, the corrosion grew, contaminating the entire connection; but was NOT visible externally at all!

Terry has since replaced his lost equipment and is back in operation. The tale makes a strong case for what all solar electric systems owners should already know: system maintenance is essential to the health and longevity of the equipment.  Just because the lights are on and everything looks good on the surface, there is still no reason to not be thorough and diligent on your system care.

Solar Power International 2016

By: Erika Karnitz, VP of Wholesale Sales

Solar Power International (SPI) 2016 was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center September 13-15th. David Katz and I braved the crowd and walked the maze of booths making up the show. There were over 17,000 attendees this year, a 10% increase from last year, and more than 600 exhibiting companies.

David having fun with lightsSimilarly to last year, there was a lot of focus on energy storage at SPI 2016. We saw many advanced battery technologies on display, including lithium ion, sodium ion, and nano carbon lead acid. Each technology has advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the flooded lead acid batteries that we are used to seeing in off grid applications.

There were several inverter companies introducing “storage” inverters, such as SMA. These inverters are different than an off grid inverter in that they are high voltage and they don’t function when the grid is down. They are designed mainly for commercial applications where peak shaving and load shifting makes financial sense to the customer.

Many module manufacturers have begun to produce “bi-facial” solar modules, which Solar World Bi-Facial Modulescan harvest more energy by capturing sunlight reflected off of the surface that the module is mounted on. Module manufacturers are reporting up to a 10% increase in output by using these in the proper conditions. Proper conditions would include having a reflective surface (white EDM roof etc) and a tilt up rack that allows the reflected light to be exposed to the back of the module.

Erika and smartflowerModule manufacturers are always striving to achieve better efficiency. Some techniques we saw being employed were using more bus bars and using half cells. The idea behind both of these strategies is that more electrons are able to pass through.

SPI is mainly geared toward larger distributors and installers but we always manage to find some new products that we think will be interesting to our customers. We saw two new inverters that will be available in 2017 that Backwoods will be excited to offer.

Midnite Solar MNB17-5 – The MNB17Midnite B17-5, Erika and David Katz-5 has 5 bays in which you can configure your
system components. Each bay holds one inverter or charge controller module. It is a very customizable product, and the first we have seen with multiple inverter modules and charge controllers that can be “hot swapped” in the field if servicing is required. It will work in off-grid, battery backup grid tie, and self-consumption applications.

Outback SkyBoxOutback Power SkyBox/SkyBoss- The SkyBox is an all in one hybrid energy system. It includes the inverter, charge controller, battery, and energy management system (SkyBoss) all in one enclosure. Unlike many of the grid tie/storage inverters we have seen, the SkyBox allows for use as a straight grid tie anDavid chatting up Outbackd can be upgraded later to include storage. The SkyBoss management system allows for advanced programming and load prioritization with the goal of optimizing your energy distribution.

Another item that we saw at SPI that may be interesting to our customers is a ready-made awning bracket. Solar awnings can be a great way to reduce solar gain and harvest energy at the same time. These hand welded in the USA awning brackets are aesthetically pleasing and can be bolted directly to your structure. They are available in 3 tilt angles to best Fronius Boothaccommodate your geographic location.

We love going to these large trade shows and meeting with our valued manufacturing partners and customers and deepening those relationships. We also love to check out all the new technologies so that we can keep our customers up-to-date with what is happening out there in the big wide solar world. Perhaps our favorite part though, is returning from the big city and getting back to the woods.

Visit our site to learn more about the products we viewed this year: www.backwoodssolar.com

InterSolar North America 2016

Solar Trade Show
2016 Crowd at Intersolar NA
Happy Birthday InterSolar
2016 Celebrates 25 years of InterSolar North America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Having just returned from Intersolar North America, the largest solar industry event in the northern hemisphere, we are energized by all that is transpiring in the world of solar.  Leaving our remotely located homes for the city to mingle with a crowd of more than 18,000 people from over 80 countries is one of the ways we strive to bring our best to customers, vendors and employees.

Socializing at Intersolar NA 2016
From L to R, Bryan Norkunas, Annie Katz, David Katz, and Jason Austrus

The relationship building that occurs during the many meetings and social events is essential to our ability to stay up to date with the industry.  Our time is filled by engaging with new and established vendors and manufacturers; such as companies building solar modules, battery storage developers and project contractors.  It is always rewarding to meet face-to-face the people we know from our long-distance phone based relationships.  We share stories, get to know each other, and talk business.  These relationships shape the backbone of our ability to bring you the “latest and greatest” best equipment and service possible.

There are a myriad of ways to participate in InterSolar and we love to get involved wherever possible.  Over the years this has included: conference presentations about off-grid solutions-domestically and internationally, best practices to ensure the sustainability of the solar industry, and battery storage technologies, as well as; sitting on the InterSolar planning committee, serving on industry and advisory boards and sponsoring co-located events such as the Solar 2016 conference presented by American Solar Energy Society (ASES).

Happy Birthday SEI
Happy Birthday SEI

The highlights from this year’s event for us here at Backwoods Solar were; celebrating Solar Energy International’s 25th year, meeting with potential partners on projects located in Africa, checking out a cool new heliotropic tracking device, and as always strengthening relationships with our network of system manufacturers to ensure consistent supplies, pricing and customer service.

image - Backwoods Solar CEO Sequoya Cross
CEO Sequoya Cross

While both Sequoya Cross, CEO and David Katz, Corporate President of Backwoods found the event to have many of the same technologies presented as in previous years, David did find it interesting to see an ever increasing amount of storage companies in attendance. Further showing a shift back, with a renewed emphasis, to where the industry started when David founded his solar company some 40 years ago. Sequoya also commented that it would be fun and informative to have more participation, “nuts and bolts”, type demos of the equipment such as what QuickMount and IronRidge show in their booths with their product lines. “Having complete balance of energy systems that integrate these new technologies from multiple manufacturers in a hands-on approach would give depth to their use and compatibility in all types of system scenarios”.

Backwoods looks forward to sharing more from future InterSolar experiences. Until then please find the “nuts and bolts” information we produce for you in our Learning Center or give our technicians a call to ask about the latest upgrades you can make to your system.

2016 Mother Earth News Fair

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168 188For the last four years the crew at Backwoods Solar has been tending a booth at the Mother Earth News sustainable living fair. This year Sequoya Cross and Krista Miller packed up three wooden crates full of components, giveaways, and information for the thousands of attendees that pass through the Linn County fairground gates.

Even the heat wave didn’t stop dedicated self-reliance folks from venturing out into the sun to find the Backwoods booth. And they were rewarded with our DC Fan and double shaded space which we shared with our favorite Primus Air representative, Ken Kotalik.  The searing heat encouraged questions about the effects on overheating solar panels efficiency, as well as, inspiring a brilliant D.I.Y. AC invention to take place right in our booth!

As people came in to our space they were greeted by us and a table full of components showing an example of what an off-grid or grid-tied system generally includes. This year we had informational title cards explaining each piece of the system from the solar module and mounting options to the battery bank and everything in between including various loads like water pumps and lights.

Everyone seemed very engaged this year and asked great questions. The Primus Air Breeze drew a lot of interest as did our DC direct fan and of course the Sunjack solar charging system. The kids loved the solar flashlight giveaways generously provided by MorningStar and waterproof cell phone holders provided by Roof Tech. We were really impressed with the amount of time people spent in our booth checking everything out.

We would like to thank our old friends Roger with Unforgettable Fire and Angela. We can’t wait to see you in August for the Tiny Home Jamboree and thank you for introducing us to Thomas and his father of Eagle Log Cabins!  Of course Ray and David of Outback Power for being very supportive and sending many folks our way during those hot hours following their presentation on the Solar Stage.

Check out our new friends John and Nathan with Alpha Electric Scooters. Thanks guys for keeping us smiling during the heat. Also, our neighbors Barn-to-Door and Sow1Farm were truly super cool. A special thank you to Kevin with Fire Mizer who created a D.I.Y. bucket style AC unit for his booth and in chatting with us on his rounds discovered the Sunjack battery pack would run the USB fan that pushed air through the unit. It was truly an instance of necessity being the mother of invention!

In addition to our old and new friends, our regulars came by to visit and many of them went away with one of our Backwoods Solar T-Shirts. We had a winner for the Sunjack Solar charger who happened to not answer her phone because it had died. She was very excited and said that she was really lucky to win the Sunjack so that won’t happen again!

Finally a huge thank you goes out to all of our vendors who generously provided demo units, information sheets, freebies, and products to showcase at this year’s fair. Without your support we wouldn’t have been able to do this.

Backwoods-Summer-2016-Road-Trip
Participating Vendors at our booth

Backwoods Summer 2016 Road Trip Report I

OSEIA 2016

By Erika Karnitz VP of Wholesale

I attended the 2016 Oregon Solar Energy Conference (OSEC) on May 4th and 5th in Portland Oregon. The conference drew 380 attendees this year, as opposed to last year’s 251. Each day was chock full of training’s, policy round tables, and networking opportunities.

Tuesday May 3rd kicked off the event with a “solar soiree” in the evening featuring drinks, snacks and a chance to say hi to everyone before we got down to business. Jeff Bissonnette, Executive Director of OSEIA gave an opening speech about the bright future of solar in Oregon.

Wednesday morning started with a keynote address by Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the national Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). He took a poll of the room and it was interesting to see that many of us had Customer Owned Utility round tablebeen there 5, 10, 15, and even 20+ years. He talked about Oregon Senate Bill 1547, which set as 50% renewable portfolio standard (RPS) by 2040 and requires the elimination of coal-generated electricity in the state power mix.  The bill also creates a community solar program, allowing Oregonians without solar suitable roofs to own a portion of a larger central array and have credits applied to their electricity bills. SEIA expects Oregon have one of the fastest growing solar industries in the country in the coming years.

Wednesday I attended some interesting training’s. The first was a product and technical training by Solarworld. They talked about their new line of high efficiency monocrystalline modules, which are 60 cell and 300W. They are using a 5 busbar technology, which in conjunction with high quality mono cells is enabling them to reach 300W in the same footprint as they have used in the past. Per Solarworld ” By moving from three to five bus bars, the primary electrical contacts that stripe photovoltaic cells, SolarWorld can manufacture cells and modules in which electrons travel shorter distances from grid lines to bus bars and thus enable more to reach the bus bars. The advance lifts module power by 2 percentOB training Sandraage points. “

Another interesting new product being offered by Solarworld is the “Bisun” module, which is a bifacial solar module. Bifacials have been offered in the past by companies such as Canadian Solar and Sanyo, but the Solarworld will be the only one currently in production to my knowledge. The amount of additional power generated by bifacials depends greatly on the reflectivity of the surface that they are installed on and the method of install. An ideal install would be elevated and on a white membrane roof. Solarworld claims up to a 25% increase in power generation compared to a standard module of the same wattage. They are currently testing outputs at an install in VA.

The next training I attended was “Inverter Best Practices”, taught by Jeff Laughy from Solar Edge. It was a good overview of different inverter types, with a focus on SolarEdge inverters and optimizers. He discussed the significant impact recovery from shading that is possible by using MLPE (module level power electronics). Rhone ReschMLPEs include microinverters and power optimizers. Tests have indicated that if you are in an area that receives shading, you can recover 25% of the lost power by using MLPEs. According to SolarEdge, 60% of residential installs are currently using MLPE technology.

Jeff also spoke about SolarEdge’s partnership with Tesla in making a storage solution for grid tied systems. The StorEdge 7.6kW inverter and appropriate optimizers can be used with the Tesla Powerwall to create a grid tied solar system with a 6.4kW storage capacity.

The last session I attended on Wednesday was “Preparing for Disaster Resiliency”. Rick Williams, Director of the Columbia Region Leidos Maritime Solutions, has been working with Portland State University and others to come up with solutions to make the PV installs in the area more ready in the case of a large grid outage. They have been discussing establishing community centers that would allow residents to shelter in place.

Thursday I attended the “Grid Tied Battery Backup Systems” class, taught by Sandra Herrera and Brian Lawrence from Outback. We learned a lot about Radian system design and implementation. We also talked about the other products in Outback’s lineup that are suitable for grid tie with battery backup.

The 2016 OSEC was a whirlwind of learning, networking, and fun. There were several after-hours opportunities to mingle with other solar professionals, and it is always a pleasure to see the faces of my northwest solar friends. OSEC remains one of my favorite conferences because of its smaller size and ample training opportunities. See you there next year!

 

Hybrid Solar Wind Power Solutions

Backwoods Solar is proud to offer hybrid solar-wind solutions for off-grid power use with Primus Wind Turbines. When considering off-grid renewable sources of energy to power your home, there are many options available. Solar panels for your home is the most obvious choice due to low cost and readily available products but what happens when that first storm comes and the wind is blowing and the sun isn’t shining?image - primus wind power turbine

Many homeowners are looking at supplementing their solar panel systems with a secondary input source. With the availability and decreasing cost of small, off-grid wind turbines that operate in even modest wind conditions, many people are choosing a hybrid approach.

Hybrid Off-Grid Power Systems
Hybrid systems that incorporate both solar panels and wind turbines to form a perfect complementary relationship with each compensating for the weaknesses of the other system. Where solar is best during the daytime, wind power works throughout the night. Where solar is better through the summer months, wind power can be better in winter months.

Balancing Solar Panels for Homes

Solar power, though relatively inexpensive, is not always as reliable or efficient as possible in times of low sun. To generate power, solar panels must collect sunshine at sufficient intensity and at the right angle. This does not occur at night, or when it is cloudy and overcast. If snow covers the panels, power is not generated until the snow melts or the solar panels are cleaned off.

This can cause charging issues in battery-based systems that rely only on solar power where storms occur often or are in parts of the world where winters are extremely short. Adding a wind turbine to a solar-powered system can lengthen battery life by reducing the depth and frequency of discharge. Since these off-grid systems are powered by wind when solar power is unavailable, it avoids drawing down the system’s batteries and increases battery life.image - array of solar panels

Balancing Wind Turbine Systems

It is easy to see that wind power can complement solar in many instances because it often produces the most power precisely when solar power is reduced or unavailable, such as at night, in inclement weather, and during winter. Wind often blows during long winter nights and is, on average, actually stronger in inclement weather.

During winter, average wind speed is highest, as is air density-both factors that contribute to wind generating more power when solar power tends to be least available. To enhance power reliability and build in redundancy, many off-grid homes are now being retrofitted with small, off-grid wind turbines.

Primus’ turbines are designed to generate power at wind speeds as low as 6 mph, and can generate as much as 40 to 80 kWh a month per turbine depending on conditions. They are available in several models for areas with different wind speeds and climates. Each turbine measures about four (4’) feet in diameter, weighs about 13 pounds, and costs only around one thousand dollars per unit.

A single wind turbine is able to provide an additional renewable energy source for charging batteries. If more power is required, several turbines can be combined together. Far from a new concept, small off-grid turbines from Primus have already been installed worldwide with over 150,000 units currently operating in the field.

If you’re interested in setting up a hybrid wind and solar off-grid power system, Contact Us today at Backwoods Solar online or by phone (208) 263-4290 to discuss customizing your project for your home or business today.
ref: Del Williams

Making Your Home “Solar Ready”

By Sequoya Cross of Backwoods Solar

Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in making your home more energy efficient, it reduces the expense and size of a solar panel system multiple times over for living off the grid. Some of the most significant ways to reduce your electricity use is to evaluate the age of your major appliances and heating and cooling methods.

Improvements to Reduce Energy Consumption

Anything over 10 years of age should be replaced and Energy Star and gas appliances installed wherever possible (although this increases your gas bill). These methods will further decrease your draw on the grid or your batteries. Weatherize your home, and if you are in the process of building a home or renovating an existing one, use passive solar techniques and wood heat to help cut down on the use of heating and air conditioning appliances, which are some of the largest draws of electricity.

Minor Changes for Energy Use

Rather than major life-style changes, people can keep most advantages electricity offers while consuming only a small percentage of the power others use. The amount of power your system generates depends on the natural energy resources at your location and on how much equipment you install to gather that energy. The amount of benefit you receive from that energy depends on careful selection of lights and appliances for maximum energy efficiency and on your conservation habits. That means using special lights, refrigerators, and freezers that use about 1/4 as much power. It also means using natural gas or propane for major heat production in cooking, water heating, clothes drying, and home heating.

By installing extra switches and smart power strips to cut power off phantom electric loads, that is, things like stereos, TVs, garage door openers, and office equipment, all of which consume power even when turned off can save a considerable amount of energy over time. Use motion sensor and timer switches for outdoor lights whenever possible and heating systems that distribute heat without pumps or blowers and cooling by evaporative methods instead of air conditioning.

Major Changes for Energy Use

By really evaluating and being conscious of your energy use, we learn how to get the most benefit from the fewest kilowatt-hours. In short:

  1. Design the whole house (water, heat, power) for low energy use.
  2. Carefully select very special low energy lights and appliances.
  3. Eliminate energy waste in appliances and from human carelessness.

At Backwoods Solar, most of our employees live in off-grid or grid-connected homes that get some or all of their power from renewable energy methods. We are constantly adding to and improving our efficient systems in order to maximize the benefits and cut down on the carbon footprints we have.

Shawn incorporates several methods, using solar and wind to power his home. Scott and Tracey live completely off-grid with a year round micro-hydro system that powers their home built from timber they milled on the property. Tom uses solar to run his growing off-grid house (which he is working on an addition very diligently before the rains come). John powers his off-grid cabin with solar and Alan is designing his off-grid system for his own home and currently supplies back-up power to a grid-connected deep well submersible pump.

Sequoya is slowly growing into a grid-tie system for her small home that utilizes Enphase micro-inverters. The added benefit that micro-inverters have made in the industry is that they allow a homeowner to grow into a system over time, slowing adding to it as their budget allows. Instead of making the expensive investment all at once, a homeowner can start smaller and take the savings they realize on their utility bill and invest it back into the growth of their system.

If you’re interested in getting your home “solar ready” and customizing an off-grid power system with solar panels for your home, Contact Us today at Backwoods Solar for help today.