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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm looking for ideas of going off-grid on a budget. I'll be honest, I'm a cheap a$$! I look for the best deal on the best product I can buy (goes for anything I purchase). My power company recently had a 7.5% hike in power rates! :eek: Talk about ouch...My husband and I travel for work and are not home most of the time. My power bill was about $80 month before last (just air and fridge basically) and this past month it jumped to $146!!

We live in KY so I'm looking for other do-able forms of energy. Be it solar or wind. I'm not really sure where to start though. I want to do this a little at a time so as not to go into debt trying to make myself energy independent. Also, would you recommend tying to the grid (and selling back) or have it as a separate entity?

Thanks!
 

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You will need to find out what the regulations are for your area in relation to alternative energy. Many places require a tie in for selling back if you produce a certain amount of electricity and are already tied in.

We have several members with solar set ups, not sure about wind though.
 

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The first step should always be conservation. Replace all your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent or LED bulbs. Look for ways to reduce your usage like sealing up doors and windows and maybe adding insulation to lower your air conditioning loads. Consider getting a smaller or more energy efficient refrigerator. This will save you money now and even more so if you do go solar.

It's not cost effective to use solar electric for heating hot water or cooking. Propane or natural gas is cheaper, so look at your water heater and range too.

Once you do all that, consider adding a small solar setup to power your biggest energy users, especially refrigeration. Check for any "green energy" programs in your area. You can often get help with part of the system cost. If you have to start small, start small. You can always add more later, but be sure to cover the absolute essentials first.

I would suggest a grid tie system. In effect, a grid tie system uses the existing grid as its batteries, which can greatly reduce cost and complexity. Add some batteries if you can, especially if you suffer from frequent power outages. If power outages are rare, consider storing a few batteries dry (along with enough electrolyte to fill them if needed) to use if the grid goes down for any length of time.

Edited to add:
Solar hot water is something to look at too. These systems are relatively simple, and many DIY tutorials are available online.
 

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A grid-tie system is expensive to set up as it has to be an electrician with an alternative energy license.

There are actually two different types of grid tie systems. First is you are just using your roof space for panels & all the power goes to the grid. The more common is solar feeds your needs including charging your batteries & all excess goes to the grid. These are expensive as power companies require a minimum size solar system to be tied so is an expensive initial outlay. But a grid tie is the only form where you get federal or state credits. And coops aren't required by law to accept grid tie systems.

There is also crap about roof inspections to insure your roof is good for 20 years for the solar panels. And whether your roof angles are compatable for solar.
 

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Think of your breaker panel where you have different circuit breakers ranging from 15amps & up. Plus you have systems of 120VAC or 240VAC.

The logical way to work toward off grid is basically build one system at a time. Start small & learn. Maybe 500 watts in solar panels, 30amp controller, a few batteries, & 1500-2000watt inverter.

There are many factors to take into consideration. Clear view to the sun for the solar panels. And you want to be able to adjust the solar panels monthly for longitude (north-south) as that angle will change by 5 degrees every month. Where I live in Florida, threw the year my panel angle varies from 15-45 degrees. That is absolutely critical to get the most out of a smaller system. Without being able to adjust the angle monthly I could end up loosing as much as 50%.
 

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There are auto tracking systems that adjust for north-south as well as east-west butt they are expensive.

Unless you intend to get up on the roof monthly to adjust panel angles or clean dust off them, ground mount is the way to go. If you know someone that welds this can be done at a reasonable price. A large diameter T pole cemented into the ground. A pipe threw the top T. Then angle iron welded to the horizontal pipe to attach the solar panels to. The top piece the horizontal pipe goes threw a hole is drilled threw & nut welded on. A bolt is used to loosen & tighten the rack for adjusting the north-south angle.
 

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Another issue is you must have the 12 or 24VDC wire runs as short as possible as the wire gauge chart is entirely different for 12VDC as it is for 120VAC.
If you put the panels away from the house, you would want to build a "dog house" to house the controller, batteries, & inverter by the panels then run the 120VAC to the house.
 

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Just remember how busy you are. Alternatives are less dependable and require maintenance. This can become an all consuming demand of your discretionary time.

I recommend you look at energy conservation. That is the first step in making alternative energy sources work anyway.

I did this and upgraded out heating, air conditioning and water heating systems. The payback was less than 18 months not theoretically but actually.
 

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Takes me about 20 minutes per month to maintain my solar system. That is adjusting the panels & topping off the batteries.
 

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Something to keep in mind when calculating how much power you need is the inverter. The inverter must convert 12VDC to 120VAC & inverters vary in efficiency. BASICALLY, if you need 1amp at 120VAC you must draw 10amp DC from the batteries to the inverter. Low efficiency inverters that might be 12amps that has to be drawn.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thanks guys I love the input and ideas. We have energy efficient bulbs, fridge etc I'm pretty sure it's our air that's doing it (and the recent screwing from the power hike!) We are looking into switching to propane in the near future so that should help some. The jury is still out about tying to the grid though. We are basically looking for something as a back-up for power outages and if/when the grid goes down all together. Where are some reasonably priced places we could buy the panels, etc other than Harbor Freight. And does anyone know how good the ones from there are?
 

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My last utility bill in a district (not by PG&E) in CA was $265 for a 1200' home.

$80....be happy you don't live in CA.

BTW my new place has a zero water, zero sewer, zero trash and zero electric bill :)
but that doesn't mean they were free.
 

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Some of the best prices I have seen are from Northern Arizona Wind & Sun

Be sure to look at total cost to your door. Adding in freight costs might make local sources cheaper in the long run.
 
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