There is currently an electricity shortage in California, and many areas of California have experienced rolling blackouts, or will experience rolling blackout interruptions of electrical service this summer.
In order to be more self sufficient, I installed an electricity service transfer switch inside of our home, so I can selectively disconnect any of the electrical circuits from the local power company, and connect it to my self generated electrical power. The transfer switch is connected to a waterproof outdoor electrical inlet box, which easily allows my self generated electrical power to be connected thru the jack at the bottom of the box, to any of the electrical circuits within our home.
Once disconnected from the local power company, I have the option of either connecting a 5KW generator to provide electricity to our home, or to connect a solar electricity generation system, which I put together and installed.
My solar system can generate approximately one Kwh (kilowatt hour), for each hour the sun is shining on my solar panels. Here you can see the 8 Kyocera KC130 Solar Panels , which I installed on the roof of our home. Each panel generates approximately 130 watts of electrical power. So the 8 combined panels provide approximately 1Kwh of electrical power for each hour of full sunlight during the day.
The electrical power generated is transferred from the panels on the roof, thru wired conduit, down to an external 7' x 7' x 7' utility shed, which houses the deep cycle batteries, that are charged by the solar panels, with each bank of 4 panels being run thru separate Lyncom 35 Amp Charge Controllers , to prevent overcharging of the batteries. With each bank of 4 solar panels having their own charge controller, it provides additional system reliability. The charge controller also provides digital metering, to monitor the solar panel output, battery voltage, load current, etc. The utility shed has a 12 volt dc fan running continuously, and is vented to allow the battery charging gasses to vent to the atmosphere. Also, I found the temperature in the utility shed was getting too warm, during the summer months, for optimum battery / electronic component life, so I installed a temperature controlled fan system, which turns on and off automatically, as the thermostat set points dictate, and which provides cool outside air to circulate within the shed, and to keep the temperature at the appropriate levels. To further automate the system, I installed a voltage controlled switch in the battery charging circuit, to automatically switch between solar generated electricity and the local utility company power, as the battery voltage dictates. This ensures the maximum use of the solar generated electricity, minimizes manual intervention, automatically switches the solar power on or off as required, and maximizes battery life, by preventing the batteries from being over discharged. The output of the batteries is connected to the 1800 watt (2900 watt peak) true sine wave StatPower Inverter , which provides 120 Volts AC power to the transfer switch. One of the really nice features of this particular inverter, is a remote control panel, which can be installed inside of the house, which provides a very convenient on / off switch for the inverter, as well as a visual monitor as to battery voltage, and the amperage of the load, both AC and DC. The last addition to the system was a fail safe relay. This relay will automatically shift my home back to the local power company, if the output from the inverter is interrupted. This totally protects us against a loss of electrical service due to an inverter failure, or any other solar system component failure. Circuit breakers are in place for the solar panel input, the inverter output, and the local utility power input, to protect all components of the system, as well as to comply with the local building code. I also put a Watts Up Meter in the solar generated AC power output line, that feeds our home. The display on the Watts Up Meter provides cumulative Kwh readings, instantaneous wattage used, and the cost to power the load in the house. Thus, with this metering, I know exactly how many kilowatt hours are generated by solar power, by day, month, and year.
This solar system provides approximately 20% - 25% of our total electrical power used, and can provide the entire house with electrical power during any periods of rolling blackouts. Additionally, thru conservation, and installing energy efficient lighting and appliances, I am saving another 20% - 25% on my total energy usage. My goals were primarily to have power during blackouts, and to be able to avoid excessive energy surcharges, by having my energy consumption be below the tiered and surcharged rate structure. It is always better to be prepared in advance, rather than waiting for problems to surface.
In addition, I have turned off our regular outside lighting, and replaced that lighting with solar powered patio lights, around our home. They work great, and they turn on at dusk automatically, turn off at daybreak, and provide outside lighting, totally powered by the sun. Additionally, I have turned off our motion sensing security lights, and replaced them with solar powered motion sensing security lights. Each light has its own small solar panel, which charges the light's battery pack from the sun's energy. The lights automatically become active at dusk, turn on for 30 seconds when motion is detected, automatically turn off after 30 seconds, and deactivate at daybreak. They use a quartz halogen bulb, which is quite powerful, and illuminate the area very nicely. The light sensor detects motion up to 50 feet away in a 100 degree arc, for over 2100 square feet of coverage by each light. The lights also will operate up to 15 days without sunlight.
I have received many queries as to the cost of alternative energy. Consequently, I recorded all the expenses incurred in setting up my system. With a backup generator system, my total expenditures were $9571.91. Without a backup generator in the system, my total expenditures were $8577.38. Some important factors in determining the cost per kilowatt hour for solar generated energy are the location of the solar installation, and how many equivalent full sun hours per day, your panels are exposed to the sun. For Southern California, the average equivalent full sun hours per day, year round, are listed at 5 hours per day. Even though the sun may be shining 12 hours in a day, you might only get 5 or 6 equivalent full sun hours on your panels. There are two main reasons for this. They are the high angle of the sun in relation to your array, and the amount of atmosphere the sun energy has to travel thru, to get to your site panels. Obviously, when the sun is directly overhead, the distance is the shortest, and the most power is generated. Therefore, the hours of 9 AM - 3 PM usually are the most productive for generating solar power. Other factors to consider are the losses in the system during conversion of power, battery discharge, and the efficiency of the inverter used.. There is power loss when drawing energy from the batteries, and power loss when using an inverter to convert the DC battery power to 110 Volts AC power output. Many times the system power losses can amount to 10 - 20% of the total power generated . After all my system losses, my solar system is daily providing approximately 4.03 Kwh of electrical power to our home. Over the 25 year life of the panels, the cost is approximately 23 cents per Kwh for the solar system only, and with the backup generator system costs included, approximately 26 cents per Kwh. Since I did not pay for any labor in installing and setting up my system, one would have to add those costs in, as well as any increased cost in the parts, if one had a system commercially installed.
If you are interested in purchasing solar energy components, I purchased most of my components from Northern Arizona Wind and Sun. They are a great company, and they provided me with excellent service, filling my orders promptly and efficiently.
Another good source for getting solar energy components, inverters, and supplies is Marine.com. If you have any specific questions about the products that are carried at Marine.com, you can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org .