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The Cost of a Modest PV setup

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Posted by Gigawatt on October 17, 2003, 6:41 am
The Cost of a Modest PV setup.

In my case, it was almost exactly $,000.... this bought me 12, 90 watt
Solec Solar panels, a 250 watt Statpower pro250 (250 watt inverter) 6 Golf
Cart Batteries, 75 feet of 4/0 three wire cable, a Trace TC60 (60 amp)
Charge Controller, and a 10 amp 12/24 volt Battery Charger.... there were
some small additional costs, like an outdoor Junction box with a power block
to consolidate all the individual PV power cables into the two cables coming
into the house, some battery hookup cables, some PVC pipes to mount the PV's
on, a six outlet power strip to distribute the output from the inverter to
various plugs, and a small three light LED (red-yellow-green) automotive
(cigarette lighter) battery tester, to give me a constant voltage and charge
readings on my batteries...

The only expensive item on the list were the solar panels, which I paid a
little less than $ a watt.... by shopping around, panels nowadays can be
bought for about $.50 a watt....

What this setup does for me, is to give me power during hurricanes, storms,
floods, or general power outages which have become more frequent in recent
years... it has also made me aware of how to adapt to a lifestyle from my
old wasteful utility habits.... it has allowed me to always have power....
and has given me the relief from the changing price of grid power when the
bill is spiked due to unexpected fuel generation costs changes.... and
another thing being independent of the grid has made me happy....

Right this minute, it is early morning, here in Houston, I am laying in bed,
with my laptop on my lap, typing this message, with a small fan on one side
of me, and a 4 watt CF light in the lamp above my head.... all this is
running off my PV setup... the lamp is bright, the fan really makes it cool
this morning, and I enjoy getting my early morning email in bed... and if
the whole neighborhood is without power, I would never know it....

Since the original $,000 power investment, I have added some items, like
two more GC batteries (I use 8 now), a Statpower Pro1500 (1500 watt
inverter) which I found on sale for $50...which now means that I can use my
microwave oven with my PV system.... I have changed out my incandescent
house lights to CF bulbs... which costs me about $ each for 22 bulbs.... I
have taken my 1/6 hp Flotec submersible water pump off grid, (and connected
it up to my PV setup) for my house water pressure needs... and generally
reduced my grid costs down to less than $ a month....

What I do not have is Air Conditioning.... which I never liked much
anyway.... when I used AC, I would wake up every morning coughing and
retching because of a dry throat... and would be prone to constant respitory
infections.... instead, I leave a few windows open on opposite sides of the
house so at night the house fills with cool air.... the house is insulated,
(which is the key) so the cool air stays all day, and any accumulated heat
escapes out the open windows... I also use a small, 7" bedside fan, for
cooling during peak summer months....

One of the most telling things that I discovered, that this process does not
work well at my mother's house... she has an uninsulated frame home, and the
heat really builds up to a stifling level in her her windows closed all year
round, and the outside Infrared radiations pass through her frame walls and
accumulates inside.... it is called the solar oven effect.... so she has to
use the AC from time to time during the summer peak.... but recently, she
has opened a bedroom window at night and uses a fan, like I do... she is
'not' off grid, as I am... this opening of a window and using a small fan
for cooling, has cut her power bill to affordable levels... and I also
replaced her hot bulbs with CF bulbs, which paid for themselves in
additional power reductions... opening up a window or two, and good
insulation are the keys to reducing power cooling costs in some areas....
this might not work in other areas, and a new strategy might have to be

Another thing I do not use is Central heat.... although it does not get
really cold down here in Houston, there are a few nights that do get a bit
chilly.... I use a Cast Iron wood heater, which produces excellent heat...
When mother's gas bill rose to $9 one month, she was concerned about paying
the costs out of her small SS check.... her gas bill usually runs about $5
a month for cooking and the water heater.... so I got her a Cast Iron
Boxwood heater... she loved it.... it was just like the wood heater that she
had when she was a girl... there were many a day, that I dropped by, fired
up the wood heater, and we would put on a pot of beans and the teapot on the
two burners.... the cast iron heater was hot enough to heat the dining and
living rooms during the coldest days....

When I build my next house, it will be well insulated, have a wood heater,
and have built in passive solar heating... this should be all that I would

Another thing I do not use is my Electric Oven and Stove top.... I use the
microwave oven occasionally, and use the solar cooker about 200 days a year
during sunny days, and solar cooker has worked well since I built it, in the
summer of 1998.... It has been rained on quite a few times, and is beginning
to leak heat, so a new solar box will be built soon..... the next one will
be water proof.... :-D

The last thing I do not use is a refrigerator or freezer.... I do miss
this... and it will change soon... at this time, I only use 8 of the 12 PV
panels.... I hope to find a good 12 cubic foot 50/50 chest type fridge and
freezer combo, (chest type because it does not dump the cold air out when
the door is opened)... if the power costs of the fridge can be limited to 1
kwh a day or less, then hooking up the additional 4 PV panels might work...
if not, I may have to buy 4 more panels and have a 16 PV panel setup, and
get some larger batteries...

One other thing I would like to add to my setup is a home made generator....
it is called a 'Genny', which is nothing more than a 3 to 10 hp gas or
diesel engine attached to an automobile alternator by a (5 inch to 8 inch)
heavy pulley... this can be used during long periods of cloudy weather, to
charge up the batteries when sunlight fails.... You might only use it once
or twice a year during extreme weather, but could be handy to have... if you
were to buy a ready made generator instead, then get one with an overhead
valve engine...


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Posted by sam1967@hetnet.nl on October 17, 2003, 12:17 pm

Have you put this on your website ?

Posted by Gigawatt on October 17, 2003, 4:35 pm

I have a Solar discussion group and some web pages.... but forgot to mention
them in this post.
They are listed below.... the 'Off the Grid for Newbies' and the 'Homewater'
pages are at my home...

Join our Solar and Independent Living discussion group at :


or Visit our Web Pages at :


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Posted by sam1967@hetnet.nl on October 17, 2003, 3:18 pm

how much knowledge of electrical systems do you have ?
I am in the UK and my local college are just about to start running
courses for installing the panels but you need an NVQ level 3 in
Electricity to get on the course

Posted by Gigawatt on October 17, 2003, 5:47 pm

I have been building electronic projects, all my life, starting with a
Crystal Set radio when I was five years old.... I don't know was a NVQ level
3 is..... but here in Texas, most all people who build these systems are 'do
it yourselfers' like me..... I am comfortable with all aspects of my setup,
and if the system develops a problem, I can always fix it..... I would not
like anyone else to touch it...


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