Small Scale Solar Setups

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by Samantha Biggers, Peak Prosperity:

You don’t have to go big right away with solar.

You don’t have to go big right away with solar. A small solar backup power system is an excellent way to gain experience with solar or just have some backup power if there is a power outage in your area. Small solar arrays are great for camping, boating, and those that live in RVs part or full time.

My husband and I built a house with a small solar system that powers most of the lighting in our home. We also have 12V outlets we can use when we want. Our plans include switching most of our home over to solar power, including our well pump.

Since we have a small farm, we have several small mobile solar arrays. Currently we have the Jackery 1000 and 500 power center as well as a Goal Zero Yeti 400.

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Advantages of Solar Power Stations vs. Gasoline Generators

You can use solar power stations inside.

Gasoline generators produce exhaust. You could set it up so that your solar station is entirely inside, with connectors running to panels that are outside.

Solar power is practically silent.

A tiny quiet fan is all you will ever hear. Gasoline generators can be fairly loud and draw attention. During a long emergency, the last thing you want is everyone knowing you have power when they don’t.

Gasoline generators mean you are dependent on gasoline.

The cost and availability of fossil fuels are concerning. Considering that we are in the 4th turning, reducing reliance on fossil fuels is advisable. Just this week, the Colonial Pipeline, the supplier of 45% of the gasoline on the East Coast of the United States, shut down due to a cyber attack. At the time of writing, they are still working on getting this issue resolved. If it is not, then we will see shortages and higher prices within days.

Straight Out of the Box Solutions

Jackery

Jackery is an affordable and lightweight brand that my husband and I have been using for years. During my time writing for Backdoor Survival, I received several different units in exchange for an honest review. I do not take any commission for recommending these units.

Advantages

  • Lightweight
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries
  • Several Sizes to meet your needs and budget
  • Rugged
  • Great for use on the farm

The larger Jackery 1000 is big enough to use to power our electric pole saw so we can keep trees and briars out of our roadway or safely trim limbs that are hanging and dangerous to deal with using other equipment. You could also use it to power a smaller electric chainsaw. Consider how nice that would be if you cut your own firewood and find yourself unable to get gasoline or mix? A solar panel and this power center could allow you to use an actual power tool rather than handsaws.

The smaller centers are great for those that live in apartments, dorms, campers, or that like to get out in the woods but want a little electricity for lighting, music, etc. Any of these units could provide a good backup power source for those that live alone or if you wanted to make sure that elderly relatives have a backup for medical equipment or lighting during power outages.

Large Whole House Back-Up Systems

Goal Zero Yeti 3000x and 6000x

If you are interested in a straight out-of-the-box system that can take on the power needs of your entire home, then you should consider the larger Yeti systems. Yes, they are a serious investment at around $3,100-$5,000, but you don’t have to do any major configuring or work. The 6000x will power a standard refrigerator for 110 hours on a single charge. The costs I quoted do not include solar panels. The Yeti can be charged from a 110V plug in at your house in about 12 hours. Solar charging times will vary. This does mean that you can buy your power center and add panels later.

 

Types of Panels

The cost of solar panels has decreased a lot over the last decade. My husband and I have started to purchase American-made solar panels on eBay for under $1 per watt. Most panels will work with various power centers and systems as long as you have the right connectors or cords. Product manuals often tell you what you need but sometimes you have to do a bit of research yourself or call some manufacturers.

Portable panels are nice to have for mobile applications. There are several styles to choose from.

Folding Panels

Smaller folding panels can be attached to a backpack to charge devices as you walk. They have USB ports for charging. Usually, these are standard USB ports, so you should make sure your cables are compatible. These panels can be used with portable power centers as well. They are not always made as durable as you might think. Always follow the guidelines that come with your panel. Leaving them out in bad weather can damage some styles. You can get folding panels in a wide range of sizes. Amazon sells some that are over 300 watts! You can always have multiple folding panels on hand to up your wattage when needed.

Semi-Rigid flat panels

These are very thin panels that weigh 25% as much as a standard panel of comparable wattage. They are great for those that want to mount panels on golf carts, UTVs, or roofs that they do not want to stress too much. You can also store them in an RV and put them out when you park. They are usually a better value than folding panels.

Power centers have a max amount of inputs that you can use to charge. This means that more panels do not always mean faster charging.

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