DIY (Do It Yourself) Off-Grid Power Systems

I have been familiar with off-grid gas generator power setups for quite a while but, I will confess, when it came to Solar and Wind power systems, I was intimidated. Actually, if it hadn't been for several friends, who had gas generators and shared their knowledge with me, I may not have taken that plunge. However, the more I read and the more I watched on-line videos, the more comfortable I became with solar and realized that other forms of off-grid power generation are not much different than my gas generator setups. That said, I figured that others might be intimidated as well so I wanted to post this information and encourage them to research, ask questions and try if they have any interest at all.

To help start the gray matter juices flowing, I put together these diagrams to explain Ultra-Basic to Advanced Designs of off-grid power systems. While I am, by no means, the wizard, and am sure someone will want (and should) correct me on these designs, the basic concepts should come across.

To understand what you may need to setup a system that meets your power needs, you first need to know what appliances you want to power and how many Watts or Volts those appliances use. For example, if the electricity goes out and you want to make sure you have enough power for a 700 watt microwave, a portable radio and/or DVD player and a 30 watt light bulb, you will need to have at least 1000 watts of output from your system. Generally, the plan would be to have more output than you actually need just in case of power start-up surges and things you may have forgotten. In the case of the microwave, you would only need that much output while using the microwave and, really, that goes for any of the other appliances. If you're going to use them all at once, then you better have enough output being generated and battery life to sustain them.

Some may think that a lot of space is needed to have an alternative power system. While it may not be pretty, I have a solar power setup consisting of 8 solar panels and a parallel bank of 4 deep-cycle batteries in my apartment. It's not too obvious if you're not looking for it. The components are portable so I'm not hurting the apartment and I can up and go any time with them in tow. And there are several Solar Power Systems Innovators (like Goal Zero and Xantrex) that have made it easy to obtain pre-built, compact, multi-featured systems.

Speaking of battery-life; AC appliances use more energy than DC appliances, so, in an off-grid or emergency situation, it's better to go with DC (12 volt) appliances when you can. For example, I have 12-volt LED lamps, a 12-volt electric blanket, a 12-volt refrigerator/freezer, and a 12-volt food warmer. 12-volt appliances are available for most any need but QUALITY is key so do your research before buying.

Online forums, videos and articles are great resources to start your own power project, so don't be intimidated by other forms of power or appliances that you can't turn on or off with the wall switch. They can be utilized to help you in an emergency, an off-grid lifestyle and to save on your electric bill.

See Also:
Power Outage Preparation
Cooking & Heating During a Power Outage