Using the online calculator from Iron Ridge, the plan for the support structure was laid out. The trenching for the footing was done in 2 separate visits from the excavator. Then, 2 separate cement pours. 34 tons of concrete later, we're confident this new solar array will stay grounded during the occasional 70mph winds.
Paul built the concrete forms, cut the steel pipe and set them into position. The concrete guy and crew did an amazing job navigating the pour around all the obstacles. It was the right decision to hire out for this part. It was pretty intense. There was an elaborate flurry of hand signals from the pour location to the truck driver that we couldn't have duplicated. There was so much more involved in the pour process than we ever imagined. Thanks again Kenny and company!
Now mostly unseen, the heavy duty supportsystem will be remembered as a huge undertaking. It will still be here thousands of years from now. Perhaps revered as some kind of ancient "Pipe Henge".
We saw our very first bald eagle soaring overhead the day we were pulling wire to the breaker panel.
To disconnect or not to disconnect from the grid, that is the question. Although, we're pretty much leaning toward 100% off-grid.
The PROs of disconnecting:
No Electric Bill!
Sustainability- Solar power is far more sustainable than coal for energy production.
Reliability- Our remote and sparsely populated location puts us last in line for power outage repairs. Solar power should be more reliable.
Elimination of the controversial "Smart Meter"- We are skeptical about our 8 KWH per day charge. Calculations done a couple years back using a Kill-a-Watt showed we were using more like 5. So, being completely off grid, we'll get a new number from the new system as to what the average daily usage is. The comparison will be interesting.
The PROs of staying connected:
Back up power if the new system fails. It costs $20 per month to stay connected with no use.
Both Rolls and Crown were battery brands considered. At first, Rolls was preferred because the warrantee was much better. But, we were excited to find that American Battery was willing to extend the Crown warrantee to match the Rolls warrantee. Not only that, but their price for the Crown CR 430 was much better than those sold at dedicated solar websites. They are shipped to the store for free! If you're located south of the Denver area, get a quote from these guys.
The battery bankholds 16 batteries...2 strings of 8. The beauty of having 2 strings is that 1 string can be disconnected for maintenance without interrupting the entire system. Maintenance is relatively easy. About once a month the water level is checked and topped off if necessary. Also, corrosion removed from terminals if it exists.
These batteries are housed in a wood battery box that is vented to the outside to remove gasses.
You can't have a footing plan without first considering the requirements of your system and the layout of the panels themselves.
The design started with a look at our average daily power usage. The electric bill stated it as about 8 kilowatt (kw) hours per day. From there, take the maximum draw of the biggest energy pig in the house. For us, that was the cook top. If we have all 4 burners on high, it would draw 7.2kw. So far, we have never had all burners on high at the same time, But, it does make a good benchmark for calculations.
Basically, if we DID have all burners on high for an hour at night, we wouldn't risk tapping out the battery bank. The next part of the equation was to factor in a wish for 2 days of backup power for consecutive cloudy days, WITHOUT changing energy consumption. Now, this all sounds pretty silly, as an ounce of common sense will tell most folks to be hyper aware of energy use during these times. Most, I think, would cut way back and/or only use the energy pig appliances while the sun is shining. But, here again these crazy sounding scenarios are only used for benchmarking.
So, all this put into the equation revealed that a 6.5kw system would be right for us. Let the shopping begin. And for once, the timing was right! We would be able to make the purchase before the tariff went into effect. The best price found for 240w panels (86 cents per watt) was at Northern Arizona Wind & Sun. On top of price, their staff was very knowledgeable and helpful. They gathered a nice package of materials needed to construct the array.
Being ready for a road trip, we decided to take the pick-up for a 9 hour drive to Flagstaff. This also meant that an extended weekend and side trip to the Grand Canyon was in order.
Compared to the footer portion of this project, the array went up quickly and relatively hassle-free. It's nice to have that experience once in a while.
We used Magnum products for the previous solar electric system and decided to stick with them for the new, improved system.
The wiring set up is preferable to Midnight Solar, as well as the fact the inverters mount to the back panel. Midnight Solar's set up mounts the inverters to the door covers. At 55 lbs each, that just didn't sit well (no pun intended).
Most components can be found at Amazon with links provided below the photo.
Proud to be Amazon Associates. Please see official disclosure at the bottom of this page. Thank you for your support.
these are the solar electric components hard at work for us right now
a good generator
is a very big deal!
from the very beginning of your off-grid building adventure, this gem will come in handy time & time again. we have had this sportsman since day 1 and it works great.
These are the exact components we used for our combiner box. And "Yes", we purchased them on Amazon.
Why are my clocks running slow?! An exact 60 hz doesn’t always happen with off-grid solar power, and that’s what clocks need for accuracy. Our output is more like 58.5 hz. And that means our plug in the wall clocks run slow. This includes the clock on the coffee maker, the clock on the microwave and the one on the oven. But, the bedside clock is by far the most annoying because we rely on it to let us know when to rise and shine.
Yes, we could have the inverters sent back to the manufacturer to be recalibrated. But, the question is, is it worth the hassle? We all have our own opinion on that. While I wouldn’t want to deny Paul the fun of his weekly clock resetting routine, it would be nice to know that the bedroom clock is always accurate.
So, we found this snazzy battery operated clock on Amazon to try as a replacement. It’s called the MARATHON CL030051BK Atomic Alarm Clock. One month later, we are happy to announce that we love it! And one less cord to contend with is always a plus.
Once the bottom of the trench is leveled and the support pipe cut, it's time to mark out the vertical positioning of your pipe with string. Refer to the design provided by Iron Ridge.
Getting all the vertical pipe plumb can be a test of patience. Lots of back and forth. A small adjustment here, a small adjustment there. About 100 tweaks later, you start getting pretty dang close.
Check out the photos above for general guidelines. Use 2 ft lengths of 1/2" rebar for staking. Paul ground a point on the rebar stakes to bust through the rock below. The turnbuckles are perfect for the small adjustments needed to get it right.
2. Lights flicker in the am when the coffee maker turns on.
3. The batteries will charge even on cloudy days...slowly...but they do charge.
4. Everything in the house shuts off for a couple seconds when the water pressure pump kicks on.
5. The blow-dryer runs a little cooler.
We will use your information to respond to you, regarding the reason you contacted us. We will not share your information with any third party outside of our organization, other than as necessary to fulfill your request, e.g. to ship an order.