Managing a self-contained solar power system can be tricky, but with proper planning a system can be constructed to meet the power needs that you demand. The first step in setting up a self-contained solar power system is knowing exactly how much power you need to run the equipment on the system. There are a few things that you can do to maximize power efficiency of your system.
1. When possible, use direct 12v equipment and minimize the use of inverters. Using 12v DC to 120v AC inverters will cause you to lose 20% or more efficiency on your system. The inverter has to convert the power from DC to AC and therefore it loses energy in the process. If you must use an inverter (Which in most cases is necessary) choose one that is efficient. The efficiency of the inverter should be noted in its tech specs.
2. Determine a total on power that all the equipment that you will be using needs to run. Make sure to take into account devices that use more power during the day or night, or those items that are effected by hot and cold.
3. Make sure that the power supplied by your solar panels far exceeds the amount needed by your equipment.
4. Use good batteries for energy storage of your system. Dry acid batteries such as those manufactured by Odyssey are a little more expensive, but they will maintain more energy over wet acid car batteries and more importantly are better for discharging and recharging. Standard automotive and marine batteries are not designed to be discharged and recharged. I have personally tested many types of batteries for such uses and nothing has come close to the Odyssey dry acid batteries for the price.
There are Three main parts to a solar-powered energy system.
1. The Solar Panels and energy collection device.
2. The Energy storage system (Batteries).
3. The power load (Devices Being Powered)
In a simple explanation, the energy is collected by the solar panels and stored in the batteries. Then the Devices on the system use the power from the batteries. The trick is to create more total energy that is being used. This will keep the batteries at full charge and allow your devices to run all the time.
This may seem obvious, but make sure to take into consideration the fact that you will not be generating power at night. So, with that said, the system must produce enough power to run the system during the day as well as charge the batteries with enough energy to run the system at night. You should set up your system based on the longest night of the year (The winter solstice), which usually occurs around December 21st or 22nd in the Northern hemisphere.
In Part 2 of this article I will go into the calculations necessary to figure out what size panels you need and how many batteries will be necessary.