Cynthia Brownell watercolor

solar panels
The solar panels set up on our homemade array

When you find out that you will be building a home miles away from the closest telephone pole, solar becomes your only option. We knew a friend of a friend who sold and installed solar systems so we received a quote, and it was a bit of a sticker shock. The cost to start our system was over our budget, so we decided to research our options and do it ourselves. We had a general idea what we wanted to run off the solar power: lights, fans, and possibly a TV with DVD player.

The first winter, we survived using battery-operated lights and fans. We soon found out that we were replacing batteries on a biweekly basis; this system was not efficient.

Finally, we saved enough money and started piecing together our solar system. The first phase was to purchase the basic solar harbor freight kit. The kit includes three 15 watt panels, two CFL light bulbs, a bus bar that you can connect eight harbor freight kits to, and a 12-volt charge controller (which we discarded). We bought an extra 15-watt panel, a 30-amp charge controller, and two deep cell marine batteries. We didn’t want to skimp on the charge controller, because this nifty little object helps control the charge going to the batteries and helps to protect them from overcharging. We also bought a 1000-watt inverter to help run the TV. The original cost to set this up was about 850 dollars, plus give or take.

To build our solar array chasse, we used two 6x6 pressure-treated posts, a couple of 2x4’s and a few 1x2’s, and a metal pipe down the center to pivot the array if we needed to adjust for the season. We didn’t want to place the panels on the roof of the cabin because of snow removal issues. We decided to build the chasse about 20 feet from the cabin and low enough that we can broom off any snow that would build up on the panels. The following weeks, we purchased the electrical conduit, junction boxes, and about 100 feet of 14-gauge, low-voltage wire.

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