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Solar System on a Budget

Our Background and Experience

We have more than 15 years of Canadian experience with solar equipment, design and installation.

We will help guide you to the system you need. Just let us know how much electrical power you require daily.  Or, if you are confident you can let us know the amount of solar panel Watts you require.  Advise us of your financial budget and how you wish to use your off-grid location e.g. full time, weekend, vacation duration and seasonality and location. We will advise you know of a system within your budget or how you can grow the system to meet your criteria if need be.

We pride ourselves in providing custom sized systems with first tier equipment. However, many are on a budget and want to get started or learn less expensively. There are many upsides to this, not only spending less but learning how to build and maintain a solar system with less invested while also determining how much of a system you really need.


Criteria: or how you may choose


Most products have several attributes other than price.


Cost: Pricing for solar panels is confusing . Only cost per Watt allows for price comparison.  Divide the price of a solar panel with rated Watts of the panel.

For example Canadian Tire, today, as I write this, offers their 150W solar panel is priced at 599.99, that’s $4.00 per watt. Currently our 335W solar panel is priced at $278.00, that’s $0.83 per watt.  There’s little difference in modern glass mounted solar panels. The Watt rating of the panel is all you need. Efficiency is calculated based on square inches vs. output. You probably don’t care if the solar panels are couple of square inches larger or smaller. The difference between Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline isn’t worth the extra effort or cost for most of us. Especially if you’re just starting off!  12V Panels cost a LOT more than 36V panels!  Why? because the industry is able to charge more ...and do!


Capacity/Compatibility: most components are measured in Watts and Amps. All components must be compatible. (more on this later)


Efficiency: this is a matter of efficiency of power conversion (sunlight to power to battery charging performance) and (conversion from DC battery power to 115V AC). In general the more efficient the greater the purchase cost.  There are LOTS of systems with less than efficient equipment that have operated for a decade without breakdown.


Expandability: The cost of choosing inexpensive components is that if/when you decide to expand your system you will most probably need to replace some components in order to grow.

 Expandability #2: Batteries are one item that cannot be added to later on.  Adding new batteries to older ones is never a good idea unless you have one failed battery within your system while all the others are OK.  New batteries are more chemically active than the older ones and will charge faster causing overcharge of the new batteries as as the the old ones slowly catch up.  The opposite happens during discharge cycle the new batteries will over discharge. More about batteries at


Examples of Cost vs. Efficiency (and possible expansion for Charge Controllers.)
Base entry - Cost is usually less than $20 - Amps rarely range above 15A – Usually Chinese manufactured. Physically these are relatively small. Power converted is less than optimal and the charger during an inactive system may overcharge the batteries causing them to age faster.

First level to seriously consider – Cost start around $60 - Units use PWM (pulse with modulation technology) and many are flexible in system operating voltage between 12 and 24V. Efficiency and battery longevity are improved. While there are exceptions, the majority of PMW units Max. out at 30A capacity.

Up to this point the charge controllers modulate power down from what is fed to them by dumping the excess or avoiding the excess by shutting off input (PMW)

Most efficient – Cost starts at around $150 and go to above $1,000 – These charge controllers use PMW as well as MPPT (multi point power tracking). They convert voltages as high as 250V down to battery voltages. Because MPPT units convert power to what’s required at the time for battery charging they are significantly more efficient. Several better units will communicate to identical charge controllers allowing several to work in co-ordination.


Budget System pricing Example
A 1,800 Watt hour 24V system with a 400W inverter:
• Solar Panel – 335W $278.00 that’s $0.83 per Watt
• Charge controller – 20A for 12/24V $63.00
• Breakers and Breaker box (in line automotive fuses aren’t to code ) breaker box, one 125A / 125VDC breaker for the inverter and two 20A "DIN rail" circuit breakers for the charge controller $461.00
• Batteries – This assumes 1,800 Watt hours of power available per day. (e.g. you could operate one 13W LED for 138 continuous hours ) $549.00
• Inverter – If you only require LED lighting and a small TV or laptop/tablet a 400W modified sine wave inverter should meet your needs. $85.

That’s $1.436 for this example system that can sustain usage of 1,800 Watt hours of power per day with less than 6 hours of sunlight daily. Capacity/charging can be doubled by adding a second solar panel.

So in summary, a very basic system consists of:
• Solar panel (the new larger panels are a lot cheaper per Watt)
• Charge Controller (the battery charger converts uncontrolled output from solar panels to battery charging voltages)
• Breakers (to protect the system and follow electrical guidelines)
• Battery(ies)
• Inverter (if you need 115V AC power)
• Wire and fittings ( you can source this almost anywhere)
 

Surprisingly the most expensive component is usually the batteries. Batteries are also the most misunderstood, miss-purchased and abused component within most solar systems. Please read our educational info on batteries at http://www.stratenergy.ca/batteries.htm.
 

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Last modified: August 22, 2019