Getting Started Off-Grid
You've made the decision. You've done some research, you've seen some packages for sale looked online and at the stuff in the big box stores but you want to know how to size your personal electrical requirement both now and also maybe for future expansion. Everyone's power consumption is different! Without a proper calculation of loads neither you nor we can design your system. Off the grid living is a lifestyle that requires not only intention but highly proactive forethought.
The size of a solar electric system depends upon the amount of power that is required, the amount of time it is used and upon seasonality of useupon seasonality of use, also the amount of energy available from the sun in your geographic area. You have control over the first three variables, while the last third depends and the location.
System size is determined by your unique situation how much electrical power YOU need. You may have read the following before but it must be said before you read on. The electricity you avoid using will save you far more than the equipment to support it. Conservation plays an extremely important role in keeping the cost of a photovoltaic system down. Avoid phantom loads, use only hyper efficient equipment and allow things to be turned off when not required.
Understand that 99% of people living off grid in Canada still buy some fossil fuel energy to supplement their needs. This energy is usually used to heat water, or living space, cook or fuel a generator when nature isn't co-operative. You have many choices, for example, you could cool your refrigerator with DC electricity or with propane (LPG) fuel. Gas lights create a nice warm light and add a considerable amount of heat as well, perfect for shoulder season and winter use when there's less sunlight and more days of overcast.
Our challenge is to design an affordable system which is simple to maintain, understand, and able expand to meet your requirements as they change. We canít do it without your close involvement to provide us with an understanding of your present needs and thoughts about the future. The investment you make in planning and designing your system will provide returns for the many years of your systemís life.
Rules of System Design
Rather than fill this page with more than you need please read "You can't..." which explains why some electrical appliances just can't be economically run off grid without the use of a generator.
Our household loads page provides the normal or average power requirement for many common household appliances. The shop loads page may cover equipment you intend to run. Unless shop equipment is a predictable and ongoing electrical load, don't add this to your regular power usage. Use your generator for intermittent and larger loads. Building your off-grid electrical system for this type of loads increases costs considerably.
Using the loads you need these must be multiplied the number of hours or portions of an hour the appliance or light will be used daily. If you don't know how much time you use an appliance or can't find the rating of an appliance There are a number of devices on the market which you plug into an outlet at home, in turn plug your appliance is plugged into it and it will give you the Watts drawn and over time will tell you how much electricity you've used from the appliance. Many libraries will loan these devices out. They go under many names, Watt-Meter, Kill-A-Watt, and others. We can direct you to a vendor but first, check to see if your local library has them to loan them out.
Your calculation might look something like this. If you won't use a appliance every day the just multiply by the number of days you'll use the appliance and divide by seven to get your daily average.
If your appliance is not rated in Watts but has an amperage draw rating instead, follow our link to our Calculate Watts page for the conversion math.
We have developed a MS EXCEL spreadsheet for our Canadian clients to assist with these calculations. Contact us by email and we'll help you with your calculations.
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