The fastest growing and increasingly affordable alternative source in recent years is solar power, energy production through roof-mounted photovoltaic systems. And why wouldn’t it? Solar energy is clean, free and available for personal use on virtually any given day.
Almost any disaster situation could trigger some manner of power grid failure. The country’s creaking power infrastructure is based on decades-old technology, and is put under additional strain by ever increasing public demands — breakdowns can be widespread as they were in 2003 when 8 states and parts of Canada lost power for as long as 2 days in some areas. In the event of another power grid failure due to age, natural causes or human acts would it not be comforting to know your home was prepared beforehand with a solar power system?
Solar System Basics
For most preppers, the dream is a huge solar-powered system for a completely self-sufficient home but for many of us that dream is simply not practical and even less affordable. However, it is quite possible to set up a smaller solar power system capable of meeting your family’s emergency electricity needs, allowing everyone to survive in some semblance of comfortably. A modest system can power fans, a radio, a small TV and even a refrigerator.
System components include solar panels, a mounting apparatus, a charge controller, batteries and a power inverter. The solar panels absorb energy, which is sent to the battery system for storage (or to the home’s electrical panel), and the charge controller, which connects to the batteries and regulates the amount of electricity transferred into them. This process generates DC power, which is converted by the inverter to AC power for running the appliances.
Planning Your Survival Solar System
Plan your system according to meet your estimated emergency power needs. The number of batteries will depend on how many panels you use and maintain sufficient amp-hours to run the inverter at the level required to power your appliances. Two types of batteries that work best for solar power storage are golf cart types and deep cycle industrial batteries. Golf cart batteries will work for smaller power systems while the deep cycle type will last longer through many discharge cycles but cost more. Whichever type you decided on keep spare batteries on hand. Do not use car batteries as they were not designed for this type of use.
The panels, themselves, need to produce enough power to replenish the batteries, which will be at least 5 hours per day in sunny climates — more for cloudy days. The average solar panel on today’s market produces about 200 watts. More efficient monocrystalline panels will have a somewhat higher output.
The average household in the US uses approximately 903 kilowatt-hours each month which is about 30kWh per day. This, of course, varies depending on the seasons, air-conditioning use, efficiency of appliances and how many are used. You can gauge your household’s energy use by checking with your energy company for usage history. This is the easiest way, otherwise, you would need to calculate the electrical use of each appliance in your home individually. The household usage history can then be used in consultation with your solar power dealer to determine the size of array needed for your home.
Doing it Yourself
Most preppers want to do for themselves and setting up your home’s solar panel system is no different. While most installations are performed these days by professional, licensed dealers, there is a significant amount the DIYer can do themselves. There are solar kits available that will make a significant dent in your energy bill now and produce enough power for disaster mode when your electricity use is rationed.
Choosing The Right Solar Array
Before choosing a system kit figure out your average daily and monthly kilowatt hour (KwH) usage. As mentioned earlier, your utility company will have these numbers. Identify where you can save electricity around your home. Address air gaps and leaks where warm or cold air escapes or enters. Institute family rules to turn off appliances, lights and other electronic equipment when not in use and remember standby mode still uses electricity. This, of course, will reduce your household’s energy consumption in the long run and increases efficiency during disasters.
Then perform a solar site survey to determine the best location for the array, either on your home’s roof or on the ground, where it will have optimal sun exposure during any given day. For North America, the general rule is a south facing array, tilted at an angle appropriate for your area’s latitude.
Take that information (average household usage and survey results) and begin shopping around for dealers and manufacturers for prices, factoring in the current 30% federal tax credit and other state and city tax rebates and incentives.
Compare Before You Buy
Compare the differences between polycrystalline and the more efficient monocrystalline panels, their rated outputs (panels average 200 watts, more with higher efficiency panels) and weigh their costs.
Today’s solar panels are built to last on the order of 30 years, so be sure the mounts you choose to attach them to are durable, able to withstand the elements. Consider incorporating micro-inverters – inverters convert DC from the panels to AC for home use – which give each panel an inverter rather than one main inverter for the whole array. Micro-inverters will allow panels to continue producing power even if some parts of the array are in shade which is not the case with single inverter systems.
When installing the panels, themselves, check their alignment continuously as you’re attaching them to their mounts. Small errors can culminate into larger efficiency problems.
Be extremely cautious when wiring the panel! This is considered high voltage work and it is advisable to treat the wiring as if it is “hot” even though it is not yet connected to the grid or electrical panel and be sure everything is grounded in the end. If you are at all wary of your own electrical wiring ability consider hiring a local electrician for this phase. Once finished, have your city or county code inspector sign off on the installation. After that, you’re ready to go… turn it on!
While solar power for preppers is not about maintaining all the modern conveniences during an emergency situation, it is about keeping the survival essentials powered up. The motivation for the prepper is to retain electrical power when the grid fails but installing a solar power system today will save you and you family money now on what seems to be ever increasing energy costs. After gaining a foothold in the energy self-sufficiency game considering taking another step and add wind power to your overall emergency energy plan. Save money now while preparing for whatever may be in store for the future.