Solar or Bust: Everything You need to Know About Solar Before Spending a Dime!

Whether you are interested in solar for powering your projects or for powering your house, there are a few basic things you should know:

What Does Solar Cost?

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to start converting to solar.  We suggest starting with only one to three small panels, a battery or two, a solar charge controller, and an inverter if you want to plug AC stuff (like your refrigerator) into your system.  Work you way up as your budget and knowledge allow.  Start with the tacit position that you will not use power from the wall to charge your batteries or run some project.  Build something based on battery power, and use solar to charge your batteries.  While you build out your modular system, you are also building out your emergency power generation system. Your hobby quickly becomes impressive when you throw it all together and keep the kitchen open when the next big storm rolls through town.

Below are a few starter projects we will be writing about for you:

  • Run all your Raspberry Pis from a big homemade battery pack 24/7.
  • Portable Power.  For when you need juice in the field.
  • Run your CPAP all night.  Recharge batteries while you are at work.
  • Run your desktop computer and your workbench from your own battery packs.
  • Create a solar trickle charger for your car in Florida so you never have a dead battery when you go to your vacation condo.
  • Build an E-Pak emergency kit to power your kitchen and other stuff when the next big storm hits.

Batteries Not Included

Most existing solar installations don’t use batteries.  That means most people with solar installations LOSE POWER just like everyone else around them when the neighborhood power goes down.  It also means they still rely on the grid at night.

Until now, the objective of a solar installation wasn’t so much to detach from the grid, but just to work the power bill back down to zero both by using direct sunshine during the day, and by selling any excess back into the grid while using cheap grid power at night.  Zero cost power as it were.  And that’s great, but two things:  the power company isn’t going to stand for it much longer, and you are still in the dark when neighborhood power goes down.

Battery technology has improved so dramatically that it now makes sense to include battery storage in every residential and commercial solar project.  It isn’t enough to focus on the monthly dollar amount of your power bill.  These days one must consider the value of having power when the grid isn’t working.  That ability is arguably becoming more valuable than having a zero power bill.  And if so, it means a solar installation should include a modern battery storage option.  With modern lithium battery packs and solar, one can have assured power during a power failure.

Consumer?  Nah, I’m a producer.

Micro-grids and “Distributed Energy Resources” could possibly strand large utility companies with outdated generation and transmission networks that no one is willing to upgrade.  More and more communities, towns, apartment complexes, shopping malls, and others are beginning to incorporate solar plus battery storage into their footprint, thus diminishing the utility of the utility companies.

Individual-level production is happening now.  New products are being designed which are transforming the modern home or commercial building into a power producer rather than a power consumer.  Everything about the grid is changing, and it is going to be disruptive to the large utility companies just as cord-cutting is breaking the cable TV industry.

A New Kind of Crop

Solar and Wind “Farms” are now being built with pools of investment money.  Construction only begins after a large utility agrees to purchase all the power generated by the farm for typically 20-25 year periods.  The stability of this farm-sized power generation has become so reliable and so cheap that giant power companies are finding it more economical to buy such generation from outside groups rather than to generate their own power with their existing coal and gas assets.  Think about this a second.  It is cheaper for utility companies to buy solar-generated electricity from third parties rather than fire up their own existing assets.  Think about the investment portfolio implications of just this one simple reality….  The big West Coast technology companies and Warren Buffett are billion dollar buyers of these electricity streams.  They are buying it and using some of it directly in their own projects, but most of it is being sold to giant utility companies.  Power companies are scrambling to get into the renewables markets, but the reality is that they are gigantic, often bloated companies with many magnitudes of debt relative to assets.  And those assets are becoming worth less and less.  They are on their way to becoming “stranded assets” that put balance sheets in precarious and dangerous imbalance.  They pay fat dividends, but those will get cut as the utilities struggle to stay afloat.

What’s the Angle?

Solar panels don’t need to be perfectly aligned with the sun.  Panels function best if they can be kept perpendicular to the sun, but they don’t require it.  They just need light.  Any light.  And they perform on cloudy days too.  They slurp on photons even on cloudy days.  Don’t fret all the extra info out there about needing to set the proper angle of you panels.  Just switch on the daylight, and watch your solar controller start sending juice from your panels into your batteries.

So Here We Stand.  Let’s Go.

Solar by itself is great, but not a complete answer.  Solar with battery storage is a game changer.  Everything about the grid is changing, and you know more about it than most.  Congratulations.  Now let’s get going.