I Get My Electricity From The Sun
There is something miraculous about getting our electricity from the sun. No utility bills. No inner guilt for tapping into the grid for power. Just good, clean, wholesome fun. For us going solar was a no brainer. The choices were to cough up $20,000 to the utility company for the “privilege” of being tied into the grid (not tempting in the least), or to invest in a solar system (um…yes please). We are just over $300 in an investment that’s so far suiting us surprisingly well.
Here’s the run down. We sleep and cook in our pop up tent trailer. Yes, the very same one that we spent nearly five months living in when we were in Baja. The pop up tent trailer has two overhead 12 volt lights attached to the ceiling that we use each evening as our light source while we cook, play games and read. The electricity for these lights comes from a 45 watt solar system that we picked up for $159.99 at Harbor Freight Tools.
This solar system comes complete with a regulator that prevents the battery from over charging (which would be bad). It has a display that shows real time voltage availability of our battery (very handy when determining whether we want to watch a movie online at night or just read a book), 2 12 volt lights with long extension chords that attach to the regulator, and a couple other sockets for other 12 volt appliances. Our regulator simply attaches to the trailer battery (which we already owned). This solar system is MORE than adequate in powering our lights each evening. In fact, we don’t even turn the panel throughout the day to catch the sun’s rays so subsequently it probably only receives an hour or two of direct sunlight.
Our office, which is in the 114sqft cabin that came on our 5 acre homestead, poses a more significant power drain. Down there, we have another one of the 45 watt systems but because our power load is much larger, we need to turn the panels a few times per day to optimize solar exposure. On a day to day basis we need power for our internet router (we are using Hughes Net for our satellite service), charging our MacBook Pro laptops, charging miscellaneous electronics such as our cameras and in the evenings, an overhead light. Because we are running 110 volt appliances down there, our set up is a little different than in the pop up tent trailer in that we have a 400/800watt Inverter just past the battery. The inverter takes the 12 volt electricity stored in the battery and converts it into 110 volt power (the kind you get when you plug something into a socket in the US).
What has surprised us is how much power charging our lap tops draws. Charging two at a time is out of the question (our inverter sends out a shrill alarm when it is being overtaxed) so we have needed to be mindful about charging and budgeting charging times. One solution would be to buy an inverter with a larger load capacity. We are getting about 6 hours of direct sunlight on the panels (when we manually shift them with the movement of the sun) and that is enough to charge one laptop from empty to full, to run the satellite internet for 4 or so hours (that appliance uses very little power actually), and leaves us enough juice at the end of the day to watch a movie on Netflix with router on and the overhead light on.
The battery and the inverter in the office came with the cabin, so, so far, our power investment has only put us out $319.98 exactly (hooray for no sales tax in Oregon). Not too shabby considering our power needs have been pretty darn met so far.
Granted this is all about to change. Since we live on a mountain with minimal southern exposure, all of this glorious free liquid sunshine will soon fall into the shadow of the higher peaks that surround us. Being that this is our very first year on our homestead, we don’t know just how cut off from the sun we will be. For sure we will need to install a much larger solar array system with several batteries as a storage bank but at least we have a sense of how little electricity we need to meet our needs.
One extraordinary advantage of living in a tiny space is that it allows for these very simple power systems. Even when we build our 220 sqft tiny home on a trailer, our power needs will remain low. By using LED lighting, LP appliances (including fridge), and a super efficient washing machine, our solar power needs will be minute. And all of this, at the end of the day, translates into significant savings in energy and money. And that, my friends, is just about as good as it gets in our book.
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