Tiny House Solar, Part 1

solar panel

You have a Tiny House or one is in your future plans. You are fired up to start taking control of your energy needs by adding in a solar array. But the question is, how do you tackle this new endeavor?

Before we get into the dynamics of a solar array, it is best to understand a few options available to you right now. And in these options, we are going to specifically address off-grid solar arrays. Off-grid solar arrays function without the use of the electrical grid, which makes them ideal for tiny houser’s. A typical off-grid solar array has a lot of different mechanisms that need to work together in perfect harmony. Some of these mechanisms are the charge controller, ground fault protection, circuit breakers/fuses, bypass switches, DC monitoring (if available), the inverter, and more.

This is enough work to intimidate an experienced solar designer let alone someone new to solar. However, before you get discouraged, most off-grid solar manufacturers have already created a solution. The solution is typically termed as a distribution panel, epanel, or FLEXpower system depending on the manufacturer. Essentially, each of these systems is a form of a pre-wired distribution panel. This means that a good portion of the complexity in designing an off-grid solar array has been lifted off your shoulders.

Outback FLEXpower System

Outback FLEXpower System

A great example is Outback Power’s FLEXpower system. This FLEXpower system is as close to plug-and-play as you can get in an off-grid solar array. All of the mechanisms required to create an off-grid solar array have been package and pre-wired for you. The charge controller, circuit breakers, battery disconnects, dc monitoring, inverter, etc. are all wired together for you in one neat ready to ship package. What you are left with is adding your own solar modules, batteries, and AC electrical panel.

Please note that this is not a sales pitch for Outback Power. I am merely using this product as an example based on its seamless integration. This package eliminates a lot of installation error as the protective devices and wire sizing have all been done for you. There are other versions created by manufacturers such as Magnum Energy, Xantrex, and Midnite Solar. This just happens to be the most completely done version on the market today in my opinion.

Stay tuned as in the next articles we will talk about sizing the solar array, sizing the battery bank, discussing the AC Electrical Panel, and much more.

For more information on Tiny House Solar, please visit our website at:
http://www.solarunplugged.com/tiny-house-solar/

Midnite Solar E-Panel

Midnite Solar E-Panel

Magnum Energy MMP panel

Magnum Energy MMP panel

Portable Solar Camping

We spent most of last week camping at Big Bear Lake in Southern California. We were celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday and also my folks 60th wedding anniversary that actually happened back in June. Also it was the first time in a couple of years that all of us were able to get together. My two brothers and my sister and all our kids and their spouses. It was lots of fun. My uncle and his wife live down the road from where we camped so we did go to their home as well.

My wife and I also celebrated our 32nd anniversary on this trip so that was fun also.

80 watt solar panel

This was my first chance to use the Zamp Solar 80 Watt panel that I featured back a few months ago in a post in a test based at our home. I am happy to tell you that it kept up with our usage of electricity. Though we really just used the power for the water pump for the kitchen and toilet and lights at night I was happy to find out that the 80 watt solar panel could easily keep up with that type of use. Each day I would connect the panel and within two or three hours it would top off my battery. It is exciting to use the sun in this way. I did not have to turn the generator on once during our four day camping trip.

To learn more about this panel visit my previous post called the 80 Watt Zamp Solar Portable Charging System.

The Family

The Family

Janelle and I

Janelle and I

 

Marsha’s Tiny House and Solar Setup

by Marsha Cowan

Added inside photos.

My tiny house is only 6 x10 with solar lanterns that have their own tiny solar panels, propane heater, alcohol stovetop, and so I do not need much electricity. I am hoping this set up with a 100 watt panel, 1000 watt charge controller, 1000 watt inverter, and a 12 volt sealed gel marine battery. I am hoping to run a fan in the loft window, and maybe a computer for an hour or so each night. Anyway, thought I would pass along the picture. I am painting the cabinet the colors of the house.

tiny house solar

Here is a picture of the inside of the cabinet and the “stuff” inside. You can’t see the two plugs on the front of the red colored inverter in this picture, but you can see the air venting slit I left on the low side of the cabinet. There is an air slit under the drip cap in front of the cabinet, too, so plenty of air can draw through there, but both are protected from rain and other weather.

inside solar box

solar generator

The best piece of information I got on actually hooking everything up was on Grape solar’s own site. They have videos, and in one of them, a man with an Australian accent stood there and showed step by step how to hook up a charge controller to a solar panel, and then to the battery. The only thing I had to figure out was hooking up the inverter to the same battery.

As it turned out, I was able to loop the silver hoops (crimped to the ends of the wires) of the charge controller over the battery pins and bolt them down, then clamp the claw like things on the ends of the inverter (like on a jumper cable) onto the rounded nubs sticking up next to the pins, so they both did not connect at the same place.

spring

Those black things you see part way down the charge controller wiring are actually clips that can be undone quickly. I took off the inside of the controller to hook up all the wires and the grounding wire that runs under the cabinet into the ground through an electrical steel conduit pipe. Next, I made the adjustments to two controls recommended by the instruction book. Then, I replaced the back being careful that the tiny lightbulb went into its hole because it shows me when the battery is charging and when it is fully charged (blinking green when charging, solid green when charged).

tiny house

I can’t tell you that I wasn’t holding my breath! This was a first for me. I have never wired anything in my life, but there is now so much information on the internet that I honestly think that anyone can make a small off grid solar generator, even this 60 year old grandma!

By the way, there is an on and off switch on the inverter. When I first plugged up my TV and fan, nothing happened. Then I noticed that switch. Whew! I was so happy.

computer desk

Computer desk before I moved the computer out there. Screen attached to the wall on a swing out arm. Printer, keyboard, and mouse were all wireless. Composting toilet behind the desk. My printer set on top of my horizontal tower.

storage

Looking into the loft on the storage end. Barn boards were cleaned up and used to finish both the outside and inside of the tiny house.

kitchen

Kitchen area. Small electric cooler would fit below the stovetop. Water crock for water. Can’t see the bar sink in this shot.

loft

Wonderful cozy loft bed! Below are ladder back chairs with storage built under them. I had 4 chairs instead of a sofa.

chairs with storage

Alcohol Burners

In my state, you can not get a hose to connect an RV propane stovetop to propane without inspections and a contract for at least 120 lbs. of fuel at a time from a local dealer, so I converted my propane stovetop (took out all the insides) to use alcohol burners instead. I ordered White Box burners which fit into short small square metal canisters I found at Walmart, then sat them inside the burner space on the stove.

Today I did my first test run, and it worked great! I was afraid that everything around the burner would get too hot, but they did not get hot at all. It was a very controlled flame. I only used enough to boil about 3 cups of water, so it went out in about 20 seconds after I took it off the burner. The window was open because the weather is so beautiful right now, but even in cold weather, I would open the kitchen window a little for oxygen, and I would shut off the propane heater as well while cooking. Just safe practice.

Thank you for letting me share my tiny house experience so far.

tiny house build

tiny house build 2

tiny house build 3