On the Big Island of Hawaii, solar systems off grid with a battery bank is a way of life for many. For most who move out here and either choose to live off grid, or are forced to, due to the grid not reaching to their land, it takes education and preparation to understand. Luckily with the age of technology we are living in, you can live off grid without giving up modern conveniences.
For us, we love the off grid lifestyle, we chose to have a smaller setup, however we are avid off grid-ers. We love the lifestyle, and the slower paced life. However, there are days, when I think, “oh to turn on a crockpot would be great.” Hence it brings us to our point.
1. People due to financial reason, or not proper planning, get too small a system.
You need to understand your needs. Are you building a small studio style cabin off grid? Or, are you taking a 3 bedroom house off grid? For those who choose the simple life, like us, you probably can get away with going smaller, but understand your limitations. For example, if it’s a rainy day, and I don’t want to run the generator, I’m not going to plug in the crockpot. However, we have a saying,
“If the sun is out, from noon to three, it’s free.”
These are the hours, that your batteries have typically been fully charged, and you’re ‘floating’. Floating refers to when you cannot fit anymore charge into the battery because it’s full. There’s excess power coming through your panels, so you might as well use it. This is the time, I do laundry, use kitchen appliances, such as a crockpot, or food processor, and plug in my oil diffuser.
Many times people do not understand the limitations of the system that they have, or are choosing to get. That is why preplanning and research are key. If you live Hilo side, or Kona side, feel free to give us a call, and we can help explain your solar system to you, or help you plan.
Note: with the proper system, one can live like they are on grid with unlimited power, however that must be planned for.
2. Unrealistic Expectations
Often times, people use power as though they are on grid. When you live off grid, and you didn’t make the investment to suit your needs, you must get into the habit of understanding your output. For example, wifi routers, who would’ve thought, those things when left on 24hours a day use power. We simply just turn ours off when not using the internet. Now this doesn’t have to be the case, however you need to understand what type of system you have, and how much power your battery bank holds.
3. Wrong wire sizing
Since off grid solar is typically full of DIY-ers, oftentimes, the understanding just isn’t there. When you use too small a wire, you are actually hindering the output. That is why it is key to work with an off grid consultant when building your system. Feel free to email us, or comment below with any specifics. Even though, you may not be located by Hilo or Kailua-Kona, doesn’t mean we can’t help encourage you and consult you on your way.
4. Wrong Programming
With off grid solar and battery bank systems, there will be a charge controller, and inverter. We love Outback products, as in Hawaii, they are the #1 in performance. Out here, we get a lot of bugs and moisture, and it is key to have the fully sealed inverter that they offer. However, it is like a small computer. Even the best electrician, may not understand how to properly program a mate, which will ultimately cause many problems in the future. Stay tuned, for DIY tutorials on programming a mate.
5. Over Usage and Improper Maintenance
Though this is last point, it is the one we see in the field most often. You must understand your system. Do you have lithium or AGM batteries? How much power can your batteries hold? What type of inverter do you have?
We have a small ohana on our property for friends and family. It’s more like glamping however. No matter, how often I tell people, you can charge your phone, turn on lights, and use the water and that’s about it; we still get the call. This goes for clients who contact as well, “something’s wrong, everything turned off…” Through troubleshooting and asking questions, it is almost always, no offense ladies, from over usage due to some sort of heating appliance.
We had a friend who couldn’t afford a proper system for her needs. We told her all about the limitations of the system, yet she still plugged in a hair dryer and used a rice cooker! Any appliance that heats, you can be guaranteed it is pulling some major power. If your system cannot handle the outage, it will break, or have problems.
Solar panels and batteries need to be cared for. It’s like getting any sort of nice thing. You wouldn’t get a truck and keep driving it if it was having problems. You would fix the part.
Oftentimes, many problems in the solar off grid realm can be avoided if proper education, maintenance, and preplanning for your needs/wants were in the equation.
- Too small
- Unrealistic expectations
- Wrong wire sizing, too small; need to understand output
- Programming: you must tell it what to do
- Frying batteries, too much usage, not even attention. Not maintaining. Adding to much of a load, through new appliances