Off Grid Solar System Components
An off grid solar system is made up of multiple individual components, each serving its purpose but working together in unison.
Before you can start constructing your off grid solar system, you need to know what such a system is all about as well as what components are needed.
What Is an Off Grid Solar System?
“Off grid” is another way of saying that you don’t rely on or want to be connected to the local utility grid. This is the key difference between on and off grid solar systems.
You’re harnessing the sun’s natural energy and using batteries to store it so the lights and appliances in your house stay on.
These systems are mostly used in places that suffer from frequent power outages, such certain remote locations or areas prone to natural disasters and heavy storms.
They are becoming increasingly popular as it reduces your electricity bill at the end of the month. They’re easy to install and don’t always require a professional to do so. Furthermore, they make the electricity you use to power your home clean and better for the environment.
Ensuring you have the best off grid solar system means getting all the necessary components that make up that system. So, let’s go over each component and what they do.
The Solar Panel
The solar panel is the component that gathers the sun’s natural energy and produces electricity.
They generate the DC electricity that gets converted into alternating current once it’s passed to the inverter. This allows you to use it around your house.
The solar panel also charges the battery so that you can use the power when the sun goes down.
What Solar Panel Is Best?
The three main types of solar panels are monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film.
How Are They Made?
Monocrystalline cells are made by melting down silicon creating a silicon bath in which seed crystals are dipped and slowly churned.
This turns the crystal into a cylindrical shape that becomes the basis of the monocrystalline panels.
Polycrystalline cells are made by pouring the liquid silicon into a rectangular mold and allowing it to cool. It’s a simpler process.
Thin film solar panels are the cheapest to produce. One or more layers of PV material are placed on top of supporting material like glass.
In terms of solar efficiency and performance, a monocrystalline cell has a maximum performance of around 28%, meaning that 28% of the sun’s energy hitting the solar cell is converted into usable energy.
A polycrystalline solar cell has a maximum theoretical performance of up to 23% and the thin film is the weakest being anywhere between 12% and 20%.
Once the cells are put together, these percentages change. The monocrystalline panels drop to around 22%, the polycrystalline to 20%, and the thin film will reach a low of 9%
Monocrystalline panels perform around 2% better than polycrystalline panels as they’re less susceptible to changing output while the cell temperature rises.
The voltage from a monocrystalline cell tends to be higher than both polycrystalline and thin film options.
It’s clear that monocrystalline solar panels are the ones you should purchase if you have the money, and most of our off grid solar system packages already include this type of solar panel.
When it comes to the off grid solar system design, the battery is a key component. It’s essentially the heart of the system.
Batteries act as a repository for energy so you can power your house when the sun isn’t beaming and our panels aren’t producing electricity.
In the same way that solar panels are available as different options, batteries are too.
Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are most commonly used in solar systems. They’re the safest and can be stored without ventilation.
They require little to no maintenance and don’t need to be fully charged for you to use them.
The batteries are designed to have a large number of charge cycles so that you don’t find yourself needing to replace them so quickly.
Lithium batteries also have battery management systems that monitor the battery’s health and state.
In other words, if the battery overheats, it will temporarily power off until it cools down. This adds an extra layer of protection to the battery itself.
These batteries can also be stacked and expanded, creating a more powerful and longer-lasting battery bank.
Lithium batteries are more expensive than the other batteries, costing anywhere between $5,000 and $8,000 depending on the capacity you need. However, its features, capacity, and overall quality make up for the asking price.
Lead-acid batteries are either flooded or AGM.
The former is also called a wet cell battery and is the cheapest one on the market. If you want to ensure the battery survives for more than just a few months, you need to do lots of maintenance.
This includes checking the water levels and performing regular equalization charges.
These batteries produce hydrogen gas meaning that ventilation is required to remove the fumes. Hydrogen is extremely combustible and can be risky if not properly handled.
Many people choose to use this type of battery in their portable off grid solar system because it’s so affordable but find themselves switching to lithium after the wet cells becomes too problematic.
When it comes to AGM lead acid batteries, the battery is fitted between two fiberglass mats allowing the electrolytes to be absorbed.
Since the battery is sealed, less maintenance is required. Compared to wet cells, these batteries take the cake in almost every category.
From charge cycles to overall weight, these are the better lead acid batteries.
Lead acid batteries are also nearly 10 times cheaper than lithium batteries, coming in at around $125.
Their only downfall is that their lifespan is shorter than lithium batteries and too much damage done to the battery will make it nearly impossible to repair.
The decision comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.
We won’t rule out lead-acid batteries entirely as they’re a good starting point if you want to get your system up inexpensively.
However, in the long term, having a battery that doesn’t require much maintenance and lasts for years like lithium-ion batteries is more beneficial.
An additional component that pairs well with either battery is a fuse. You won't have a fuse between the battery and the solar charge controller.
The fuse helps to protect your appliances as well as the individual pieces of the system.
Solar Charge Controller
The purpose of the charge controller is to regulate the power that’s sent to the battery depending on its current charge levels.
To put this into perspective, if you have two solar panels that you want to connect in series, you need a charge controller.
If we have 72V worth of power coming from the solar panel going into a 12V battery, we risk the battery being damaged or overloaded.
The charge controller brings down the voltage coming from the solar panels so that the battery is safe and secure.
There are 2 main types of solar charge controllers that you can purchase.
Pulse Width Modulation charge controllers are the cheaper option and have a conversion efficiency of around 75%.
They offer a lower current and PV voltage rating making them perfect for 300W solar panels.
You mostly see these solar charge controllers paired with 2 or more 100W solar panels connected in series.
The greater the PV voltage and battery voltage difference is, the less efficient the controller, so you want to make sure that their values are relatively close.
They go for around $25 making it the more affordable option and the perfect pick for smaller off grid systems.
Maximum Power Point Tracking solar controllers us conversion technology, with the efficiency being around 95%.
You don’t need to worry about solar panels and the battery bank having the same voltage as it can convert PV power at a high voltage.
They will work regardless, but that means you are going to have to pay a bigger fee.
These controllers are more efficient and don’t require to be connected to other MPPTs in series as the voltage is high enough.
They go for around $200 per unit, but given all its pros, the price is well worth it.
If you have a larger outback off grid solar system or you want to power your entire home, then opting for the MPPT controller will be your best bet.
The last off grid solar system component is the solar inverter, which is the hardest working component of them all.
It converts the solar panel’s DC power to alternating current power so that you can use it throughout your home.
They continuously track the solar system’s overall voltage to identify the maximum power at which systems can operate. In other words, it helps to ensure that the system always produces power.
The off grid solar systems work independently and connect to the property instead of being hooked up to the grid.
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