Our PV System

Practical, Affordable Solar in Seattle
(or elsewhere)

Looking for a way to go solar for less cost? Our system design might work for you.

Highlights of our System:
~ improved energy efficiency +
~ 520 watts of PV power +
~ 450 amp hr battery bank +
~ 12VDC & 2000-watt AC inverter =
clean electricity for home appliances

Like many people, we were pondering the possibilities of going solar (for the good of people, planet and peaceful energy) though were not inclined — indeed, could not see — to spending $15,000 or more on a solar PV system for several reasons:

1. Such a system would take a long time to pay-off via a net-metered (utility grid-connected) system (where utilities offer limited credit for annual energy surpluses) while prices for PV hardware could lower (like that of PCs in early years — remember the $3,000 IBM clone?). Also, as technologies improve, we may wish to update our system and could not easily do so if still paying off thousands on loan or credit.

2. We wanted to demonstrate a less-expensive but no-less performing system design that could be accessible to middle and low-income folk who also would like to go solar in face of budgetary constraints (and economic distress). And, to do so without piling on more long-term credit / debt loading.

3. We wanted to point our precious cash-flow in other directions (like our regional and international sustainable development projects) and so could not feasibly do both at once — should we travel to new places, meet and learn from new people, engage in exciting projects, enjoy great food, see great sights, etc. or install a $15-20k net-metered PV system? — you get the idea. Yet, we wanted to go solar and ultimately would not be discouraged.

So, we decided to design a solution — we installed a $2300+/- system which allows us to enjoy power from the sun with minimal effort and debt-free.  Here is how we did it:

  • I have been studying and teaching solar and renewable energy themes for many years (i.e. during the early 1990s, our home in Kingston, Jamaica utilized solar hot water, and later in Tennessee, I coordinated a community coop bulk purchase of 75 PV panels, facilitated solar energy workshops and public events, helped design / erect a closed-loop, bio-energy research facility, and designed / installed my first off-grid PV system), so my learning curve was less steep than what might be for others. But nonetheless, we studied and learned the basics of designing and using a PV system competently, safely and effectively.  If we can do it — you can do it.  🙂
  • We presently live in a 1952 all-electric home and our first objective was to OPTIMIZE OUR ENERGY EFFICIENCY. The Load Assessment (click image at top right) and Kill-a-Watt monitor (click image at left) are handy tools for this.

Here is the layout of our affordable PV system (with 2007 prices). Note that we chose quality components for long-life and high-performance — we are frugal, but not cheap — it may be possible to find less expensive hardware; feel free to shop around.

  • (2) Kyocera 130-watt solar panels ($1300)
  • (1) roof mounted rack with adjustable legs for the panels ($100)
  • (2) panel grounding lugs ($6)
  • (4) Trojan T-105 deep-cycle batteries and 4 bus cables ($500)
  • (1) Xantrex C40 charge controller with LCD meter and temperature sensor ($270)
  • (1) Xantrex Xpower 1000w (2000w surge) modified sine wave DC to AC inverter ($60).
  • (1) 12-volt fuse box ($15)
  • Various lengths of 8AWG, 10AWG and 12AWG wire ($50 or salvaged)
  • 1 copper grounding post ($6)
  • Salvaged electrical conduit, boxes, nuts and bolts, wire, etc.
  • Our labor (micro beer, meals, foot massage, etc.)
  • Total = $2307+/-

Two updates:

  • In March, 2008, we added two more solar panels (same brand & model) and matching rack mount, effectively doubling our generating capacity to 520w ($1200). This has turned out to be an ideal size system for us (half a KW is a lot of power!).
  • In June, 2010 we upgraded to a new Xantrex ProWatt 2000 ($325), which provides pure sine wave output, cooler and quieter performance, and higher surge capacity for larger loads.  And, has a digital volt / watt meter, and a 5-watt USB charging port for iPod / iPhone or other devices (i.e. emergency  LED light).  And, an optional remote control. Nice!
  • Oh, and we added a new tool for battery maintenance — an extra long plastic funnel ($2), which makes the routine watering of battery cells a lot easier. Add this to your list.

We absolutely love our PV system! It provides us with reliable power (this page was created with 100% sun juice), keeps us on our toes as we monitor our energy consumption and, best of all, it is paid in full. 🙂

There you have it.  Let us know if you have any questions. We can help you design your system — yes, you can do it!



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