© iStock/Alberto Masnovo / When installing solar panels, options include roof mounts (shown), ground mounts and pole mounts (which author Neil Johnson chose for his cabin).
1. It involves a sizable investment.
Solar power systems can range from $5,000 up to $40,000. The range is wide due to the vast differences in a cabin owner’s wishes and power consumption.
2. With solar power, the key is getting the right amount of panels for production and batteries for storage.
It is a bit of a learning process. You can start by looking at the label on your appliances to find out how much power they are going to use and then purchase enough panels to power those items. That’s a good start, but you’ll never fully know until you actually begin using your system.
Batteries are typically the most expensive part of a system. So, here’s a tip: If you only use your cabin on weekends, it may make sense to utilize your generator during peak times, like in the morning when you’re using a coffee maker and a toaster. If you don’t need as much reserve capacity, you won’t need to buy as many batteries.
3. You don’t need to get all your equipment at once.
Simply start with what you can afford and make the necessary adjustments as you go. Most cabins don’t need full power all the time, and the bulk of the use comes during the summer months, when the sun is shining and you can make plenty of power.
When my family first went off-grid, we relied solely on a Honda EU3000 generator and shut the power down during parts of the day and at night. The next thing we added was a small battery bank and inverter/charger to store power so we didn’t have to shut everything down when the generator wasn’t running. Eventually, we added the solar panels and a larger bank of batteries. After living off-grid for awhile, I don’t think there is any going back for my family.
Originally published August 2015