The Good and Bad of Living off of Solar Power

Date: 24 April 2012

We live off of solar power. Often for months at a time it is our only source of electricity. We have 2 solar panels producing about a maximum of 420 watts of power. By most household standards that just isn’t very much. Most days we get much less than the maximum rated 420 watts. I have been repeatedly asked how we do it. So this is the more comprehensive answer to the how it is done.

First there is the financial adage. “If your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.” That applies to solar power too. If there is no sunshine then you must not use power. We have had repeated cloudy days. When there is very little sunshine we just don’t use much power. Minimal lights, no TV, no electronic games and no computers. We sit in our enclosed cockpit and enjoy a book, talk, play a card game and get in a little extra sleep. That is the first ugly side of solar power.

In the same vein I don’t use more power than I have available. In the morning I wait until the house batteries are charged before I turn on an inverter to charge my laptop. If it is partially cloudy and I am only seeing 8 amps of power off of the panels then I will only charge one laptop at a time. That means that on a partially cloudy day we may not be able to get all the “devices” charged that we want. That might mean that we will not get a TV show in in the evening. So we play cards or read a book. Before I use power I always check what the current state of the solar is. That is the second ugly side of solar. You have to constantly manage your usage and your batteries.

The bad side of solar is that it ties you down. You would like to go into town during the day and enjoy a nice day out. But you have a bright sunny day. That means lots of solar power. The house batteries charge right away, then the computers and iPods. Noon and everything is charged. That means that you need to make water. Between 11:00 am and about 3:00pm or 3:30pm the panels will make enough power to run the water maker. So you set it up and watch it fill buckets and jerry cans and the water tanks. Usually I try to run it every other day for 2 hours. That means that every other day you need to be on board keeping an eye on the water maker during the mid day period.