Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Solar System Review 400w Renogy Solar Panel Starter Kit

Prices on solar panels have dropped drastically in the last few years and when I was searching for a system to power my tiny house I was surprised at what a value Chinese panels had become. I knew that I wanted to buy a complete kit since I was no expert and I found the Renogy brand kits available for what seemed like a steal....so I bought one. These kits are Chinese made (I assume) and come complete with wiring, hookup connections, charge controller and panels as well as mounting hardware. They came well packaged and arrived very quickly from Baton Rouge (Renogy ships from Louisiana and California). The system was almost self explanatory but having some idea of how to wire 12v surely helped. The instructions were translated from Chinese and were so-so but all in all the system went together pretty easily (after a phone call to Renogy support who were very helpful). The kit comes with almost everything you need....almost. You will have to buy some heavy duty stranded wire to go between the charge controller and your battery bank. I ordered mine from the internet and paid too much...get it locally. The system went on the roof pretty easily, putting the mounting brackets on the panels while on the ground and then getting them on the roof and screwing them down. The connectors went together easily and the whole project took an afternoon. The panels (4) are each rated at 100w giving me a peak 400w output in direct sun. My battery bank is very small, consisting of 2 GC-6 6v Golf cart batteries which I bought at Advance Autoparts. I paid too much for the batteries. I was in a hurry and should have gone to Sam's Club. I would have saved almost 30$ each. The batteries I bought provide 110 amp hours (not a lot)but since my electricity use is so small I have never really taxed the system. Even with snowy, cloudy, low sun winter days my little battery meter always said the bank was full of juice. I really don't use a lot of power though....here is a list.

  • Edgestar 12v refrigerator
  • 3 12v L.E.D lamps
  • 12v ceiling fan
  • 12v small box fan
  • 12v audio amp
  • 12v portable DVD player
  • cell phone charger
  • 12v hood fan/light over the stove
    That's it. I have a very small inverter that I use sometimes to charge my cordless drill and my laptop but they are used very infrequently. The lights get used often, The DVD is on at night when I go to bed and I listen to a lot of music but I still only use a fraction of the power in my battery bank. Here are some links to the items that I use in the house....


    One valuable lesson is that it is easier to cut down on your electricity consumption than it is to try to scale your system to your needs. Powering a whole house or even 1 electric heater would be impossible with a system sized like mine. Living in a tiny house makes it easier but converting a normal sized house to be off grid would cost a fortune....much more than a monthly electric bill. I chose off grid power for two reasons..one, I knew my house would never be up to code as far as city ordinances and two, I knew that I wanted to live in a place that power wasn't readily available.  All in all my system seems sized perfectly for my small house. The only drawback is the lack of 110v to run my studio equipment. I am planning to upgrade my inverter to accommodate my power needs for recording music but that is a double edged sword. I will also  need to upgrade the battery bank. I really don't have room to set up music gear so it is not a priority but that is the only thing lacking for me as far as living small and off grid.

   Hope this helps some folks.

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