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Lab 8: Designing a Sustainable Off-Grid Solar System

Catalina Cadavid, Rebecca Hilbert, Amanda Archer, & Steven Garcia


Environmental Issues 4300
Professor Tait Chirenje
Stockton University
4/18/2018
Abstract

Harnessing the raw power of the sun can be the sustainable answer to the energy needs of our

private homes. In this lab, we design an off grid solar system for an appliance filled four

bedroom home. By utilizing excel to calculate the peak electric load of all the household

appliances, we calculate the type and quantity of batteries we need to support the daily peak

demand and three day peak demand. From this, the quantity and type of solar panels is calculated

followed by the proper charge controller. These calculations resulted in a daily peak demand of

27.22 kWh and a three day demand of 81.65 kWh. To support this, our system consist of 36

batteries, 3 solar panels, and 1 charge controller. This amounts to a total overhead cost of

$12,093, this cost is neutralized in 81 days from the money saved by the solar system. This study

shows how easily attainable a self sufficient solar system can be, systems like these can light our

way to a more sustainable energy future.


Table of Contents

Abstract 2

Introduction 4

Methods 4

Results and Discussion 5

Conclusion 10

References 12

Appendix 13
Introduction

It is no secret that the Earth is running out of resources. It is getting harder and harder to

provide for the billions of people living on the planet, which is why renewable energy sources

are so important. Harnessing the natural energy from the sun with solar power is one such

example, and it can be used to power everything in a home from the lights to a calculator. It’s

sustainable, clean, and will help to reduce the pollution created from oil and coal. In fact, studies

show that a household rooftop solar panel system can reduce pollution by 100 tons of carbon

dioxide (CO​2​) in its lifetime, including the energy it took to manufacture the solar panels

(Maurer 2017). But according to the Energy Information Administration, as of 2016, solar

power only made up about 1% of US energy. Unfortunately there is a reason for this, and​ ​it

comes in the form of insufficient batteries, storage, and efficiency. Solar cell efficiency refers to

the portion of energy in the form of sunlight that can be converted by photovoltaics into

electricity. Solar panels cannot convert the entire amount of sunlight energy they absorb into

electricity with most commercial solar panels on the market having efficiency ratings of less than

25 percent. The more efficient a panel is, the more expensive it is to produce (Kazmeyer 2018).

Efficiency is not the main deterrent when it comes to solar power. Some argue that the

most pressing concern is the storage capacity through the batteries, because it doesn't matter how

much energy a panel can collect if it cannot keep it for later use. When sunlight isn’t available

due to weather patterns, a building must have enough stored energy to be sustained until the

sunlight comes back and the more energy a panel can store the fewer needed. Until the storage in

batteries is addressed, solar cannot advance the way it needs to. Most power plants are reluctant
to use batteries because they are expensive and take up a lot of space compared to the amount of

energy that they store. But those problems aren’t important for private homes. They don’t need

to store a huge amount of energy at once, and batteries that are big enough to meet their needs

are reasonably affordable. (​Srinivasan 2017).

This brings us into the purpose of this study. We wish to see how one would go about

making an off-grid house through the use of a solar system. The setup we designed for this 4

bedroom house located deep in the woods would be able to sustain itself through solar energy

gathered into batteries for at least 3 days. We take into consideration the energy the appliances

use and how long they are used for. We also explore the number and kinds of batteries and solar

panels needed, along with the cost of such a system. If our figures and calculations are correct,

studies like this may show that these solar powered houses could be the next step to a more

sustainable future where solar energy is the norm.

Methods

In order to determine the amount of batteries and solar panels our off-grid house needs,

the number of appliances and their usage must be taken into account. An Excel spreadsheet was

created recording the number of appliances that are in the kitchen, dining room, living room,

bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry room, and the two car garage (​Table 1​). As a group, we

determined the hours of use per day for each appliance. After determining hour usage, we used

an appliance energy calculator (www.energy.gov) to obtain the hourly rating in watts for each

appliance. From here we divided watts by 1000 to obtain kWh for each; to obtain total kWh used

per day, each appliance was multiplied by the amount of hours it was being used. Since there are
multiples of the same appliance, we calculated kWh used in 24 hours for all appliances in the

house. This was done by multiplying the number of appliances by total kWh per day. Once we

determined kWh used in 24 hours, we calculated it for 72 hours simply by multiplying it by

three. These are then totaled to get a peak maximum energy requirement for 24 hours and 72

hours.

Results and Discussion

Table 1: Total Appliances and Their Energy Uses

Table 1: ​Table showing all of the appliances in the household, their energy usage, and peak energy rates.
Initially class calculated peaks amounted to 30.49 kWh for 24 hours and 91.48 kWh for

72 hours. After reviewing our peak energy demand we decided that, we needed to reduce our

energy consumption. To account for this, we re-evaluated our household and created an “actual”

peak demand (​Table 1​). This brought our energy usage down to 81.65 kWh for 72 hours, saving

us 9.83 kWh equivalent to $54.36 (​Eq. 1​) if we used Atlantic City Electric.

Table 2: 24 and 72 Hour kWh Usage for Appliance During Class and Final Trial

Table 2:​ Table showing the reduction of hours on final trial to reduce energy consumption for 24 and 72 hours.

The assumptions made for the appliances duration and energy usage can be noted on

Table 2​. The light fixtures in the garage were reduced to hour daily, considering the only time

spent in the garage is during arrival or leaving the house. It was also taken into account that it

starts getting dark in the late afternoon, when lights are needed. On average a laptop is fully

charged in less than an hour, but we kept it to one hour just to be precautious. It was decided that

if all four laptops were being charged at the same time, we would have one extra hour to spare.

This reduced the charging time by three hours (on class trial) that can be of use for other

appliances. The 80’HD TV and speakers located in the same room, were designated for the use
of parents only. The teenagers would use their own 60’ TV’s in their own room. It was assumed

that regular programming like the news typically extend from thirty minutes to an hour. For the

washer we reduced it to one hour daily, which is basically equivalent to a seven-hour day

dedicated to doing laundry only once a week. It was unreasonable to have fourteen hours

dedicated to the use of a washer. Therefore, in effort to save energy we were able reduce the

appliances kWh usage for 24 hours and 72 hours significantly.

Our energy consumption with a cautious ratio of a 30 percent drain causes us to need 36

6V 420Ah deep cycle batteries. This was calculated by doing simple cross multiplication of

30/100 * 27.22kw/x (27.22kW for our total kWh per day). For this equation, x= 90.7kW, or

90700W, of storage is needed for three days at 30%. In the next equation we need to calculate

amps to find how many batteries we need while keeping a reliable recharge for our consumption.

Power(W)/Volts=Amps, therefore, 90700W/6V=15,116.6 amps. We decided to use 6V batteries

because they are the most commonly used and are easily attainable in the U.S.

After doing some research, we decided to use the Trojan L16P-AC 420Ah, 6V Deep

Cycle Batteries. The higher Ah capacity, the less batteries we would need to install in this case

because 15.1166 amps divided by 420Ah that a single battery provides equals 35.99 (or 36 whole

batteries). The most voltage we would need out of the circuit to run our appliances is 24V. The

batteries are therefore arranged in a series of four and parallels of nine. Having series’ of four 6V

batteries gives us the ability to acquire 24V through our system’s circuit.

According to the Quick Green Energy Summary from Turbine Generator, New Jersey’s

Atlantic City receives an average of about 4.6 hours of sunlight per day (​Figure 5​). The average

peak sun hours are needed in the next equation to determine how many solar panels will be
efficiently used for our daily consumption of energy plus the 30% ratio factored in for battery

storage. Our 90700W per day divided by 24 hours gives us approximately 3,779.1W per hour.

Divide this number by the 4.6 hours of peak sunlight for Atlantic City and we get an estimate of

821.6W needed per hour. The solar panels we are investing in are the Astronergy

CHSM6612P-325W Silver Poly Solar Panels. We must divide the 821.6W per hour needed by

the 325W per hour a single solar panel provides which results in 2.528 panels. However, we

cannot have half a panel so we are investing in 3 of these solar panels.

Once we have our solar panels we can calculate what charge controller we need. The total

number of panels (3) times the Watts divided by the 24V we are producing gives you the amps

needed for the charge controller (3)325W/24V=10.6 amps. For cold temperatures, it is safe to

add 25% of your amps which equals 40.6+10.2= 50.8 amps. In this case, we will buy a

MorningStar Corporation TriStar TS-60 Charger Controller​ (​60A) charge controller for our

circuit.

Figure 1: Battery Storage Layout

Figure 1: ​6V Battery storage layout with 4 in series and 9 in parallel for a cautious 30% drain before recharge.
Table 3: Total System Cost and Breakdown
Component Quantity Model Price Total (USD)
(USD)

Battery 36 Trojan L16P-AC 420Ah, 6V Deep Cycle 303 10908


Battery

Solar Panel 3 Astronergy CHSM6612P-325 Silver Poly 320 960


Solar Panel

Charge 1 MorningStar Corporation TriStar TS-60 225 225


Controller Charger Controller

Total = 12093
Table 3: ​Table showing the total cost of our off grid energy system and the breakdown of its components. The

batteries make up the majority of the cost followed by the solar panels and charge controller.

The total cost of this off grid energy system is $​12,093 USD. The price of this system

includes 36 batteries, 3 polycrystalline solar panels, and 1 charge controller. The cost and

breakdown of each component is shown on ​Table 3​ above. This price does not include wiring or

other connections but it is safe to assume that this is the bulk of our purchases and any wiring

expenses will be trivial compared to this price. Now that we are around 12 grand in debt it pays

to make a cost analysis to see how long till this green investment pays off.

Table 4: AC Electric Residential Service Price and Cost Details


Monthly kWh Use 250 500 1,000 2,000

Customer Charge 4 4 4 4
(USD)

Delivery Charges 18.06 36.13 72.26 144.51


(USD)

Supply Charges 26.16 52.33 104.66 209.31


(USD)

Total Cost (USD) 48.23 92.46 180.91 357.82

Price per kWh (USD) 5.18 5.41 5.53 5.59


Table 4:​ Table showing the service price and cost details of one of South Jersey’s energy providers for May 2015.

Note how price increases slightly as energy use per month increases. This info was obtained from

https://www.napower.com/assets/docs/NJRatesAndPlans.html.

Table 4​ represents the price ranges when receiving electricity from the electric grid of

Atlantic City Electric. As you can see from Table 4, price per kWh slightly increases with an

increase in monthly kWh use. If we assume that our hours of usage and number of appliances

stay the same indefinitely we will consume the same daily total of 27.217 kWh. Using the

average days per month in a given year (30.42 days) , this totals up to 827.94 kWh per month.

This number is close to the 1000 monthly kWh use rate of $5.53 so that is the one we will use.

Using this figure it will take approximately 81 days to break even on this investment and start

turning a profit. ​Equation 1​ below shows the exact calculation.

Equation 1: Days Till Turn on Investment

After looking at ​Equation 1​, we can see that our turn in investment is quite rapid. In less

than 3 months we will start to break even and save money. This off grid energy investment is

worth the money and allows the user to begin upgrading their system in a short amount of time.

Polycrystalline solar panels were chosen instead of a slightly more efficient

monocrystalline solar panel because of its newer technology, cheaper price per watt, and
popularity among residential solar installations during the past couple years. Polycrystalline

modules also have a lower heat tolerance and have been improving their performance constantly

(GQ, 2005).

The distance between the solar panels and the batteries does matter. This is because the

further apart the two are, the more risk there is in losing some of the energy collected as it travels

a longer distance (Sustainable Living, 2013). The wiring is extremely important as well. One

needs to use correct wire sizes to keep a low loss of energy and to prevent overheating, possible

damage, or even fire. The wires used in solar systems, or PV wiring, are measured by their

Amps. This is the maximum amount of amps that can travel through that wire and one should not

go over this amount. The higher the current your solar system is, the thicker the pv wire has to

be. For example, if your system produces 7 amps, you will need 7 amp wire or even something a

little higher just to make sure the wire can handle the current. If a wire is used that is rated at less

amps than your solar system produces, the voltage will drop, the solar panel wire will most likely

heat up and eventually may even catch fire causing damage to the solar energy system and even

a home. It is important to note that thicker pv wire costs more than thinner pv wire because it can

handle more amps, but the cost is worth the protection and assurance. The wire from the battery

to the rest of your photovoltaic components must be able to handle the total amps of all the

individual currents connected, plus at least 35% more (Davison, 2018).

In regards to roof mounted solar panels vs ground installed solar panels, there are

advantages and disadvantages to both. Ground-mounted panels often cost more than roof

mounted systems., This is because they require additional materials, time, and labor. They do

allow for more flexibility however. For example, if you have a large yard or a lot of space, a
much bigger ground-mounted system can be installed than with a rooftop-mounted system,

creating the opportunity to generate more energy and save on utilities. However, this could also

be a con, depending on the viewpoint because a large ground-mounted system taking up more

land may leave less space for recreation, gardening, and things like that. Since ground-mounted

panels are closer to the ground, they are easier to clean and maintain than those on a roof, but

this may also leave them exposed to more damage or blocking from weather, dirt, vegetation,

and other factors. Rooftop-mounted panels are the more common version of the two and they’re

usually easier and faster to install. But with these, the condition of the roof must be considered. If

your roof is more than 10 years old, you will likely have to replace it during the solar array’s

lifetime which means uninstalling and reinstalling solar panels. This is complicated,

time-consuming, and expensive. Also, putting the panels on your roof means you’re much more

limited in how large of a system you can install, but depending on your preference this would

save you land space. You must also consider the tilt of the roof in regard to the sun angle, and if

any trees, chimneys, or other structures will block some of the panels from the sun.

Roof-mounted panels will also require a bit more caution and care when it comes to

maintenance. (Darcey, 2016)

Taking all of this and our forest location into account, we have decided to mount our

three solar panels on the roof for several reasons. First of all, since we will only be installing

three solar panels space is not much of an issue, especially for the size of the home they will be

installed upon. Since the panels will be installed on a newly built home, roof age will not be of

concern in the the near future. Additionally, placing the panels on the roof instead of the ground
will give us better clearance in regards to the tree shadows. Finally, space around the home can

be utilized for other uses and surrounding trees will be conserved.

Conclusion

This paper presents all the factors needed to take into consideration when building a

photovoltaic system to sustain an off-grid house. Factors such as daily energy peak, voltage,

wattage requirements, solar panel type and placement. This approach reduces the cost of

electricity while meeting the load requirements in a reliable manner. As solar photovoltaic

systems evolve, the economic ability to obtain solar energy will become more feasible for

households. Our system cost $12,093, and the investment broke even in 81 days. This proves

how self sufficient solar energy can be as well as how easy it can be to design a photovoltaic

system for one's personal needs. With proper education and initiative this small scale design can

transcend the world and have an immense impact. Solar energy is the way to a cleaner more

sustainable future.
References

Darcey, M. (2016, November 29). Ground vs. Rooftop-Mounted Solar Panels. Retrieved April
17, 2018, from
https://www.solarpowerauthority.com/ground-mounted-versus-rooftop-mounted-solar-panels
/

Davison, A. (2018, April). Wire For Solar Panels. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
http://www.altenergy.org/renewables/solar/DIY/solar-wire.html

GQ, C. (2005, September 19). Mono vs. Poly Solar Panels: Which One Should I Choose.
Retrieved April 17, 2018, from ​https://www.tamesol.com/monocrystalline-vs-polycrystalline/

Kazmeyer, M. (2018, March 10). Future of Solar Power: Obstacles & Problems. Retrieved April
17, 2018, from ​https://sciencing.com/future-solar-power-obstacles-problems-21852.html

Maurer, C. (2017, May 16). 25 Interesting Facts About Solar Power. Retrieved April 17, 2018,
from ​https://www.solarpowerauthority.com/25-facts-about-solar-power/

North American Power. (2015, May). New Jersey Residential Electric Service Price and Cost
Details. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
https://www.napower.com/assets/docs/NJRatesAndPlans.html

Peak Sun Hours for Solar Panels in New Jersey. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
https://www.turbinegenerator.org/solar/new-jersey/

Srinivasan, A. (2017, April 25). New Breakthroughs in Solar’s Biggest Problem: Energy
Storage. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
http://www.theenergycollective.com/anand-smartdata/2402808/new-breakthroughs-solars-bi
ggest-problem-energy-storage

Sustainable Living. (2013). Power Loss and Distance. Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
http://www.ata.org.au/forums/topic/7889
Appendix

Figure 2: ​Chosen Battery. Retrieved from


https://webosolar.com/store/en/deep-cycle-batteries/1000-trojan-l16p-420-ah-6-volt-flooded-lead
-acid-battery.html?gmc_currency=2&gclid=CjwKCAjwk9HWBRApEiwA6mKWaQLcfTIBokz
UW-tZEwVjndpUErc81GdJWfGk-eyd7kg_txfKnRT8hBoCglEQAvD_BwE

Figure 3:​ Chosen Solar Panel. Retrieved from


https://www.wholesalesolar.com/1977425/astronergy/solar-panels/astronergy-chsm6612p-325-si
lver-poly-solar-panel
Figure 4:​ Chosen Charge Controller.
https://www.wholesalesolar.com/3680312/morningstar-corporation/charge-controllers/morningst
ar-corporation-tristar-ts-60-charge-controller

Figure 5: ​Peak Sun Hours for Solar Panels in New Jersey. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2018, from
https://www.turbinegenerator.org/solar/new-jersey/