Off the Grid – Solar Power, part 1

August 3, 2012

Solar Energy

using solar energy

The following article has been contributed by a fellow prepper named Mike. It has been published with permission of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of

“So, what happens if and when the grid goes down for an extended period of time? Aside from the aggravation of not being able to determine what is happening through traditional media channels, for the Average Joe, his problems have only just begun. Our dependency to the grid doesn’t just stop at lack of electricity in our homes to power our appliances or an inability to charge our cell phones; it is much broader and affects every aspect of our lives”.

Oh how true that statement is; most people could not survive a day without computers, refrigeration, cell phones and TV.  Most people have never had to live off the grid unless they were primitive camping; and even then it was probably only for a weekend.  But for some of us people planning to use our yachts as a refuge for when the SHTF, using solar is already being practiced.  Some of us have already taken the steps necessary to keep the power flowing; we have built our own power grid.  We have tested it in the actual real world environment and have been using it when we are away from the dock for pleasure, so we know the application and technology works.

Solar panels have been successfully used since the mid 1950s, originally used in manned space exploration. They have been dropping in price since about 2004 when their popularity really took off.  And now with the Green movement afoot, solar panels are as popular as ever.  After evaluating my yacht’s energy consumption, it was obvious that we must make some changes to be able to survive during and after the SHTF.   So a couple years ago, I set out to research them and determine how to buy and install one; boy was I was in for a shock.

You can find many retail suppliers online that will sell you a solar panel but nowhere could I find a detailed description of how to determine what to buy and how to install it; much less aboard a yacht.  So these articles were born as I made my way through the process; thus was a truly a learn-as-you-go article.  If you are thinking about installing one at your home versus on a boat, the principles are still the same.

What is a Solar Panel and How Do They Work?

Solar panels are in theory any panel that uses the sun’s thermal energy to produce electricity. A solar panel can be described as a photovoltaic panel, the term used in the industry, for panels designed to produce electricity from the rays of the sun. using solar powerDespite the category of solar panel being discussed, almost all solar panels are flat. This is because the face of the panel needs to be at a 90 degree angle from the sun’s rays for the most favorable angle to absorb the sun’s rays.

Solar panels are able to take in energy from the sun through an array of solar cells on their surface. Much like how a plant is able to soak up energy from the sun for photosynthesis, solar cells perform in a comparable manner. As the sun’s rays hit the solar cells on a photovoltaic panel, the power is transferred to a silicon semiconductor. The power is then changed into (dc) direct current electricity and then passed through connecting wires to finally enter a storage battery.

Types of Solar Panels

Types of panels most normally used in boating applications have either multicrystalline or amorphous thin-film cells. Multicrystalline panels are the oldest technology available and also the most powerful. When sized appropriately and matched to suitable batteries, these are the panels to use for operating large loads such as refrigeration.

Amorphous thin film solar panels are only about 50% as effective as multicrystalline panels, but can be bought in flexible forms so they can roll or fold, or correspond to the shape of a yacht cabin top or bimini.  They don’t normally have enough output for significant energy replenishment, but can be used to trickle charge a battery bank.

Next Up

In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk about how to calculate your power needs and determine your needs. The final post, I’ll share how to mount and wire your solar panels.

Fair winds,


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38 Comments on “Off the Grid – Solar Power, part 1”

  1. Stanley Morris Says:

    This looks like an interesting series of articles. As a homeowner with 19 panels that use microinverters, I’m looking forward to more. My problem, like so many others, is the lack of a battery backup system that can be used in conjunction with a grid based system. I’ve only read about one solution to this problem


  2. lost Says:

    Good article- I just an email fom WND deailing this threat from Iran – aboard a container ship. My Questions now include what would an EMP due to a solar system on my house? And how would other components act (generator – connected not running) ?


    • Joe Says:

      First off, let me admit that I’m no EMP expert. Someone else may want to chime in a give some more insight into this.

      As I understand it, tho: Any length of wire can act like an antenna to receive radio waves from the air. Radio waves have such a small amount of energy in them that the current they induce in the receiving wire is negligible.

      That’s not true for an EMP. The same wires (inside a generator for example) would receive those EM waves and generate a lot of current within the device. So much so that it could/would damage the microelectronics inside.

      The smaller the internal circuits, the more likely they will be damaged. That’s why older vehicles, the pre-80 vehicles that don’t have computer brains, are supposed to be “EMP proof.”

      This is an interesting question. I’ll do some research and see if I can collect enough information to put together post on the subject.

      Thanks for the comment, Lost.



      • lost Says:

        The reason I ask – is I plan on obtaining a generator- probably diesel or poss propane – but I am thinking about not connecting till I need. I am also considering – building a device such as a “faraday cage” to protect it.


        • Joe Says:

          Here’s a copy of a comment that was left by Pei Prepper on our FaceBook page. I let him know that I was going to copy/paste the message here so that both audiences would benefit.

          Pei Prepper: The primary damage from an electro-magnetic pulse occurs in delicate electronics; The wiring of the device acts like an antenna, and the pulse is converted into electricity by the antenna. The electricity then fries the rest of the device, since the electronics are not rated for that intensity of electrical current. There are two main ways to resist this sort of damage.

          The first is so-called hardening, that is, to build the devices so that they can tolerate much more powerful current than they typically use. A good example of this, is that old fashioned vacuum tubes are all but immune to EMP, since their normal operating current is greater than that of the pulse at any range where the tube would not be physically destroyed by the bomb blast. Modern electronics can be built using heavier gauge wiring, more solidly constructed processors and so forth to achieve the same result.

          The other way involves what is called a Faraday Cage. Essentially, the Cage is a grounded grid of wires, surrounding a given device, that absorb the pulse and channel it away, the Cage functioning as the receiving antenna, instead of the printed circuit board.

          Solar panels are fairly vulnerable to an EMP, due to their low individual operating voltages. There’s no good way around it, since there aren’t any hardened solar panels available to the civilian market (and very few to the military) and a Faraday Cage would block sunlight from reaching the panels. A Faraday Cage would be ideal for shielding a storage facility however.


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