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Off the Grid – Solar Power, part 1

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 PreppingToSurvive.com.

“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. Despite 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,

Mike

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