Squeezing the photons


Squeezing those photons, that’s what I call it when we don’t have much power. Our solar system is small, and most of the time, it holds us pretty well, we usually have an abundance of sunshine, and as typical in Texas, even on those overcast days, the sun often shines for a while during the day.

Much of this winter, we have had an abundance of overcast, rainy days, the moisture, it’s absolutely something we need, I’m not complaining about that, but when we have days and weeks that feel more like the Pacific Northwest, well it’s hard on my solar system, and on me.

I have seen more days with single and double blinks on my charge controller, it goes to 5 blinks then a solid green when the batteries are full. Having days and days of low charging is very hard on the batteries. So when this happens, we have to fall back to low power consumption. One of the things we did that made a huge difference was pushing the freezer-fridge conversion outside to the front porch.

Being out there, in the freezing and sub-freezing temps made it so that it rarely kicks on, therefore not draining the batteries, that is our biggest energy hog, but it works so efficiently, it doesn’t use up much power.

One of the things I do, frequently is I check the weather to see if we are going to get sunshine or not, and how cold the temps are going to be, my ideal is clear skies and cold temps, that is my perfect day.

Fortunately my solar panels do generate some power in overcast days, not as much as it would if the sun were shining through, and the fact that we can manually tilt the solar panels from the east to the west, that also helps catch a few extra rays.

Today, after another week of cloudy days, we had some sun, it was enough to get us to 2 blinks, we are supposed to have more sun tomorrow, hopefully we will charge up even more, though the day will be a little warmer, so the fridge will kick on a little more. PB told me that the fridge only ran 2X yesterday and it was a fairly warm day.

I like the fridge on the porch, it’s not too far out of reach, it’s not in the way, it has cleared some floor space inside the Sky Castle, it isn’t contributing to or competing with the temps inside the house, I think we will leave it out there.

Another way I have used less power is to use my tablet instead of my laptop, even though the laptop doesn’t use much power, the tablet uses even less. I’ve also been doing things on the tablet that doesn’t require the internet, like reading books (I LOVE the free ebooks on Amazon), I downloaded all the Kindle books on to my tablet so I could read off line.

Tonight, the Superbowl was on, we don’t have TV but have been able to watch the Superbowl game most every year we have been here, I was able to get the game streaming on my tablet, so we watched the game all the way through without using much power. I wouldn’t have done that but we had a day and a half of mostly sunny skies so we had more of a charge than we had before.

Of course there are the obligatory power saving methods that every off-gridder should use, using low wattage lights (CFL and LED), using power strips that can be shut off, that keeps down the phantom loads, our chest freezer to fridge (that one is HUGE for power savings!)…

I am planning on replacing our current solar panels with bigger, more efficient panels, that will make a big difference with the charging ability of our system.

We are looking forward to warmer days (with cool nights) and longer days-more hours of sunshine, I’m looking forward to seeing 4-5 blinks then solid green most of the time. With the winter being so wet, I wonder how our summer rainy season will be…

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7 Responses

  1. If you add more capacity make sure your battery controller and diversion controller can handle the extra amperage. I have a 2kw solar and 1kw wind setup. When I increased my solar capacity I missed the fact that on sunny days with a high wind the panels and turbine can overload my diversion controller.Dam near boiled my batteries!

  2. Yes you can have as many sets of pv panels hooked to the same batteries as practical. The panels should be matched by size and type to their own charge controller. Mixing different size panels can limit the output to the the smaller of the mix. Separate them to their own controller and then to the batteries. It will not be any different than hooking a generator powered battery  charger to the batteries to top them up on non sun days. If you have been surviving with what you have now adding the new ones you plan to buy to your old ones should make you very happy. 


  3. The reason I asked about you adding the two pv systems together is I have found many do not know you can have multiple charging sources to the same set of batteries. With pv panels of different types as long as they have their own charge controller are fine. With all the pv panels charging together when the sun hits them in the morning you get more amps into the batteries quickly as a bulk charge. As the batteries charge the amps going in will taper off eventually getting to a float or maintenance charge as needed. On many controllers the float charge voltage is adjustable so if using more than one controller having them set the same is better but not necessary. 
    Having more pv panels hooked to your batteries increases  your chances of fully charging them each day which will make your batteries last longer with full output. If you have the room to leave your old pv panels mounted they will help a lot especially on low sun days. Separating your old panels so both types have their own charge controller will increase their output regardless of where you decide to use them.


    1. OK Scott, so you are saying to hook up 2 separate sets of panels going to their own charge controllers, then all to one set of batteries? I have wondered about doing that, but didn’t know if was kosher :)

      I do have the room to leave the panels in place, but at the moment, only have one charge controller setup, I have another one somewhere (not talking about the Harbor Freight ones) that came with another set of panels that were gifted to us…. didn’t need it right then, so it got put away.


  4. Same problems here in Alaska. In the winter warm usually means cloudy and clear means very cold this time of year. You are just going to add more solar and not actually replace your old system correct?  I’ve used nothing but LED lights for over 8 years now. Still using a hole in the ground for my refrigerator. I did purchase a small freezer  that has the cooling coils on the back that I will use this summer when it warms up for frozen meat etc. I plan on super insulating the door, top and sides with foam board. It will stay outside on the north of the house. 

    I only had to run the generator 6 times last year for my house batteries. 5 gallons of gas.  Once so far this year. Still need to replace my old batteries but looks like I will make it through another summer with them. Did your new batteries make a big difference on usable power?



    1. Thanks for writing Scott, the plan is to replace the solar panels, but not the entire system just yet, we need more horsepower charging the batteries, if our batteries are fully charged, we can go about 4 days on average usage, if we are careful we can go further by a day or so…. the panels we have now are a hodgepodge of 2 different kinds (4-55 watt panels and a handful of 15 watt Harbor Freight panels), I think we can get more mileage out of replacing the panels for the main system rather than adding to them. Solar panels are cheap enough now, it shouldn’t be a hardship even adding 4-100 watt (12 volt) panels. We will probably take to old panels and use them somewhere else, where it will not make much difference about what they are.

      Having the new golf cart batteries has been great, it’s much better than the marine type batteries we have used in the past. We kicked our fridge outside on the front porch, taking advantage of the cold air outside, the unit (a freezer to fridge conversion) hardly comes on so it doesn’t tax the system as much.


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