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Old 01-14-2018, 10:00 PM   #1
2 Rivet Member
Can't Get There From Here , Maryland
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 25
Lightbulb "Boondock" dilemma: utility AC or solar?

Hi everyone,

I'm researching how to power my AS/tiny house setup and could use your input on what to do.

Context: The renovated AS will be parked for years, to be used sporadically in summers by myself/friends/family - for about a week at a time. It doesn't get hot there and I won't need AC (I'll be removing it and replacing with a skylight). AS power consumption: water pump, bar fridge, coffee/espresso maker, lights, charging phones/iPods/computers, vent fans, portable speaker.

The property has electricity available but doesn't currently have service. Now, I use a generator for 30A power when I'm there with a rental TT, use power tools, etc. The generator is in a brick enclosure and sound isn't a bother. Unfortunately, however, it's not a remote start model. A shipping container about 40 feet from where I'll park the AS, easy to mount properly-oriented panels.

Dilemma: When the AS is there, how should I get power?

Option 1 - Utility-supplied power. Have the utility company install power and use standard 120V service, connected via 30A plug on the AS.
Pros: Easy to wire the AS reno for all AC power. Never a lack of supply. Guests/kids can bring hair dryers, etc. and not worry. No generator hassles. I have an RV power panel with a post, and it will be free to bring service to the land, with an electrician needed to connect the meter to my panel.
Cons: The utility will charge me ~$50/month, all year round, just to have active lines. Long-term cost of >$600/year, which will only go up. Usage may be $30/month in the summer.

Option 2 - Solar power. Install a small array on my shipping container roof and wire it to the trailer. I'm guessing ~400W setup. Maybe 200W. I only need to draw from it during summer days, and the draw won't be huge (see above), so 2-3 batteries will likely suffice. Costs are upfront.
Pros: Green. No ongoing payments to the utility. Can charge batteries from the generator if needed on cloudy days. Could also supply power to a little weather station and monitoring cameras (connected via the neighbor's WiFi) to keep an eye on the place when I'm not there.
Cons: More elaborate wiring in the AS, which will also require 120V wiring if I need to power it from the generator or plug it into the grid at some point (resale?). Will require a 2/3-way fridge (smaller, more money). How to keep batteries maintained in the off season when I won't be there for 7+ straight months (replacement batteries are expensive).

One last consideration is what setup will be better if I opt to try and rent it out for a few weeks/year. On one hand, a green, off-grid retreat would be a cool selling feature. But so is just knowing that everything will work flawlessly with utility-supplied power. Rental pays yearly electric costs, too.

So what would you do? Option 1 or 2? Or option 2, and then transition to 1 if it didn't work out? What else am I missing?

Thanks for your thoughts.


elektrik is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-15-2018, 11:21 AM   #2
4 Rivet Member
1972 25' Tradewind
1976 31' Excella 500
Denver , Colorado
Join Date: Jul 2015
Posts: 308
There are more questions that need to be answered... If no a/c is needed, is there really enough sun to power the solar panels (I assume the panels would be elsewhere on the site and the AS is in the shade)? If so, I think solar is the way to go. An inverter can be used to route 120v power from the solar/batteries, and it sounds like you have a generator to back that up. Use 12V where you can, but allow for 120v where needed. Have you looked at Tesla's (or others') *house* battery? Seems like a great option for this set up.

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Old 01-15-2018, 11:38 AM   #3
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Fort Davis , Texas
Join Date: May 2017
Posts: 244
You mentioned the magic word "Rent". If you are going to rent it out, go with the electric service from the power company. Renting out requires you to remove your personal preferences from the equation. While not having an air conditioner may be fine for you, potential renters may not feel the same way. Also Solar and Generators require knowledge to operate and your renters may not have that knowledge. (Maintenance Nightmare)

I live in a full sized, off grid, solar powered home. If you were going to live there full time, solar would be the way to go. You would, however, never recoup your solar investment with power bill savings. The only reason I went Solar was that the Power Company wanted over $50,000 to run poles to my house and I would still have electric bills.

Just some thoughts,

pdavitt is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-17-2018, 11:49 PM   #4
2 Rivet Member
Can't Get There From Here , Maryland
Join Date: Sep 2017
Posts: 25
Thanks, @kidjedi and @pdavitt.

Yes, there's likely enough summer sun - the location is a large clearing, surrounded by trees and near the water. It's just up north. I was there on the hottest day of 2017 (July) and it was 84. The August high was 82, and the daytime average is 70. So I'm comfortable ditching the A/C. I'm tempted to run a little weather station there starting in the spring, to get precise data about my exact location.

I'm a big Tesla fan and I love their Powerwall product, with an aim to have it on a house up there someday (10y out), going totally off-grid (an ICF build with LEED-level efficiency). The electric utility is a near-criminal operation. And by that time, I want their ugly utility poles off the land, too. But for now, that kind of spend is out of the question.

Over the past few days, I've oscillated. I love the solar idea, but maintenance/reliability may work against me and be more hassle than it's worth. If I have a consecutive few cloudy/rainy days, can I produce enough for the battery bank? It may not bode well for visiting in the spring/fall, which I'd love to do.

What is quality durability like on these small (Renogy?) arrays? Could they be left up all year?

I've also considered a small wind turbine to supplement as a hybrid system, but maintenance could be even more tricky here, too. It would mean being there to open and close it for the year, whereas utility service is just a phone call for activation.

elektrik is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 01-17-2018, 11:53 PM   #5
2 Rivet Member
Burlington , California
Join Date: Dec 2017
Posts: 28
Go solar with a backup generator set and auto transfer switch. Then call it an eco getaway and educate folks in a fun way as to how to conserve power.
PilotTyers is offline   Reply With Quote

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