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Cabin Comforts – Solar Power Electrical Systems

While we have never used solar power for electricity, we believe that the more solar power that we can use, the better it is for mankind. The days of using diesel, gasoline, coal, and other fossil fuels for power are rapidly coming to a close. Environmental concerns aside, even the best generators create some sort of background noise, and many people build their recreational retreats to escape that sort of noise, which they may hear every day in the city.

We're firm believers in doing away with generators whenever possible, and using solar power with the sun’s natural energy wherever we can.

Overview of Photovoltaic Systems

While solar power has been around since the beginning of time, only recently have we begun to use it for electrical purposes

Photovoltaic (PV) systems convert sunlight directly to electricity through the interaction of sunlight and semiconductor materials in the PV cells. Multiple PV cells are connected to form a PV module, which range in power output from 10 watts to 300 watts. These modules are then connected to a converter, which allows your electrical appliances to run off the electricity provided.

There are three types of PV power systems. Autonomous systems rely solely on solar energy to meet your electricity needs, and will often include solar power batteries which accumulate power during the day for use at night. Hybrid systems are very similar, except there is a fuel-run generator to back up the PV system. If you are closer to a highway or a town, grid connected systems are hooked into your local utilities system, allowing you to use less of your local utility power. In most parts of Canada, you must have permission from your local utility provider to do this, and current low electricity rates really make PV systems less cost-effective. If you are considering the cost of bringing in Hydro to your property, PV systems may be more affordable.

Advantages and Drawbacks

When considering solar power, note that PV only works when the sun is shining. Most PV systems will include a battery backup which accumulates power during the day for use at night. PV systems are also not recommended for water heating or heat-related appliances, as solar heaters are more effective. Also, the current cost of PV solutions is still fairly high. Your basic cost for a 50 system, which might operate several lights, a small TV and a water pump, could cost about $700. A more powerful PV system which might run more lights, a TV, stereo, microwave oven, and water pump would cost in the range of $8,000. Finally, note the temperature around your cabin. On very hot days, where the temperature is over 25 degrees Celsius, there will be a minor power reduction.

While there are some drawbacks to a PV system, there are many advantages.

For remote properties, the costs of installing Hydro poles to bring power to a rural area for one cabin may be extremely cost-prohibitive. Diesel or gasoline generators can be noisy, a cause of pollution, and costly to maintain and upkeep. PV systems, on the other hand, are low maintenance, and, once installed, have few, if any, costs associated with their upkeep. As a green solution to your power needs, many are choosing PV systems to provide their electricity as they would choose an electric or hybrid car to drive.

What to consider when choosing a PV solution

The first thing to ask yourself, when selecting a PV system is “How much power do I need?” The best way to do this is to list the electrical equipment which will be used over the short term and the long term. Then determine how much power each of these pieces of equipment use. Next, determine how often the energy will be used. Once you have identified your energy needs, you can contact a local PV supplier, and obtain several quotes.

When you are setting up your system, remember that it needs clear and unobstructive access to sunlight for most of the day, every day of the year. The best location for a PV system is a south-facing roof, as, in North America, the sun will always be in the southern half of the sky. Flat roofs are also good for solar systems, as the modules can be mounted on frames which are tilted for the best angle. They can also be directly attached to the roof as “PV Shingles”. If you can’t use your rooftop, PV modules can be placed on the ground on a mount that tracks the sun throughout the day, or create other structures, which can double as covered parking or shaded areas for plants. I’ve even seen solar panels attached to poles facing south collecting power for nearby batteries. Try to keep the PV system as close to the battery bank or home as possible, as this will lower wiring distances and the resulting power loss.

One thing to keep in mind when purchasing a PV system in Canada is that twice as much sunlight is available during the summer than it is during the winter. If you are looking for a solution which will provide you with year round power, you may need a fairly large PV array and battery system. If you are going to explore a PV system in Canada, you may want to look at the efficiency of the PV modules, as well as your appliances, or go with a hybrid system.

Solar power may be expensive, but in some cases, it is more feasible and cost-effective than bringing Hydro all the way out to your property. Plus the environmental aspects are worth the outlay. Take advantage of the beautiful BC weather and explore the exciting possibilities of solar power for your cabin.