My name is Jim, and I am a Climate Activist at Cutting Edge Power. I decided a few years ago to move toward a more sustainable energy lifestyle. I really didn't have much experience with this when I started, but I knew that it was the right thing to do. I didn't have budget either, or an end goal, which sometimes I think is OK, because everything doesn't always have to fit in a nice square box.
The concept of sustainable energy was hard to get my head around and at first, and seemed un-attainable, but I've made a lot of progress, and wanted to document everything here for anyone who has similar goals.
First, it doesn't have to cost a lot of money if you do it yourself. I really hope that everybody can contribute to an independent sustainable lifestyle that includes being responsible for your own power. If you want to just keep it simple, you could just get a couple of solar panels and put power back on the grid if your utility service provider allows you to.
So, depending on your situation, you can be on grid, or off grid. On grid normally means that you have access to a utility service that provides electricity to your site. Off grid means that there is no provider and basically there's no electricity at your site, like a campsite or rural area.
In this blog I'll just explain the difference between on grid and off grid. I'll start with on grid first because that's what most of us are accustomed to. Most people that have on grid systems want to send power back to the grid to save money on their monthly electric bill. On grid systems can either have batteries to store power in case they utility power goes off, or it can just put power back on the grid. If you want to maintain power when the utility power goes off you'll need to store it somehow which is normally done with batteries. Because there are so many batteries available now, I will discuss batteries in a later blog.
Regardless of which system you choose, each of them have some basic components. For a grid type solution you'll need to generate the power with either a wind turbine or solar panels and make the connection to the grid with an inverter. An inverter actually changes the DC power coming out of the solar panel to AC power and puts it back on the grid. Normally these are called grid tie inverters. Grid tie inverters will sense the current on the line and if there's an open circuit it will not energize the wires. That's a pretty basic safety feature of grid tie inverters so that they don't energize the wires that are open and possibly electrocute somebody that thinks they're not "hot" or energized. A lot of people don't know that when the power lines go down and they're just dangling on the ground, they're actually "hot" and they can still electrocute you. This is especially dangerous if they are in water. So that's why it's not a good idea to start wandering around town after a storm because a lot of the downed power lines could electrocute you.
Although electricity can be extremely dangerous, you can reduce the risk by following some best practices from the National Fire code or even OSHA standards. Fortunately, a lot of solar panels are low voltage which does reduce some risk, but DC voltage does commonly have a lot of current. I'll save some of the more technical parameters of electricity for a later blog. There are a lot of articles out there that explain this in quite a bit of detail and it's always good to educate yourself. So, to summarize, for a grid tie solution you basically need wind or solar into a grid tie inverter connected to the utility power.
An off grid solution is a little bit more complicated than an on grid solution. Basically there are three parts to an off grid solution. First, you have to generate the power with either solar, wind, or hydro. Second, you have to store that power, and most people use batteries. And then finally, an inverter is used to convert DC battery power to AC power, so that you can use it with appliances in your home. Normally that would be considered the "load". The load is basically how much power you're planning to use or the demand for power from all of the appliances combined.
Cutting Edge Power has a few tools on the website that can help you get started. On the home page click on the menu, and then "Where do I start?".
Here is that URL: https://cuttingedgepower.com/pages/comparison.
The calculator tab on the home page can help you determine the load: https://cuttingedgepower.com/pages/sg-calculator.
There is still a tax credit for a lot of renewable energy products, and you can read about it here: https://cuttingedgepower.com/blogs/news/26-tax-credit-what-is-it-and-how-do-you-get-the-cash.
Regardless of which system you choose, or your budget, I hope that you will find my experience interesting and useful.