A Prepper’s Primer on Renewable Energy – Part 1, by Kevin R.

Energy is a fundamental element in a prepper’s portfolio of resources and assets, along with food, water, medical, home, land, financial, and skills. However, some urban and suburban preppers who anticipate moving to a rural area when things get dicey often under-think their energy requirements. Organizing your retreat around dependence on hydrocarbon fuels means that you must store huge quantities of combustible fuels that will eventually run out during an extended societal collapse. But if you focus your energy use on renewable fuels, you will develop a system that will last indefinitely into the future, covering a wider variety of disasters, for a fraction of the cost.

Renewable energy sources can be replenished within your life time; as opposed to non-renewable sources–such as oil derivatives–that can be used up and not replenished. Common renewable energy sources include timber, solar, wind, geothermal, and hydro sources. This article helps the newly-ruralized prepper look at practical considerations for two very accessible renewable energy sources–wood and solar. Using these two renewable resources will give you a high degree of confidence that you will be ready for any situation, for any length of time.

Solar and timber sources of energy are complementary in many ways. Solar can produce warm air, warm water, and electricity to run appliances. It requires capital investment, but it doesn’t require physical effort once it is installed. Wood is a terrific heating source, requires little initial investment, is plentiful in rural forested areas; but it doesn’t produce electricity and requires a lot of physical effort along the way. If you have more money, more sun, and aren’t very physical, then you might consider more solar sources. If you don’t have a lot of money, are physically vigorous, and have access to forests, then you might depend more on wood. Given all these variables, let’s take a closer look at some details about using each of these renewable sources. 

Photovoltaic

There are many ways to use solar power to provide energy for your retreat. Photovoltaic panels and an inverter can produce electricity to run appliances, pumps, and fans. Solar water heaters are one of the most efficient ways to heat water. Passive solar design–which doesn’t use moving parts or electricity– can help a house be warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. We chose to install a bank of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels and inverter to our grid-tied system, without batteries.

While we don’t have the luxury of using stored energy at night from the batteries, we also didn’t incur the cost and maintenance requirements of the batteries. Instead we purchased an inverter that provides a 3,000 Watt, 20 amp emergency circuit so that when the sun shines, we can use the electricity produced directly for electrical appliances. We purchased a Sunny Boy Inverter (4 kW) from Wholesale Solar (800-472-1142). Wholesale Solar also provides a variety of American-made solar panels at the best cost I can find.

Some will want the convenience of having batteries. We would have doubled the cost of our system by getting batteries, and didn’t mind only having electricity when the sun shines. For us, I preferred to put money into the solar panels and inverter, rather than batteries. We’ve been very happy with the simplicity of this system, and its ability to function well in a power out situation.

We have ten panels (2.4 kW) that are wired in series to the Inverter, which converts the electricity to 120 VAC that can be used by household circuits. The inverter is then wired to its own circuit breaker in your household electrical panel. If you can add a circuit for a new appliance, you can install your own solar–which is a good idea, since hiring an installer doubles the cost of your system. If you have any doubts, you should hire an electrician to check your work. And be sure to get a permit for the electrical installation from your state, and arrange for the intertie agreement with your electrical utility. Call them, they will step you through those processes.

Our 2.4 kW system provided for our needs entirely during the summer, at least until we built a new garage/shop on a couple years back. As with most preps, as soon as you need them, you wish you bought more. A 6-8 kW system would have operated our garage and shop as well, with some left over for our utility to write us a check now and then.

If you install your panels in a fixed position, common wisdom suggests that the panels should be tilted toward the south (if you live in the northern hemisphere) at an angle that equals your latitude. For example, if you live at 45 degrees north, the panels would be tilted at an angle of 45 degrees. This means that your maximum production will be at noon on summer solstice. However, after working as a solar contractor for a time, I realized that one need not be dogmatic about this ‘common wisdom’. That is to say, if you have a roof that slopes to the southeast at 15 degrees, it is still reasonable to install your panels on your roof. All it means is that your maximum production will occur at some other time of day, at some other time of year.

Some folks will install panels on trackers that follow the sun across the sky during the day. While trackers add to the cost, they will provide about 20% more energy than having your panels fixed to one spot. So you can ask yourself whether or not the cost of the tracker is worth the 20% increase in production. It may be less expensive to not buy the tracker and simply purchase 20% more panels.

Solar requires more of an investment than wood, but it will provide a return on your investment (ROI) comparable to the best financial investments you can find. For example, we spent 2400. on our Inverter from Wholesale Solar and 2000. on ten solar panels. Then we received a tax refund on our federal taxes of 25% of the invested value of 4400., or 1100. That means our total investment was 3300. The 2.4 kW system provides about 100. worth of electricity each month, or about 1200. over the course of 12 months. That means our return on investment is 33% each year! (And I feel lucky to get 2% at a bank.) In short, investing in solar panels has been a remarkable financial investment, and it has fueled my home and given me peace of mind. While solar requires more investment than wood, it is definitely worth the investment.

Wood Heat

However much wood you use, always prepare more wood than you think you will need. It might be a cold winter, or you might not be able to collect as much the next year. This way you can use the wood that you need to keep your home comfortable without worrying that you need to ration it. Plan 4-6 cords for a 1200 square foot space, if your house has good sun exposure and if you occasionally rely on other forms of heat. Prepare more if your house is in the shade most of the winter. (A cord is a stack of wood that contains 128 cubic feet. That is, multiply width x length x height to get your volume in cubic feet. A stack that is 4 feet wide, 4 feet high, and 8 feet long has a volume of one full cord.) The amount that you use will depend on your own conditions, the type of wood that you use, the type of fireplace you have, the type of house that you have, and your own personal preferences.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 2.)




56 Comments

  1. Great article Kevin and Amen on solar panels!

    I tell people if you can hook up an electric water heater, you can hook up your own solar panels. The three wires from the solar panels wire into a wall-mounted box the size of desk-top computer, then four wires from that box plug into a breaker in your electrical panel. That’s it.

    What a great way to spend that stimulus check that’s headed your way. If you are building and know ahead of time you will be adding solar panels, you can design your house or shop so the roof has just the right angle for solar panels at your latitude. Everything Kevin said about having solar panel angles is correct, it isn’t THAT important that you get it exactly perfect, just that your panels are facing south. Kevin mentioned how much you can save by doing your own installation, you can also save a bundle by making your own mounting rails. One option: synthetic deck boards from the lumber yard work great and don’t have any heavy metals to interact with solar panels and metal roofing like treated lumber does.

    If you have all your materials ahead of time, two people can mount your solar panels and have everything wired up in a couple of days. After getting yours figured out, you could probably do your mother-in-law’s house in a single day. It’s that easy. A ground-mounted installation would be even easier.

    I had the opposite experience that Kevin had, I installed a 3,000-watt system and then started seeing how much energy usage I could cut around the homestead and now 1,500 watts would have been overkill for me. (Since I only use 40% of what I generate, I sell my extra electricity to the power co-op.) Kevin mentioned being able to still have electricity in the event the grid goes down. That feature is called a “secure power supply” and amounts to a single outlet coming directly from your inverter which you can plug an extension cord into. I have that feature also but would skip that if I were on a tight budget.

    Six years ago my system cost $5,631 but Uncle Sam paid for 30% so it only cost me $3,942. Knowing what I know now, I could put the same system in today for $2,421 if Uncle Sam is giving me a 26% rebate this year. Solar panels have gotten much cheaper. If you skip the secure power supply, you can get a SunnyBoy inverter on eBay, brand new, for $640. The secure power supply ends up costing you $1,000+ and I’ve never used mine. A generator will do the same thing and is not only more dependable, but much more versatile and a whole lot cheaper. The IRS rebates are getting smaller each year and will be completely phased out after 2022.

    No matter where you live in the lower 48, solar power can benefit you and if you do your own installation, and make your own mounting rails, for most people it will pay for itself in less than 10 years. And with a grid-tied system, you can always upgrade it later to a battery-charging system if you want to either get more self-reliant or world events lead you to believe that the S is about to hit the F. Grid-tied is a super-simple system and a good way to get your feet wet with solar.

    1. Thanks for your comments and the details, very sensible! Good to know how it has worked for others. Yes, I should have named the “secure power supply” function of the Sunny Boy inverter. not all inverters have this function. It has already saved us a bundle. Like I said, we’re happy with the trade off, but others might choose to invest in batteries. Kevin R

  2. Solar PV panels are not a renewable energy source. They require massive amounts of fossil fuel to mine, refine, manufacture, transport, install and maintain. In their useable lifetime they never generate as much energy as it takes to manufacture them.
    The same is true for commercial wind power. You can DIY a wind power system for next to nothing using junk and old auto parts but those big commercial systems simply are impractical.

    1. If / when the S does hit the F then I don’t think product manufacturing based CO2 emissions are going to be a concern to anyone.
      Like air pollution in LA: as soon as people started staying at home due to CoVid concerns the air quality “magically” (per media) cleared up.

      1. That may be true, but it does not change the fact that PV is not a “renewable” or clean energy source. I have a PV panel on my travel trailer and I have had a few other trailers and motor homes and put a PV panel on each of them. My primary issues with PV are it’s costs, of course and the level of complication/costs when you transition from a simple DC/battery system to a larger inverter and grid tied home system. I think it makes sense in any article about PV to be clear about the costs and the maintenance. I know a few people who have larger home sized systems and when their batteries began to fail they were totally unprepared for the huge cost of replacement batteries.

        1. We did a self install of a 2.5 KW system for about $8k before rebates. It’s like any home improvement project, the difference between high bid, low bid, and DIY can be huge.

      1. I got my first small PV cell to experiment with in 1955. I have been a big fan of PV ever since. For decades they promised lower costs and higher efficiencies. We have gotten both but no where near the promise. The field of solar power is full of misinformation and one of those misinformation points is that it will pay for itself in two years. It does not, in fact it never pays for itself. It’s value is entirely that it can be used where electricity is not available not that it is practical. If you look at a map of the optimal incidence of solar energy for the U.S. you will see a sweet spot in the South West. Most of the rest of the nation is actually not particularly good for solar at all. In that sweet spot a commercial PV facility can generate electricity and get it to the utility for about $.26 per kWh. They can do this at about 100% of capacity for 4 hours a day with a limited capacity for an additional 5-8 hours a day. A coal fired plant can produce electricity for about $.025 per kWh.

        Because of the cost of PV it MUST force the utility to buy the expensive, inefficient and unreliable power AND spread the cost to all utility customers to spread the cost of the PV provided power. This is how the myth of PV power being cost comparable with other sources is spread. They subsidize it and hide the costs.

        One accounting phrase that PV advocates don’t want to talk about is cost of money. That is if you build a billion dollar electrical generation facility you have to raise a billion dollars at probably about 5% at today’s bond rates. This is an added cost of generating the power which PV advocates conveniently don’t bother using in their calculation. Another cost they ignore is the subsidy. For a home owner installing a PV system various governments (and even the utility is mandated to participate in) will pay part of that cost. But of course they don’t actually pay it your neighbors do through higher taxes and utility rates. California’s rates are about $.18 per kWh. This is made up of cheap hydro, oil gas and even coal at about $.03/kWh, solar at about $.30/kwh and wind at about $.40/kwh. Then the costs of transmission, facilities, maintenance and taxes is blended in and the customer pays $.18 and sometimes more. I live in the PNW and my power to my door costs $.06/kwh.

        1. Hey Saul, whoa buddy, slow down. You’re mixing up home solar installation info with a rant about the why power companies shouldn’t buy power from solar farms. I’m not fan of Greta either so let’s stick to home installations since that’s what today’s article was about.

          On payback time, here are some very real numbers for anyone interested in installing a system this year: The $2,421 I mentioned above is a very real number for installing a 3,000 watt system using a brand new eBay $650 SunnyBoy grid-tied inverter and solar panels at 61¢/watt. Using my own verified numbers of actual electricity generated per year, and take note that I don’t live in the “sweet spot” you mentioned, I live in an area that is below the national average, and using the national average of 13.5¢ cost for a kilowatt hour of electricity, the payback time would be 5.6 years. If my cost was 23¢/kWh, the payback time drops to 3.29 years. If you are paying 6¢ that you claim, then your payback is 12.6 years. It is still well worth putting a grid-tied system in since most solar panels are guaranteed for a minimum of 25 years. It’s not difficult for each homeowner to run their own numbers.

          You said, “For a home owner installing a PV system various governments (and even the utility is mandated to participate in) will pay part of that cost. But of course they don’t actually pay it your neighbors do through higher taxes and utility rates.” In my state, and I’m guessing most states outside of the Left Coast, the state pays nothing, nor do my neighbors. My mis-termed “Rebate from Uncle Sam” is not a true rebate at all. It only applies if you are paying taxes, and only amounts to you being forced to send less of your money to the IRS at the point of a gun, so it was my money all along, not Uncle Sam’s.

          1. To calculate the cost of your PV system do not exclude the cost that someone else paid for. Any rebate/subsidy should go into the actual cost when calculating if a PV system pays for itself. Once you have that dollar amount whether it is $5000 or $40,000 then you need to use the correct math. I paid cash for my single panel on my trailer so there is a lost opportunity cost for that money. If, as many do for larger systems, I had financed it than there would be a more obvious cost of money i.e. interest cost. Either way it is a real cost that is often left out when trying to puff up the benefits of a PV system, Once you have the real costs then you need to accurately calculate the real energy you use. Not the panel capacity multiplied by hours of sunlight but the real energy available and used. Your panels are at best 93% efficient and if you store energy in batteries that process is about 80% efficient. If you convert to AC with an inverter that process is about 92% efficient. So depending on your system you could lose 20% more or less of what your labeled potential is.

            A dirt cheap system installed yourself would cost about $1500 for a 1 kWh system not counting batteries or inverter. Everyday your average power generation over 365 days would be about 4 kWh of electricity. For me that would be about 4x$,06= $.24 a day or $87 a year, At that rate the system would in theory pay for itself in 17 years. BUT the cost of money for that $1500 is about $75 a year. So in reality the system saves me $12 a year and then it would take 125 years to pay for itself. BUT the lifespan of a solar panel is about 30 years or less. Hence my conclusion that PV never pays for itself.

            By the way if you put batteries. controllers, inverters etc. into the system the costs increase dramatically.

  3. >Good article, that will help people decide if they want to have a Solar System. … The Sun is a good source of dependable energy. [If the sun stops shining, we’ll have bigger problems, than no electricity from the Solar System on the roof.]

    The cost effectiveness is one main concern. Information is here in this article, and >more information is available on the Internet, for the needed >arithmetic computation.

    1. [From the Internet, at wholesalesolar]: “When you install a solar system, 26% of your total project costs (including equipment, permitting and installation) can be claimed as a credit on your federal tax return. If you spend $10,000 on your system, you owe $2,600 less in taxes the following year. The solar tax credit expires in >2022.” ~
    …….. Plus, some states have a solar >credit or a >deduction too. The local electricity provider might have a solar program too.

    [Do your research about taxes in your area] The tax >credit or >deductions (there’s a difference) plus the local programs are generally what makes Solar Systems financially attractive to people. +Some people like the idea of ‘saving’ the Earth. (Does a Solar System really do that?’)

    2. All the numbers have to be figured for your area. In Idaho, the collectors might be covered with snow during the winter. In other, such as western Washington State, the months as the skies are cloudy during the winter.
    ……. There’s NOT a big ‘sunshine payback’ for the winter in some areas. (There’s NO consist payback each month, in many places.)

    The ‘angle degree’ for the Solar System can be designed for maximum solar collection during the summer, if the winter skies are overcast. … All this information is on the Internet. The ‘sun’s height’ in the sky varies between the Winter and Summer. [The Earth orbits around the Sun.]

    3. Design the Solar System for the >Wind Load in your area. In Tornado Alley, the winds can pick up cars and cows. (Videos on the Internet) … You don’t want to see your solar >investment sailing off with the wind. The Tornado might miss your area, but the strong winds might still occur. Wind speed designs computations and ideas are on the Internet. ~There are strong seasonal winds in most places, here in the USA.~
    ……… There’s a ‘lifting effect’ to wind because the air exerts less pressure at a right angle as it moves along. (See the Internet for a proper Scientific explanation.} Roofs are designed to account for the ‘lifting effect’ of wind too. [Airplane wings are designed to utilize created pressure differences.]

    ~Make sure your Solar System is properly >secured.~
    *****************

    Electricity generated by the Sun is handy for RVs, radios, telephone charging, batteries and other things. An arithmetic calculation is needed for a home (because of the expense). +Some people just want the security of Solar Power.
    (A Solar Assisted ~ Water Hearing System works great, and is usually very cost effective. + Homes can be designed for >passive Solar heating in the winter, and protection from solar heat, in the summer.]

    God said, “Let there be light,” and for physical light the Sun was placed in the sky.

  4. Thanks for putting up the article. Looking forward to part 2 🙂

    However, I just dont understand putting in a PV Solar System without batteries.

    I totally get doing so for the average ‘green minded’ consumer, who just wants to feel they are “doing their part” (which is actually counter-productive to global emissions….but I digress). And who wants to sell power back to the power company so that, some years down the road, they are saving money on electricity.

    But for ‘preparedness minded’ people? I just dont get it :/

    If I’m understanding you correctly, for a $4400 initial investment, in a grid-down situation and when it gets dark out……you’ll still be using candles, oil lamps, etc, to light the interior of your home and your shop, etc?

    And you will have no exterior lighting available around your home or outbuildings for security, and all other electrical items (refrigerators, freezers, even a propane oven for cooking, etc) will not work until sometime after dawn?

    Of course, I understand ‘concessions’. Everyone makes them, no matter your financial circumstances.

    But if it were me, I would go for a smaller sized system but one which worked both day and night.

    We are about to receive our initial order for 16 solar panels (5200w), and will be ordering an Inverter/Charge Controller and Batteries, soon.

    I dont have good information on how large to size our system, yet, as there are unknown sized loads which would not be carried in a grid-down situation (this is for our full-time, permanent home).

    We’re also leaning towards Lithium Batteries. Higher initial outlay but, for our purposes, they have SO many technical advantages. And their cost, over time, is actually cheaper.

    Can I ask: does anyone here yet have experience with the Sol-Ark 12K unit? Specs look great, but there seem to be other alternatives, now, for putting together an EMP-resistant Alt Power System….

    1. Hey Moovin, good questions and comments. The reason to put in a grid-tied system is that in an average location where you are paying 9¢/ kWh, a system will pay for itself in 7 years. In a place with higher electricity costs like New England, it will pay for itself in much less time. After that, your electricity is free other than your monthly meter charge. The second reason to put one in is just to get your feet wet since there are only two components, the solar panels and the inverter, and almost anybody can do it. Plus, it’s maintenance free. From there, you can move up to a more complicated battery set up.

      “If I’m understanding you correctly, for a $4400 initial investment, in a grid-down situation and when it gets dark out……you’ll still be using candles, oil lamps, etc, to light the interior of your home and your shop, etc?” Not totally correct. Using the secure power supply feature, you can plug in several car battery chargers during daylight hours and charge up car batteries. Just as as experiment, I took an old worn-out battery from my truck that I was supposed to turn in when I bought a new one, charged that, and using a cheapie 12-volt inverter I got at a yard sale for $5, and was able to run a 120v lamp next to my reading chair for 41 hours straight. You can also use the secure power supply to run freezers etc to be sure the contents don’t thaw during the power outage. Option 2 of course, would be to have a control switch in the lines between your solar panels and inverter so that you could switch completely over to a battery-charging system and skip the grid-tied inverter altogether. Since you can get a grid-tied inverted for $650, why not have the flexibility of both? Batteries are expensive and you don’t get your money back out of them in saved electricity so grid tying is cheap.

      “We’re also leaning towards Lithium Batteries. Higher initial outlay but, for our purposes, they have SO many technical advantages. And their cost, over time, is actually cheaper.” Must be nice to have the bucks. 🙂 Please send me a link when you find a great deal on those. My personal philosophy now is to just get weaned off electricity as much as possible. When I’ve helped friends and relatives with the math for their systems, I’m always aghast at how much electricity they use each month, and not a single one of them has gone forward with plans to put in solar. But here’s the beauty: even if you put in a system that only supplies 25% of your needs, it still pays for itself in 7 years and if the SHTF, you still have a way to generate electricity to supply your lighting.

      1. St. Funogas, thank you for the comments.

        So if I’m understanding you correctly, you -are- an advocate for including batteries in a Solar PV System?

        That was my assertion as well. We seem to have just come at it from different angles, and a different sense of scale 🙂

        As for me, I was commenting on the utility of Solar PV as it applies to ‘preparedness’, recognizing that most consumers who install it will simply be trying to save money on power bills, down the line.

        “Batteries are expensive and you don’t get your money back out of them in saved electricity..”

        True.

        But, again, my comments were re: Solar PV as a preparedness item 🙂 I also wont get my money back out of the dozens and dozens of cases of dehydrated/freeze dried foods that my wife has purchased, and put away for the family (because we’ll probably never use them). Or any of a number of the other thousands and thousands of dollars of ‘prep items’ that we’ve accumulated for the family 😉

        “My personal philosophy now is to just get weaned off electricity as much as possible.”

        I admire your fortitude! As for us, I’d heard a number of years ago, in another survival related forum, that their goal was to live a good, modern lifestyle, and prepare so that almost nothing changes for your family when/if “TSHTF”.

        And I’ve really taken that to heart 🙂

        For instance, we dont plan to ‘bug out’. We, through God’s blessings, now live where we plan to be (which, early on, I believe I heard Mr. Rawles extol the virtues of).

        All that being said, my dream alt-power system for our home is a comprehensive one: Solar PV System capable of running everything except A/C, Hot Tub, and Electric Dryer (i.e., 240v Well Pump, Washer, Gas/Forced Air Heat, multiple Refrigerators and Freezers, all Lighting, Comm’s, etc, etc).

        Ultimately, my plan is to then add a 20kW (or so) propane generator to the system, too.

        And with a capable Inverter/Charge Controller/Load Switching box (EMP-protected as well), any grid power outage will not even be noticed in our home.

        In fact I’ve joked with my wife that our first indicator that the grid has gone down might be having to notice that the city lights in the valley down below are out, from the picture windows of our living room 😉

        THAT’s the place I want us to get to…

        1. Hey Moovin, I’m a minimalist so my idea of batteries would be something like Tunnel Rabbit describes below, nothing fancy and not too many. In a SHTF scenario, I wouldn’t be running a refrigerator or freezer off them and would learn to live without those. But, I barely use the one I have now so it would be an easy transition and I love new challenges. I’m planning on converting my well pump to one that can run directly off a solar panel.

          Your comment me me laugh, and I’ll be chuckling all night: “As for us, I’d heard a number of years ago, in another survival related forum, that their goal was to live a good, modern lifestyle, and prepare so that almost nothing changes for your family when/if “TSHTF”. I have the exact same philosophy of living now so that I’ll hardly notice a change when the SHTF, except from the angle of living very minimally now as if the S had already hit the F. lol.

          I too am already at my bug out location, don’t it feel great?! I don’t have anything but birds and deer out my picture window so the only way I’ll know if the Big One hits is when I get those text messages, “Alas Babylon!” assuming they can squeeze them in before the cell towers go down. 🙂

          Good luck with your PV system and hopefully you’ll get it going before those rebates run out.

          1. St. Funogas, you’ve got a great sense of humor…..right up my alley 😉

            Everyone comes to their plans differently, of course. But for my family, freezers are a big part of our preparedness strategy. When we moved to our current (and, God willing, ‘forever’ home) a few years ago, now, we purchased two of the largest upright freezers we could find, for the garage. We also have 3 conventional refrigerator/freezers in the home.

            And the freezers are almost always full.

            Does my wife have something of a ‘freezer fetish’? Mayyyybe. But one of the upright freezers is used exclusively for the proceeds from the last cattle we’ve processed (we raise our own beef, for our family).

            And my wife has found, as well, that freezing is a convenient and very effective way to store other food/cooking items….even vegetable oil!

            Re: being at your bugout location already, yes….yes it does feel great! Congrats to you, as well!

            Also, re: the Federal Solar Tax Credit program, we technically “began construction” of our system last year (and have the receipts to prove it). The law was changed a few years ago so that you can receive full credit from the year you -began- your system, even if you dont finish until the following year. So, technically, we have until the end of this calendar year to finish, and still get the full tax credit percentage – which does then go down a bit, for this year.

  5. How can an inverter run directly off solar panels without batteries? 4000 watts at 120V is almost 367.96 amps of current draw by an inverter at 12V. 2400 watts of solar panels is actually a deficit of power should the inverter be loaded fully, which probably never happens. What’s the missing piece here?

    1. Hey Joey, not sure what kind of solar panels Kevin has but mine for example are 295 watts, 36.4 volts, and those are probably pretty average numbers for solar panels. I have 10 wired in series, and the inverter is wired into a double 20-amp beaker. So 2,950 watts / 364 volts = 8.1 amps.

  6. SAUL,,,,,,,,,you are correct about solar systems ,at both of my off grid ranches we have phased out solar. Only exception is fence chargers ,and water heater back up , have a stack of panels we no longer use

  7. I like the idea of having a large array of panels for day time needs, and a smaller battery bank to operate radios and perhaps an electric water pump, a laptop, and a few led lamps at night. I would have some dry deep cycle batteries stored. The acid can be added when they will be put into service. Order the batteries that way, or dump the acid out of new batteries and save it, and they will store indefinitely. But I would acquire them now as demand destruction first decreases prices, and then scarcity and price inflation increases prices. Instead of have a large bank of batteries that are sulfating from the first day they are produced, it is better to buy those in dry form and consume them on an as needed basis. In other words, instead of buying 10 batteries and installing all of them, install only two, and hold the other 8 batteries in reserve in dry form. This small battery bank of only 2 batteries should provide a useful amount of power for about 3 years, yet we have a total of 5 sets of 2 batteries, or a total of 15 years of potential use. Panels have also drop in price recently. Demand destruction is already creating an opportunity.

    Btw, the total propane use this winter was less than 20 pounds. I do everything, including canning on a wood stove. It takes practice to set up fire with the correct type of wood in the the stove for a consistent burn to maintain the pressure above 12lbs for at least 90 min. Heat the pressure cooker and contents with the first burn and as pressure approaches 12lbs, then load the stove correctly with the proper wood for a long slow and consistent burn. It requires very little heat to maintain the pressure range 12 to 15lbs. Run it up to 15lbs and give it room to fluctuate down to 12lbs, or your lower limit. Baking bread requires a similar technique. I actually use a steel, and unpainted mailbox. But that is another story…but I gotta go fix up some saws and cut up a big pine tree. It is possible to burn partly dry green wood by cutting 3 inch thick rounds and busting it up with a hatchet into 2 tp 3 inch chunks. These thin round dry out quicker if store. Chunked up it burns good and longer than seasoned wood. Start out with a bed of coals to initiate the chunks of green wood, or burn with seasoned dry wood. During spring weather, one does not need as hot of stove…and the longer burn time is welcomed.

    1. Tunnel Rabbit: Love that idea for storing extra batteries. Had long thought that I might do the same, with an extra set of dry lead-acid’s (adding electrolyte only when they are put into service). If I do end up using Lithium batteries, though, it would complicate things a bit as I would then also have to build a ventilated battery box (whereas I wont, with the Lithium batteries).

      And I agree, at the minimum I would install battery capacity enough to have at least lighting, security needs, etc, (perhaps even refrigerator/freezer), in any Solar PV System I would put in.

      1. Lithium is awesome, but waaay out of my price range, so I have not looked into them. But if using lead acid, an enclosed battery box is really not needed, and unless charging them at a very fast rate that may damage the batteries, a rate greater than 20% of amp hour rating, then they usually do not need to be vented. Of course of they are stored in the basement that has a water heater or furnace, then a box with a vent outside would be a good precaution to take. Generally I would house them were the temperature is closer to 70F or more, where it’s capacity will be at 100%, rather than closer to 32F where it’s capacity is reduced to 50% of rating. In regions where insolation is rated a 4 or 5, then having 4 times the usual recommended 1 watt per 1 amp hour of the battery’s capacity, then a generator may not be necessary and the battery will last longer. With solar is so cheap, it makes sense to have a very large array, and run directly off it during the day, and a small battery bank that there for cloudy days and nights. We should be at least be running a scanner and recharging hand held batteries 24/7, and have enough solar to run a well pump during the day, even in winter. I would avoid dependence generators if possible. An over sized solar array is a better strategy for long term sustainability, than putting the money into a large storage capacity. A large storage capacity made sense when PV panels were $9/watt. We can even power a 12vdc refrigerator during the day. With extra insulation added, the fridge should keep thing fresh during the night.

        Here are some top of the line 12vdc fridges.
        https://www.rvweb.net/best-12-volt-refrigerators-reviewed/

        Propane fridges are expensive, and require propane too. I am thinking of putting my large propane fridge up for sale and making the jump. Used they are asking $700! But they do last for decades…

          1. Please see my response to St Funogas as well. Perhaps a better recipe would be in order to make this method easier. I have no expertise there. Quick breads using baking soda, and baking power such as biscuits, and muffins are typically smaller in size, are considerable easier to bake in this way. Likewise, smaller loafs are easier.

          2. Hello, Farmers Wife, Just wanted to give a big thank you to you again for the True Value tip on jars. The prices were a dollar more than yours. I go tomorrow to pick up an order curb side, plus I placed an online order with free delivery to the store that arrives in a week or two. Not counting chickens before they’ve hatched but I’m pretty excited. Blessings.

          3. Krissy,

            I am so happy to hear that you had success in the jar search, that’s great news! Glad I could help. I wondered when I ordered mine if they would show up as quickly as indicated, or get backordered, but I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived in just a few days. I hope yours do too! I pray the Lord richly blesses you while you work to fill those jars 🙂

          4. We don’t have any True Value stores near me any more, but if you have a Southern States Coop around you, they still have canning supplies in stock here. Tractor Supply has jars and lids here too. And as much as I hate to shop there, the Walmarts near here are staying pretty well stocked with jars and lids.

            Speaking of Walmart, have any of you tried the Anchor Hocking jars? I tried some once I saw they are made in the USA, and so far I have had zero issues with them, even pressure canning meat.

          5. wwes,

            We aren’t in the south, so don’t have that coop here. Both Tractor Supply and WalMart are over 3 hours away, so we don’t get there too often. I did check Tractor Supply’s website when I was researching, but the shipping was way too high. That is what was nice about the True Value jars, they had free “ship to store” shipping. I have seen online the Anchor Hocking jars you are referring to, but have never actually tried any …. I wasn’t sure how reliable they would be. I appreciate hearing from someone who has actually put them to the test and knowing they’re good — Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind. Good luck with your canning!

          6. Farmer’s Wife,
            I know what you mean about the Tractor Supply shipping, they are pretty steep. The local one is a little pricey on their jars and lids, but they did have plenty available, although that might be partly because they are tucked into a back corner of the store. Half gallon jars were actually cheaper at Tractor Supply than they were at Walmart.

            One thing I have noticed at Walmart is that the local one frequently have cases of jars that will have a jar or two broken or missing, and they will clearance the case out for anywhere from 30-50%off, which makes for a case of jars that is about the same as a pack of lids with rings.

            I haven’t used any of the anchor hocking quart jars, just pints and half pints, but they have been trouble free for me. The glass does seem a little thicker than the Ball, Kerr, or Golden Harvest jars. The half pints are also short and fat, which is nice when stacking them in the pressure canner. The lids that come on the Anchor Hocking jars seem to seal really well too, although I’m not sure who makes them.

            Have you ever by chance tried the Mainstays lids? I have been using them (the current production USA made ones, not the older Chinese ones) and they have sealed just as well as Ball lids for me. I buy both in bulk.

          7. wwes,

            I rarely have the opportunity to check prices and compare canning supplies in person in a store, as we live a long distance out. I was blessed to have been given all of my mom’s jars and canning supplies, as well as my mom-in-law’s jars and supplies, both of whom were prolific canners. (They were preppers and didn’t even know it, haha! ) About 15 years ago, I added quite a few jars to my collection as my own family grew and was eating more, and then this past winter we made the decision to triple our garden space, so I ordered quite a few cases of jars in preparation for the increased amount of canning I am anticipating.

            Your comments about the glass in the Anchor Hocking jars has me intrigued. I’ve noticed that the jars that were given to me way back when have the best/thickest glass and I never have one break in spite of their age (many of my mom’s jars came to her from my grandma). The glass in the ones I purchased 15 years ago is slightly thinner and I will on occasion have one of those break on me. We just picked up the ones that I recently ordered, and upon opening them it seems that they might be ever slightly thinner again, but it’s hard to tell. The oldest are a mix of Ball, Kerr, and Atlas and other brands that are no longer available, the middle ones are mostly Kerr, and these last that I just got are all Ball jars. Like many other things these days, the glass in jars was a whole lot better back when.

            As far as lids go, no I have no experience with Mainstays lids. I’m old enough to remember as a kid listening to my mom and her friends talk about the great canning lid shortage in the 70’s. My mom always stocked up on canning lids way in advance, so it didn’t affect her, but it was a big deal back then and lids weren’t available anywhere. I never forgot that, and always have a bulk supply of lids on hand way in advance as well. For many years I have ordered my lids from Fillmore Container in bulk. They sell both Ball lids, and generic brand lids. I’ve tried both, and honestly, I like the generics a little better plus they’re cheaper. It is rare that I have one that doesn’t seal. They are sold in bulk sleeves, and you can even get bigger bulk with cases of sleeves, if you’re a crazy canning person like me 🙂 If you’d like a link to the lids I use, let me know and I’d be happy to get it for you.

          8. Farmer’s Wife,

            I’m only 31, so I came around towards the end of my grandparents years of heavy canning, but I got a small taste of what you describe with your mother. My Dad used to can some, but we just lived through the woods from my grandparents and great grandparents, and as a little boy I loved it when it was time to can during the summer. Especially corn- I would help Dad pick a pickup truck load, then my great Grandaddy I would shuck it in the back yard. Dad and great grandma would pack and process jars, while grandma and grandaddy would wash and prepare jars, lids, and rings. Those are some of my best memories! Thankfully we still have all of my grandparent’s jars and rings as well, but I still like to add to the stockpile when I find deals on jars 🙂

            The thick glass on the Anchor Hocking jars reminds me most of the old Atlas jars that we have. So far I haven’t had one break. The main ones that have broken on myself or my Dad have been my great grandmother’s old mayonnaise jars, so we just water bath them now.

            Grandma didn’t stock up on lids too heavily, but my Dad and I both try to keep a LOT of lids. I would love the link to those lids if it isn’t too much trouble. I would be more than happy to mail you a few packs of the Mainstays lids, and a few of the Anchor Hocking jars, if you ever decide you’d like to try them.

          9. wwes,

            I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about your family’s canning experiences, and how those are some of your favorite memories. It’s the same for me …. I have vivid memories of sitting on the back porch with my mom and grandma on long summer days, way back to when I was very young, and learning to help by shelling peas, snapping beans, etc. I loved every step of the process from planting the garden all the way to canning, and I still love it now 🙂 I’ve always been grateful that I was brought up learning it by example, rather than having to start learning it all as an adult.

            Hearing your thoughts on the Anchor Hocking glass has convinced me to try a few out. You are so kind and generous to offer to send some my way, but I want you to keep your supply for your own needs. The way things are going, you may need them, and it is way too far to send them (I’m in Montana). I’ve already added both things to my long list of items to check out when I have a chance. Twice a year, usually April and October, we make the trip to a larger town to stock up on everything. We haven’t gone this spring yet, because of all that is going on, but we will at some point in the next few weeks, and I will track them down.

            The lids I use are from Fillmore Container. Here’s the links to both the regular and wide mouth lids. I have used many sleeves of these with hardly ever a seal that fails. If you look in the middle of the description page, click on the “related items” tab, and that will bring up all the other lid and ring options that they also have. I hope this helps!

            Regular mouth: https://www.fillmorecontainer.com/70mm-generic-lids-gold-bulk.html

            Wide mouth: https://www.fillmorecontainer.com/tlg086lidct-86.html

          10. Farmer’s Wife,

            Thankyou for the kind words as well as for the links! I think I will order some lids from them to try once their wide mouth lids are back in stock, I am not quite as well stocked on wide mouth as I’d like to be.

            I had a wonderful time stringing beans and shelling peas when I was little too- I specifically remember how much I enjoyed stringing beans with my grandmother and great grandmother while we watched Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman or Walker Texas Ranger, (depending on what day of the week it was) or sitting on the front porch and listing to my great grandmother hum the tunes to old hymns. I hope that my son will get to build some of the same memories with my wife and I once he’s born.
            I remember begging my great grandmother to make a batch of apple butter or plum jelly for me too. I didn’t understand how much work the jelly was for her then, but oh how I would love to have another taste of it now!
            If you find some of the Anchor Hocking glass I hope that it does as well for you as it has for me. The next time I run across some of the quarts I plan to try some of them and see if they do as well for me as the smaller sizes have done.

          11. wwes,

            Memories like that with grandparents are priceless 🙂 Congratulations on an upcoming birth, how exciting! Since you remember it so well, I’m sure you’ll instill those same types of things with your own children. I involved mine from when they were toddlers, and they often mention remembering helping by standing on a kitchen chair at the counter stirring something, or sitting on the porch next to a pile of beans bigger than they were helping to snap. It’s a great way for kids to grow up, and jobs that they can help with even at such a young age.

            Please do let me know later what you think of the lids, and I will do the same with the jars when I locate them. Good luck with your canning!

          12. Farmer’s Wife,
            Thank you! He is due on August 7th, and I am looking forward to him being here more than words can describe!

            I will get back to you about the lids, and I Iook forward to hearing how you like the jars!

        1. Tunnel Rabbit,

          Re: Lithium Batteries, averaged out over their greater lifespan, they are fairly close to the cost of AGM, etc. (lol….especially if you ask a lithium battery manufacturer!).

          Yes, our alt-power setup (including batteries) will be in the HVAC Utility Room of our home, so very susceptible to the hazards of hydrogen gas buildup.

          Re: the idea of incorporating a Whole House Generator into our power plan, in my mind it would serve several functions:

          1) Backup for, as you said, an extended period of cloudy days.

          2) Backup in case of physical damage to our panels (hail, wind, theft, vandalism, etc.).

          3) Backup in case of electrical damage to panels via EMP, CME, lightning, etc.

          4) Backup in case of prolonged environmental conditions which preclude the panels from generating significant power (effects from a volcanic explosion somewhere in the world, etc).

          We’ve slowly converted our whole house over to propane (with the exception of a hot tub), and so now have propane gas/forced air heat, on-demand Hot Water, 2x propane gas oven/ranges, and a 45,000 BTU furnace-rated propane fireplace in the home.

          All of which are now served by 2x 1000gal underground propane tanks.

          So we have some options, and redundancy, in case some component stops functioning in a ‘fan situation’.

          And we like us some redundancy….and options!

          Point taken on the lower cost of panels today, and the case for overbuilding an array. Which I will definitely be doing….once I figure out just what system capacity we’re shooting for 😉

      1. I got it rigged so the flag pops up when it’s done! The big deal is to get a thick bed of coals and maintaining a high enough temperature for an hour or so. Start with smaller loaves. An oven thermometer sits in front of the standard bread pan, but should be used as a guild. Open the door to take a look. Trial and error is needed to get this right. There is no way to set it 350F and set the timer. It could be hotter in the beginning and cooler than 350F as it browns, but it will take longer to get done. The main thing is that dough does not stick to a stick when you use a stick to test it.

        Quick breads are cinch using this method. A large pot for water bath canning can also be used, and the rack that holds the jars can keep the bread pan off the bottom so it does not burn. Or a even a large pop corn can on it’s side with a rack of some kind can keep the bread pan off the bottom. I once had a collection of genuine wood cook stoves. Make sure if you get one to check the inside thoroughly for cracks and such.

        1. Tunnel Rabbit,

          I am late replying to you, but wanted to say thanks for your comments above about my inquiry regarding baking bread in a mailbox ….. absolutely love that you have the flag rigged to pop up!

          Quite a few years ago I worked a couple of summers at a Living History Farm Museum, which was demonstrating life in the homesteading era, and we cooked all day on a wood-burning stove. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of the stove, it was from the later 1800’s. I will try to go find my employee training manual and see if that stove name is there, and will come back and update if it is … I’m curious if you’ve heard of it since you’ve collected stoves and sound very experienced in them. My best memories of that time spent working there are of learning to cook on that stove, and learning to sew on a treadle sewing machine. The stove was designed to utilize both coal and wood, but since it was a museum setting and we were to be demonstrating how the occupants of the home would have actually lived, we only used wood as there would not have been coal available in the area in that time period. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of cooking on it …. Once the trick of keeping the fire going steady was learned, it wasn’t too difficult to cook on the top, just moving things between the hotter and cooler areas as needed. Baking took a little more time to master, but I got fairly good at judging the heat by simply putting my arm in briefly. I didn’t bake too many loaves of bread, but did bake rolls, usually a pie, and often some type of meat on a daily basis. The trick for me was remembering to rotate during baking, so that the side nearest the firebox didn’t get way darker than the other side. Since we were talking to our visitors while we worked, if it got fairly full with people in the kitchen it was easy to get distracted by conversation and not always get things rotated quite as quickly as they should have been.

          I really enjoy hearing about your wood stove cooking. If I close my eyes now, I can smell the coffee and bacon on the stovetop and the smell of rolls baking in the oven in that cheerful kitchen ….. thank you for reminding me of some great memories! 🙂 Blessings to you, Tunnel Rabbit.

  8. I always value Survivalblog.com articles that offer specificity, and yours did, too. Thank you.
    However, I think your recommendations for # cords of wood and payback time for the solar panels might be enhanced if you describe your eco-system, as these numbers will vary so greatly depending on the weather conditions of your readers’ locations. Flagstaff, AZ vs Seattle, WA, etc. Here is Southcentral AK, we cut and dry 9 cords of wood per year to heat our 750 sf cabin. That suggestion aside, I appreciated the information you included in your article. Nicely done. I hope you will write again.

  9. A number of factors go into heating with wood.
    1. Is your home insulated correct for the location you live in
    2. Do you have quality doors and windows
    3. Do you burn good quality firewood
    4. Where is your wood stove located in your home
    5. If it’s in the basement, are your basement walls insulated

    We have a 1200 s.f. home in south-central Pennsylvania and it takes 3 cords of wood for a cold winter. So some of your homes are not cost effectively secured for any type of heating. You need to tighten up.

  10. Wood is plentiful in south-central Alaska. We use 8 to 9 cords a year.
    Solar works in spring, summer, fall but winter not so well here.
    so we use the generator to charge the batteries for the normal use of the ac/dc electrical systems.
    If we need heavy use of the power tools just fire up the generator.

  11. Jim & Lily,
    The very first comment on this article is someone (DCB) calling the author “dumb”… and I read the article over and over again without seeing the reference about stacking wood next to the stove- the basis for the disparaging comment. I know y’all are tired like the rest of us, but I rarely see you miss such an opportunity when moderating this page. We are somewhat a family of like-minded folks on here and I usually see Ma and Pa bring out the switch if someone addresses another member that way. Heck, I have even had my hide tanned by Jim for a comment or three over the years.
    My point is: it does none of us any good to have someone calling an author “dumb”. We are better than that. Perhaps the comment writer would offer a well written article of their own? It isn’t easy!

  12. First, a big ‘thank you’ to all you who have commented. So many of you have offered up datails from your own situation that are very interesting and useful. This is important; since the article gives just one perspective—what has worked for us over the years. I’m honored that the article has prompted some to report in what has worked for you, too. It helps paint a fuller picture for those just starting out.
    I’ve waited until part two was published to respond because many of the genuine questions that relate to the article are answered within the body of the second part, such as our general ecosystem (one that grows aspen and pine), and the approximate nature of how much wood to store (more than you need, and we store enough for the next year as well).
    On rereading the very robust comments on solar, there are some outstanding details added that I really appreciate seeing and are confirmed by my experience as a former solar contractor. On going back to the article, I see that the issue of whether or not to use batteries was answered. The key for us was to purchase an inverter that provided an emergency circuit. To answer one of the other comments, that inverter will also make sure the emergency circuit is at the right voltage in a power out situation. There is no need to align the panels in the right way to provide a 120 volt household circuit.
    Overall, our choices have meant to be simple, easily maintained, with no ‘moving parts’- both literally and metaphorically, because we believe that is the strongest preparation for a teotwawki situation. Thank y’all for your interest and your additions. Good luck with your preps and be safe.

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