#28 – Designing An Amazing Solar Power System That Fits Into Your Life

Published by: The Ready Life

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What We Covered

It’s the thing that almost no one does but everybody should–design your solar power system before buying anything. Why? And what could happen if you don’t? Tune into this week’s episode to find out.

We share experiences from homes that incorrectly sized their systems, and the challenges they faced as a result. The point is to make your power system fit your lifestyle, rather than the other way around. Messing this up could result in your off grid power system failing miserably or in you spending WAY too much money on it.

We also mention an upcoming webinar and share details on how you can register for it. In the webinar, we’ll discuss why we think 2024 is the crucial year for becoming as independent as possible and our 6-step process for making sure 2024 becomes your year to declare independence.


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Transcript

Hi, I’m Lisa Meisner. And I’m Nick her husband. Welcome back to the Ready Life Podcast, where we show you how to make your home and family as independent as possible for basic necessities like water, heats food, and the power that most of us depend on for these things. That’s right. Before we get started, I just wanna mention an exciting webinar that we have coming up next week.


It’s called 2024, the Last Best Year to Get Ready and Six Steps to Make It Happen. And it’s gonna be all about why we believe it’s super important that we start putting into practice all these things that we’ve been talking about and make 2024 your year to become as independent as possible. We’re gonna dive into that in the webinar, give you six steps to make this happen for you in 2024. So be sure and click on the link in the description and it’ll take you to the registration page where you can register for this free webinar and we’ll look forward to seeing you there. You don’t wanna miss it. That’s right.

You know, I was thinking recently as relating to our topic today of designing a solar power system, I was thinking about a couple of stories that I’ve encountered, had a lot of stories, interesting stories to do with over the years with solar systems over the years, but just a, a couple of them. One was a fellow named Joe and he was having some issues with his system and they were having to, to hook up to the power grid every day or two to charge their batteries up. And he was like, this is not the way it should be. And I told him, well, you’re exactly right, it should not be like that. And so we started digging in and trying to figure out what happened and, and here’s basically the, the long and the short of it.

They wanted energy independence, but they were new to solar and so they called up a retailer that they trusted and the retailer, supposedly designed a system for them based on very limited details. And once the system was installed, they found that it just was not working as expected. Like I said, they were having to hook up to the, the grid every day or grid to charge their batteries up and they had a solar system and all of this. And so I helped them do a real system design based upon real numbers.


And it turns out that they were using a ton of unnecessary power and their solar system was way under size. So they had two things going on. They were using a lot more power than they realized and they, their power system just was simply not large enough to produce the amount of power that they needed. And so I was able to help them trim some of that power usage without compromising their lifestyle.


There’s often a lot of things that you can do to cut that power usage down without impacting your lifestyle. And they were able to do that and they also did a little enlargement of their system and to get it to where it needed to be to do its job. So it was sized to actually meet their lifestyle instead of who knows what the retailer did.


Right. Which is what so often happens. And an another family that I worked with, they actually bought a somebody else’s system. It was a barely used system, it had been used as a backup system, so it had hardly been used. And they just bought this system, the whole, the whole thing and put it into their off grid home.
They had just moved, just bought this property and it was off the grid and they needed a power system for it. So they thought, well, if it worked for these folks, it should work for us. And then when I connected with them, they were having to run their generator like every day, something like that. Wow. And I was like,
this is not the way it should be working power system. When a system is properly designed and operating properly, this should not be. And so anyhow, we, they, I checked it out and didn’t notice any obvious issues with the components and stuff like that. And so started discussing their power usage and it became evident to me that they were using far more power than their system was capable of producing due to a number of factors.


The size of the solar array, the amount of shade on the solar panels and, and also the amount of power being used just coming from all sorts of angles, not enough power coming in and too much going out. And just when I walked them through, you know, getting a meter and and checking the power usage of their appliances, just the refrigerator alone was using two and a half kilowatt hours a day. Which is roughly three times what our refrigerator uses. And we use two and a half kilowatt hours per day for our whole homestead. We might be using a little more than that every day, but I remember not that long ago, that was what we used an entire for everything day for everything. You’re right. Our power usage has creeped up a,
well, it creeps up over the years it seems like. Yeah. We have a growing family, what can I say? They’ve gotten old enough where they know how to turn lights on and all that. Right. Good stuff. More like plugging in electronics and appliances. Right. But you know, these stories, they just illustrate why it’s essential to properly design your off-grid power system.


There’s just so many variables and you’re totally shooting in the dark without a system design. And chances are that you’re gonna end up with a system that’s either too small and doesn’t work. Right. Or on the other hand, a system that is way oversized and fabulously expensive. Yeah. And then you call us and say, this system costs $60,000 and I can’t afford it.


And it’s like, no, you can’t. I can’t afford a system like that either. Right, Right. So here’s a question. Most retailers offer to do a free system design for you, so why not just do that? Well, as you’ve already mentioned in the story of Joe and his family, like that’s exactly what they did. And they ended up with a system that was very poorly sized to meet their lifestyle and their needs.


So the retailers, you know, they’re obviously, they’re trying to sell you equipment first off, and second of all they, I mean, they’re not gonna wanna go through all of the rigmarole that it takes to really get a properly sized system. I think that’s the biggest issue. You know, I’m, I know that there are some unethical retailers out there, but I think, you know, as long the ones that I’ve had interaction with, I haven’t gotten the idea that they’re trying to take advantage of people. I think it’s more a matter of time and yeah. The amount of of margin that they have. And it does it, it’s not hard to do a real, a thorough system design. It just takes a little time and a little education.


You, when you’re working with a customer, you, it’s not just a quick shake and bake thing. It doing a proper system design involves a certain amount of education teaching them about power usage and you know, some options that they have. And so one thing that you’ll find is with some of them, they’ll wanna do packages where they have these pre-designed systems and you, they’ve got package A, B, C or D and take your pick and they’ll have a little description of, you know, this one is for this kind of a household that does this sort of thing and, and a, a brief description for each one. And you’re supposed to pick out the one that you think is right for you. It matches your lifestyle.


The closest. Yeah. Yeah. Now maybe I’m just too much of a numbers guy, I don’t know, but that’s just not very scientific. I mean, just reading somebody’s one or two sentence description of a particular lifestyle and saying, yeah, that sounds like me. Just once again, going back to the refrigerator example, you know, the description could say that this is for a house that has this and this and this and a refrigerator.
Well which refrigerator is it? That’s true. Is it the one that uses two and a half kilowatt hours a day? Or the one that uses three quarters of a kilowatt hour per day? You know which one? Yeah. So you that just, it doesn’t cut it, it, and it’s shot in the dark. You’re playing Russian roulette really. If you go the package route of which package are you, basically what you’re doing is you’re gonna have to adjust your lifestyle to meet your package. And I just don’t buy that.

I think that you ought to design your system to meet your lifestyle unless your budget doesn’t allow. And then if your budget doesn’t allow, then you do the best you can with the budget you have. And yes, at that point in time you are gonna have to adjust your lifestyle, but at least it’s for a good reason because you just didn’t have enough money, you know? Yes, yes. For Sure. So that’s one, one of the issues that you run into with, with retailers. And then another thing that we run into a lot with, with them is the quick and easy thing. The thing that seems like it’s just the, the obvious no brainer is when you’re designing a system, just look at your power bill. In theory that should work, shouldn’t it? Unless you’ve got a two and a half kilowatt hours sucking refrigerator. And then Well Even that, even that, you know, I could deal with. But the biggest concerns that I have about using your power bill are It’s the Big four.


The big four. And if you’ve listened to podcasts before, you’ve heard us talk about the big four, we’re talking about what are they? Okay, let me see if I can remember them. Okay, go for it. So the big four is going to be the electric water heater, the oven range, the dryer, and now I’m drawing a blank.
Oh, no, no, no. The hvac The HVAC system. Yeah. The heating goes, Okay, you got it. But we’re talking electric for each of these. So what we’re not talking about that you have to do without these four, we’re just talking about the electric version of the four of these. Yeah. Because they consume a massive amount of power.


Yes. Like obscene amount of power. And it would co be cost prohibitive to build an off-grid system big enough to support these big four items. And so what we do is we use alternatives for these instead of the electric version. If you wanted the most convenient alternative, then that would be gas for really each of these other, most of them, other than for heat, I say go with wood heat, ah, which is so nice. Or a pellet stove maybe if you wanted to, or a fuel oil stove. Something that uses little to no power. But that’s, that’s what the big four are that we’re talking about. And if you have even one of those big four items in your house that’s being used, that is going to dramatically throw your power bill off and it’s going to quite dramatically increase the size of your system and the cost of your system.


So that’s really the biggest reason that I’m not a big fan of using your power bill. If you have already implemented the, the principles of efficiency into your home, then in theory, yes, you should be able to use your power bill. Use power bill. Yeah. It’s just that in practice it doesn’t usually work. So we talked about power bill, about package systems and then the other issue with retailers, having retailers do a system design for you is the local factors. There are certain local factors that really need to be taken into account in the design of your system. And it’s just not feasible for most of these off-grid retailers to take these local factors into account. The biggest one I could think of is shade.
Yeah. You know, they’re, they’re not gonna be able to, unless they’re somebody local. And even if they are local, I doubt that most of them would do this, but they’re not gonna be able to drive out to your property and actually do a shade analysis to see. And that can make a huge difference where you place your solar panels,
how close the trees are, if you have a mountain to the south, all these kinds of things can dramatically impact the production of solar power that you make. And if that’s not taken into account, you are totally shooting in the dark. And so if if you’re not going to do the shade analysis and, and take other local factors into account, then yeah,
it’s, it’s really gonna be a big unknown. So what actually goes into a real solar power system design? Yeah. So what we’re, what we’re looking at the, the building block for the whole thing is your average daily power usage, this is kind of the foundation stone for all of it. And so not the square footage of your house, not your power bill.
Well it Could, it Could potentially be your power bill. That’s true. If you live exactly now the way that you plan to live off the grid, but however you wanna arrive at that amount, it’s the average amount of power that you use every day. And I say average because you know, some days might be a little more than others, some days might be a little less.
So we’re looking for an average, I like to average over a week because sometimes some activities might be a weekly thing for some people, especially if they don’t have kids, might do laundry once a week, once or twice a week, you know? Yes. And so laundry day is a day that you’re often gonna use more power than other days. And so it,
it kinda gives you a better picture if you’re averaging it out. So that’s one of the most important things that you can do is your average daily power usage. We use things like a kill a watt meter that you can plug appliances into. And I use a spreadsheet that I like spreadsheets and My numbers man makes Life easier. You know, it does the math for you and all of that.
And so you can plug your numbers into that. And another factor that is also important along with the average daily power usage is the location specific data that we were talking about earlier. I mentioned shade. That’s a huge factor here. But there’s other factors as well, such as the climate. Yeah. You know, the, the solar climate you might say,
because some areas are really cloudy and other areas are really sunny. We Like living in Seattle versus Arizona. Right, Exactly. And not only is it the amount of cloudiness, but it’s also has to do with your latitude because the further north you are, the shorter your days get in the summer and the lower in the horizon that the sun is, even when it’s the middle of the day.
And so even if you had perfectly sunny weather all winter long, it just being in a northern latitude would, would significantly impact your ability to produce power or the amount of power that you produce. Yeah. Our days are so short. Yeah. So you gotta take that into account and like we mentioned the cloudy weather and stuff like that, even temperature has an impact.
Did you know that solar panels are actually more efficient and produce more power the colder it is outside. Wow, that’s so interesting. You would think the opposite. I know a solar panel, it’s the sun. You would think it would operate more efficiently when it’s warm outside and the sun is shining on the panels. Right. But not the case. Yeah.
But so there’s factors like this that need to be taken into account. And then another factor is how much, what’s the maximum amount of power that you would ever use simultaneously at one time? Yes. And the, what that is impacting is the size of inverter that you need because it just means I could potentially be running this, this, this and this at the same time.
So I need an inverter that’s large enough to be able to handle all of those loads at the same time. Yeah. And you know, with all of this, we’re just doing the best we can to estimate it’s, this is not gonna be precise, but we’re gonna get it as close as we can. And I think that if you do a good job,
I’ve found that it’s plenty close enough. You just do the best you can be as scientific as you can. And so for us, that would be like laundry day, wouldn’t it? That’s when we’re Using the most power. ’cause we’re using the washing machine. The washing machine is turning on the water pump, the dryer’s running, I usually use, those are often days when I’m cleaning the house up.
So I’m running a vacuum potentially. Of course we have kids, they’ve got CD players playing in lights and fans and whatnot else. So all of that power being used all at one time would, we would want to factor up that. So we would make sure to size the inverter large enough so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Right. So I know we’re,
we’ve talked about a number of factors and it might sound a little bit complex at first, but it’s actually not that complicated. As long as you have a step-by-step guide to walk you through it and it’s, it is not that bad and It’s, yeah, it, sorry, it does seem really complicated and and technical. But I’m here to say that I’ve actually designed a number of solar power systems by myself.
Well, okay. I might’ve asked him a question or two, but the, the fact is, is that even someone who’s not as technical as myself, not as numbers savvy, when you have the right tools and the right guide, then you can do it very easily. Even a little housewife like myself. Right. And, and here’s the thing,
it can be really helpful to do this ahead of time even Yes. Before you’re actually ready to shell out the money and buy your solar system just so that you know what to expect. Yes. And it can also inform your decisions about appliances when, when your refrigerator or your washing machine breaks down and you decide maybe you need to get a new one,
it can help to inform these kind of decisions. And then one of the things that I really enjoy doing is, is playing with the numbers to, to see, okay, this was a little more than I was planning on spending. This was more than I’m hoping to spend. So what would happen if I got rid of this? Remove Two of the three freezers that we have.
Yeah. Or whatever. Or If I, you know, so maybe I’ve got this massive refrigerator that’s using two and a half kilowatt hours. What if I sold that and bought a new fridge? And yes, I’m gonna have to shell out some extra money for the new fridge because that one that I sold was several years old and I didn’t get much money out of it,
so I’m gonna have to put some extra money into it. Let’s see if it’s worth it. So you plug those numbers in and see, oh, so this means I would save this much on my batteries and on my solar. Wow, this would really be worth it. Or maybe you find that, no, it’s not worth it. So these are the kind of games that you can play and it’s,
it’s kind of cool ’cause you go ahead, it’s fun. Do that ahead of time before you’re under a crunch where you gotta do it right now. And it’s something that you can be working on even now. So I encourage everybody to do it. And this is one of the many things that you’re gonna get in the Ready Life Academy, which we are super,
super excited about. It’s launching for the first time ever next week. And one of our first accelerators, we’re calling them accelerators. And because We wanna accelerate you to your dreams and your goals and we wanna walk with you side by side to, to see that become a reality for You. Right. And so one of the first, one of the first accelerators in early 2024 is going to be walking you through designing your very own solar power system.
And we’ll all go through it together. Whoever wants to will be, will be walking through the steps with you and it’s, you know, a scheduled process where we’ve got a little bit of work each week, very manageable even for busy people, but a little bit of work. And we walk through the steps and it’s just a step-by-step process. And by the end you’ll have your very own custom designed solar power system.
And then, you know, when you call to purchase your equipment from a retailer, you’ll already know what size of solar and batteries that you’re gonna need based upon your unique circumstances. And you know, even once you cut your system costs, if you’re like us, you may just not have the money for it sitting around. ’cause it, it is a bit of an investment into a solar system.
I think when we rebuilt ours, I think we had somewhere in the neighborhood of about 15,000 into it. We’ve done another podcast on the cost of solar systems and all of that. But we didn’t just have, we don’t sometimes in our lives, you know, we don’t just have 15,000 sitting around, certainly not allocated to a power system. And so if that’s the situation,
you find yourself in some of these things that you’d like to do, such as solar power or maybe putting a hand bump on your well or this or that. They cost money. And if you don’t have that money just sitting around all the time, another thing that we’re gonna go through in the Ready Life Academy is how to be planning in advance for these things and coming up with extra money and making it happen.
We’re gonna share with you the way that we did it. How when the time in our life when we were making the least amount of money that I think we’d ever made in our married life was the time when we were able to save up for, and we we rebuild our solar system. Yeah. We did a power system and we paid off our property during that time.
At least part of that time. Most of, of, yeah. We were, I think there were a couple of years after when, when I got a remote employment for that spell of time. That’s true. That’s true. That was the last couple of years. But most of those years we were paying off our house too early. And so we’re gonna share with you just our experience of how we were able to do that.
And we hope that it’s really encouraging to you because we’ve had to do this on a really tight budget. You know, I I think we shared with you, wasn’t it in the last episode where we shared about our rice and beans experience. Yes, that’s right. That’s right. And so we’ve been there, we, we know what it’s like and we’re going to try and help you through this each step of the way.
And I really think that that’s the key is step by step. My dad had a little saying inch by inch, anything’s a cinch. And that’s so true. Yes. Yep. Well, we’re really excited. We can hardly wait. Keep your ear to the track. We’re almost to the finish line and we’ll be telling you more about the Ready Life Academy very,
very soon. That’s right. And we wanna tell you about a webinar that we’ve got coming up next week and it’s called 2024, the Last Best Year to Get Ready. And it’s gonna cover the six steps to make it happen. I, I don’t know if, if you’ve had a similar experience, but we’ve been hearing from lots of folks and, and even to a certain extent,
ourselves included, feel like another year has slipped by and there was so much that we wanted to get done Yeah. To be, be more prepared and we don’t wanna let another year slip by. Yep. And things are, I, I don’t know if you’ve been keeping track of what’s going on. I know we’ve all seen a lot of things happen over the years and so I I’m not trying to say like this is anything that’s completely new,
but there’s just a number of factors that have really led us to the conclusion that 2024 really has to be the year that we all make this happen. Yeah. That we, that we go forward. It’s Time, The time has come. Yep. It’s time to, to stop just learning. You know, we’ve all done a lot of talking and a lot of learning over the years.
We’ve, we’ve talked with a lot of you and we’ve, we’ve, it’s been awesome. We’ve enjoyed it thoroughly and we’re big advocates of learning ahead of time and getting all the knowledge that you can, but there comes a point in time at which you have to start doing and the rubber’s meeting the road, the time has come and we need to do everything we can within our power.
I realize that we all have limitations and so the the point is to do the best you can with what you’ve got and that’s what we’re gonna be looking at in this webinar next week. And so just click on the link in the description here and it will take you to the signup page where you can register for this free webinar where we’re gonna be talking about 2024 and what you can do to make 2024 your year to become as independent as possible.
That’s right. That’s right. Well I am so excited and we’ll be introducing the Ready Life Academy also and telling you more about it so you don’t wanna miss that. Please sign up. That’s right. Got a lot going on next week, so we’ll look forward to seeing you then and hope you have a good rest of your week. Bye.

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