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Thought Leader Series: Ten great solar platforms for home integration from entry level to ‘get me off the grid!’

Engineer, Machinist, Maker, Writer. A graduate Electrical Engineer actively plying his expertise in the industry and at his company, Gunhead. When not designing/building, he creates a steady torrent of projects and content in the media world. Many of his projects and articles are online at element14 & SolidSmack, industry-focused work at EETimes & EDN, and offbeat articles at Make Magazine. Currently, you can find him hosting webinars and contributing to Penton’s Electronic Design and Machine Design.

Solar panels
There’s no denying it- countries are hungry for power and they are turning to renewable energy resources, with solar ranking high on the list. And why not, it’s a virtually inexhaustible supply of energy and with the latest advancements in photovoltaic cells, the power efficiency (currently at a base median of 24.2%) (source- https://www.pveducation.org/pvcdrom/appendices/solar-cell-efficiency-results2) has made them a viable alternative, not only for grid adaptation, but also for private homes as well.
In this slideshow, we’ll take a look at some of the more popular solar kits for homes that can be found on the market, including everything from entry-level, grid-tied platforms to those that allow for complete self-containment and removal from the electrical grid. It’s important to note that everyone’s energy requirements are different and not all homes are equal, so it’s best to use an energy calculator (https://www.wholesalesolar.com/solar-information/start-here/offgrid-calculator) to find your specific needs before investing in any kit.
Solar panels
While there are thousands of entry-level solar kits to choose from, one of the simpler ones comes from Grape Solar. Their 100-watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit is perfect for DC applications, such as powering mobile devices, pumps and LED lights. Surprisingly, it has an 18% conversion efficiency and allows users to connect an additional three panels when and if more power is needed. While the kit comes with one panel, a 35 Amp Xantrex charge controller and all cables and connectors, it doesn’t come with a 12-volt deep-cycle battery that’s needed for it to function but for $311 it’s not a bad deal. (source- https://www.homedepot.com/p/Grape-Solar-100-Watt-Off-Grid-Solar-Panel-Kit-GS-100-KIT/203505908)
Solar panels
A step above the Grape Solar kit, in terms of contents and wattage, comes from Windy Nation with their 200-watt Solar Panel Kit, which contains a pair of polycrystalline, 100-watt panels that provide 800-watt/67-amp hours of charge per-day with a 13 to 16% conversion efficiency depending on conditions. What’s more, the kit comes with a 1500 Watt VertaMax Inverter, two Deep Cycle 12 Volt BattaMax batteries (provide 160-amp hours total) and all cables and hardware needed to mount the kit. $879 will get you the complete kit, however it can be had for $390 cheaper sans the batteries. (source- https://www.amazon.com/WindyNation-VertaMax-Inverter-Off-Grid-Battery/dp/B00HK2S3NC?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00HK2S3NC&linkCode=as2&linkId=PIXZM6MKMXNR7TOP%20&redirect=true&ref_=as_li_tl&tag=solburblo-20)
Solar panels
While it doesn’t come with any deep-cycle batteries for storage, Renogy Solar’s 400-watt Solar Starter Kit is a great entry platform that’s simple to setup and integrate into homes or even RVs. The kit features four monocrystalline, 100-watt panels that reportedly have a peak conversion efficiency of 22% (source-https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA29R1M70204), which is incredible for a panel of this type. As far as wattage goes, the panels can churn-out 2000Wh per day and can fully charge a 200Ah battery from 50% in 3 hours in nominal conditions. The kit is pretty sparse with the extras but it does come with the company’s 30A PWM Wanderer Charge Controller, which features self-diagnostics and electronic protection functions that helps guard against faulty installations and even system faults. You’re paying strictly for efficiency with this kit but at a cost of only $679, it’s well worth the price. (source- https://www.amazon.com/Renogy-Monocrystalline-Solar-Starter-Wanderer/dp/B00BSZUHRC/ref=sr_1_7?s=lawn-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1466722650&sr=1-7&keywords=Solar+Panel+Kit&refinements=p_72%3A2661618011)
Solar panels
Another ‘no-frills’ kit comes from Eco-Worthy with their 600-watt, Off Grid Battery Charging Kit. It doesn’t come with an inverter or deep-cycle batteries found in some lower-wattage kits but its efficiency more than makes up for it. In this case, the monocrystalline panels have a conversion efficiency rating of 17% (source- https://www.eco-worthy.com/catalog/worthy-160w-monocrystalline-solar-panel-p-352.html), which is above the current standard of 11 to 15% (http:/pureenergies.com/us/how-solar-works/solar-panel-efficiency/). Couple the efficiency, along with the panel’s nominal output of 18 volts and 8.89 amps, and it’s easy to see why these are popular planks. Still for $920, you would expect a little more than mounting hardware, waterproof junction box and connection cables. (source- https://www.amazon.com/ECO-WORTHY-Monocrystalline-Battery-Charging-Solar/dp/B00WSLY212/ref=sr_1_2?s=lawn-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1466724728&sr=1-2&keywords=600+watt+Solar+Panel+Kit&refinements=p_72%3A2661618011)
Solar panels
It’s hard to imagine that a 1250-watt kit is still considered ‘entry-level’ and while that may be the notion, Grape Solar’s 1250-watt Expandable Solar Kit is no less exceptional. This kit features the company’s exceptional GS-S-250-Fab5 Mono-Si modules, which have a conversion efficiency of approximately 18% and are capable of providing 75 kWh and 175 kWh of electricity per month depending on the conditions. Along with the panels, the kit comes with four Enphase micro inverters, junction cables and a roof-mounting platform that can take wind speeds of up to 85mph. The kit will set you back $3,899 but depending on your price to kWh, is well worth it. (source- https://www.costco.com/Grape-Solar-1250-Watt-Expandable-Solar-Kit.product.11755521.html)
Solar panels
Renogy serves up some great kits for off-grid living and their Monocrystalline Solar Cabin Kit is one of them. While the kit doesn’t provide any deep-cycle batteries for storage, it does provide eight 250-watt 24-volt panels with a conversion efficiency of about 15.4% with an optimum operating voltage of 30.10V along with 8.32A. The kit also includes a MidNite Classic charge controller that allows for additional expansion and remote monitoring, MidNite Solar MNPV6-250 combiner box, 2 X circuit breakers, quad enclosure and cabling to wire everything together. The kit tops out at $3,300 and doesn’t come with any deep-cycle batteries, which would almost double the price, depending on the amount needed. (source- https://www.renogy.com/renogy-2000-watt-24-volt-monocrystalline-solar-cabin-kit/)

Some kits are customized by parts from different suppliers, usually those parts are from respectable companies known for their quality, which is what Plugged Solar has done with their 5kW Grid-Tied System. The platform is user preferenced, meaning customers have a choice between components, such as 250-watt panels from Canadian Solar, JA-Solar or S-Energy, a 5kW solar grid-tie inverter from SMA Sunnyboy or Solectra and a roof/ground mounting platform from either Unirac or Solar Mount. The $9,999 system also includes all plugs and cabling needed to tie the 220/240v system to the grid and provides 7,500-kilowatt hours of AC current annually. (source- https://www.pluggedsolar.com/collections/plug-in-solar-grid-tie-kits/products/5kw-5000-watts-grid-tied-solar-power-system-get-30-federal-tax-credit)
Solar panels
In the larger kit category – beyond cabin-grade – comes Wholesale Solar’s Lodge Off-Grid Solar System, which provides 6.84kW of juice. Considering the system generates around 927kHw a month and the average family consumes about 911kW, the $19,000 price tag seems justified (source- https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3). The kit comes with a whopping 24 SolarWorld SW285 Plus Silver Mono panels that have a conversion efficiency of 17% and an open-circuit voltage of 39.7v and 9.20a respectively. It also comes with a Four Star Solar MS4448PAE Dual Magnum inverter with 2 X MidNite Classic 150’s to control the show. Rounding out the package are 24 IronRidge XR100 D racks for mounting, FourStar connection cables and a MidNite surge suppressor, cable box and breakers. (source- https://www.wholesalesolar.com/1891305/wholesale-solar/complete-systems/the-lodge-6.84-kw-24-panel-solarworld-off-grid-solar-system)
Solar panels
Another exceptional kit from Wholesale Solar is a grid-tie system with battery backup – great for those who don’t want to completely go off-grid. The 8.55kW Grid-Tied Battery Backup Solar System comes with no less than 30 Suniva OPT285-60-4-100Silver Mono panels that feature a conversion efficiency of 16.73% and generate 31.9vDC and 8.93A respectively. The kit’s battery backup comes from Four Star Solar with their Outback Radian 8048A that’s equipped with a pair of MidNite Classic 150’s and packed with a Crown AGM 390Ah 48vDC battery bank. For $24,368, it’s nice that they also include the same mounting hardware and cabling from the Lodge platform. (source- https://www.wholesalesolar.com/1892730/wholesale-solar/complete-systems/8.55-kw-grid-tied-battery-backup-solar-system-with-outback-radian-and-30x-suniva-285-panels)
Solar panels
The last entry in this slideshow comes from Blue Pacific Solar with their Outback 10.1kW Off-Grid kit, which comes with an astounding 39 Trina 260W TSM-260PD05 polycrystalline panels that feature a 15.9 conversion efficiency along with 30.6vDC and 8.50A. This kit doubles up on the battery banks with a pair of Four Star Solar Outback Radian inverter/chargers, however users need to supply their own batteries, which is the only negative for this $25,752 system. The price also includes a pair of Outback prewired GS load centers, 3 X Outback charge controllers (80A, 150VDC, 48VDC, FM80), an Outback Mate 3 remote monitor/controller and all the hardware and cabling needed to get the platform up and running. (source- https://www.bluepacificsolar.com/off-grid/outback-10140W-off-grid-kit-radian-8048a.html)

Written by Del Thebaud

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