Offgrid Living Ireland  from Dogs & Coe

Make Use of the Sun While it Shines

That’s a Danish Proverb and very apt when discussing how we power our lifestyle.

Whilst I am writing this I am actually singing sunshiny songs like – The sun has got his hat on and even better – here comes the sun. Just cant help myself and I have no doubt I will be humming all afternoon thoroughly annoying Simon as I randomly hum one song after another. Well come on the sun just makes us happy, it represents fun and good times and love for those of us who are now thinking of Summer Days and Grease. For Simon and I though the sun is the power behind the house but I just cant think of a song that says that so I guess I will persevere with the songs I have and Simon will just have to stick his fingers in his ears.

In the energy race Solar is still not a firm favourite with the punters which astounds us really but I suppose that the progress from candle to electric light was so significant that for many the thought that they wouldn’t have electric at the touch of a switch 24/7 is a backwards move, after all surely solar power only works when the sun shines and probably leaves you without power on the cold rainy days of winter.

So lets bust that myth.

There is still a misconception that solar panels need heat to make energy when really what they need is light. They generate electricity from the photons in natural daylight. So it is true that if the sunlight is strong then more energy will be generated than on an overcast cloudy day but they do still work when the climatic conditions are less than optimum . This means that in the winter when the daylight is lessened the energy production is also lessened but not stopped.

All of which is good news for us as living in Ireland is not always a guarantee for sun every day or in fact any day, and can often see us go weeks with overcast skies and rainstorms. Despite the inclement weather we have been powering our life for the last 5 years with these amazing panels pointed skyward and we will continue to do so whilst we live in this beautiful place.

Learning to live with solar power is a radical change and might not be for everyone but if you are considering it you don’t have to run away to live in the forest as more and more households in towns and cities are seeing the potential benefits, but it is important you understand how it fits into your life and why you think the change is for you.

I asked Simon – why did we do it? I say “we ” in the broadest sense as I actually didn’t make the choice he did so its fair he answers the question and I nod in a wifey encouraging manner.

So here is what he said:-

I have always been a bit rebellious, anti-establishment and a bit of a let’s stick it to big business kind of guy. The prospect of not paying the big power companies was very liberating and freeing. I firmly believe that home micro energy is how energy should be focused going forward. It is an adventure and I am lucky to have a wife who is willing to go along with me for the ride.

Well that is why I married him for his sweet talking, forward thinking ideas. I admit at first I thought it was just a new hobby that would fall by the wayside with so many others but I was wrong and this one works so its a win win .

How did we start and what did we buy?

We started to buy equipment off Ebay whilst we lived in the UK, risky some might think but so much cheaper and good second hand equipment is often better value than a cheaper Chinese kit from a retailer. I didn’t understand what we were buying then but I did see a lot of research being done so I was sure he did know even if he didn’t at that point know how to use it.

Thanks goodness for the internet and all of those that have gone before us powering their cabins with panels and sharing their set ups with people like us, without them we would have struggled more than we have. Books were also a great help and there are a number of DIY solar energy books on the market. We picked the brain of every electrician we came across and surprisingly found we actually knew more than they did. That gave me courage you know – if those guys were amazed and in awe of Simons plans then it seemed we were on the right path and I could sleep better dreaming of the good life ahead, well lit and full of electrical gadgets, stupid woman Mrs Coe ignorance is bliss.

The Caravan Days

So I have said this before but in case you haven’t seen that post, we lived (Simon, me and 3 dogs) in a 27ft touring caravan for 18 months. We brought many items with us but today as we are talking about the solar thingy here is what we came with.

8 x 100W panels

4 heavy duty batteries (200AH each)

1 x 3KW inverter

We paid £1,100 for those from a guy in Wales who was upgrading his system They were in good condition and he had used them to power his 2 bed cottage.

6 x 280W panels

1 x 1600W inverter

Which we paid £600 for again second hand from Ebay, bought but never used so a bargain really.

Now I don’t know what I imagined living in the caravan would be like but I can say it was fun all snuggled up but it was also a rude awakening. I didn’t realise how long it would take to set up even one panel never mind 7. Nor did I know how different it would be learning to think before I switched something on or plugged something in (curling tongs had to go), like I said ignorance and all that.

Let there be light- Leisure Battery charging

We set up 1 panel to charge the caravans leisure battery and used that battery to power the lights. Great in the September, October but less so in the darker evenings and when the winter came and nights drew in around 5pm we would have to ration the 12 V lights to ensure we had enough to get through the night. It is really disconcerting to be plunged into darkness just when you least expect it. At that point madness ensues as toes and paws get stood on as you scramble to find torches. Yep the first couple of months were very hard. It rained constantly and by that I mean everyday , every hour of every day it was grim. You reach the bottom of your patience very quickly in those circumstances but going back was never an option as we had sold everything so our only choice was to be brave and stick it out.

5 months later we were in a better place with 7 panels up and the batteries and inverter connected. Hurrah I hear you shout – well done. Indeed, or so we thought, that March was very hot and we were missing an essential piece of kit. The Charge Controller, an nifty item designed to – yes you have it, control the charge through the batteries. Big mistake – batteries burnt out in the heat. Simon was furious with himself as although the batteries still worked and the system still gave us electric the batteries would no longer hold their charge so we went from having lights and fridge at all hours of the day to only having the fridge and water heater on when the sun came out otherwise we would drain the power too fast and be without any power.

Sunny Day? Get out the twin tub and do the washing

Well look we survived and in fact thrived. It’s like a very long marathon and even now the end is not in sight but we learn constantly and that is just how it is. Living off grid is hard and sometimes we jump in and get it wrong overloading the system, buying the wrong back up generator. Here is what I have learnt though it is fun despite everything. Don’t yearn for what you had. If you’ve made a decision to be entirely free of commercial grids then embrace the jobs at hand and do them the old fashioned way. Wash your dishes by hand, hang the washing out to dry even on cold days, find alternatives to inside running water and wash outside (apologies to my neighbour) and then let you hair just dry. It is freeing, like you’re a pioneer in a new land, a beautiful sense of freedom can be yours for the taking.

Now the caravan is obsolete do I still feel that way? You bet and next time I will talk you through the bigger house setup with pictures of our solar shed.

But in the meantime

Just Breathe

Steph