That power failure taught me a valuable lesson. When the grid fails, you use the systems you have, not the ones you wish you had. And although that may sound obvious, you’ll understand the significance of that statement once you’ve experienced it for yourself. You’ll find yourself wishing you had installed eight PV panels instead of four, and you’ll wish you had a bigger battery bank. As you make do with what you have, you’ll vow to make the needed upgrades before the next emergency.
My PV system was too small to supply the electrical needs of the stove and the chest freezer last winter, so I purchased a small gasoline-powered generator. I was fortunate in that the electrical outage was spotty, and I only had to drive one mile to find a source of gasoline. With winter approaching once again, this is a good time to assess preparedness.
When last-year’s power failure occurred, I had 2 PV panels (170-watts of PV), while now I have four panels (340-watts of PV). I still have the same amount of batteries, a total of 420ah. In practical terms this means that I can charge my batteries faster, but I have no more storage capacity than I did last winter. Based on my previous experience, I should be able to run the stove for at least 8 hours, but I may be able to fully charge the batteries with only one day of sunshine. Previously, it has taken two days. This means, of course, that I could have as much as eight hours of heat per night, every night, as long as the sun shines during the day. That’s great progress, but I obviously need to do much more.
I’ve recently replaced my 20-amp charge controller with a 60-amp one, paving the way for additional solar panels. I’m very pleased with my 1100-watt sine wave inverter, so no upgrades are needed in that area. My goal before the end of the year is to add at least one more panel, and another 210ah of battery capacity. In addition to the electrical demands of the corn stove, being able to run the chest freezer means that I can keep food from spoiling. Additionally, I’ll need lights, the ability to charge a cell-phone, and the limited use of other household appliances.
Because my system will remain small in the short term, I need to incorporate other strategies in the event of an extended power failure occurring in the winter. Closing off unused rooms is one way I can cut back on heating. I can use an electric blanket, and therefore tolerate cooler indoor temperatures as I sleep. Instead of running a refrigerator, I'll place perishables in an ice-chest, and use an energy-efficient chest freezer. While these inconveniences are annoying, at least I can remain relatively comfortable in my home. Some of my neighbors had to abandon their homes during last-years power outage. With each system upgrade, living through an extended power failure becomes less of an annoyance.