Cascade Mountains, DIY Small Solar

Why we considered Solar for our off grid place in the Central Cascades.







In the back ground is the power house, to the right, the Listerpowered pump house.


 It was a good many years ago I met with a representative from the power company to determine the cost of bringing in power. Our property is deep, and we learned that it would cost a small fortune to run the power to our desired  point of use.  A transformer, a lot of buried wire, labor charges, and more.. or we could build right up front within 160 feet of a dusty gravel road.  Fact is, I didn’t like any of the options they offered.

The Experience got me to thinking, Just how reliable is Solar, and what kind of investment would we need to cover our requirements? We are on the Eastern side of the Mountains, solar here is far more viable than the Puget Sound Basin, where it mostly sucks no matter what others will tell you..

After a lot of research, I decided the very best thing to do is go with a proven inverter, the Outback stuff is what I chose, and I couldn’t be happier to have made that choice.  I bought five 130 watt panels Mono Crystalline , and I decided to put up only four and to use the Outback MX60.

Full rated power prom the panels

Full rated power prom the panels

This weekend was not so warm, and it was not so sunny, but I did see 527 watts at the MPPT, and by the time I got the camera out, I recorded 520 watts, … 130 watt panels times 4.

The reason I share this with you is the system has not degraded a bit since installed. The system is simple, fixed panels, and pole mounted to assure that they stay out of the snow, and look less attractive to thieves.  I have neighbors now, and their family room window looks towards the power house, so I worry less now.     

 To shorten up on the story, I think we ended up with the perfect power plant, during the summer when we do most of our construction work, I can run table saws, chop saws, air compressor, and just about anything. The small fridge, our small lighting needs, the small microwave…..we don’t really challenge the system, and the battery plant barely gets discharged.

In the morning, we make coffee in an electric coffee maker, it uses thermos to keep it warm after brewing, so no juice to keep it warm. After Coffee, the sun is up a bit, and barely spilling onto the panels, it’s only minutes, and the green light on the inverter is on, and not all that long and we back in float.

the batteries are Rolls Surrettes, I think they’re S130, four large six volt batteries, and they use a little over a gallon of distilled water in a year..

There’s two generators on the property, the 6/1 ST5 at the Pumphouse (far right) has a buried drop that allows power to be transferred to the cabin or Powerhouse, so we can charge batteries from there as a back up.  The power house has a 6/1 PMG that can charge batteries, and run the cabin and general purpose shed right next to the cabin.

fact is.. we have little need to use the generators for battery charing service because te batteries spend most of their time in float!

The pumphouse Lister 6/1 Generator is valuable because we do use it for irrigation, and when it’s really hot, running two or three sprinklers around the cabin make it heavenly.












DIY Outback Install, instead fo using all the expensive stuff, I use home depot breaker boxes, and do note the one on the far left with the home made interlock…. this assures that the generator and the inverter outputs never meet, and it’s cheap to make.

I’m sure the battery bank will last for years and years with the shallow discharges, and our occasional use. I think about all those minimum power bills I would have paid over the years,  and that major chunk for the transformer.  No need to calculate rebates, subsidies, or other Government BS, this system has already paid for itself!

So what do people do in the mountains? Ski, Hike, Snowmobile, you name it..

Here’s what Drew McNabb is doing this week! Flying with Drew… well, that’d be a lot smarter than flying with me..






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4 Responses to Cascade Mountains, DIY Small Solar

  1. Bill Knighton says:

    Do you use an electric range? This probably sounds like an ad but its been huge for my offgrid living And might be useful. I’ve been using a fagor two burner inductive countertop unit and it runs excellent on an fx inverter. They call it a buffet warmer. I don’t know why. The inductive heating is extremely fast, so good for anytime regardless of sun. One of its best properties is that it balances power between burners so it can use only a 15 amp outlet. each burner has a setting of 1 to 6. The power settings added up from both burners will not go above 6. If you add to one burner and the total is already at 6 it will subtract from the other. Ideal for limited power. You can boil a large pot of water and fry eggs on the other without problems. For a long time I considered electric ranges to be beyond reasonable off grid capabilities and messed with butterfly stoves and propane cooktops, but I was wrong. I’ve been using this for a couple of years and it is without fault. If you keep an eye out these are available for far less than their normal price of $300. I found one on amazon, an opened box, for $115.

    • George B. says:

      Bill, you make an excellent post here. Many of us start with a mind set that certain things are beyond reasonable for small solar systems. I am amazed at what I can do here, and what I can run. In the cabin, we have an electric stove top, We don’t use it. This set up you mention might be about right.

      The Outback FX.. What a Gem..

  2. Bill Knighton says:

    I just got a second vfx3524. I have been getting tons of chunky cnc aluminum parts jobs from someone. So many that I’m working long into the nights. For long night time work I have one of the vfxs acting as a very nice battery charger for the lister while the other inverts. I was even able to turn the lister’s rpms down a tiny bit. It seems more relaxed and I much prefer the inverted power in the house and shop. The well pump plus cnc mill plus compressor plus house and shop lights and whatever else my wife is using running all at once don’t cause anything to reset, for example. I know there are battery chargers out there but I have seen none with the capabilities of the fx, even though that is its secondary purpose.

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