The image above is from install day, the cables have since been tidied up!
This story comes to us from Craig, who's cabin you may recognise from the Weekend Warrior Kit video. Craig, along with Zed and Ethan, is a founder of GridFree, and this was actually the very first Weekend Warrior Kit.
"Before I started this project, I had no idea solar could be so easy, and so effective, but it turns out you can generate a lot of electricity for very little money.
I have a lifestyle block near Dargaville and when I asked Northpower if they could connect me to the grid they came back with a quote of somewhere between $45 & $90K. There was no way to justify this cost when I only planned on being here during weekends and holidays, so I decided to try going off-grid instead! This patch of land is one great big hundred acre project, and I’m always finding something to mess around with, be it planting trees, fixing cars, or setting up a solar system!
Ethan helped me design the Weekend Warrior solar kit, with two extra batteries, in November. I have a small cabin for my wife and I to sleep in, and two small caravans for my adult children to stay in when they visit, so two panels would easily generate enough power to handle some lights and phone chargers. I was also planning to host my kids, their partners, and a few other family members over Christmas and New Years, so I needed to make sure the system could support them all too! The count was 7 phones, 3 laptops, several tablets, 2 small fridges, lights, batteries for my power tools, and a toaster. Being up north over summer meant I wouldn’t have to worry about getting the sunshine, so I went with the two extra batteries to make sure I would be storing as much energy as I could.
Setting up the solar kit turned out to be pretty easy! First off, I mounted the two solar panels on the roof with the solar panel mount kit on top on my cabin - a few holes drilled and it all slid together. I strongly recommend getting this done early in the morning - those corrugated iron roofs get HOT! I then ran the cables into the cabin and got to work setting up my control panel. I decided to attach my circuit breakers, charge controller, and inverter to a plywood offcut I had hanging around, so I could easily mount the whole setup to an interior wall in one go. I gave my kids the job of bolting together a rack for the batteries while I did so. I then lugged in the four batteries and slid them onto the rack - those batteries are pretty heavy, so they won’t be moving again any time soon.
From here it was a simple task of connecting all the cables up. Solar panels go to circuit breaker, circuit breaker goes to the charge controller which goes back through another circuit breaker, down into the batteries, then up to the inverter! Done.
With the electricity flowing, I decided to test the fridge. How else to break in the new fridge but with a box of beers.
I spent the rest of my weekends in November and December getting all the other creature comforts set up: a long drop toilet housed in a flat pack shed building, water tanks to collect rainwater, and a shower using a portable LPG hot water heater and a solar-charged car battery. Before I started, I had already built a sheltered area for cooking with two portable gas cookers, brought up an outdoor barbeque, and set up a massive shade-sail to protect my sunburn-prone family!
The Stress Test
When Christmas came around, I arrived a few days early to get everything ready to roll for the big day! I made sure the panels were pumping the batteries full of power, mowed the lawn, set up the Christmas tree, and got myself settled in to enjoy the sunshine. Unfortunately as my wife and daughter rolled up the next day, dark clouds started rolling up too. By the time we were ready for bed that night, the rain had started. Over the days leading up to Christmas the rain waxed and waned, and while the clouds alternated between white and grey, they never disappeared. We got used the ground squelching with every step, and used the cooler days to explore the bush surrounding us without overheating. At the least the water tanks were filled up!
Each day we looked hopefully at the weather report, willing the bright sunshine to return. Talk about a stress test! Thanks to those two extra batteries and the trickle of solar power in between rain showers, we got through the overcast days with only minor energy conservation. We turned off one of the fridges during the night as a precaution, and kept the laptops sleeping, but we never had to seriously worry about a power cut. Phones were charged and lights were used without issue. No Christmas miracles were had as the drizzle continued, but every day after was beautifully sunny!
When the rest of the family got there, the kids weren’t too chuffed about the low-tech toilet, but breathed a sigh of relief upon discovering somewhere to plug in their phones. With the sun shining again, we never had to worry about power, and we all enjoyed a fantastic off-grid holiday! Back in Auckland, we all have busy lives with office jobs and social engagements, but going grid-free for a few weeks let us escape big city stresses and spend plenty of quality time together. Our biggest worry? When to bring out the marshmallows and make s’mores over the campfire.
Looking for your own way to generate power off the grid? Check out the Weekend Warrior kit.