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    How-To Articles

    Q+A: All about Batteries: What is the Best Deep Cycle Battery for Solar?

    Some popular solar battery questions, answered by GridFree!

     

    Can you run a solar system without batteries?

    The short answer is yes - but not off-grid.  Typically residential/inner city/suburban solar systems generally don't come with batteries, but that means if there's a power cut, you don't have power. To use solar power off-grid you absolutely need batteries, otherwise you have no power overnight or when the sun's not shining, and the power will fluctuate. We recommend a deep cycle battery, as they're designed for the specific needs of a solar power system.

     

    How do batteries help optimize power obtained by solar? 

    Batteries store your power so you can use it all the times when the sun isn't shining brightly. They store it at 12/24/48V (depending on your battery bank), which can then be used at the voltage you need. A deep cycle battery bank allows you to have a stable and constant source of power that you can draw from, whereas if you're pulling straight off a solar panel the power goes up and down wildly. Batteries allow you any-time power, and reliable power.

     

    What is the best deep cycle battery for solar and are there good ways to maintain batteries? 

    There are variety of solar batteries are available, such as lead acid or lead carbon, and lithium. Choosing the right battery type is typically a trade-off of capacity, longevity, and price, and you can read our breakdown here. Our standard option is a deep cycle lead acid gel battery, and offers great bang for buck against other options. It is maintenance-free, but you still want to take care of it to extend it's longevity. Some good tips to help keep your battery in good shape: don't let it get too hot or too cold, keep it out of the weather, and don't discharge it too deeply.

    Your battery has a certain amount of useable capacity; you don't want to draw down more than 50% with these batteries, because once you get past that certain chemical processes happen in the battery that shortens its lifespan. A few times is okay, and 49% is not the magic number where damage starts, but it's best practice to stay above 50%.  More importantly, don't let them sit partially charged for more than a day if you can avoid it. The aim is to keep them fully charged as often as possible to keep them lasting as long as they can. Each battery is different, so follow the manufacturer's guidelines for discharging batteries.

     

    When do you know you need more panels / batteries?

    You know you need more panels when you find yourself not able to recharge batteries adequately even after normal usage. You likely need more batteries if you wake up in the morning and the batteries have been discharged overnight below 50% - though we recommend adding more panels at the same time, to ensure you are able to adequately recharge them each day. Another reason would be you start needing to use more power and need more of both panels and batteries. Learn more about expanding. 

    Battery capacity degrades over time, so you will likely need to look at getting your batteries replaced 3-5 years down the track to continue at the same level of power usage (with Lead Acid batteries).

    How Long Do Off Grid Batteries Last?

    There is no one answer to the question how long do off-grid batteries last. A Lead-Acid Battery has a lifespan of 3-7 years, depending on the specific battery and usage. Deep Cycle Lead Carbon Batteries are designed with a 8–10-year life expectancy but can be run for as long as 12 years under ideal conditions, whereas a Lithium-Ion Battery is more expensive but lasts even longer.

    Q+A: How Much Does an Off Grid Solar Setup with NZ Solar Panels Cost? Plus Saving Tips

    From a holistic point of view, the costs an off grid solar setup in NZ (solar panels, batteries, and everything else you need) really comes down to the type of life you want to live. It can vary wildly depending on how much comfort you want to have! Going off grid has fluctuating costs - there are standard things like either owning or renting land which all depends on the area and size, and creating a shelter of some kind which can range from a tent to $100,000 tiny house.

    The same is true for the cost of a completely off grid solar system. For around $2000-4000, you can start with a small solar kit in NZ (solar panels, batteries, inverter, charge controller, wiring etc) to run your lights and fridge and charge your phone. Then you have other costs to consider. Cooking can be a cheap with a portable gas cooker or wood stove.

    You can go very cheap to start with, but you might be living a subsistence lifestyle for a few months as you slowly add and save for the off grid solar setup you want. Other people want it to be perfect from day 1 and spend $20,000+ on solar. We recommend starting with a system that will suit your day 1 needs, with the option to expand down the line, like Marcia. 


    - What are the Ways You Can Save on a Completely Off Grid Solar System?

    The big thing for most people who want to go off-grid is that they are most likely living an urban or suburban lifestyle before they start. If you're connected to the grid then you're living more luxuriously (in terms of power use) than you will be able to off-grid. Off-grid living typically requires you to make a few compromises. If you're someone who leaves the lights on in rooms you aren't in, or runs an electric blanket all night in winter, that kind of behaviour changes quick, because it uses a lot of power on an completely off grid solar system!

    So to save on your system, start by evaluating where your power usage goes. What are your really big power draws everyday? Do you have an electric oven or stovetop? Do you like to run the heater at night? Those are things you can't do on solar (without having a very big, expensive system) because you will use up all your power very quickly and have none leftover for everything else. You can save money by switching all your heating and cooking to wood-burning, which allows you to get a much smaller solar kit to cover your electrical needs. If you've had really high quotes for solar that make it seem out of reach, read this.

    You may want to expand on your solar later, but from the get-go even a small kit lets you live pretty comfortably if you're not using these power-hungry items. 

    Outside of solar, there are ways to save or spread your costs on your off grid lifestyle. Many of our customers have chosen to do the lion's share of the building work on their shelters, whether that's converting a house bus, renovating a caravan, or buying just the shell of a tiny house to finish themselves. Maybe it's shabby to start with, but you can make it your own and still be warm, comfortable, and dry. Transitioning to an off grid life often means making little compromises and giving up some modern luxuries for a time, but it's still a very rewarding process.


    The Biggest Way to Save on Your Off Grid Solar Setup

    The biggest way to save money off-grid is to go DIY with NZ solar panel kits. All the other companies want to do it for you - you tell them your calculated load, they build a bespoke solution, and install it for you. When you DIY your off grid solar setup, you can choose where you make your compromises, you save heaps of money on labour, you can get exactly what you want at a price that you want. Learn more here.

    The big piece of advice everyone shares off-grid: get used to managing your resources. You're going to be living free from the grid and the city life, so you're in control of your power, water, and other resources. If you get used to managing all parts of the process from day one, you're going to save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of money. A DIY solar kit gives you that freedom to get what you need with just the right amount of compromise you're willing to make on price and lifestyle.

    GridFree empowers people to DIY something they may not be familiar with - we don't want to do it for you, we want to help you do it for yourself and give you the right advice at the right time. We provide support from the moment you decide to go off grid, all the way through to several years down the track when you're living freely on your solar kit.


    - Any tips for budgeting how to go off the grid?

    Take a very hard look at how you use your power at the moment. Work out what you actually need and what's nice to have. Willing to cut something out? Do it. You don't have to live like a caveman, just compromise on frivolous power usage.

    Switch to energy efficient appliances like LED lights, and high energy star appliances. Switch to alternative energy, like gas or woodburning for heating.

    Do your research - the more you know going into it, the better. We recommend joining our Facebook group GridFree NZ, to get in touch with other people living or planning to live off grid. Have a read of the Top Tips we've seen from the group here.

    Get used to handling things yourself instead of letting someone tell you what you need, that way you can make the right decision for your needs instead of being sold something inappropriate. 

    Be willing to make mistakes. That's one thing all of our customers tell us. You're going to make mistakes, but they're always an opportunity to learn more. 

    Going Off-Grid Q+A: Getting the Internet Off Grid

    Going off-grid does not at all mean going without internet - as seen with our founder, Craig who frequently does Zoom calls from his off-grid cabin! There are a few options people use to get the internet off grid. For some, there are rural providers you can get in touch with, and they can help with wireless set-ups for use in mobile situations, like in caravans. Some off-gridders have gotten very excited about Starlink, the satellite internet from SpaceX. A lot of people just recommend getting a good mobile plan and hot-spotting off your phone—that's what Craig does and it works great for him. Then again, some people don't want to access the internet when they're off-grid, and it's very easy to escape!


    Working from Home, Online: Going Off-Grid 

    Working from home for off-gridders works the same way as in the suburbs. You've got the internet and power. You've got your laptop on charge, and can use the phone as a hotspot for the internet. It's very possible. One of our customers, Karen, has been working from a caravan for the last five years, making money from Youtube videos and selling graphic designs. She uses a portable internet connection from Wireless Nation, which gives her a stronger and more reliable connection, so she can happily live off grid and still get work done.

    You can work from home in the typical sense, but you can also make a living doing typically off-grid type things - some off-gridders embrace the lifestyle and earn money by selling eggs or other things produced on their land.

    About 10 years ago, all you could get an incredibly expensive USB wifi extender you could plug into your laptop. Now, a mobile phone and a hotspot is all you need to get online. Some places will send you a WiFi box for your router, but you don't need anything special to get online.


    Weekend Adventures: Staying Connected to the Internet Off Grid

    These days it's incredibly simple to get on the internet. Even in the middle of nowhere you'll often still have cell service. It can be a little finicky, especially in valleys, so knowing where your local cell tower is will be helpful. There's no difference these days in getting internet whether you have a hard connection or get it on your phone. It's just as easy to get away on the weekends and stay connected.


    Getting the internet off grid is possible - you'll just have to consider getting an unlimited data plan on your phone. If you're ready to plan going off-grid on the weekends or start living off-grid full-time, find the right GridFree DIY solar panel set-up that fits your lifestyle. Not sure where to start? Contact our friendly team with your specifics and get started going off-the-grid. 

    Q+A: What do the maintenance costs look like after the initial off grid solar setup?

    When using a completely off grid solar system, you’ll find there’s not a huge amount of maintenance costs tied into NZ solar panels for your off grid solar setup. Six months down the line, what will likely pop up is that you find you need more batteries and panels. That makes sense—at this point you’ve had a chance to re-jig how you use power and get a keen sense of what your power needs are and also how they might change over time. You can easily expand a Bach or Freedom kit after installing, but the smaller kits require components to be swapped out, so it's best to know before you buy whether you might want to upgrade. Have a read of this article for more info about expanding.

    Three to five years later (or longer if you've treated them well), you may find your battery capacity starts to degrade (if you chose Lead Acid), so they will need to be swapped out. Lead Carbon or Lithium batteries have a longer lifespan so if your budget allows this might be a better choice for you.

    We always recommend switching all your heating and cooking to a wood-burning stove or LPG, as these use huge amounts of power, so you will need to factor in the ongoing costs of firewood or gas. 

    At GridFree, our helpful team is here for you as your power needs change too, whether it’s setting you up with additional NZ solar panels for your completely off grid solar system, or upgrading to a larger kit with more power. Look into the initial cost for going off-grid by browsing our kits or checking out our comparison table. For any questions, feel free to get in touch.

    Q+A: What's Needed for an Off-Grid Solar System in NZ?

    What Do You Need in an Off-Grid Set-Up

    Everyone knows you need solar panels if you’re going off-grid, NZ—that’s a given. Part of what people don’t know about an off-grid solar system, especially when they’re used to residential systems, is how the solar power becomes usable power. Off-grid systems are different because they have batteries to store power from the solar panels, without feeding anything back to the grid - it's a completely closed system. A charge controller takes the fluctuating power coming in from the panels and uses it to charge the batteries safely, then the inverter takes the power from the batteries and makes it the right voltage and current to power household appliances (240V). Some people choose not to use the inverter for everything, because they run things like lights or toilet fans on the same voltage as the batteries (such as 12/24/48V), but generally people do use the inverter for a simple closed system. Our kits include all four of these components, plus all the cables, breakers and other bits you need to get up an running. In our systems, you can also upgrade to a hybrid inverter/charger, which simply combines the charge controller and inverter into one unit while also easily allowing input from the generator.

    Can I install off grid solar myself?

    You can 100 percent do your own off-grid solar system. The law in New Zealand states that anything under 120V DC is considered Extra Low Voltage and does not require an electrician - you can do it yourself. For going off-grid, NZ this covers all the connections between the components in our kits, from the solar panels, to the batteries, inverter and charge controller. The part where it gets finicky, and you legally need an electrician, is if you have a hybrid inverter/charger or intend to wire a standard inverter into your household switchboard. This wiring deals with 240V AC, which is considered prescribed electrical work, and cannot legally be done DIY.


    DIY Fully or DIY Partially: Your Pick for Power Off-Grid, NZ

    Some people are uncomfortable with doing any electrical work and choose to get an electrician anyway, but you can still DIY a little bit. You can mount the hardware to your wall and install all the physical components in their places without running the cables - it's the same as putting up a picture frame on the walls. So when it comes to our off-grid solar system kits, you can DIY fully or DIY partially and hand it off. But it’s totally something you can do yourself if you want. And if you don't want to do anything, we have a number of electricians around the country who are comfortable installing full kits.


    Is the Off-Grid Solar System Set-up Different for Staying in One Place or Moving Around?

    There’s not a huge amount of difference in the kind of off-grid solar system kit you need if you're moving or plan on staying in one place. If you mount your solar panels on the ground, obviously they have to be picked up if you move around, but if everything is contained in the one building with panels on the roof then it's no different to towing around a caravan with solar. The only consideration is if you want to have input from the mains, and that’s only available in one spot on the property, you might not be as mobile as you want to be. If you choose to earth your system, you will need to disconnect from the earth prior to moving. Otherwise if nothing is installed on the ground, you'll be free to go where you please. Some people in caravans simply lay panels flat on the ground, then they pick them up when they’re ready to move on!


    Keep an Eye on the Weather
    If you've ever lived in Auckland, you already think about the weather enough, so it’s not going to be anything new if you’re going off-grid, NZ. You don’t need to be too concerned about exactly how sunny it’s going to be at any given moment but you want to know when long stretches of bad weather are coming. Several days of overcast weather mean you will likely need to reduce your power usage; and you need to be aware that your batteries aren’t going to charge up enough for normal usage over those few days. You may want to be prepared with an alternate power source for surprise weather, or you could end up living with a candlelit dinner for a night or two. In addition to a lack of sun, you want to be aware of extreme weather, such as hail and hurricanes. Make sure your panels are adequately secured to your roof if you're expecting windy weather. For hail, you may want to cover with a blanket—the panels are very tough but a giant chunk of hail might crack them.


    Find and Install the Power You Need

    So, whether you intend to fully DIY or partially DIY your off-grid solar power set-up, both are options with GridFree. Find the right GridFree DIY solar panel set-up that fits your lifestyle. Have more questions about your particular scenario? Contact our friendly team with your specifics and we will empower you with what you need to go off-the-grid. 

    Q+A: In a Complete Off Grid Solar System with Batteries, How Many Batteries Do I Need to Go Off the Grid?

    How many batteries do I need to go off-grid in New Zealand?

    Start by asking what you plan to run, not how many batteries you need to go off the grid. The standard three bedroom household will likely require 8-12 12V batteries. The more you intend to live like a person on-the-grid, the more batteries needed.

    This isn't a question with an easy answer - there's no number that fits everyone, and all batteries are different. Technically, you can go off-grid with one 12V 200aH battery but that's only if you're not planning to power a minimal amount of things like a minifridge and lights as an example. We've taken the guesswork out for you in each complete off grid solar system with batteries kit. After you’ve asked yourself what you’re planning to run on the batteries, something else to consider is how you structure your power use. If you intend to use the bulk of your power during the day, you will need less batteries. Make sure to purchase your batteries from a reputable supplier, like GridFree - or if you're looking beyond just batteries, consider one of our off grid solar system packages with batteries included. We've taken the guesswork out for you with our kits - each is a complete off grid solar system with batteries, designed for different levels of power usage. 

     

    Are all batteries the same?
    Wondering what's the best battery for going off grid? Not all batteries for off-grid are the same - we have three kinds of batteries available as stand-alone purchases or as part of our off grid solar system packages with batteries. Our standard 200Ah Gel Deep Cycle Battery is a workhorse that is popular with our customers, offering a balance of being a great battery at an affordable price, with the shortest lifespan of 3-7 years if treated well. This battery is 60kg and has a 50% usable depth of discharge. It's safe and compatible with almost all charge controllers and inverters. Then, there's our Lead Carbon Battery that has a slightly longer lifespan of 7-10 years and is in the middle of the pack price-wise too. Finally, we have Lithium Ion Batteries, the Growatt ARK LiFePO4 Battery 2.56kWh, with a 10-15 year lifespan, clocking in at 30kg each, and an 80% usable depth of discharge. Learn more about the differences between these three battery types. Make sure to purchase your batteries from a reputable supplier, like GridFree, or if you're looking beyond just batteries, consider one of our off grid solar system packages with batteries. 


    What voltage is best for off-grid?

    A lot of off-gridders think 12V is best because you use less power. Our standard 200Ah Gel Deep Cycle Batteries come in 12V and when you have more than one they can be configured as a 24V or 48V battery bank. (Note that our Lithium batteries only come in 48V.) We would say 48v is the best—the higher the voltage of a battery, the bank is more efficient. That being said, consider the voltage of most of your appliances. If you've already got a bunch of appliances that will run off a certain voltage, then that's might be what's right for you. However you can also install a step down to convert a 24/48V bank to 12V, or an inverter to convert any of the to 240V AC (what most household appliances run on).

    Anything up to 120V DC, you can DIY; voltages above that need to be legally installed by an electrician. Each complete off grid solar system with batteries we offer is designed to be DIY, though you would need an electrician to wire anything into a household switchboard.


    How do I practice good maintenance for my batteries?

    Mostly our batteries are set and forget, being essentially maintenance-free, but there are a few good rules of thumb to get the most out of your batteries for the longest lifespan:

    1. Put your off grid battery for solar in a good spot where it won't get excessively hot or cold.
    2. Keep the battery out of the weather and away from moisture.
    3. Everyday, make sure you're not discharging the battery too deeply as that reduces capacity over time and can lead to a shorter lifespan.
    4. Make sure you recharge your battery to full as soon as you can after using power - don't leave it partially charged for more than a day if possible.
    5. Find more tips for good battery maintenance here.

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