I have a pretty ghetto set-up for my off grid cottage and will likely look into something better in the future, but I'll share what I do as it sounds like you and I are almost in the exact same boat. My set-up is not the best but works pretty well for my current needs (pardon the pun).torontotim wrote: ↑Does anyone have recommendations for a company to work with on putting together a small kit for an off-grid cottage? Something in the 500w-1000w range to run lights, charge laptop/phones, maybe a 32" LCD (LED) TV for a couple hours etc. during the evening when the sun goes down.
Thankfully I've got propane service to run the fridge, stove and water heater. I have a 4kw Yamaha generator currently, and the cottage is totally wired up for power with a 100A panel, outlets, light switches etc. The cottage just plugs into the generator. So I'm looking to run it through a solar/battery system, and use the generator to top up the batteries if needed so I don't lose all the extra power I'm creating and will use the generator to run the lake water intake pump a couple times a day to fill the pressure tanks.
I have a 40 watt panel that I bought at CT for ~$80. I have a large, wheeled toolbox that I have drilled vent holes in that contain 2 x 12V Deep-Cycle Marine batteries @ 115AH each. Since my cottage is for the most part used as a weekend getaway only for the most part, when I leave to go back to the city, I leave the panel on the dock and it runs up to the shore to the charge controller. The controllers connect to the batteries that are wired together. I have yet to purchase a meter to show me how much juice is left in the batteries, but I am going to buy one this spring, similar to THIS . When I arrive at the cottage, the batteries always seem full of power and ready to go, but I need a more accurate way to measure.
Those batteries power the small electronics. Plenty of power for phones and laptops, to charge iPod docks for music, recharge Eneloops, and to power a 32 inch LCD TV. I have a 4000W Generator that I use very infrequently. I use it only when I need a power tool, or to power the microwave. It has an electric start so it is easy to power on and I use the microwave infrequently as well. I also like having the genny in case I need power in a pinch, its always there. I also have 2 battery chargers that I use in a pinch to get the batteries charged up in a hurry if need be, however one just went tits up this summer and overall, I find the 10A charge speed too slow to make them much use. I need to buy a charger with a rapid charge setting, but that is not a good way to charge the batteries and will shorten their life, so sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place there.
When I arrive at the cottage, if I am only staying there for 3 or 4 days, the 2 batteries are sufficient to power all the electronics. My problem is that if I stay for longer, the batteries drain and I am sometimes left high and dry. Charging the batteries while I am there is not always an option because with kids and dogs running around, I don't like the solar panel on the dock for fear it will break, and my property is covered in thick pines, so the dock is the only place the sun is strong enough. And even if I was able to leave it out, a 40 watt panel does not recharge them at the rate that I use them. I need to be gone for a longer period like a week. Then they are fine.
My plan this year is to buy another battery (Costco, $90). It seems that the time I am away from the cottage is sufficient to charge the batteries. A week or 2 seems like a good amount of time to charge 3x12V batteries well. I'd also like a couple battery chargers with a quicker charge rate. If I am at the cottage for a longer period, I could just run the genny for an hour or so and charge them up and I am back in business. Also, getting the battery meter will allow me to better monitor my consumption.
As far as lights, I just use lanterns and flashlights for mobile lighting. I use the puck lights they sell at Costco for the main room. They have a wireless switch on the wall, and a few stuck on the ceiling, and they are just like dimmed pot lights, but more than enough light. All the bedrooms and bathroom have small LED lights that run on batteries installed beside the door that give plenty of light as long as they are switched off when not in use. I have motion detector enabled LEDs in the hallways that are great. I usually only change the batteries maybe twice a year (AA's) So for the most part, all my lighting is battery powered, either disposable AA's or Nimh rechargeable AA's depending on the use. You probably would not want to shoot a late night talk show inside, but the lighting is more than adequate for what I find we need. And if I was inclined, I could always add more lights.
I have a propane fridge/stove and a small hot water heater. The cabin is also hardwired like yours, and has light fixtures, but I don't use any of it. I don't find the need too. I have a Honda gas pump for the water that I use to fill a cistern on the roof, and only have to run it for a few minutes every couple of days to provide water to the sinks/shower etc..
Its really nice not getting a hydro bill. If I keep the cottage, I'd like something better down the road. But right now, its working out OK. Its just not as convenient as it could be, but a couple extra steps. However there is a certain feeling you get knowing you are self sufficient and have to do it all yourself. And when the power goes out up there (which happens a lot I'm told), I'm none the wiser!