by Craig Middleton
A cabin can be an excellent investment. It offers a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, retreating to quiet, simplicity, and solitude. One of the downsides of that solitude is that it can be difficult and expensive to connect traditional utilities to many remote cabins. As a result, many people consider solar panels as an alternative power source. If you are thinking of adding solar panels to your cabin, asking yourself these five questions can help determine if it is the right choice.
1. What Other Options Are Available on the Property?
This should be the first thing you evaluate when deciding whether buying solar panels is the right choice for your cabin. After all, you may not have a lot of choice in how you power up appliances and lighting. On the other hand, you may have several choices. Alternative power sources have advanced over the past decade as renewable energies draw more interest and investment dollars. Small wind turbines and geothermal systems are both possibilities for powering your off-grid cabin. However, if you think solar power might be the way to go, you can continue on with more questions to learn more about what type and size of system you’ll need.
2. How Will You Use the Cabin?
Not every cabin has a need for electricity all year. Perhaps you only plan to use the property for occasional weekends or throughout hunting or fishing season. How many people will be staying at one time, how often they visit, and for how long all affect how you generate power.
3. What Will You Need To Power?
You will need to calculate the energy draw from everything you normally run and leave a little extra room for electric items you use only occasionally. You wouldn’t want to bring out the Christmas tree only to find it will have to stay dark this year, do you? Do this carefully so as not to miss anything. If you can devote a week or so to recording electric appliances, you’ll have a pretty clear picture. Use one of the available online tools to determine how much power each item uses during start-up and normal operation and enter it into a spreadsheet.
All of this information gives you an idea of how much power you use. Now comes the time to decide what size system you will need to operate all of those, plus some extra. Panels will not always operate at full efficiency, so take that into account.
4. How Will You Store Power That is Generated?
If you are going to an off-grid system, you have a few other complications that might come into play. The first of those is storage. Once you know how much power you use over the course of a day or week, you can see how much battery storage you will need to take your cabin completely off-grid. Solar panels only produce electricity when the sun is up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be sunny, but current systems simply don’t work once the sun sets for the day. That means any electronics run after dark will need to run off of stored energy.
Solar batteries have come a long way in the past several years. New models are able to hold a substantial charge for extended periods of time. They also last for many years, so you won’t have to worry about replacing them for a while.
5. How Much Sunlight Will the Panels Receive?
Home solar panels can be installed on a roof or a separate stand. Most are stationary, so you will need to find a location that gets the most direct sunlight for the longest period of time on most days. If that isn’t possible, there are some stands that can move to track the sun, called solar trackers. This article makes a case for double-sided panels that not only track the sun but also absorb light reflected off the ground by showing how they reduce the cost to generate power.
By understanding your power needs and options, you can make an informed decision about whether installing solar panels is the right move for your cabin retreat.
Craig has worked in health, real estate, and HR businesses for most of his professional career. He graduated from the University of California – Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. When he’s not creating content or advising clients, he enjoys hiking and traveling with his wife.