Load creep is an important yet commonly overlooked aspect of designing a new solar system for off-grid living. When our clients first approach us looking for a solar solution, regardless of it being a new installation, or an upgrade of an existing, our first task is to develop a needs analysis. This analysis is critical in determining the current consumption habits of the individual, and estimating future loads, and the latter of the two is where many people fall short.A common trend with our off-grid clients, whether full-time or vacationers is that they believe their electrical demands will not increase. After all, the reason they love their cabins so much is that it takes them out of the city and away from all of their distractions. Though the reality is that over time electrical demand does increase, and it is the result of many different factors. The reasons for demand increase that we see the most are as follows: family sizes increasing, desire for safer appliances and lighting, increase in electronics.
We are very aware that many cabins in this region have been in families for generations, and inevitably those families do grow. Years ago it wouldn’t matter how many people were staying at a cabin, because the demand factor for power wasn’t a ratio of people visiting. In other words, when people were visiting cabins they weren’t dragging phones, cameras, and laptops along with them that they would like to have charged. There would have been a few standing lights running off a 12 Volt car battery and a couple 45 Watt solar panels, and that was more than enough. Now you have to think about the number of people that will be visiting the cabin, and the electronics that will be in use during their visit.
One of the most common questions we have been receiving over the past few years is “can my system support an electric fridge?” The answer to this question varies of course, but with modern high-efficiency fridges it is becoming a reality for many. The switch to electric fridges is due to increased convenience, safety, and lower cost. An electric fridge doesn’t require pulling out the fridge and awkwardly lighting a pilot light that may or may not stay lit. It also means that there is one less open flame in your residence where fire safety is a high priority (not to mention the Co2 production). If you’re looking to replace your propane fridge you could be in it for around $3000.00, whereas a high-efficiency electric fridge could be under $1000.00. There is also the issue of gas lighting. Most guests to off-grid cabins aren’t familiar with propane and kerosene lighting, and how fragile and dangerous they can be. Personally I’ve had to educate many friends and relatives about how the propane lights work, and in the end I still prefer to do it myself. In areas where fire departments are few and far between, the switch to electric lighting has been a common trend. This is why cabin upgrades should be taken into consideration if you’re in the market for a new solar solution.
It’s no secret that the number of electronics is growing, and certainly no secret that we like to have them with us at all times. Whether it’s cellphones, laptops, speakers, TV’s, or Internet access it is important to consider the anticipated growth. Some of you reading this may see the word ‘Internet’ and scoff at the idea, but it isn’t only for downloading movies or searching the web. A lot of our customers enjoy the fact that with new inverter technology they can monitor their systems health remotely from their home in the city. A significant investment had been made into new solar equipment, so being able to check in on it in the midst of winter is something our clients really value. Along with system monitoring, the ability to work from your cabin is trending. With the Internet, telecommuting is becoming more common and our clients want to be set up for that. You might want to ask yourself if this is something that might be of interest to you in the future.
I urge you to consider load creep when determining the size of your solar systems. The additional investment required to increase capacity during initial installation is significantly lower than modifying a system a few years down the road. Unfortunately it isn’t as easy as adding a few more batteries, or a few more solar panels to an existing system. For this reason it is really important to look at what your power consumption is going to be like after family growth, cabin upgrades, and an increase in electronics.
A number of the Clear Energy Solutions staff are cabin-goers and understand off-grid living. We have personally faced the same power related issues you have, and this has been an invaluable asset when helping our clients design and build a new power solution. We have built systems all along the coast and are familiar with the different challenges that any particular island may present. If you are in a position where a new solar solution is in your future please call or email and we will be happy to help with any of your power or electrical related needs.
Project Coordinator, Client Support