Monday, October 24, 2022

Long Strange Solar Road

Roughly 30 years ago my lovely wife and I decided to install significant solar electric power. Back then there were basically three groups of people invested in solar: NASA, California pot growers, and us. It was expensive and plenty of people told me it wouldn’t work here in northern New Hampshire. 

Back then it wasn’t plug and play like it is now. I read a lot of books. There was a company in Massachusetts, Fowler Electric, that dealt in kits. That saved me a lot of headaches. At least someone had some knowledge of New England conditions. I still did all the work myself and fabricated my battery storage, electronics layout, and solar array. 

So why did I go with solar when no one else was? I’d wanted to do it for a long time, but my wife needed convincing. Living out in the sticks our power went out a lot. Worse yet, when we’d call the power company they wouldn’t believe that our power was out. They didn’t receive any other complaints. That’s because in those days what neighbors we had were seasonal. It would be months before they’d notice. 

One day my wife called the power company to complain and they insultingly told her there was nothing she could do about it. She hung up the phone, looked at me, and said, “We are getting solar.”

Other people in my situation put in big generators and called it good. I’m not a big fan of gas or diesel generators. One of my jobs in the Fire Department was to keep the generators on my truck running. It was a royal pain. You do all the maintenance, test weekly, and sometimes they’d fail when you needed them most. 

So I subtracted the price of a hefty generator and the solar numbers looked a lot better. Then when I added in the fact it would offsetting my grid power every day it was even better. Having power that could not be shut off was the best. 

My neighbors still thought it was a waste of money and wouldn’t work. Then we got a massive ice storm that shut down the grid for a week. We watched across the lake as folks started up their generators. Then over the next few days we watched their lights go out as they eventually ran out of fuel. The roads were too dangerous to drive on so getting more fuel was difficult.  My lovely wife, sick of years of ridicule, made sure we had a lot of lights on every night. People knew we didn’t have a generator as it was totally quiet. 

Since we aren’t total jerks we had a lot of folks over for movie nights and let people take hot showers. While our solar electric system wasn’t big, it kept the lights on, the water pump pumping and ran some electronics. 

We still have the original solar panels. They’ve been added to over the years. The charge controller was upgraded to a more efficient model. Our original inverter is still chugging along. The batteries have been changed a few times, but they’d last a good ten year before needing replacement. The expense isn’t too bad figured over the course of a decade. 

So, in short, solar works -even here in the Great North Woods. 



  1. Your thinking of the future payed off. You are lucky you are clever enough to have built such a great system.

    1. It's been a huge boost to our comfort and quality of life.

  2. We went totally off grid solar about 10 years ago and just replaced our first battery bank. Most of the time, it is brilliant. We do need to keep an eye on charge state but it is far more reliable than our local grid.
    Yeh, it costs a bit up front and you need to factor upkeep / replacement into the long term budget but it has worked out cheaper for us than grid connect.
    Plus, we do feel more than a little smug when everyone else loses power.

    1. You earned that smug feeling. My next blog has some interesting info about potential grid issues.