Author Topic: New ebook on budget Solar Power  (Read 2998 times)


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New ebook on budget Solar Power
« on: October 25, 2012, 10:35:33 AM »

Hi, Guys,

I’m in the process of writing my very first how-to ebook, working title “A Solar Electric System On the Cheap, On the Fly, and Off the Grid”. Long-time TUAK readers know the Secret Lair has gone through two solar power systems, the first one having taught me the limitations of scrounging and how sometimes “minimum” really means “not enough.”

Here’s a first draft of the intro:

    In 2006 I moved into the desert, away from all the city’s amenities. I sponged off the infrastructure of some friends while building my own little cabin in the boondocks.

    Since I’m no professional builder and had no money, the project took years. At first my plan was very simple: Basically just a private little shack with an outhouse. But the longer it took, the more elaborate the plans became. Running water became available, which made an actual flush toilet possible, which meant I had to dig and build a septic system. It added months to the project, but hey! Indoor plumbing! What’s not to love?

    See, when you pare things down to necessities you find that most modern conveniences, while not strictly necessary for life, are each such improvements that they almost may as well be. Would you live without running water if you didn’t have to? Me neither. How about electricity?

    You don’t realize how much electricity makes possible until you go without it. Lights at night, sure. But how about connectivity? Communications? Entertainment? Do you even have a way to charge a cellphone battery? If not, you’d better be careful not to need emergency help.

I’m a writer – I used to do it for a living. I’m typing this in my cabin in the desert, several miles from the nearest power pole. I’m using a laptop computer, and will transmit the document over a modem to a satellite. My original plan to go without electricity didn’t last long.

    But how to do it? Solar electric systems are impossibly expensive by my (completely broke) standards. Plus, I didn’t know anything about how to install one. If the Solar Power Fairy had dropped all the crated parts into my yard one night, I’d still have been stuck for how to put it together. And the Fairy doesn’t seem to make housecalls around here. So this is a story of learning curves, and luck, and finding out (sometimes painfully) what I’m willing to do without and what I’m not. If you have any ideas about off-grid living in your own future, you might be able to profit from my experiences and mistakes.

The book will be brief and simple. It will cover the concept and components of a solar electric system, a description of the Lair’s first system, details on how and why it failed, simple instructions on what’s really needed for a minimal system, and a description of the Lair’s current system (which actually works.)

Solar power systems can include a lot of bells and whistles I don’t plan to cover – this is intended for someone planning to actually construct a simple system themselves. If you’ve got the money for the bells and whistles, you can afford to have a pro install them for you.

So my question: Does that sound like something anyone would actually drop a couple of bucks on? And what else would you expect to see in the contents? Comments (very) welcome.

Offline Alan Georges

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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2012, 11:00:48 AM »
So my question: Does that sound like something anyone would actually drop a couple of bucks on? And what else would you expect to see in the contents? Comments (very) welcome.


And thank you for doing this.  It sounds like the best thing since Rancho Costa Nada came out.  Any expected publication date?

Offline Skunkeye

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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #2 on: October 25, 2012, 11:08:33 AM »
Sounds like a great idea!  Your experience having done it once, and finding out what didn't work before building the second system is very valuable, and not the sort of thing one normally gets from books, magazines, etc.  Too often, the authors are more concerned with sounding like an expert to admit they screwed up while they were learning the topic. 

Some tips, from someone who has read more than a few self-published e-books.  Make it look nice.  Good formatting, as many illustrations as you can put in (nothing worse than a how-to book with no pictures or diagrams), and proofread as many times as you can stand.  You can get the information out without these things, but they'll all help you sell it.  If you're giving it away, people are pretty tolerant of the occasional spelling error or formatting oddity, but as soon as they spend even a dollar, they're going to have a much more critical eye.

Offline NevadaMan

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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2012, 12:42:07 PM »
I'm looking into doing the same thing you did, even if it takes me years. 

I would totally drop a few bucks on your book.  Anymore details?  Amazon?  Nook?  When?


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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2012, 12:24:19 PM »
Sorry for the delay, I don't get here as often as I should.

Formats are TBD. Availability will probably in a month or so. The book is almost complete, but still needs some graphics and outside editing. Also I was distracted by shiny things and need to get back to it.

Offline Absit

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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2012, 03:09:04 PM »
Tagging, I'm interested as well.

Offline fred.greek

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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2012, 06:53:05 PM »
If the red roof image represents the panels, you are not tracking, & therefore are significantly limiting your collected power.

To obtain a chart of the solar path in your area, see the University of Oregon website:

It is of course not just the path of the sun, but what might be “in the way”, and your weather.
Even with the greater amount of atmosphere due to the low angle, at 10 degrees above the horizon, there may be available up to 50% of the total solar power. At around 30 degrees above the horizon the sunlight path thru the air is “short” enough that essentially full power is available to a panel perpendicular to the incoming solar rays.  If you are not tracking though, that 10 degree above the horizon is something like 80 degrees off direct impact to your panel, meaning you do not collect much of it.

If your panels are two feet wide, to not shade each other on the E/W axis when tilted to only 10 degrees up from the horizon, they must be spaced apart nearly twelve feet.  If you limit your morning/evening aim to 30 degrees above the horizon the panels need to be spaced only four feet apart.  Depending upon factors such as your latitude, time of the year, and physical barriers, the difference between ten and thirty degrees may be a lot of solar sky-time missed.

Remember that if a solar panel is partially shaded, most lose a significant portion of their power generating capability, well beyond the percent of the panel shaded.

If you do NOT track at all, a key selection is the angle of the panels.  Are you going to align for maximum noontime collection for summer, winter, or the equinoxes?  If you align for the noon equinoxes, noon at the summer and winter solstices will be off by 23.5 degrees (only receiving 92% of potential power).  While someone with better math skills could calculate accurately, at a ballpark during the solstices when the sun is around 35 degrees east or west of the panel, you are only getting 50% or so of the available power.  A significant aspect for the summer solstice is that the sun rises and sets North of an East/West line.  Checking the Yuma Chart, for us optimistically it appears that the fixed panel would not even "see" the summer sun at due east until around 0840, and the sun would pass north of the panel at around 1520. (6 hours and 40 minutes exposure)


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Re: New ebook on budget Solar Power
« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2013, 05:02:33 PM »
Geez, I forgot I started this thread. The ebook is available, in PDF, here.