Last month I asked the question of whether I could find a solar panel company in Toronto that does installations to provide quotes for a 600 kWh per month solar system plus a battery system so that a home can be completely off grid.
Most of the companies I contacted didn't even deign to respond. The 1 company that did respond refused to provide a quote unless they were allowed to invade my privacy.
See Toronto Solar Panel Companies, Part One
This month I am still looking for the Holy Grail - a 600 kWh per month system, but I am looking at solar panels that can be purchased through Canadian Tire
and then the homeowner installs the panels themselves.
Canadian Tire is a good example, because there are quite a few locations in Toronto, plus they are a nationwide company so the prices in Toronto should be same prices you see all across Canada.
But I won't just be looking at Canadian Tire. Home Depot
is also in the solar panel DIY business. So we will also be comparing prices for solar panels (and their battery systems) for both Canadian Tire and Home Depot.
Lastly, the size and efficiency of the solar panels is also a factor. If a solar panel is smaller, but provides more energy in its smaller size, then it is more efficient. So we want to be comparing how much energy the solar panels provide based upon their size and their price. Power per square foot and price per square foot... all with the goal of reaching that 600 kWh per month system
Why is 600 kWh per month so important? It is the number needed for an average 2 or 3 bedroom home to go off grid - to be completely off the grid. (The bonus of which is you pay less land taxes for your property.)
For reference, 1 kWh is equal to 1000 watts sustained for 1 hour. So a 600 kWh per month system need to provide 20 kWh per day on average, or the equivalent in watts. Clearly 20,000 watts in 1 hour is not going to happen, but 2,000 watts over the space of 10 hours is certainly doable.
The Canadian Tire Vs Home Depot Solar Panels Challenge!
Coleman 100W Crystalline Solar Panel, 2-pack for $1,059.98
Dimensions: 40 x 26 x 1.3", x2
Available at Canadian Tire
Together this two pack of solar panels provides up to 200 watts of power.
Dimensions wise is 7.34 square feet for 1 panel, so two panels is 14.68 sq feet. However 7.34 sq feet per 100 watts is a good measurement of its efficiency.
So the price of 10 of these (20 panels total) would be $10,599,80
, and would take up 146.8 square feet of space, and would provide a maximum of 2000 watts over a 10 hour period of daylight.
Note - You don't have to buy 2 packs of this solar panel. Single units are $529.99.
Grape Solar 400-Watt Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit for $2,768.85
Dimensions: 88 x 48 x 2" (total dimension of 4 panels)
Available at Home Depot
Designed for RVs and boats this kit includes 4 solar panels providing a 400 watt system, including a 30 Amp digital charge controller, 2,000-watt inverter with two outlets and 1 USB port, cables and manual. Great if it is just for a RV, not so good if you want to buy multiples of this for your home.
Dimensions wise it is 29.33 square feet total for the 4 panels. It is 7.33 sq feet per 100 watts, so almost exactly the same as the Coleman panels.
The price of 5 of these (20 panels total) would be $13,844.25, they would take up 146.66 square feet of space, and would provide a maximum of 2000 watts over a 10 hour period of daylight.
So definitely more expensive. But do you really need 5 copies of the owner's manual, cables, power inverter and the charge controller? A single kit for a RV might be good, but for a home this is silly.
Now perhaps it was silly of me to choose a kit to be the example, but it was the most expensive solar panels on the Home Depot website so I just went with the flow.
Coleman Multi-Purpose 150 Watt - 12 V Crystalline Solar Panel for $599.99
At the moment I am writing this it is on sale for $299.99.
Dimensions - 59 x 26 x 1.3"
Available at Canadian Tire
The sale price really caught my attention here. Any time you see solar panels on sale, especially half price, that is a good time to crunch the numbers for cost and efficiency.
This solar panel offers 150 watts and is only 19 inches bigger than the 40 x 26 model also made by Coleman.
Dimensions wise is 10.65 square feet for 1 panel. That is 7.1 sq feet per 100 watts, so it is slightly more efficient than both the smaller Coleman panel and its Grape Solar rival.
The price of 14 of these solar panels would be $8,399.86, they would take up 144.9 square feet of space, and would provide a maximum of 2100 watts over a 10 hour period of daylight.
So that is actually a big step up compared to the other options. You save money and it provides an extra 100 watts of power due to the fact that 150 cannot be evenly divided into 2000. So rather than do 1950W I decided to go above and beyond to 2100W.
And now for the kicker, because those solar panels are on sale (again, at the time I am writing this) they are only $299.99.
So do the math... 14 x $299.99 is $4,199.86.
So that is an amazing price, they take up less square feet of space, and they provide 5% more maximum power. Clearly the lesson today is to buy solar panels when they are on sale.
Nothing else on the Canadian Tire or Home Depot websites are going to compete with the amazing deal people can get when they buy solar panels on sale... so lets move on to the next issues.
Charge Controllers / Battery Power
Coleman 30A 12V Solar Panel Charge Controller for $129.99
Well that seems reasonably priced.
But can it handle the charge of 14 solar panels all at once?
"Handles up to 30 Amps of current and 450 Watts of solar power"
Well, no. But 5 of them could handle 2,250 watts. So you could get 15 of the 150 watt panels, 5 charge controllers, and that would do it. But is it practical to use 5 different charge controllers? No. Not really. They really should sell a single unit that does all of it.
Then you just need to be able to store all that electricity.
Unfortunately there is a problem. Canadian Tire doesn't currently sell battery systems
. The solar panels are really meant for RVs, boats, cabins, etc so people can charge their electronic gadgets easily. They aren't meant for someone to do a DIY solar panel off grid home. It probably hasn't occurred to them that they could also be selling battery systems for that purpose.
Home Depot does sell certain items that Canadian Tire does not.
- Nature Power 3000-Watt Inverter with 150-Amp Inverter Charger for $2,400.93.
- Nature Power 2000-Watt Inverter with 55-Amp Inverter Charger for $822.97.
- Nature Power 2000-Watt Inverter for $627.00
So it really depends on how many watts and amps you need. More amps means you can use heavier appliances like power tools, large electronics, home appliances and air conditioners.
So it is a bit like asking "Do you want air conditioning with that?"
Yes, I like air conditioning.
So the 3,000W system works. Better to have extra just in case, and better to have the extra amps for a variety of uses.
With that much wattage you could get 20 of those 150W solar panels and just have an abundance of solar power.
But again, still the problem of battery storage.
Alas we run into the same problem. Home Depot only sells smaller portable battery storage. The kind of thing you stick in your RV, boat, etc. Nothing larger meant for a home. They do sell a "RV Kit" that includes a mid-size battery storage that is roughly the size of an air conditioner, but it doesn't have the capacity for a whole house.
So neither Canadian Tire or the Home Depot can handle battery storage. Not at least in terms of a "specially made for this" way.
Rather they sell car batteries. So basically what you are expected to do is buy a bunch of car batteries, connect them to the power inverter and store your power that way. There are alternatives out there. eg. East Penn Canada sells batteries for home storage.
The Home Depot website does mention several types of batteries in the description of the power inverter...
"will charge different type of batteries from Get, Flooded, AGM, and Fixed."
So for example AGM is not a company brand, it just stands for "Absorbed Glass Mat", which refers to the design structure of the battery.
AGM Batteries compared to Flooded Batteries
- "Higher tolerance against damage from deep discharge. (Optimized amounts of electrolyte (which is also referred to as “acid-starved”) allows the battery to use the power in the acid before the power in the plates. This minimizes the destructive nature of ultra-deep discharges. Ultra-deep discharging is what causes plate shedding, which can destroy a battery).
- Longer service life with superior cycling capability.
- Superior performance in high current, high power applications, and in extremely cold environments.
- Superior vibration resistance.
- Superior protection against plate damage from extended power draws.
- Lower internal resistance for quicker power flows and faster recharge rates.
- Slower self-discharge rates for better off-season storage.
- Safer operation from spill-proof, leak-proof design which protects people and equipment, and enables installation in virtually any position (upside down installation is not recommended).
- Maintenance free, never-add-water design."
AGM batteries are often used in car batteries because they last longer since they are charged and recharged so frequently.
There is also Gel batteries, but they decline faster in colder temperatures and thus may not be well suited for off grid purposes.
Yada yada yada. I think I am done for today.
I am going to research battery storage again another day.
Part Three? To be continued...
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