Solar for Renters (Part 1)

A few years ago, I wrote an article about my dream of building an apartment-scale solar power system for renters. I wanted the system to be something you could install on a balcony or in a backyard, that could generate power off-grid without having to install traditional solar panels on your roof. My vision was for something renters could use, in anything from a small city apartment all the way up to a rented suburban home.

Well, several things have changed since I wrote that article. For one, solar panels have gotten a whole lot cheaper and better. You can now get off-grid panels for well under $1 per watt, and batteries and charge controllers have both come down in price. There’s exciting new battery options, too, like lithium batteries which might destroy your bank account but eliminate the need for ongoing maintenance and have a much lower risk of catching fire/exploding than old fashioned lead acid.

So with all these things coming together, I finally went ahead and built my system! This article covers the basics, and I’ll go into a lot more detail on specifics, too.

First a word of caution; if you have any doubt about working with electricity, hire a professional. And although this system is designed for renters, make sure your landlord allows this kind of thing before installing! 

Okay, with that out of the way, here’s what my system looks like. Ideally, I wanted to have at least 200 watts of generation capacity, as I wanted to run a computer off solar power. So the first part of my system is 250 watts of panels from Renogy; three 50w panels and a 100w panel. Ideally all your panels would be the same wattage, but I had the 100 watt panel already, so oh well. These are wired up in parallel using a four port MC4 branch connector, and placed on a balcony on my home’s roof.

This is part one of a series of posts about the system—please follow my blog for the next post in the series!