Kicking the KIUC habit

SUBHEAD: When I asked KIUC to remove their line from my house they asked "Are you going to demolish the house?"

By Juan Wilson on 1 May 2014 for Island Breath -
Image above: View from our metal roof of solar panels. Four panels in back support refrigeration. The eight panels in the foreground carry the house wiring. The panels at the rear left provide power to the master bedroom and bath lighting. Not seen unless you enlarge image is the solar hot water heater (front left), carport/shop lighting (left center), kitchen and 2nd bath lighting central right and computer & accesseries (far right). Note additional black panels will be relocated to shack in the upper center of enlarged image. Photos by Juan Wilson. Click to embiggen.

It has taken us over six years, but we have finally cut our home off the KIUC grid.  We started in the blind in early 2008 with a search on Amazon for an all-in-one system to buy. We stumbled on a full system provided by Chinese PV manufacturer SunForce. All that was needed in addition to the purchase was a 12 volt battery to charge. The hook was set and I began my internship and then apprenticeship in power production. It is an education like many others - it cost money.

Early Experiments
The system consisted of 4 - watt PV panels; a 7amp charge controller (to hook it to the battery); a 300 watt DC to AC power inverter (to be hooked up to battery. All the parts were there, including a PVC frame for the panels and all the cabling needed to set up the system. Back in the spring of 2008 the system cost about $250. It is still available at Amazon (

The unit cost about $230. Total for nine $2,000.

One thing that closed the deal was a review I read by Dmitry Orlov. I had been following is doomster blog Club Orlov for some time. I knew he lived on a sailboat and was preparing for an upcoming collapse. He wrote:
The panels themselves are well-made and produce more than the rated amount of juice. They arrived intact, sandwiched in slabs of styrofoam. I am happy with them. The voltage regulator works. The wiring, fan-in dongle, etc., are all reasonable. Everything else that came with the order is non-recyclable toxic waste - do with it what you will...
It almost seems like the panels and the charger are made by competent people, and everything else ("the kit") by a bunch of shit.
I bought this system (nine times over the years) and added better controllers and inverters and additional batteries over the next couple of years.

I found things I could reliably do and other things that did not go well at all - like trying to run my refrigerator with three serially linked portable power units. At Amazon ( each with 60 amp-hours of battery storage and a 1500watt AC power inverter.

The unit cost about $525 each. Total for three $1,575

The refrigerator ran for about an hour and a half before exhausting the batteries. Howevert I could keep a few lights and a radio running through the night.

I had spent grand total by 2010 about $3,500 .

Useful Power
So I tried all kinds of combinations of task with the equipment. I won't take you through all the experiments and dead ends I traveled trying toto take best advantage of what I bought. But I did put five small systems I built using these components that did useful work:
  1. Night lighting in our bedroom and master-bath.
  2. Lighting for my carport/workshop and laundry area.
  3. Power for our 2nd bathroom and kitchen table and under-counter lights.
  4. Power for a  21in iMac computer.
  5. Power for a living room light and small entertainment system.
There have been a several upgrades along the way. The first four systems are still operational, although only 1, 2 use the original Sunforce PV panels.The unused Sunforce panels will soon move on to lighting our studio shack out back and maybe our chicken house.

Just this week I finally tool the original Xantrex portable power units to the transfer center. I hadn't used them since 2012. Then all of them were used to power system 3. The inverters worked fine. However the sealed AGM 60amp-hour batteries couldn't hold a charge anymore. Someone with a need and the knowledge of bypassing the internal battery with a deep cycle battery of the shelf could still use them. I was moving on.

Amongst the upgrades, first it was for storage batteries and then controllers and inverters. System 3 and 4 now each have Blue Sky 25amp 12v controllers ( for about $225  (subtotal $450) and new three new 110 watt 12v PV panels for about $100 each (subtotal $600). I added 12 deep cycle marine batteries at $120 each (subtotal $1,440).

Upgrade total cost $2,490
Running total up to 2012  $5,990

There were several useful power tasks getting done off the grid.

Then in 2012 I decided to tackle the refrigerator and freezer power requirements. I was still pretty much a newbie to the dynamics of solar photo-voltaic technology.

But my estimates were that I should we able to handle my refrigeration needs with four 245watt 24volt PV panels.

Panels like that are available commonly online at Amazon for $400 each (

The panels cost about $1,600.

Also needed were cables and a combiner box and miscellaneous hardware.

Add another $400. 

Since watts divided by volts equals amps, then 4 units of 245watts/24volts would gnerate about 41amps.

I bought a charge controller that could handle 50amps of current to charge my batteries. It was a Blue Sky Solar Boost SB50L 12/24V 50amp MPPT PV Charge Controller. At Amazon (

The controller cost about $500. I think it is out of production but still available.

I decided to shop locally for batteries. I found Walmart sold a variety of deep cycle batteries for running boat accessories. Deep cycle batteries are built for a slow extended draw downs rather than starting cranking power needed for cars. At first I bought four 12 volt 115 amp-hour deep cycle marine batteries (the largest capacity Walmart carried in house). I set them up parallel-serial for 24volts. The system was not comfortable keeping my 18 cubic GE refrigerator and our 7 cubic foot bin freezer 24-7 until we added four more batteries.

The batteries cost about $120 each x 8 = about $1,000. 

The batteries power a Xantrex Prosine 1800watt 120ac power inverter that has two ground-default interrupt outlets (

The inverter cost about $1,600.

So the bottom line was that to get refrigerator and freezer of the grid cost me about $5,000 in 2012.

Total for refrigeration $5,000
Running total to 2013 $10,990

Hooking up the Load Center
This is where we get serious. In 2013 I decided to invest in a system that would be big enough to power our current load center (breaker box). Something on the scale of a 100amp system. For some system equipment I had gone to Ron Castle at Sunshine Works ( Over the years he has provided me a lot of good information.

I asked him to help me set up a system I could install myself. We worked out a budget and began the final lap in producing the power we (Linda and I) would be using in the future.

We ordered eight 245 watt 24 volt panels ($2,400) with a 50 amp Midnight Solarn combiner box ($200) leading to controller/inverter system by Outback FlexPower One ($3,500) hooked up to eight 405 amp-hour 6 volt deep cycle sealed AGM SunXtender  batteries ($5,600) with miscellaneous hardware, cables, racks, connectors etc. ($1,000).

Outback System Total of $12,700
Running total to 2014 of $23,690

With the help of a friend or two at various times we set up the panels on racks attached to the roof and wired them to the combiner box. We dropped the outgoing cable down through the carport roof to where the Outback system was mounted next to the load center on the wall against the house.
Image above:The Outback Flex Power One (above the skull) and over the eight battery array. The house load center is the dingy gray box over the light. Left is the dryer and right is the freezer.

Living with Less
The Outback unit has two 110VAC GFI outlets on it. At first once we powered up the system that's all I ran to a load to. I hooked up a strip with the washer and dryer as well as a couple of power tools to see how things would go. The Outback system fed the batteries and the batteries hardly blinked with the load.

We also shutoff the 240v heating coil in our hot water heater. The coil is a backup to the hot water solar panel on the roof. We needed to see if we would have enough hot water for doing dishes at night and taking showers in the morning without the coil.

That's because the Outback inverter only provides 120vac. There wouldn't be anymore 240volts available. It turned out we didn't need the coil.

After a few months running the system (including through last winter) it seemed like we were good to go for replacing KIUC as the power supplying electricity to the load center.

It was clear all we had to do was take one of the "hot" lines and the neutral line off the house side of the main power breaker and hook those two lines to the AC "hot" out and neutral bus on the Outback unit and we'd be free of KIUC. About a week before Earthday, April 22nd we did that.

The Outback system did fine handling the extra load of all the lighting in the house as well as the 24x7 load of our wifi system and wireless phones, as well as battery chargers etc.

The only problem has been some of the old wiring in the house that dates back to 1980. When running our big toaster oven or microwave the Outback detects a ground fault error and shuts down. We will probably have to have the old kitchen outlets replaced with GFI units. I may choose to replace the load center entirely.

Calling KIUC for Disconnect
Before Earthday I called KIUC for a disconnect. It's one of the first options in their call response system. Shantel answered the call and was quite efficient and pleasant getting an assignment arranged to remove the meter. I also asked her to remove the KIUC line from the house. Her response truly surprised me. She asked:
"Are you going to demolish the house?"
="No", I replied. I laughed because I realized that was the only reason she could think of to remove the grid from where you lived. Oa contraire.
When the KIUC truck came to unhook me from the grid and saw the Outback purring away in the carport he smiled and said simply:
"Good idea."
I watch the load on the six systems throughout the day and especially the night. I worry most about the evening lighting and entertainment load on the Outback system and the evening overnight load on the refrigerator system.

I choose to use lighting available from the smaller systems to offset the power needs on the breaker box the load center. I minimize the number of time and length of time the reefer door is open. I check the voltages on each system a couple of times before bed.

Sailing vs Power Boat
My experience so far tells me if your going to run close to the limits of your system it's better to have multiple systems that can substitute and provide power to each other. If you really lean of the reefer/freezer system batteries too much, before damaging them you can plug into a house outlet off the load center.

You can also shutoff the Outback system entirely for a few days and let your batteries get fully charged after three days of winter overcast. You may have to skimp on power but they'll be some lighting and something good in the fridge.

It's like sailing a boat, instead of driving a car. Trim the sails, check the sky, feel the waves. You're closer to the source of power - and responsible for it. Therefore, you have to be more careful with the use of power. It's on you!

I think it's going to work out. We will economize a bit but our life will be not much different. Of course eventually the batteries will need replacing. Then it might be difficult to afford or find replacements for them.

We may then be down to a smaller use of electricity - maybe even in time none - but by then we'll be use to it.

See also:
Island Breath: Dealing With Chaos 10/7/08
The last 6 months bought 3 60watt PV panel arraysthat  feed into three small battery/inverter systems. Cost $1,800.
Ea O Ka Aina: Off-Grid Night Lighting 8/14/09
Off-the-shelf solar powered system for bedroom lighting for under $1,000.



Familia Tober-Zambrano said...

Congratulations! What an investment of both time and money. Just a small detail....we lived outside of Quito Ecuador for the last 5 years...spring like climate....and never needed a dryer and washed dishes in cold water (Latin America is full of "hard" soap in a container that cuts any grease we may have in our mostly vegan diet) So I'm wondering why not do the same in Hawaii??

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Familia T-Z,

We generally dry our clothes on a line in our open workshop/laundry. If it's raining or during the winter we do often use the dryer. It is propane heated and only uses electricity to tumble the clothes.

We have enough sun here in Hawaii on the south side of Kauai to keep our 80 gallon hot water storage piping hot. Even after a shower in the morning the early breakfast dishes can be washed in hot water.

We are almost at sea level. Quito is well over a mile high in altitude. I lived in Iran at over 7000ft elevation and liked the crispness of the air. I do remember the cars and buses struggling up the hills due to less oxygen in the air. Quite a different climate.

Best wishes to you and your family.

IB Publisher

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Juan! Bet you had tongues wagging at KIUC. Hah Hah.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Could you clarify the model of battery you bought from Walmart?

Juan Wilson said...

Aloha Anonymous,

They are deep cycle marine batteries. Everstart Maxx-29 125 amp hour.

They have worked well for me.

IB Publisher

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