OFF-GRID ENERGY SYSTEMS: Tour a Real-World Solar Panel System With 20+ Year Track Record

VIDEO BELOW: Got an interest in building your own off-grid solar panel and wind energy system? I’ve got a true story that you might find interesting . . . a story about a couple who build an off-grid energy system back in 1998 that’s been powering their modern lifestyle ever since.

 When Anne and Fritz Kettling decided to build their dream home on a rural island in Canada back in the 1980s, they weren’t willing to compromise on location. “If I can’t build on this property, I don’t want to build at all”, Fritz told a real estate agent who was trying to convince him to look at other pieces of land to buy back then. That was more than 30 years ago, and true to his word, Fritz built where he wanted to and lived there. The project came with challenges, of course, and one of the biggest was getting electricity to their place when the nearest utility pole was 10 miles away. A grid connection would have cost $360,000 back then (more than $560,000 in 2021 dollars) Fritz told me, plus he’d have to pay for utility power forever after that. Naturally, Fritz and Anne said “no thanks”, then got to work creating their own alternative, renewable power system, even before it was nearly as mainstream as these things are now.

Anne Fritz
Anne and Fritz Kettling outside their off-grid home. Their alternative energy system has been powering their modern lifestyle since 1998. Sadly, Fritz has passed away but his system is still working as well as ever.

The renewable off-grid solar panel and wind energy system the Kettlings have been living with uses photovoltaic solar panels, a wind turbine, a bank of batteries and an inverter to create AC power for their modern home. Total renewable power output is 10,000 watts and the original batteries , wind turbine and PV panels are still working perfectly today. The Kettlings’ experience is especially useful for anyone looking to create a large, full-featured renewable power system. Their bank of mono-crystalline panels puts out 1400 watts on a sunny day, and the Bergey wind turbine has been putting out 1500 watts of peak power year-in and year-out for more than 20 years without need for servicing. Since they’re entirely responsible for creating power on their own, the Kettlings also installed a propane-fired backup generator just in case.

Solar Panel Overview

This is the photovoltaic array that provides about half of the renewable power in the Kettlings’ system. It uses mono-crystalline PV cells and sits on a fixed stand that does two things. First, the stand keeps the panels high enough to be safe, yet low enough for snow and ice removal during Canadian winters. Electricity from these panels feeds into a charge controller that determines how much energy the batteries need. Panels like these have a typical service life of 25 years. Today’s best panels guarantee an output of at least 80% of rated production over 20 to 25 years.

This 1400 watt photovoltaic array sits next to the Kettlings’ rural Canadian island home. These mono-crystalline panels are mounted on a fixed stand and part of their 28 volt system.

This charge controller is the brains of the Kettlings’ off-grid power system, and it’s the kind of thing found on all systems that include batteries. The charge controller monitors battery charge state and allows more or less power to the batteries for charging. This particular charge controller was state of the art 20+ years ago, but today better units are available for less money. One of the keys to long battery life is to minimize the extent to which batteries get discharged during use. Fritz has always maintained batteries so they don’t discharge more than 20% of their capacity and this is why they’re still working perfectly today. His system uses a collection of 4 volt deep cycle marine batteries normally used as part of the electrical system of ocean-going ships. Taken together the batteries power two 5000 watt inverters – one that powers the home and another that powers Fritz’s metalworking shop.

charge load controller
This charge controller directs power from three sources of energy on its way to the bank of batteries – solar panels, a wind turbine and a stationary backup generator. Charge controllers are essential parts of any full-featured off-grid system.

Click below for a video tour of the Kettlings’ off-grid energy system.