A Guide to Maintaining Off-Grid Power Systems Over Winter

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A Guide to Maintaining Off-Grid Power Systems Over Winter

Preparation for the winter months is essential to ensure you’re able to extend the life cycle of your off-grid power system; particularly if you reside in cold climates or in an area prone to snow, such as the Scottish Highlands
 
That said, even if you live in a warmer, drier climate, now is an excellent time to review the maintenance programme and the condition of your equipment. 
 
Prevention is better than the cure, they say. And this would certainly apply to maintaining your equipment in your own time, rather than if something were to go wrong in the middle of the night.
 
In this piece, we’re going to look at what you can do to ensure your system is ready for the colder months to come. 
 

Think Carefully About Solar Panel Positioning

 
Some larger systems come with an adjustable rack mount for solar panels, so if you have one of these, it’s a good idea to position it at an angle that can capture the most of the winter sun.
 
The right angle can make a big difference when it comes to the amount of power that is harvested by the system. This is particularly crucial on the shorter or cloudier days when sunshine is particularly scarce.
 
The ideal panel position is usually the latitude of your location, plus 15 degrees or so. This results in the best angle to take advantage of the sun. 
 

Keep Clear as Much as Possible

Remembering to clear snow, leaves and excess moisture is essential during winter. Keeping a brush or a broom with an extending handle around means you can clear off snow, debris, and water habitually.

This is especially important during snowy or sub-zero cold snaps since it will take much longer for your panels to collect any solar radiation if the panel is covered in snow or ice.
 
Clearing the panels regularly means that you can take advantage if you’re out and about and the clouds suddenly give way to a spot of sunshine. 
 

Generator Maintenance 

Now is also the ideal time to think about generator maintenance as well. Aside from the basics, such as oil belts, coolant, air filters, and spark plugs, it’s vital to refer to your owner manual to ensure you’re maintaining any model-specific components.
 
It’s a good idea to inspect your starter battery too; if your generator hasn’t run regularly since the previous winter, it may need to be replaced or recharged before it is used. 
 

Off-Grid Batteries

It is possible to store your batteries in a relatively cold environment, but there are few things you need to keep in mind over winter, such as:
 
  • The energy storage capacity of your batteries in cold temperatures is reduced temporarily. Instruments such as battery monitors can be used to find a more accurate charge state.
  • Battery temperature sensors for your charge controller and your inverter should also be used to check that your batteries are at their optimum charging points. 
  • A battery at full charge, used on a daily basis, will not freeze unless the temperate drops below -56˚C. Whereas batteries at around a 50% state of charge, can freeze in temperatures of around -23˚C.  
  • Don’t allow your battery charge to dip too low. The sulfuric acid within the batteries when only used sporadically can stratify. This results in thinner liquid layers at the top of the battery and thicker layers of sulfuric acid forming towards the bottom. When this happens, it’s possible that the thinner layer can freeze and form cracks in the casing of the battery.

Ongoing Maintenance

Extended Leave
If your power system is left unattended for extended periods of time, such as holiday homes for example, you need to make allowances to ensure that your equipment remains in good condition for your return. 
 
Flooded lead-acid batteries remain optimal when they are used on a frequent basis, so depending on your set up and equipment, there are a few things you can do:
 
  • If you run an automatic generator start with your inverter and you’ve invested in a high-quality generator, there’s no reason that you can’t leave the inverter on so there’s a readily available charge in the event of poor weather or solar panel obstruction. 
  • If you don’t have an automatic generator start, make sure the inverter is turned off, along with all the Direct Current loads. Instead, leave the charge controller running, so at least there is some float charge to the batteries to keep them topped up. 
Fine-Tuning & Understanding the Weather in Your Area
 
We all know that the sun tends to be an infrequent presence over winter, so it’s crucial that you take advantage of the good days when they do happen. Any system owner will need to learn how their system reacts to regular charging and battery equalising. This is why it’s important to consider increasing absorb times and the equalise settings on your charge controller for the colder months of the year. 
 
It may also be a good idea to make a note of the seasonal settings that you find work best for your area. This way, you don’t need to spend time fiddling with your settings every time the seasons change. 
 
Search mode on the inverter should be enabled all round, but this becomes particularly important during those colder months. When search mode in on, power consumption on the inverter switches to no-load operation and is decreased by about 70%. 
 
In this function, the multi is switched off in the case of no-load or a very low load, and switches on every few seconds for a short period. Should the output current exceed a set level, the inverter will shut down once again. The extra few hundred watt-hours each day can make a real difference.

Increasing Solar Panel Coverage
 
There’s no answer to how many solar panels you should have, but generally speaking, the more you have, the more energy you can harvest. Whether you should increase the amount you have really depends on budgets and the seasonal factors that impact your area. 
 
The overall goal is to maximise the natural resource of the sun so that you can cut down on your reliance on generator and fuel usage. Alternatively, as many who live off-grid will tell you, it’s really just a matter of changing your behaviours slightly over winter – this is even more important given that you may be at home more due to the pandemic.
 
For example, running the washing machine multiple times a day is absolutely fine when you’re experiencing a lovely sunny day. But, if you’re faced with a miserable, rainy day, then you should consider just washing the essentials. 
 
Of course, you’ll also have your batteries and generator to turn to in an emergency, but again, you’re looking to decrease your reliance on these. In the end, it’s the small lifestyle tweaks that make all the difference, such as replacing your light bulbs with LED’s or eco-bulbs.

What We Can Offer

At Powerguard we have a fully integrated off-grid power solution that offers users the ultimate option for balanced power production, which means you don’t need to worry about power distribution to your off-grid property throughout the winter. 
 
Our system utilises a top-of-the-line generator paired with the Powerguard PS System, robust deep discharge batteries and solar panels, wind turbines or a combination of both. This is designed to ensure that a user can rely on automatic, efficient and dependable power every minute of the day.
 
When using a stand-alone alone generator to power your application it means you can leave it running, or manually start it when required. Of course, the first option wastes fuel and becomes costly, whereas the second option is certainly not convenient. However, the Powerguard PS System bypasses both of these issues.
 
This is because the system can automatically manage the generator to ensure you’re able to rely of 24/7 electricity. 
 
Find out more here >
 

Takeaways

As we’ve mentioned, it’s better to prepare your system in the run-up to winter, rather than experience a failure at the worst possible time.
 
Routinely maintaining and having a good knowledge of how your system works in terms of daily usage and weather patterns, will not only serve you well in winter but throughout the life cycle of the system too.
 
If you’re interested in expert fine-tuning of your current solution, or you’re interested in placing a new system in 2020, then why not contact us today?
 

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If you require more information please do not hesitate to contact us on +44 (0)1507 600688