Thursday, January 28, 2016

Renogy Solar Panel Review

I recently purchased a hunting cabin (lovingly called "The Shack") and currently camp there. I will someday live there and I hope to remain off-grid.  I recently obtained a Renogy Solar Panel and accessories. This is my solar panel review for dummies, by a solar power dummy.

If you are a techie, looking for in-depth technical information about these panels, you will not find it here. If you are someone interested in having some solar power, but are intimidated or if you are interested in hearing about a woman in her 50s who is bound and determined to retire in a self-sufficient cabin... you are in the right place.

Short Term Solar Needs

I currently camp at the shack on weekends or for a few days at a time.  While at some point, an electric pole was installed as was some wiring and a breaker box inside of the building, I have no utilities connected and do not plan to any time soon. However, I quickly became tired of either leaving my phone in the Jeep to charge (a bit scary when I'm up there alone at night) or having to walk back and forth to the Jeep to charge it frequently. I wanted a solar panel to charge my phone with. And wanted something that I could add on to as I began spending longer periods of time up there.

Long Term Plan

My long term plan is to place the panels outside, on some sort of adjustable frame outside with the batteries in a small cubby added on to the shack or a free-standing battery shed.  But that's long term. I have to decide what I'm doing with the shack before I decide how to house my batteries.

In the Meantime... Renogy 

Renogy 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel

When I say Solar Panel review for dummies, that's exactly what I mean.  I am just beginning to learn about watts, amps, and kilowatt hours, inverters, SINE waves, and deep cell batteries. Even though I am very early in the learning curve, I have something to say about my Renogy panels.

They are GREAT!

I received two Renogy solar panels with a solar charge controller for Christmas.  I bought myself a fairly inexpensive inverter.  I was also gifted two 12 volt batteries suitable for this project (I believe they are reclaimed electric wheel chair batteries). 

There are many reasons to love these panels but these are a few of my reasons:

  • My two panels arrived in sturdy cardboard packaging. The packaging was clearly marked with "fragile" and "caution" statements. The panels arrived undamaged.
  • Each panel arrived in it's own box. I have one panel at the shack and the other is being stored safe and sound in my apartment.
  • Each panel has a junction box and wiring - truly "plug and play"
  • Each panel has built-in diodes -- somehow the diodes keep the power from leaking back out.
  • The panels are well-made and sturdy.  
  • The Solar Charge Controller was easy to plug in -- wire included.
  • Included wires have male/female connectors. I was sure I was plugging things in correctly.

My fears  

My biggest fears regarding starting to use solar power were things such as expense, receiving damaged panels that would need to be shipped back, having to figure out how to splice the cords to attach diodes somewhere, and not being able to set it up.

Since I received the solar panels, solar charge controller, and reclaimed batteries from a friend, the expense for the set up was extremely low. But even so, I had been pricing solar panels both online and from local distributors. Renogy panels are a great value at a low price. 

The set up was too easy.  We did a dry run in the apartment. This dry run was mostly because I'm afraid of electrical work and fires. But this turned out to be a matter of plugging things in and tightening battery cables onto batteries. Because diodes are already in place, there was no need to add them to the wires as I had seen in some videos. I repeated the set up at the cabin alone.

Christmas Lights and Cell Phones

So far, I've successfully charged my cell phone and have lighting via a string of Christmas lights (augmenting the lighting from the gas lantern I use).

So far, the solar panel does a great job of collecting the light that comes through the south (south-west) facing window. I am more than happy with the results and can't wait to see what I can power once I install the panels outside.

In this photo, you can see the edge of the solar panel as it leans against the shower stall the previous owners left behind (Yes, shower stall in a dry cabin).  Even in this spot inside, collecting light through a dirty window, I am able to obtain power. 

A word of caution -- batteries can give off fumes while charging and ventilation is important.  At this point in time, the shack is very well ventilation (read - "drafty" or "downright windy"). In a different situation, I would not have the batteries indoors.

Finally, Seeing is believing

This gentleman has made a video of the unboxing of his Renogy 100 watt monocrystalline solar panel.  His opinion is similar to mine and includes comments about the warranties.  

Related Links:

My blog is a mish-mash of personal things (from my dogs, to product reviews, to rambling stories).  But my homesteading-related adventures  and photographs can be found under the label: The Shack.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Wednesday with Words

The second half of my 2015 held some of the singularly most beautiful moments of my life, periods of heart-clenching grief, and the glorious feelings of taking the first steps of turning dreams into reality. I have both gained and lost family members during these months.  I have cried tears of despair and tears of joy - more than once.  I have wanted to share of each of those events with you; separately and in great detail.  But it all became overwhelming and too much to manage - let alone write in a coherent manner. As 2016 is in full swing, I am ready to begin sharing snapshots of some of the moments that continue to shape who I am and who I am becoming.

The Wedding

In August, I posted photos of my trip to Idaho for my Oldest Son's wedding.  His new bride is someone I liked from the moment I met her. And her family are the type of kind-hearted people you want your son to marry in to. 

My Dad

At that very same time, we were learning that my Dad's seemingly minor surgery prep (cataract removal to improve his vision) resulted in finding lumps.  A lump in his head. A lump in his lung. At the wedding in August, I learned that he was withholding information from me - he had three months to live.  

As soon as I was able, I asked him if that was true. He told me he'd be gone in November. My dad was an ornery, intelligent, hard-working man.  He was a man of his word. Even to the end. He passed on November 30, 2015. 

Me and my Dad 

My Grandbaby

I traveled from Idaho, back to Baltimore, then back and forth from Baltimore to Indiana multiple times.  I spent periods of time with Dad as he prepared to pass away. And I spent brief moments filled with great joy in my Youngest Son's family home. We chased each other with "spiderwebs" around Halloween. We watched Inside Out and I Lava You several times. And we just spent quiet time together. My grandbaby is precious and my son's presence is a healing thing for me.


I had a dog named Daisy.  I loved that dog and miss her to this day. 

While fostering a sweet dog named Sugar, people became aware that I was saving room in my home and heart for another rat terrier some day.  That day came when a rat terrier needed a home and Sugar's family contacted me. Was it coincidence that this dogs name was Daisy too? I think not. I agreed to pick her up when I returned from the wedding.  I am a three "baby" home.  Willy, Mittens, and new Daisy.


Now to some background - the beginning of all of the changes. Prior to the wedding (and prior to learning of my father's health crisis) I finally made the right decision to change jobs.  I was hired prior to the wedding and scheduled to begin after the wedding.  

As a brand new employee, I missed periods of time on a new job while traveling to see my Dad.  It was a surreal time. But I could not have made a better decision about changing jobs. Making that transition was one of the best decisions I've made in many years.  

Retirement Plans

Initially, I planned on transferring my meager retirement fund from the old job to new job. But the reality of the cost of travel quickly set in and I decided to cash out that retirement account.  I am vaguely aware that at age 51, emptying a retirement account is financially the wrong thing to do.  But I lived check-to-check, often with $12 to spare each pay period.  I needed travel money.  To assuage some of the guilty feelings, I promised myself to reinvest some of that money into land. Land that I could live on in my retirement.  And the closer I could get to paying cash for that land, the better.

The Shack

I have been dreaming of homesteading and moving to off-grid land for years. Much of my free time was spent browsing "land for sale" ads. I chose a small piece of land on top of a West Virginia mountain ridge. It includes a plywood "hunting cabin" that we lovingly refer to as The Shack.  

On a chilly autumn day, I drove from Baltimore to a small town in West Virginia for closing on the land.  I was not able to pay for it in full, but I managed to borrow a relatively very small amount. After I signed, I drove to the shack and sat for a bit. I sat quietly looking west across the valley. Wondering about the mysteries of life.

Then I hopped in the Jeep and drove west to Indiana to sit with my dad for awhile.

This New Year

It is now nearing the end of January 2016.  I am still reeling from all that has happened.  I am a changing person.  Oh, we all change. Whether we move forward or regress, we always change. There is no staying the same.  My dad used to say something like that. He'd say "you move forward or backwards, you don't stay the same".  He usually said that to me when I was a teen and not doing what I should. But oh how right he was.

My year was certainly full of change.There was not a nice and tidy linear timeline of events as each change completely intertwined with the next. Each event led me forward to today. And today is full of promise and love.