Publisher’s Letter: How Power from the Sun Was a Game Changer

Solar panels temporarily installed on a burned tree (photo by Blaine Howerton)

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By Blaine Howerton, Publisher
North Forty News

When I first purchased my scorched property five years ago, I knew not having utilities would be a considerable challenge. Simply running a power saw required a generator.

So, I got battery-operated power tools.

Then those tools had to be charged. For a while, I charged the batteries in Fort Collins, used them until they ran out of “juice,” and finished working for the day. My working hours were short.

Then, I purchased a generator. That required gas, maintenance, and so on — and it was heavy. Whenever I needed power, I had to turn it on and leave it on for hours. It’s surprising how much energy we use for simple conveniences, like charging tools or a device. If it takes an hour to charge a phone, you will run a generator for an hour or more.

I researched various solar-powered battery systems and found them to be expensive. And they didn’t have the options I wanted. So, I built my own.

Eight solar panels, three lithium batteries, two solar charge controllers, and two power inverters later, and I had two working continuously powered (and portable) systems. They run my Starlink internet, charge my tools and devices, and get me energy for somewhat limited use in the RV I purchased. Air conditioners and microwaves use A LOT of energy. So, I need the generator for those. I use propane for cooking, heat, and my refrigerator.

This energy was not free. It was probably around $4,000 to build the systems. It was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as contracting the power company to install power down 2 miles of a private road. And then pay utilities every month on top of that. Ten years ago, this solar system would not have been possible. I love technology!

As the sun rises, the panels top off the batteries from the overnight use of power, and by late morning everything is back up to 100%.

During the summer, it works great! In the winter — that’s a different story. My property faces North, turning into a tundra for about four months. But the generators (I now have several) charge the batteries in the systems when I need them to, so it’s not entirely self-sufficient (yet anyway).

I realize I could have hired a solar professional to get this all done within a month or two, but I prefer to build it when I can. Even if I did hire a professional, would that professional know the challenges I would face through the different seasons, where the sun would fall on the mountain, and provide me with a day-to-day charging schedule? Perhaps, they are professionals after all! But, that sounds time-consuming and expensive. It sure would have been nice if I had the resources to do it. But I got it done! Thank you, YouTube!

And, having a sun-powered RV and continuously running high bandwidth, satellite-based internet is sure excellent!

I also know that our carbon footprint in this world is lower, AND I don’t have to pay another utility bill.