– By Roy Maddox, Founder & Director

This article about DIY off grid solar is long overdue.

Doing it yourself makes sense doesn’t it? Kiwis are a nation of do-it-yourself people. We’ll give anything a go – even off grid solar. And why the hell not?

But doing it yourself isn’t for everyone.

This is because despite it looking as cheap as chips at the start, it can end up costing you a huge amount of time, inconvenience and money in the long term.

It’s true because we see it all the time.

DIY off grid solar can work

Just to be clear, we’re not trying to discourage anyone from doing it yourself. This is not an anti DIY off grid solar rant.

There is a place for someone to provide DIY off grid solar systems in New Zealand.

In fact, for customers who go into it with their eyes open, who are technically minded, who have the time to get educated, who understand the risks and who have a passion for the technology – then it’s worth considering.

In other words, if you’re doing it for the right reasons then our attitude is ‘good for you’.

Sadly, more and more, we are coming across people who are turning to DIY off grid mainly because it seems CHEAPER and they just simply want to pay less.

Fair enough.

However, because their decision is mainly about the price…

+ They don’t understand the risks of getting bad advice – or getting it wrong

+ They don’t understand that the components are cheap for a reason

+ They don’t appreciate that they don’t know what they don’t know – and therefore don’t consider important factors until it’s too late

+ They don’t appreciate that some online vendors probably won’t be around to help out in 5 years with warranty claims or technical issues when they occur (and they will occur – sorry)

Despite all that, if that sounds like you and you need to make your decision based on your budget, then we understand that DIY may be your only solution.

But if you want to know the hidden costs of DIY off grid solar – then read on.

“I’m broke, so I can’t afford to buy cheap”

My Dad used to say to me all the time “I’m broke, so I can’t afford to buy cheap”.

No, he wasn’t talking about home-brand baked beans from Countdown or low cost domestic flights.

He was talking about the important stuff. Stuff like personal transportation, tools, anything to do with renovating the house and appliances.

I don’t know about you, but at Power Station we think that the reliable supply of electricity to your home is ‘important stuff’.

Can you really afford to buy cheap?

Cheap for a reason

Low-priced doesn’t mean bad – we all know that. But when it comes to important stuff like powering your home – it’s about the balance of probability.

In other words, components that your supplier buys cheap from Ali Baba out of China have a higher probability that they’ll be inferior.

diy off grid solar nzThis is NOT to say that all low-priced components are inferior. We’re just saying that on the balance of probability it makes sense that they will be.

And we should know.

Why? Because over many years, we’ve travelled to solar and battery trade shows, conferences and events all around the world to explore developments in this exciting field.

You can take it from me that there is no shortage of super-inexpensive and super-crappy components coming out of China.

In fact, it’s staggering just how dodgy some of this s**t can be once you peel off the cover and peek inside.

For the sake of short-term profit, it would have been easy to sell this stuff into the New Zealand market.

But we won’t.

Sure, there are also some cutting-edge and quality components made in China. They are tremendous value – but they aren’t cheap.

In fact, we buy them, we test them (we have our own in-house engineers who do this) and we sell them as part of an overall solution.

They are proven not only by our engineers, but by hundreds of real people like you who are living off the grid in Aotearoa.

The reality is, when you buy from us, you’re not the guinea pig.

Choosing the right components for you

Long-term success in a business like ours with long-term clients, means we are experienced and trusted to pick the right components from the right manufacturers on your behalf.

For Power Station and our parent company SolarKing we reckon that value, reliability, performance and support are more important than low price.

Most people know that sometimes we all have to pay a bit more to get better value for money over the long term.

This is important because off grid solar is a long-term thing with some components having a 20 year design life.

Ovens vs off grid solutions

We don’t concern ourselves with being the cheapest – and we don’t want to be. Instead we focus on long term value.

We feel concerned when people come to us after looking at a DIY off grid ‘solution’ when it’s clear they are only considering it because it’s low-cost.

Their system has been sold to them as if it’s an appliance (like an oven), and not as an off grid solution.

Inferior or obsolete products, bad advice and lack of experience are a recipe for disaster.

The alternative from us is to have a no-obligation consultation coupled with a full-blown report for you to consider.

There’s no charge for our design service, and it makes sense.

This is just a taste of what you’ll get:

+ We’d do a realistic Load Evaluation (how much power you actually use) for you. By the way, we never just let you fill out a form with a list of appliances and take your word for it! Apart from being as much fun as a dentist visit, 90% of people struggle to get it right. We literally do it with you (both of you if you’re a couple)

+ Details about your changing lifestyle over the next 20 years

+ Other lifestyle factors that could affect the solution we recommend (most people don’t even know what these are)

+ Education about appliance selection and use

+ Understanding your off grid ‘mindset’

+ Doing NIWA sunshine hour analysis in your area to calculate the precise size of your system based on your goals

+ Preparing panel and roof panel plans for you and your builder (if a new build), or your installer

+ Understanding your changing needs over the years (this helps us decide what battery chemistry you need – lithium vs carbon etc)

+ Important tips and tricks gained from years of experience

And lots, lots more that you’ll only get from people who have been doing this for years with hundreds of real customers.

“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

Do you know this saying? It’s a bit of wisdom that means that with limited tools, single-minded people apply them inappropriately or indiscriminately.

Beware DIY solar off grid sellers who tend to offer only one option when it comes to components.

Some of them may be selling obsolete battery technology (such as deep cycle sealed AGM batteries). Sure, they’re cheap but bad value because they will only last a fraction of other types of battery technology. We stopped recommending them years ago and only offer them in limited situations.

With Power Station, your solution and system will be customised for you; everyone is different.

And because we recommend a range of different proven brands, battery chemistries and technologies, our toolbox has more than just one tool in it!

Is DIY off grid for you?

DIY off grid solar may be for you if:

+ You are constrained by the budget and don’t need a solution to last more than 3-5 years

+ You are not ‘time poor’ and can do your own research to design the system that fits you

+ You have a passion or interest for off grid solar and are a practical person

+ You are an electrician or have a solid relationship with a local electrician who has experience with off grid

+ You are comfortable with components that may be unproven

On the other hand, if it’s not just about the money and you need a solution that’s fit-for-purpose and customised, then please get in touch.

Sometimes, even if the budget’s tight we can’t afford to buy cheap.

Thank you for reading this.

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