Designing a Stand-Alone PV System: Page 4 of 6


Inside this Article

Ackerman-Leist Pole-Mounted Array
The Ackerman-Leist pole-mounted array stands at the garden’s edge, an integrated part of the family’s homestead.
A Watt-Hour Meter
A watt-hour meter gives precise figures on consumption for appliances already owned. Without that information, the values in the “Loads” table must be estimated.
Battery Bank
Contained in this simple battery box, three parallel strings of four 225 Ah Trojan T-105 batteries make a 24 V, 675 Ah battery bank.
Back of Pole-Mounted Array
This pole-mounted array offers unimpeded solar access at the site from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Outback Power Controller
Step-down MPPT controllers can help decrease wiring costs by allowing PV array voltage to be higher than the battery bank voltage.
Xantrex Inverter
Select an inverter to handle the maximum loads that will be on at once in the home. Choosing the next larger size will help ensure your system can meet the demands of future loads.
Ackerman-Leist Pole-Mounted Array
A Watt-Hour Meter
Battery Bank
Back of Pole-Mounted Array
Outback Power Controller
Xantrex Inverter

Step 3: Array Sizing

Now that we have calculated loads and storage, next calculate the array size in watts, and the number of PV modules needed. The array calculations must include Wh per day (calculated from the average daily load), the location’s solar resource, expressed in daily peak sun-hours, battery efficiency losses (about 20%), module temperature losses (about 12%), possible array shading, and a conservative derate multiplier to account for things like wire losses, module soiling, and production tolerance.

Peak sun-hours are the equivalent number of hours per day when solar irradiance (intensity) averages 1,000 watts per square meter, as derived from the National Solar Radiation Database ( Dividing the Wh required by the location’s peak sun-hours leaves us with the initial PV array watts needed. For this sizing example, the solar data for Concord, New Hampshire (at 43.2°N) provides the closest estimate of the solar resource for Pawlet, Vermont (at 43.3°N) at an array tilt angle equal to latitude. Since this system is using a backup generator, the average daily peak sun-hours can be used (4.6), as the generator can cover energy shortages during periods of low insolation or high energy consumption—or both. If less generator run time is desired, the array size must be increased or daily energy consumption must be reduced appropriately (or both).

Battery efficiency: Since batteries are not 100% efficient in converting electrical energy into chemical energy and back again, the array size must be increased to account for energy lost in the storage process. A common battery efficiency is 80%.

PV temperature losses: Module standard test conditions (STC) ratings, which are based upon a cell temperature of 77°F (25°C), don’t reflect real-world operating conditions. To account for losses due to higher cell temperatures, a derating value of 0.88 can be used. This assumes an average daytime ambient temperature of 68ºF and an estimated cell temperature of 122°F. (Another way to calculate temperature losses would be to use the specific module’s maximum power temperature coefficient, in conjunction with a cell temperature based on the record high daytime local temperature.)

Shading coefficient: Although 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. is often considered the ideal solar window, site-specific shading should always be evaluated for the whole day. Even moderate shading can have a substantial impact on array output. In the case of this sizing example, with a shade-free solar window of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., an average shading coefficient of 0.90 was determined with a Solar Pathfinder array siting tool.

Derate factor: A 0.85 derate factor (from NREL’s PVWatts online performance calculator) accounts for other system losses, including module production tolerances, module mismatch, wiring losses, dust/soiling losses, etc. An experienced designer can adjust this value to reflect conditions for your specific site. See the table for a summary of these values.

2,360 Wh daily load ÷ 4.6 peak sun hours ÷ 0.8 battery efficiency ÷ 0.88 temp. losses ÷ 0.9 shading coefficient ÷ 0.85 system derate = 953 W peak array

953 ÷ 80 W STC individual module = 12 modules needed

48 V nominal array voltage ÷ 12 V nominal module voltage = 4 modules per string, 3 strings total

The resulting 12-module array will have a capacity of 960 W STC, rounded up slightly from the 953 W specified in the calculations. Although the DC system voltage and the battery bank are 24 VDC, this array can be wired at a higher voltage of 48 VDC, because of the “step-down” feature of the charge controller being used. Since the modules are nominally rated at 12 V, they will have to be wired into three series-strings of four modules each.

If these calculations seem conservative, it is because they are. It is imperative to design a system that will operate reliably and efficiently—and that will produce, on average, the expected amount of energy required. In other words, it is the designer’s job to give the system manager/homeowner a realistic idea of what to expect.

Comments (8)

Brady Sheridan's picture

I have been reading quite a few of these articles and comments, great magazine and information source! I wondered if I could get someone to do a logic check on what I think I have learned for a small off grid home?
A) What you consume in electricity daily and the average daily sun hours etc. determines the size of the solar array in watts produced per hour and the battery bank of storage you require in amp hours.
B) The total electricity used in watts at one time, as well as the type of load (120/240), determines the size of the inverter you will require.
C) Your solar array setup, how many panels in series, how many parallel strings, is determined by the panels, watts, amps, volts and the charge controller.
After using a number of calculators and links to calculators provided by this site has brought me to the following possible design:

Daily Consumption: 8,000 watts (wood heat, propane HW & cooking)

Battery Storage: 38,400 watts; (48 volts @ 800 amp hours; 2 days storage at 50% dod, generator bu)

Solar Array: 3.6kwh = 16 x 230watt panels arranged 4 to a series of 4 parallel strings (3.5 hrs winter sun, 5.5 spring/fall, 8.5 summer)

Charge Controller: Midnight Classic 200 (Classic Sizing Tool used to calc the solar panel arrangement)

Inverter: Magnum MS4448PAE (based consumption and the 240v deep well pump)

Does this look like I am understanding correctly?

Michael Welch's picture
Hi Brady. It seems like you have a good handle on this. Maybe your battery is a little large for my liking -- these days solar has gotten so cheap that folks are using smaller batteries and larger arrays to fill the batteries quicker and even get some energy on cloudy days. I run my small off-grid home with under 12 kwh of battery, with a much smaller PV array and no backup generator. An array can meet the day's usage and fill up a battery, discharged to your max DOD, in one day of full winter sun. There are lots of different opinions on how to approach battery & array sizing, and this one is how I've been thinking about off-grid systems lately. Are you going to do your own installation? If not, your installer will run through your figures with you (and they may have different equipment that they prefer). If you are buying from a retailer, a good one will also help you check your calcs. Let me know if you'd like a recommendation for an installer near you, retailer, or consultant. Email michael dot welch at homepower dot com Times of year are very important -- the winter time has a lot less sun, and is a time when more electric energy is used. Also critical is to get your usage absolutely correct. Underestimating and your system won't perform well. On the other hand, folks not used to off-grid living will often underestimate their ability to conserve energy, and also figure in inefficient appliances, rather than looking at buying new, more efficient ones. Yes, and another factor is surge power, like when you first start a well pump it takes a lot more power (for a few milli-seconds) than once it is running. Generally, inverters within the normal power usage range required will also handle surge. But what if your pump and your fridge start at the same time? Personally, I recommend 25% DOD, to make the batteries last as long as possible. They are heavy and a pain in the butt to change out. And also for that reason, I recommend industrial-type batteries (metal-casings & 2 V individual cells, usually but not always) rather than commercial-type (like the L-16 category). More expensive, but cheaper in the long run -- specially if you value the time and effort involved in swapping batteries.
Brady Sheridan's picture

Thanks for reading and replying. I now see what you mean about the large battery storage. I guess i did as an occupational hazard, "accountants are to always prepare for a loss" thus the overestimate for batteries.
Since you stated that i also found another sizing tool, after keying in all the numbers, it shows my battery status as being at less than 10% state of discharge for the most of the year. Definitely over sized. I ended up using such a large array because i was offered an incredible deal but i had to buy the whole pallet at $0.78/watt (and that's with our Monopoly money north of the border)
Its the only purchase i have made yet till I fine tune the system design.
I also inherited an Onan 20kw genny, all the more reason not to oversize the batteries.
I would like to install as much as I can myself, as I am really enjoying the whole process. I suspect I will at least end up with a local electrician/PV installer reviewing everything for safety etc.
As far as batteries I was thinking the similar to you, forklift batteries, 2v cells. Thanks again for the input, much appreciated.

Marty Rosenzweig's picture

Very straight forward article but am I missing something here? Where is the "array sizing" adjusted for the C/10 optimum charge rate for those batteries? 3 X 225 Ahr /10 = 67.5A. necessary for the battery charging (plus accommodation for the load amps).
Even at C/15 that's 45A. I speak from experience since I designed an identical system for my house in Mexico. After about a year, the battery inertia (don't know what else to call the increased internal battery resistance) made bringing up to full charge those three strings more and more difficult and I experienced somewhat premature battery failure in less than 4 years. Even the addition of 300 W.more panels were not satisfactory. I've settled on 2 strings (450 Ahr.) with the 1200 watt array and two days of autonomy. We'll see how long the new batteries last under these conditions.
It would be beneficial to hear how the Vermont design is currently holding up and to track the battery life in the future.

Justine Sanchez's picture

Hi Marty,
Thanks for your comments! Joe has already covered the key aspects to battery longevity. I would also just like to add a few additional thoughts...while we can dial in the charge rate of an battery charger utilizing a generator (or the grid if avail) to charge batteries, from my experience an array is usually sized to simply replace lost energy from the battery bank on a daily basis. If we oversized the array to meet a specific charge rate (including during the winter months), we likely would have a significant portion of our array producing excess energy the rest of the year...and in an off-grid setting no place to utilize that excess other than a dump load. Historically it is the job of a backup generator to get those batteries topped off when the array (sized for estimated daily energy consumption) cannot.

A few other notes...Not sure what the rest of your system is comprised of but an MPPT charge controller will help wring some extra amps out of those modules, especially during cool sunny days. Also keeping the parallel battery strings to a minimum (one is ideal) will help keep battery bank charge/discharge imbalances from reducing battery longevity. And of course making sure the batteries are regularly maintained (watered, tops cleaned, connections checked for corrosion or loose hardware, etc.) will also increase battery life.

Home Power Magazine

Joe Schwartz's picture

Hey, Marty. We'll check in with Khanti and see if we can get some information on the performance of his system/batteries to date. Few thoughts related to battery charging:

First, historically, most off-grid PV systems were not designed to meet a battery manufacturer's optimal charge rate. The cost of modules was simple too high for most people to afford/achieve a c/10 charge rate for example. With the falling cost of modules higher charge rates in the range of c/10 are becoming more common.

Designing a system to meet a battery manufacturer's optimal charge rate is significantly less important to battery longevity than the following:

1. System's should be designed to replace all of the energy used on a (sunny) daily basis including system efficiency losses.

2. The battery bank should be fully recharged as often as possible, at least once a week and more frequently is always better. It should be completely recharged every sunny day.

3. Systems should be sized to limit the average daily depth of battery discharge to around 20% and again, less is always better. For example, my off-grid system is designed for a daily depth of discharge of 10%.

4. Off-grid system owners need to avoid the common scenario of falling into a pattern of cycling their batteries between say 80-60% capacity on a daily basis and rarely recharging them fully. Run the engine generator when necessary to avoid this scenario.

5. Flooded batteries should be equalized regularly per the manufacturer's recommendations.


Geoffrey Kaila_3's picture

Hi Khanti,

I refer to your article designing a stand alone PV system in HP 136. I have two observations; 1. Cound't you have used a higher voltage than 48V on the PV side to maximize the MPPT benefit. 2. When I use the PWM sizing method I get the same # of modules. I thought the MPPT method would reduce the # of modules. Please clarify. Thank you and best regards,

Geoffrey kaila

Art Drayton's picture

Nice article - particularly like the emphasis at the start of energy efficiency first! Cheers - Aussie Art

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