Off-Grid Upgrades

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Inside this Article

Lanita Witt
Lanita Witt, one of the owners of Willow Witt Ranch.
1920s farmhouse
The 1920s farmhouse has been subject to several electricity upgrades.
masonry fireplace
A central masonry fireplace provides efficient wood-fired heat all winter.
wood cookstove and gas stove
An evolution of off-grid cooking: vintage wood cookstove on the left and gas stove on the right.
home office and greenhouse
Suzanne in her light and airy home office and greenhouse. This initial farmhouse addition held the first PV system on its roof.
OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter
The OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter provides 3.5 kW on demand for the main house’s PV system.
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries provide enough energy storage to keep the house supplied with electricity through Oregon’s long winter nights.
twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules
The upgraded house system consists of twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules on an adjustable pole mount.
goats produce milk
Twelve goats produce milk, which is distributed to customers using a herd-share model.
milking machines
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy— like these milking machines— are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
equipment for washing and sterilization
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy—like this equipment needed for washing and sterilization— are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
refrigeration
The strict regulations for a commercial dairy— including refrigeration—are large energy consumers, which prompted the installation of a second PV system dedicated to this operation.
PV system on the barn
The PV system on the barn has 21 Samsung 247 W PV modules for a total of 5,187 W. The system is mounted on a purpose-built power shed with a roof tilt equal to the site’s latitude to optimize off-grid winter production.
OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters
The OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters provide 7.2 kW of power for farm operations.
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries, wired for 48 VDC, provide 1,690 amp-hours of storage capacity.
Northern Lights 6 kW generator
Even with a large PV array, the Northern Lights 6 kW generator still provides about 10% of the farm’s energy needs.
Harris Hydro generator
A Harris Hydro generator generates power from a spring located near the farmhouse.
Lanita Witt
1920s farmhouse
masonry fireplace
wood cookstove and gas stove
home office and greenhouse
OutBack Power VFX3524 inverter
Twelve Rolls Surrette S-460 batteries
twelve 130 W Mitsubishi PV modules
goats produce milk
milking machines
equipment for washing and sterilization
refrigeration
PV system on the barn
OutBack Power Systems dual VFX3648 inverters
Four HuP Solar-One 12 V industrial batteries
Northern Lights 6 kW generator
Harris Hydro generator

Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt are the owners of Willow Witt Ranch, a 440-acre sustainable farming enterprise that raises organic, pasture-grown pigs; Alpine goats for milk and backpacking; chickens for meat and eggs; and a wide variety of cold-hardy vegetables. During the 27 years that they’ve been at their property, they’ve successfully lived with renewable energy—and without grid power.

HOME POWER: In addition to your home’s energy needs, you also have a goat dairy and meat operation. With potential large electrical draws such as refrigeration and water heating, did you ever consider connecting to the grid?

WILLOW-WITT: When we bought the property—27 years ago—we contacted the utility to see what the cost of bringing in grid electricity would be. We were four miles from the nearest power pole, and they quoted us a cost of more than $100,000.

HP: So how did you expect to meet your energy needs? How familiar were you with off-grid living?

WW: Suzanne had previously used solar energy at her rural home near Redway, California, from 1976 until 1983. The system powered a few lights, a radio, and a tape player.

Lanita had no experience with living off-grid or farming, although her family had farmed in Texas in the 1940s. She wished to return to a more rural life.

And that we did. In 1986, we moved from our house on 0.7 acres in Napa, California, to a 1920s farmhouse on 440 acres near Ashland, Oregon. We used kerosene lamps and had a propane cookstove and water heater. We heated the space with wood. As the old farmhouse was renovated, we put in wiring to handle either DC or AC, though we had neither at the time.

In 1987—after having been on the ranch for about a year—we decided to use Suzanne’s original PV modules from her Redway home and a battery to power a radio phone. Six years later, however, we were ready for more electricity. We built a combination greenhouse, woodshed, and chicken house, and with a south-facing roof on one end, this structure housed our first complete PV system: four solar-electric modules and four Trojan L16 batteries. We installed electric lighting in the house. We also were required by the county to install a sand filter for the septic system. Since that required a pump, we connected a generator for backup.

HP: What differences did the PV system make in your lives?

WW: We got less sleep as electricity prolonged activity into the dark of the night! (Laughs.) The greatest joy was doing laundry at home instead of at the laundromat that was a 30-minute drive away.

HP: What other RE upgrades have you made since your initial foray into solar electricity?

WW: By 1996, we had paid off the land by doing salvage logging on mistletoe-infested white fir, and selective cutting of diseased and dying trees, so we took out a new loan to put in a water storage tank and piped water from the spring box to flow through a Pelton wheel as it fell into the tank. The tank is located just above the pond, so the overflow from the tank still keeps the pond full. The microhydro generator has a permanent-magnet alternator that outputs wild AC current then is transformed to 12 volts DC and sent to our house system’s batteries. This provides a continuous trickle charge that is especially appreciated during the winter, when solar electricity production is low. We laid 4,000 feet of pipe to have ample water for our domestic use with 50 pounds of water pressure.

That year, we also upgraded our house system to twelve 51 W modules with eight Trojan L16 batteries and a more efficient inverter (from a Trace 2012 to a Trace SW2512).

Comments (1)

Temporary Username 1435's picture

Thank you for this wonderful article.
To Home Power Today, Thank you for the articles!

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