In my last post, I shared my brother’s journey to upgrade his off-grid home from the multi-decade-old original solar system to a new one that meshed with his needs in the modern age. But what did he do with the old panels?
The trouble with utilizing ancient solar panels is that they’re so much less effective than new ones that it often makes more sense to just replace them than to add them into a larger array. The panels don’t have to end up in the trash, though.
Instead, Joey came up with a clever hack that takes advantage of the panels with almost no supporting equipment. What’s the solution? He uses the old panels to pump water from his spring up the hill into a pair of large tanks. The result is free water pressure combined with enough storage to carry him through the dry summer and fall.
The system starts when water gravity-flows from Joey’s spring into a 500-gallon tank. On the right, you see the original spring box, which he’s bypassed.
Inside the plastic tank is a float switch and a pump intake. The switch turns on the pump when water reaches a certain level then turns it off when the water drops to another level. Zero management!
Of course, the pump is fueled by the sun. That doesn’t happen quite by magic, though. Instead, Joey made a pump house out of an old cooler that keeps everything dry while also channeling noise away from the house. A more traditional electric box connects the solar panels and pump.
Water is pumped up the hill through pex tubing and into two 550-gallon tanks connected together. Then the water gravity-flows back down whenever Joey turns on his faucet.
The hill just happens to be high enough to provide 30 PSI!
What would he change if he had to do it over again?
Joey installed his old solar panels on swivel mounts. Now, he wouldn’t bother — solar panels are so cheap, he doesn’t see the need to add fancy infrastructure to soak up every last bit of sun.
Otherwise, his water system is running perfectly! It’s even cat-approved.