High Altitude Rocky Mountain Off-grid Solar

Written By Tina Boniface

On April 19, 2016

At a Glance:

Read our latest customer interview with Richard Marchese as he talks about his 5.23 kW off-grid solar power system in the tiny town of Ward, Colorado at 9,500 feet in elevation.

Richard Marchese contacted Independent Power Systems seeking an off-the-grid power system for his home which sits above the tiny town of Ward, Colorado at 9,500 feet on a south-facing slope with a view of Colorado’s front range.

A long-time on-and-off Boulderite, a self-professed sixties hippie of New Jersey origins, Richard is finally retiring to his longstanding dream cabin which he built decades ago.

The electrical load requirements for Richard’s cabin were relatively typical (the one exception being his steam shower which pulls 8000 Watts).

Richard is now served by a robust IPS off-grid power system that boasts our top-quality equipment and engineering: SunPower panels on our custom ‘floating’ ground mount array, Concorde AGM batteries, Outback Power inverter and charge controllers, and both a propane Kohler DC generator and a backup gasoline Honda AC generator. Working together they provide a super-efficient, reliable, and seamless supply of power to his home including his steam shower – just like he has always wanted!

1.  Why did you decide to choose to go with an off-grid power system rather than extending the grid?

   In brief, I wanted independence.

2.  What were your concerns – if any – about going with an off-grid system?

It was important to find the right company to accomplish this. I interviewed three solar companies. It was pretty obvious to me that IPS was the one on the ball. Tony, the owner of Independent Power Systems looked around my property, picked out the perfect place for the batteries, then drew me a sketch as he explained how the system would work. His system would employ a special DC generator that has served duty in many remote locations. (DC generators are typically used for remote telecommunication sites. Rarely are they used for off-grid home systems but are attractive as they are much more fuel-efficient than AC generators.) It is a very quiet generator. The solar modules are mounted on high-grade steel and are welded together to stand up against the very high winds common at this altitude. The inverter, charge controllers, power monitor, and solar panels are the latest proven technologies available.

The experience of going solar in New Jersey, my former home, had me pretty disenchanted. The state, unfortunately, has not been very supportive of distributed energy solar, which is solar panels on residences. 

3.  How long have you had your system, and are you glad you made the decision to do it?

I have had my system for several months now. And yes, I’m very happy I went off-grid and that I found IPS to do the installation. It is not yet complete. Winter – and the accompanying snow –  set in. The finishing touches will be installed this summer.

4.  Has your system worked as you expected?

 Absolutely. It takes care of itself. It’s designed to do that, but IPS advised me to keep tabs on the generator. It is electro-mechanical and needs to be monitored until you are satisfied that all is functioning as designed. An Internet connection—that IPS recommended—will be installed next and will enable IPS and me to monitor the vitals from Boulder or anywhere the Internet exists. 

Solar Panels in Snow
ground-mounted solar system

5.  Do you have any regrets about not extending the power line?   

No.

6.  Do you have any advice for someone considering an off-grid system?

If you are an old timer, have money. I am retired and will not get any help from the 30% federal tax credit. This credit should have been a “refundable” credit; then old folks and retired vets like me would get the same break as folks who are still working and earning enough to pay taxes. It would have been worth about $15,000. I had to borrow an additional $12,000 from the bank to finish off the system as envisioned (I could have made it smaller to compensate) because the 30% federal tax credit is not refundable. Check with your accountant to make sure you can get, and use, the 30% federal tax credit. Living on my Social Security the last thing I needed was another monthly payment to the bank.

7.  Are you happy with IPS’s performance in working with you and delivering as you expected?

The Boulder permit hurdles made it tough for IPS to put the system where it would do the most good. IPS went to bat for me. They handled the phone calls, meetings with inspectors, a town hearing and were able to have the permits issued for the optimum placement of those sixteen 327 watt panels (which were ground mounted just east of my house, directly in the sun).  I could have never accomplished this. These delays put IPS into the early winter up here at 9000 ft. This had a snowball effect – literally – of more delays due to the mountain weather, wind-fallen trees in the way, snow drifted roads blocking the access. IPS workers came with a chain saw to clear the road and get some more work done. 

When the weather made it impossible to get a wet cement truck in, IPS used wheelbarrows and a pickup truck to ferry batches of cement bags to the three 2’x5′ cylindrical forms that would hold the poles for the frame that the panels would be mounted on. A lesser company may have thrown their hands up and said “See you next spring.” The folks at IPS made sure I didn’t go through another winter using a generator. 

8.  What was your motivation for building a house with an off-grid system? And how is the experience living in your off-grid home?

I wanted a self-contained house. A sort of Space Station on the earth, capable of supporting life in the harshest environment of winters up here. 

System Overview 

  • 5.232 kW SunPower PV Array
  • 16 SPR-E327 SunPower panels
  • 45 kWhs of battery storage  – AGM, sealed, maintenance-free
  • Inverter – Radian 8000 watt
  • Kohler generator (primary) with Honda backup
  • Azimuth 165
  • Tilt 45 degrees, installed on IPS custom ground mount
  • Estimated pounds of greenhouse gases saved: 6 tons / year
  • The solar system produces on average 15 – 30 kWhs / day depending on season

Want a state-of-the-art off-grid power system for your home? Click here to contact Independent Power Systems today.

Dan Perata

About the Author

Tina Boniface loves to travel, and has worked with people of all ages and cultures in her many journeys. She is a skilled communicator with nearly two decades worth of experience teaching ESL at various American colleges and universities as well as extensive social media and editorial experience. She is fluent in English and French, with intermediate proficiency in Spanish, Italian, and German. In her free time, Tina enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, reading extensively, cooking, eating, and practicing yoga.  

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2 Comments

  1. Cathy Grayell

    Great article from an actual homeowner living at altitude & needing reliable power in a sometimes unstable environment.

    Reply
    • Tina Boniface

      One of our excellent sales reps would be happy to talk with you Cathy … and help you understand what is involved in a battery backup system. Give IPS a call!

      Reply

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