Can Shepherd Huts Work With Solar Power?
With the right research, investment and legislation in place, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind could revolutionise not only our industry but our way of life. We embraced this technology quite early on and have incorporated solar power into many of our Shepherd Huts since we began building them over a decade ago.
But is solar power a good choice for a Shepherds Hut?
Will it do everything you need it to?
And is it a more sustainable and affordable option?
This article aims to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of solar power vs. mains electricity to clear up some of the myths and other considerations to help you make the right choice for your hut.
How Does Solar Power Work?
In very basic layman's terms, solar power uses a solar panel to convert light into energy. It can store that energy in a battery. Certain devices and appliances can then connect to that battery.
There's obviously a lot more to it than that, but that's as technical as we are going to get in this article- We are not experts on solar power solutions, and there are plenty of articles that go into far more details about the costs, capabilities and green credentials. We're just here to talk about huts. (If you do want to know more about solar solutions, it's worth speaking to Sunshine Solar, based here in Norwich!)
Can Solar Electricity Power a Shepherds Hut?
The short answer is yes, to an extent. Our Shepherds Huts can be fitted with a discreet flexible solar panel on the roof, which charges a powerful 12v leisure battery. This powers the lights, and also a twin USB charging socket and is a reasonably affordable option.
This means that it can only run 12v appliances, not typical 240v household appliances. A typical 12v system will only run the following:
The lights, which are super efficient 5W LED bulbs.
A USB charger for mobile phones, electric toothbrushes, portable fans, bluetooth speakers and other travel-type appliances or gadgets designed for a 12v system.
That means that the following items won't work in a typical 12v hut:
Underfloor Heating Systems or Hot Air Blowers
Electric Water Heaters
Microwaves or Electric Ovens
Ceramic or Induction Hobs
TVs, Consoles, Computers and Laptop Chargers.
It is possible to substitute some items such as kettles, hobs, water heaters and even fridges by utilising LPG gas. Just bear in mind, gas supply is another logistic to manage and may also add to the cost of the hut.
You may also find options for various appliances in the above list that are designed to be 12v compatible, usually for the caravan market, although these appliances tend to be less reliable, more expensive and require a more extensive and costly solar package to run.
While it is also possible to create more powerful systems with larger and more numerous solar panels and batteries, and even utilising inverters to provide 240v electricity, this tends to be a lot more expensive and complicated. It's even possible to create a dedicated solar powered electrical grid, although the cost is often quite prohibitive. It's also worth mentioning that a Solar Powered hut requires some economy of use and will be less effective in the darker months of the year. It's usually wise to keep a spare battery charged up just in case the primary one is drained.
So What's the Point of Solar Power?
For a remote location, solar power can be a cost effective alternative to installing a 240v power supply. 240v mains electricity usually requires the laying of power cables from the nearest mains power supply which can be expensive especially over long distances. In some cases it's simply not viable, or can be practically impossible. On the other hand, a 12v solar electric system can be set up anywhere with open sky!
Although the cost of installing a solar electric package in a Shepherds Hut is typically more than a standard 240v installation, this may be more economical if the cost of ground-work is much higher. As every site is different, it's worth comparing both costs and seeing what the best option is for you.
To Recap- What Are The Advantages and Disadvantages?
12v Solar Electricity Advantages
240v Mains Electricity Advantages
No expensive groundworks required
Can power 240v appliances
Potentially unlimited electricity
Reliable and easy to use
More environmentally friendly
A cheaper option for the hut build
12v Solar Electricity Disdvantages
240v Mains Electricity Disdvantages
Can only run 12v appliances
Groundworks can be expensive
Can be unreliable and requires mindful use
Less environmentally friendly
Expensive initial investment in hut cost
Potentially higher running costs
From experience, we find that the 12v Solar option works best with smaller, simpler Shepherd Huts such as garden rooms, writers dens and the like, which tend to have minimal electrical demands- Typically these huts don't have bathrooms or kitchens, so they don't tend to have all those power hungry appliances that a 12v system just can't cater to. These are the types of huts we mean.
If you're investing in a larger living hut with a kitchen and ensuite, we'd almost always recommend a 240v mains system if you can install the utilities on site. It'll be more affordable, reliable and practical. You can see an example of those huts here!
How Can I Maximise My Solar Hut's Performance?
If solar energy looks like the way forward for your Shepherds Hut, there are various approaches to get the most of out it. Here's our list of advice, in order of simplicity:
Keep it simple. The fewer appliances that are in your hut, the lower its energy demands will be.
Diversify. If you don't want to keep it simple and require heating, cooking and washing facilities in your hut, utilising alternatives such as gas hobs with a stovetop kettle, gas water heaters and a wood burning stove will minimise the electrical requirements.
Be Organised. Always have a spare 12v battery charged and switch them regularly to maintain the best battery life. Keep your solar panels clean to maximise efficiency and economise your use, especially in the winter months when there is less daylight. Also, position your hut to maximise exposure to light- not under a tree!
Upgrade. By adding additional solar panels and batteries, you can create a much more power and self-sufficient system that can stand more use. You can even incorporate an inverter to provide a limited supply of 240v electricity. Just bear in mind, that if you go down this route, it may end up being cheaper just to install a 240v supply in the first place!
Combine. It is also possible to build the hut with a combined 12v Solar and 240v Mains electrical installation that connects to a generator. This will allow you to run everything off the grid, although it's an expensive and fiddly solution that probably has more drawbacks than advantages unless carefully employed.
Go all in. If you want to create an off-grid destination with all modern conveniences, it's possible to invest in a self-contained large scale solar electric grid that could potentially supply multiple huts with 240v electricity. Needless to say, these tend to be very expensive and unviable unless money is no object!
While we have built numerous solar-powered Shepherd Huts for many of our customers, in our experience, it is not always the most practical or affordable option and installing mains electricity is usually the better choice.
While the green appeal of solar power is attractive and intriguing, in practice there is a compromise on functionality, and it can potentially cost more money than it saves! Managing the system and economising your use can create extra work which, for someone hoping to site Shepherd Huts for commercial purposes, may introduce an additional overhead.
If you can lay an electrical cable from the nearest mains power supply to your Shepherds Hut and provide a 32amp or even just a 13amp connection, this will allow a cheaper, more functional and practical build that will be easier for you to manage and your guests to use.
That said, who knows what the future will hold? As the technology improves, solar panels and batteries are becoming more efficient and affordable, and we certainly hope that we are headed towards a greener future. We can't say what the best choice in the long run is, but hopefully this guide will help you decide whether a solar powered hut is the right option for you!
If you're setting up an off-grid project and would like to discuss it with us, please do get in touch with our friendly team on 01603 397777 or firstname.lastname@example.org