Off-Grid Solar Making a Comeback

Not that many years ago, almost all of the solar systems being installed in the country were grid-tied or grid-interactive systems. Net metering was becoming common throughout the county, and many states were offering very generous incentives over and above the 30 percent federal incentive.

Only a few years ago, for example, the state of Pennsylvania provided a $2.25 per watt incentive that was gradually reduced to $.75 per watt until the funds ran out. It was a crazy time in solar land, with nearly every PA contractor with a work truck surfacing as a solar expert.

Many changes have occurred since then. Prices have dropped substantially – particularly solar module prices – and the new buzz in the industry is storage. Storage, defined as energy stored in battery banks to be used during power outages, or, in some cases such as in areas with multiple tiers of energy prices, to be used when grid prices are highest, most often in prime evening hours. Some systems call this load shaving.

Almost forgotten in all of the new systems and technologies buzz is the basic off-grid solar system. No net-metering. No load shaving or AC coupling. Just you and your solar system against the world. In many ways, this is the purest form of green living, and a surprising number of families are doing just that.

We currently have two fully off-grid projects in the works. Both projects are similar in that the property owners bought unimproved land a good ways off the main road. When they checked in with the power company about getting the grid extended to the home site, they were given a construction cost estimate that was shocking, to say it politely. Rather than pay many thousands in construction costs, which will only allow them the privilege of buying electricity, they decided to make their own electricity and live completely off the grid.

Living off the grid is not for everyone, it should be noted. People who do it best understand the limitations. They know that the available power is finite. And that they have to plan their lives accordingly as they produce and use electricity. If often includes things like clothes lines, air- drying your hair, and running the vacuum cleaner when the sun is brightest.

From a designer/installer perspective, a really good off-grid system is about the neatest thing in solar. Every aspect of the system has to be defined and designed for – typical loads, family preferences, budget, preferred hardware, and list goes on. A well designed system will include a generator for prolonged periods of cloudy weather or unexpected loads.

Many think an off-grid system is less technical, or somehow more primitive, than a more typical grid-tied system. Actually the reverse is true.

Most off-grid inquiries we get are for systems for vacation homes or hunting cabins. Obviously these are very good candidates, since they’re often occupied for relatively short periods of time, and are often in areas far off the grid.

But if you really want to live completely unhooked from the grid, it is possible. Many families are doing just that. But you need a plan and a solar system tailored to your lifestyle. In other words, you need a good solar designer. I know one. Give us a call.