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An Introductory Guide to Off-Grid Solar Power System (How Off-Grid Solar Works)

Living off-the-grid refers to a lifestyle completely autonomous of utility electricity. Those who choose to live off the grid most likely have their own energy source for them. But this alternative energy can take up many forms, from renewable sources to conventional forms of energy, such as electricity generators.

But if it is solar energy, we call this off-grid solar. You are not connected to the grid in an off-grid solar system, and all your electricity needs come from solar power. If you want to go solar and explore off-grid solar, read on. In the lines below, we discuss everything you need to know about off-grid solar power systems. 

What is an off-grid solar system?

Off-grid solar power means designing your solar system such that you won’t rely on grid electricity but on your solar power alone. When the sun shines above, your electricity will come directly from solar power. But you will have to install batteries for your energy needs during the night and unpleasant weather. To make this possible, you will need a few additional pieces of equipment, some of which do not come with an on-grid system.

Equipment required for off-grid?

To go completely off-grid, you need more than just solar panels. A functioning off-grid solar power system needs, among others, the following basic components.

  • Solar panels—to generate electricity for direct use and storage.
  • Solar charge controller—charge controllers ensure that batteries are not overcharged and make an important part of the off-grid solar systems. Systems that do not use batteries, such as grid-tied systems, do not require charge controllers.
  • Off-grid solar inverters—this is to convert direct current (DC) electricity to alternating current (AC) electricity.
  • Solar battery—battery bank is the key component of an off-grid solar system. Without an adequate storage system, an off-grid system cannot function. Of course, how can your energy requirements be met at night or when there is no sun in the absence of batteries?
  • Mounting and racking system
  • Wiring
  • Junction boxes

How does off-grid solar power work?

Off-grid solar system works like any other solar system. But there are some notable differences between off-grid and other types of solar systems. Here is how it works.

An array of solar panels generates DC electricity. Between solar panels and batteries are installed charge controllers. These charge controllers ensure that batteries are not overcharged. In addition to monitoring the amount of charge, charge controllers also regulate the right voltage needed by batteries for charging. Without charge controllers, batteries can get overcharged and, in some cases, may catch fire.

Attached to batteries are off-grid inverters, which convert direct current to alternating current. The energy then goes to the main distribution box, ready for use. During the day, your home will be directly powered by solar panels. But during the night and unpleasant weather, your batteries will come in handy.

That brings us to to sizing your off-grid solar system

You must size your system the right way to make sure that your system caters to your needs at night or when there is no sun for some days. Start by calculating your energy needs—your monthly electricity bill will give you a fairer idea of your usage. But solar experts recommend installing a system with 10% more capacity than your needs—this is to factor in solar inefficiencies.

If you are designing your system for a setup where you don’t have an electricity bill, for example, for your RV, you can determine the size of your system by calculating your load. How many lights and fans will you need? Would there be a refrigerator? And so on. Also, calculate the instantaneous load—that is, how many appliances you would need to run simultaneously.

After determining the number of panels you need, you will need to assess the size of your battery bank. The rules are the same—how much is your electricity usage at night? But since your system will also be responsible for your power needs during the rough weather, the battery bank must be designed to cover your power usage for at least 3-4 days during the highest usage time of the year. Ideally, it would be best if you aimed to install a system that could work for one week without solar power.

Pros and cons of off-grid

Pros of off-grid solar power systemCons of off-grid solar power system
Energy independence—you are no longer dependent on the grid. Rising electricity prices and power blackouts will no longer affect you. And since you won’t pay energy bills, you save more on your electricity.  Higher initial investment—it is expensive to install an off-grid system enough for all your needs. Besides, batteries need regular maintenance, which will cost you more in the long run than a grid-tied system.
Best for remote power—if you live in a remote area or often go out camping, off-grid could be your friend in need. It is also best for remote agricultural farms, etc.Not always enough—while off-grid may work for a couple of days in the absence of the sun, it still may not be enough. Batteries cannot power your home for more than seven days, and if you want to install a large battery bank, that is going to cost you even more.
Good for the environment—solar power is a clean and green source of energy. By going off-grid, you reduce your carbon footprint to zero and reduce the impact of climate change.Require backup source—your grid works as a backup source in grid-tied systems. But in an off-grid system, you will need a backup generator in case your batteries fail to meet your energy needs.
Most energy-conscious choice—living off-the-grid means more energy consciousness. You generate your own power, and to ensure you don’t run out of power, you will rationalize your energy usage.Requires major lifestyle changes—we are used to grid electricity. Turning completely off-grid requires major lifestyle changes, for example, reducing your electricity usage by 50% during inclement weather conditions. You will also have installer smaller systems, such as electric geysers, to reduce your usage.

Who is off-grid solar power for?

Solar off-grid systems are not for everyone, as they are expensive to install and maintain. Living off-the-grid also entails bringing significant changes in your lifestyle—which can become difficult to sustain for longer times. For homeowners living in urban centers, off-grid solar is not recommended. The upfront costs are too much, and so are the costs of batteries’ upkeep. You will need to spend much more on a system that would meet all your energy needs. But instead of going off-grid, a grid-tied system would work just right for you—they are comparatively affordable, and you can save more on your electric bills with them.

But if you live in a remote area, away from the grid and where running power lines would cost more, you can consider an off-grid solar system. It will also work better if you are a camping enthusiast—surely, a solar system will make more sense than a noisy generator that requires fuel. For those who are usually on the wheels in their recreational vehicles (RV), an off-grid system would be the best choice for their power needs.

What is the cost of going off-grid?

The cost of off-grid systems varies based on your energy needs. Smaller families would need a smaller system and battery bank, and hence the cost will be less. Conversely, large homes would need a 10kW or bigger system and a larger energy storage system, which could cost more.

While the exact would be determined after calculating your energy needs and the size of your system. To be specific, the prices of off-grid solar kits range between $12,000 and $50,000. Installing an off-grid system would cost about $2,000, but for a mid-size home, which would require a 12kW system, the cost could be in the vicinity of $40,000. Other than solar panels, the battery bank makes up the largest part of your off-grid solar kit bill.

If you have decided to install an off-grid system, give us a call, and our energy advisors will recommend a system after assessing your goals, preferences, and energy needs. Our goal is to make solar power affordable and accessible for all!

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