Living Off-grid Living with Solar Energy

Off-grid solar living inquiries are quickly becoming one of the most common reasons our phones are ringing these days. It’s no wonder with the rising uncertainty of these times coupled with anti-government sentiment. Good news for those who are thinking about off-grid solar living. Advancements in off-grid solar and battery technology make a stand-alone off-the-grid system cheaper and with pre-engineered kits, easier.

Solar panels feeding off-grid batteries are a great option for supplying power to many homes and cabins and can work in all parts of the world, even in remote areas or places with a harsh environment. There are solar panels powering off-grid systems as far south as Antarctica. The only thing you need to live off-grid using solar to produce electricity is some batteries and hardware and a little sun.

Solar in Germany accounts for about 16% of the country’s power in spite of the fact Maine has more sunshine. A solar power system can be as small or big as you want and can also be made portable if you are mobile. Solar panels need very little maintenance, are tough and will last 20 or more years if taken care of.

Off-grid solar systems start with the same basics as grid-tied solar. One big difference is a grid-tied system is a slave to the grid which means the solar system is looking to the grid first then the homes power demands. If the grid is down, the inverter shuts down the solar panels (Well not really, just cuts them off). Off-grid, the controller is looking to the batteries evaluating the battery power level.

The first thing you do is “get loaded”!

No we did not mean what you think we meant. Before you can go off-grid with solar, you have to “get” what electrical loads you need, and what you can do without. A load is any electrical equipment you have in your home or cabin. When you are sizing an off-grid solar system, you first need to look to your electrical load and decide what is critical, what you can make more efficient and what you can do without.

For off-grid solar systems, all your power is going to come from your battery bank so you need to accurately account for your electrical loads. Well pumps can be a large battery drain so pick a pump that has a high-efficiency rating and the lowest amp hours. Refrigerators and lighting need to be as efficient as possible. LED lights and keeping your refrigerator full will help huge. If you can not keep your refrigerator full, keep it full of gallon jugs filled with water, water holds the cold air better than empty space you keep having to cool when you open the door.

Phantom loads are the power your TV set uses when it is off to power up quickly. Cell phone charges, clocks on appliances etc have the potential for causing trouble with off-grid solar systems. The reason? The small charge forces the inverter (DC battery power to AC) to operate at low efficiencies. Hunt down all your phantom loads and save your battery power for the big stuff.

Any off-grid solar power system will include a number of solar panels that are connected together. In the northern hemisphere, solar panels should be pointed directly south for greatest power output. With older solar panels, it was more important that they point directly at the sun and many solar power systems used motors to rotate the panels so they always pointed directly at the sun, however with more modern panels this is less important. Motorized equipment will wear with time and will need to be maintained, broken down and repaired. Solar on the other hand has no moving parts.

Off-grid solar panels have (usually) silicon cells that produce DC electricity which can be used to charge batteries or give power to any device than uses DC electricity. Using batteries allows for storing electricity to be used when the sun isn’t shining. In order to give power to standard AC appliances, you will need to use a power inverter. A power inverter can be used to do the DC to AC conversion on power coming from either the solar panels or from batteries.

Using solar off-grid can be initially challenging, but can be ultimately rewording when you are no longer a slave to the utility company and inevitable rate increases. It does not matter if you hire local solar installers or do-it-yourself, pull the plug and start living off grid with using solar power.