Off grid living is not such a crazy idea anymore, with advancements in technology you can just about live in the same comfort as those on the grid. Soon, it will be completely comparable, yet offering the benefits of freedom from issues a city could have.
There are three things making this a very real possibility.
- Solar panel and battery advancements
- High Speed Satellite Internet
- Drone deliveries
One of the big reasons people think off grid living wouldn't work for them, is our dependance on the internet. Not having internet due to being in middle of nowhere, or simply not being near a provider is soon to change. Companies like Boeing, SpaceX, Telesat and possibly Apple, are launching hundreds of satellites to offer high speed internet accessible anywhere in the world. So yes, you will be able to do anything on the internet others can do soon. At the same time the FAA has approved Amazon for full use of drone deliveries.
Electricity, is also a big reason people get worried about off grid living. No one wants to be stuck without power as you just about can't do anything without it. It is such a critical component for kitchen items, hot showers, internet and lighting your home. So what's the deal with it, can you depend on it or not.
Off Grid Solar - Will it Power My Home?
Keep in mind, this article came out in 2020, we all know how fast technology improves. So, it's only up from the time this article was written, however where are we as of now? Let's take a look.
1. Does solar produce enough power to live?
In short, It depends. It can, but there are some factors to look at first. Solar panels are measured in kW. Common solar panel setups which take up about 400 sq ft are considered 5kW, which include an array of panels, not just one. This will produce alternating current (AC) power by way of an inverter to produce power in the range of 400kW to about 850kW per month. To put this in perspective the average home is around 900kW per month. Some homes that are energy efficient, with out air conditioning use, and smaller homes, can actually run off about 200kW per month. So that is plenty of power to live on solar. However, larger homes and those using air conditioning daily can hit over 2000kW per month. Keep in mind, you certainly can have more panels and more batteries to get more power, but cost will be higher for supplies in installation. But overall, it is possible for solar to 100% support your daily needs. Issue is, where are you planning to live?
2. Will it work in all types of weather?
You probably kinda know the answer to this. Solar needs sun, if there are no sunny days or very few sunny days, then you probably should be on the grid. This doesn't mean you can't use solar, but it should be a supplement if you want power every day. To know if your area gets enough sun, on average you need some strong sun about 4 hours a day to really get enough power for the day and night.
3. How to calculate the amount of panels needed.
Luckily there are ways to get an idea of what you can expect before dropping the cash for your solar system. You should try to get a rough idea of your power usage first. If you live in a home or apartment start looking at the electric bills. Take a good years worth, look at your peaks and valleys of the bill. Then you can get an idea about your off grid area, does it get enough sun for the peaks and valleys. You want to invest in enough solar for those peaks. You can also plan ways to reduce electricity. Simple things like using energy efficient light bulbs, appliances or clocks that don't need to run all day, becoming aware of your light usage daily patterns and having an energy efficient fridge. Here is how to get the idea of the whole process.
- How much do you currently use: Look at a years worth of electric bills and be aware of the peak usage months Take your wattage peak and write it down as the reference after these calculations. You would take your peak usage for the month but in hours. For example 900 watts a month for an average home, Note your bills come in kWh.
900 kWh a month ÷ 30 (average month) ÷ 24 (hours in day) = 1.25 kWh per hour
1.25 kWh x 1000 = 1250 watts per hour
- What are individual appliances are using: On pretty much every electric device, you should have a wattage sticker on it. Use the wattage you see and this calculation to figure out daily usage.
watts on appliance sticker x hours per day = daily watt usage.
Calculate this for all your appliance, which ones could you limit or remove if you need to.
- Shop Solar panels by Wattage: Solar panels will be sold by their wattage, the picture above is an example of what you will see. Be aware, this isn't what you will be expecting so you need to calculate a more expected value. This is because there is also solar panel efficiency that will come into play. Not all panels are equal!
The quality of panels really varies, some are more efficient due to the reflectivity of the cells. Often times you can dig into the details on this using the efficiency rating. Remember, this heavily impacted by the weather you are expecting to operate in. But overall the higher efficiency rating the better the panel is. Spending more for higher efficiency panels is good for more limited space. If you want them on the roof and your roof is small, higher efficiency panels is worth the cost. For cost saving on lower efficiency, you will need more panels. Aside from that experts use this basic calculation to figure out your needs.
A Panels Watts on sticker x *Hours of Sunlight x 75% = Daily Watt Hours of the panel
* Don't use more than 6 hours per day of Sunlight, you only want to use peak sun hours.
The 75% is used as a buffer, factors like trees, dirt on the panels and the panels being not directly in the sun all day effect this.
At this point you know your current watt usage per hour and your daily watt expected from the panels. So you would want enough 100 watt panels to cover your current usage for example.
We won't leaving you hanging, here is an Off Gird Solar Calculator This is a bit more advanced and also factors in batteries which we go over next.
4. Solar Batteries - What are they?
Solar batteries are a huge aspect of your system. In basic form, this stores the sun power for use at times without sun, like night time. These are advancing these very often, even Tesla has one on the market. Some even have their own inverter and integrated energy conversion. This requires an article of it's own to understand this fully, to learn more read here Solar Batteries
A good solar system does come at a pretty penny. But think about the savings, also off grid living doesn't provide much of alternative choice. Living off the grid, you would still have power while people in the city would not during a major disaster. There is a lot to be said for that, a lot of the off grid living culture really doesn't want to depend on the government. Self sustainability is a big aspect of off grid living.
There are several cost calculators out there to determine your whole system cost. We will not add a link here simply because a lot of them are by companies that want to install your system. You can use a wide variety of them to get an idea, but some include installation and mark up costs. If you plan to DIY the project you can save a good amount. On average they estimate systems between $7,000 to $15,000.
You want your solar panels working at full capacity, so you should really treat them well. Things like grime and dirt build up are common, even trees blocking the sun can be an issue. Clean your panels at least twice a year, this maintenance can surprisingly increase your output by around 5% compared to dirty panels.
- Some states offer rebates so look into that, it can be major savings.
- You can finance solar systems from certain companies. Even with zero down payments.
We hope this article gives you a good idea of what to expect. Here are some great links to continue your research.
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What is the cost of Solar?
While this will range will depend on the efficiency and wattage needs, based on appliance usage and weather. A typical home uses on average 900 watts of power, a power comparable solar system to handle this power would range between $10,000 to $15,000.
What is solar energy?
In simple terms, solar energy uses the heat and power of the sun and converts it into useable power for your home, RV, or external light needs. Solar power is used to be less dependent on the city grid or simply for cost savings on a power bill.
How much is a solar panel?
Solar panels are usually used in a system with multiple panels needed to produce enough power needed. A typical single panel can range in price based on wattage and efficiency. Higher efficiency and wattage panels will be more expensive, but also require less panels needed. You can expect a single panel to cost between $40 to $350 dollars depending on size and quality.
Is DIY solar less cost than professional installation?
Yes, you can save installing a solar system yourself, the bulk of this costs is mark up on the system, delivery and installation. Installing a solar system can be complex if you are not that handy. Properly focusing the panels in the right direction, set up of the holding system and battery is a bit complex. If installed wrong, it could end up costing you more than a professional installation.
Is off-grid solar different than home solar?
While an off grid solar system is the same as home solar, its requirements can be different. An off grid solar system would not be able to depend on the grid during bad weather, so the system would have to cover the whole requirements of your power needs. The type of battery needed may also be different as well, on grid often gives back to the power companies, off grid needs the efficiency to hold your power for 24 hour needs.