What is an off-grid solar system? | SaveOnEnergy.com

Off-Grid Solar Explained

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What is an off-grid solar system?

An off-grid solar system is a solar panel system that generates electricity, stores that power in solar batteries, and runs independently from the power grid. These systems encourage off-the-grid living, a lifestyle centered around energy independence and self-sustainability.

Living “off the grid” has become more popular recently because of the rising cost of energy, fuel, food, and other necessities. Electricity costs have increased in the last decade, leading many consumers to look for alternative forms of power for their homes. Solar energy is a sustainable form of green energy that can power your home independently from the electrical grid. However, off-grid solar systems require different components compared to grid-tied (sometimes called on-grid) systems.

Explore how off-grid systems differ from traditional grid-connected solar systems, how much they cost, and the factors to consider before installing an off-grid solar system.

Cost of an off-grid solar system

On average, a 5-kilowatt solar system in 2022 costs between $15,000 and $25,000 before accounting for solar tax credits and rebates. The cost of an off-grid solar system has an even wider range because there are a variety of sizes, applications, and components that impact the price.

For example, some very small off-grid solar kits are only able to charge a phone or tablet and can cost less than $100. Other off-grid solar systems power an entire home and can cost as much as $50,000.

Solar batteries are an integral part of off-grid solar systems, however, they can drive up the total cost. On average, a solar battery costs between $5,000 and $20,000. Depending on the size of your off-grid system and your home’s energy usage, you may need more than one solar battery.

The Tesla Powerwall is one of the best solar batteries on the market and costs $8,500 before factoring in installation costs. This battery has a capacity of 13.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh), which is almost half of the amount of electricity the average household consumes per day. With this in mind, an off-grid solar system would need two or three Tesla Powerwall batteries to completely power a home, driving the cost of solar batteries up to between $17,000 and $25,000.

To estimate how much an off-grid solar system would cost, follow these steps:

  1. Determine how much electricity your home consumes. You can easily do this with the SaveOnEnergy.com® usage calculator.
  2. With your home’s average electricity usage in mind, estimate how many solar batteries your off-grid system would need to cover your usage.
  3. Estimate the cost of other solar system components. This includes the number of solar panels for your system, installation costs, and performing necessary maintenance on your roof before installing the panels.

Add the cost of solar batteries to the price of the rest of the system. Once you have the total cost, you can begin to factor in the savings from the federal solar tax credit and state solar rebates and incentives.

Off-grid vs. grid-tied solar system

If you are interested in buying a solar system for your home, one of the first decisions you will need to make is whether to connect it to the power grid or not. The majority of solar panel owners remain connected to the grid because it allows them to draw electricity from the grid when their panels are not producing enough energy and provides access to net metering programs.

However, there are some consumers who are interested in solar specifically because it could help them live separately from the power grid. Here are some of the ways that off-grid systems differ from solar systems that are connected to the grid.

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How you store electricity

Off-grid solar. One of the key things to note about off-grid solar systems is that they rely more heavily on storing excess power than a grid-tied system. There will likely be times when your solar panels produce more electricity than you need. During these times, your off-grid system can store that electricity in a solar battery. Solar storage is very important for off-grid systems because that will be your only source of power during times when your solar panels aren’t generating enough electricity, for instance, at night or when it’s cloudy outside.

Grid-tied solar. For a solar system that remains connected to the grid, storing electricity in a solar battery is an option, although it is not as important as it would be with an off-grid system. Instead of storing excess electricity in a battery, many consumers with grid-tied systems opt to take advantage of net metering programs. These allow consumers to send extra electricity to the power grid in exchange for credits to your electricity bill.

How you access electricity

Off-grid solar. With an off-grid solar system, you will only have electricity when your solar system is generating power or when you’re drawing power from solar batteries. Your system will generate less power when it’s cloudy or at night. This is why solar batteries are very important for off-grid systems. You will be much more dependent on the electricity you store in your batteries than consumers who have grid-tied systems.

Grid-tied solar. If you keep your solar system connected to the power grid, you will always be able to access electricity from the grid unless there is a power outage. For this reason, grid-tied systems do not need a solar battery and can be more reliable during times when solar panels are not generating enough power.

How you pay for power

Off-grid solar. If your solar system is completely off-the-grid, you will not receive an electricity bill from your utility. This is a huge perk for off-grid solar and one of the most appealing features for consumers who are considering off-grid systems.

Grid-tied solar. You will still receive an electricity bill if you have a grid-tied solar system, even if your system produces 100% of your home’s power. One of the charges you will still be billed for is a service or delivery charge, which utility companies charge to keep your home connected to the power grid.

How power outages affect you

Off-grid solar. Because an off-grid solar system is completely independent, it will not be impacted by electrical outages that affect the power grid. While bad weather could impact how much energy your solar system generates, you will still be able to draw power from solar batteries as long as you have enough energy stored.

Grid-tied solar. An grid-tied system comes with many perks, but one of the biggest disadvantages is that power outages can impact your energy supply when your solar system is connected to the grid. If there is an electrical outage, a grid-tied solar system will not be able to produce electricity unless you have a battery backup system installed.

Advantages and disadvantages of off-grid solar

There are several benefits of investing in an off-grid solar system. However, it’s also important that you are aware of the drawbacks of disconnecting from the grid.

Advantages of an off-grid solar system

  • Freedom from electrical bills. With an off-grid system, you will not receive an energy bill from your utility.
  • Energy independence. You will produce 100% of the electricity you use.
  • Protection from power outages. Your off-grid system will work even if the power grid experiences an outage.
  • Provides reliable electricity in remote or rural locations. The power grid does not connect to some remote or rural locations. An off-grid system provides electricity in these cases.

Disadvantages of an off-grid solar system

  • Can have a higher price point. Off-grid systems have different requirements and can end up with a higher pricetag than grid-tied systems.
  • Not permitted in all states or counties. In some areas, it is illegal to disconnect from the grid. Be sure to check whether you live in one of these regions before purchasing an off-grid solar system.
  • More susceptible to bad weather. If the weather in your area is rainy or cloudy for several days, you could run out of stored electricity and not have power.
  • Can’t participate in net metering programs or draw from the power grid. With an off-grid system, you cannot receive credits from net metering programs or use electricity from the grid if your battery storage runs out. For most consumers, this means off-grid solar is very risky.

Hybrid solar systems

An alternative to off-grid solar systems is a hybrid system, which remains tied to the grid but includes a solar battery bank to store excess energy. Hybrid systems can be a happy medium between off-grid systems and grid-tied systems that don’t have solar storage options.

With a hybrid solar system, you can increase your home’s energy independence by using electricity that you store during times of high production. Meanwhile, if inclement weather impacts your system’s energy production or you run out of stored power, you can pull power from the grid.

Whether you choose an off-grid, grid-tied, or hybrid solar system, make sure you consider all of your home’s energy needs beforehand. Cost, energy production, storage, and reliability are all important factors that should all come into play. SaveOnEnergy can help you make the most informed decision on all things solar.