Should You Consider an Off Grid Solar Power System?

Imagine never receiving a power or heat bill ever again. For some people living in rural areas far from the grid, it's more than a nice thought - it can be a reality. An off grid solar power system not only gives energy independence to homeowners, but it also reduces the carbon footprint by producing clean, non-polluting power.

A solar power system is easy to use but before you cut your utility line, consider the following to see if it's the right alternate energy source for your household:

  • Does your dwelling get enough exposure to the sun? To produce adequate amounts of power, solar panels required a clear line of sight to the sunny sky for as many hours as possible, especially during the mid-afternoon when the sun is at its strongest. Going off-grid is only an option if the landscape and climate is suitable for solar power generation.

  • Do you have enough outside space for the equipment? You'll need adequate space in your yard or on the dwelling to accommodate the solar power equipment. Most urban and suburban homes do not have the space to accommodate solar power systems. An off grid solar power system is ideal for rural properties where open space is abundant.

  • Do you have enough inside space for the electrical equipment? The electrical equipment needs to be sheltered from the outside elements. Most times the inverter, charge controller and the optional batteries are housed in the basement of a home or an adjacent building.

  • Can you do basic maintenance & cleaning? Since off-grid systems don't have a backup system (i.e. no electrical connection to the grid), you'll have to be skilled and confident enough to perform basic maintenance on the system (eg. cleaning the panels, checking the batteries, etc.).

  • Are you allowed to install solar panels? Neighbors won't necessarily appreciate the aesthetics of solar power system. Some communities have architectural controls in place to ensure a uniform look-and-feel, and prevent "ugly" homes - and some people may just think solar panels are ugly. Even if your community doesn't have architectural controls, placing such a system in a high-density neighborhood may cause conflict with the neighbors.

Going off-grid may be the only option if you live in a remote area that doesn't have any service. Here are a few more things to consider before you decide if going off-grid is right for you:

  • The initial cost of a solar power system is high. Is the price reasonable compared to a utility connection and usage fees?

  • Is it to be installed in a new or existing building? Renovation costs on existing homes can be expensive since roofs, ceilings and walls may need to be opened if you're retrofitting solar power systems. On the other hand, new homes may have to be custom-designed (at an added expense) to achieve a functional and aesthetically pleasing home that utilizes both solar home heating and solar water heating.

  • Future power requirements? If you foresee your power requirements increasing in the future, do you have enough room and the finances to expand your system?

  • Future expenses. Solar panels have a life-span of 25-30 years. Deep cycle batteries will need to be replaced every 5-15 years, depending on usage. A higher voltage system running at 24 volts DC may extend their life.

  • Install a backup system, just in case. A gasoline or diesel generator can be held on standby for emergency purposes.

Deciding to go with an off-grid solar power system is not an easy choice to make. It must be designed and tailored to each family's individual needs and circumstances.