Off Grid Solar Power Systems - Energy Independence

Most utility companies charge thousands of dollars to extend an electrical connection to cottages and homes in remote regions. As an alternative, consider an off grid solar power system to create an energy independent home. These systems require very little maintenance and provide years worth of reliable electricity. Instead of paying the utility company for the privilege of using their electricity, consider generating your own power.

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An off-grid system consists of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, a charge controller, batteries, and an inverter. The solar panels convert solar energy to direct current (DC); a charge controller with a Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) circuit optimizes the current and voltage of the panels to produce the most amount of power; deep-cycle batteries are needed to store the power for use when the sun isn't shining and an inverter converts the DC electricity to alternating current (AC) for household use.

The number of solar panels and size of the battery bank required depend on your energy needs. Both affect the final cost of the installation. The more power you require, the more energy you'll need to generate and store. If you're considering going off-grid, consider these points.

Advantages of Going Off-Grid

  • You'll be energy independent. You won't have to pay for the installation of electrical lines for which future neighbors may be able to tap into at minimal cost.

  • These systems require very little maintenance. The panels need to be clear of dust and debris. The battery fluid needs to be checked and topped up occasionally.

  • Solar energy is pollution and CO2-emission free.

  • Your household may become more energy-conscious and may use electricity more sparingly.

Disadvantages of Being Off-Grid

  • These systems are only feasible for sunny locations.

  • Since this will be the primary power source, the system will have to be built larger than a comparable backup system to provide adequate amount of reliable electricity.

  • If you don't want to install the system yourself, it will be more challenging and expensive to find an experienced installer especially in remote locations.

Steps to Becoming Energy Independent

  • Determine your energy needs. Calculate your energy needs. Is there a way to reduce your energy consumption? Energy conservation is an easy way to lower your utility bills and reduce the setup cost of a solar power system. You can reduce energy usage by changing your lifestyle (i.e. turning off unused lights) but also by increasing insulation in your home, plugging air leaks, lowering hot water temperature and using passive solar heating. [See: How Does Solar Heating Work?]

  • Size your system for your needs. The number of solar panels required in the system will be determined by your energy requirement and by the minimum number of hours of sunshine your location receives per day. For instance, in winter, when the sun is low on the horizon and the days are short, you'll need more solar panels to generate your electricity needs but with fewer hours in the day.

System Considerations

  • Solar power is the most expensive way to generate electricity on a cost per Watt measurement. Consider a solar wind hybrid system which will transfer some of the solar generation to lower cost wind generation. [See: Solar Hybrid Power]

  • Just in case there are days of overcast skies, a gas-powered generator can be used as a backup power source for critical electrical needs (i.e. stove, heating).

  • To help reduce energy loss in the system, keep wires as short as possible.

  • DC appliances are more expensive than AC ones, but are more energy efficient. Consider the costs of wiring a separate DC system for energy-hungry items to help reduce your electrical requirements.

Solar energy is clean and non-polluting. With your own off-grid solar power system, you'll become energy self-sufficient while not generating any air pollution.