What does it take to have an off-the-grid home? Can you just install solar panels and then never have to deal with the local electric utility again? Think about it – you become energy independent, no more huge electric bills, no more huge electric rate increases. Is an off-the-grid home really possible? A lot of that depends upon where you live and how much time and money you are willing to commit to install and maintain your own home solar power system.
The first thing to take into consideration when determining if you can live in an off-the-grid home is where you live. You need to find out the average number of hours of sunlight your area gets (search the web for peak sun hours). Remember, you only create solar power while the sun is shining on the solar panels. The lower number of hours of sunlight, the more solar panels (also known as PV, or photovoltaic, panel) are needed to satisfy your power needs. Also, you need physical area to mount the PV panels. Do you have ample area on your rooftop or open ground area that has open access to the sun (i.e. no trees, houses, etc that would block out sunlight)?
To live in an off-the-grid home also means that you have to store electricity in batteries in order for it to be available at night and during overcast days. You will need to buy and maintain enough deep-cycle batteries to store enough electricity to get you through one to three days of cloudy weather. You’ll also need plenty of dedicated storage space for all those batteries. Keeping the batteries maintained is the largest part of maintenance for your off-the-grid home. The rest of your home solar power system is very low maintenance. You’ll also have to plan in the expense of replacing the batteries periodically (unlike the PV panels, which are usually warrantied for 20 – 25 years).
With an off-the-grid home it is also beneficial to keep a backup generator just in case of a long stretch of cloudy weather or storm that lasts beyond your battery storage capacity. Generators typically use either gas or diesel fuel. But, if you want to stay “green” you’ll probably want to use biodiesel.
So, yes it is possible to have an off-the-grid home, but it’s not a simple or cheap project that can be done in a weekend or two. But the benefits to both the earth and your wallet are enormous. Let’s say you had to spend $50,000 to install your home solar power system so you have an off-the-grid home. With the 30% federal tax credit on the solar panel installation, that brings the effective price to $35,000. Most states also have solar tax credit incentives, so you might be looking at anywhere from like $30,000 to $25,000. With the savings of a typical electric bill of $200/month, you would have payback of your system in 15 years. But the PV panels usually last for 20 – 25 years, so you’ll have free electricity for 5 – 10 years, a savings of $12,000 to $24,000. And that’s assuming electric prices don’t increase over the next 20 years!