People say all the time that they want to get off the grid. Beyond just meaning getting away from it all for a while, getting off the grid has a specific technical meaning with regards to your relationship to your utility and how you get your power. So, what exactly does it mean to go off the grid?
Off the grid meaning explained: what is “the grid”?
The term “off the grid” refers to living autonomously without reliance on a utility for power. Off-grid living is often ideal for rural locations where there is a lack of reliable grid access. Off-grid homes will require alternative power options like solar energy.
To fully explain the grid in depth, we need to talk first about what utilities are and what they do. A utility provides a commodity or service that is vital to the general public. Utilities are in charge of bringing you power, water, or natural gas. Traditionally, utilities are expected to achieve three goals: production or generation, transmission, and distribution. The grid achieves the transmission and distribution goals, and it’s the infrastructure that allows power to come from the point of generation into your house. When there’s a blackout, it’s usually the grid that has been interrupted. When people consider going solar, they are usually interested in achieving as much independence from the grid as possible in order to lower their energy costs and exert control over their own energy usage.
What kind of power do I get on the grid?
Power from all sources comes across the grid. How your power is generated is decided by the mix of power sources your utility has decided to use. Some states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) or renewable energy standard (RES). These are regulations which dictate that some percentage of the power being produced in the state must come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. Twenty-nine states plus Washington D.C. have an RPS, and 8 more have set some renewable energy goal.
When something is “off the grid,” what does that mean?
When a building is off the grid, it means it has no connection or relationship with a utility. This means that all of the power you are using is from a source that you are generating yourself. For example, if your house was powered exclusively by a tiny private coal-fired power plant or a tiny nuclear reactor that only you were receiving power from, you would be ‘off grid’. This is because you would not be receiving any power from outside sources. Instead, you are generating everything that you’d need by yourself.
Check out our video on off-grid solar for a quick overview of what it actually means:
Does going solar mean I’m off the grid?
While going solar means that you’re producing power, you’ll most likely still be on the grid. The majority of residential solar power systems in the United States are connected to the grid. This allows you to draw power from the grid when your system is not producing power, like at night. In most states when you have a solar panel system, you use the power you produce first and only draw on the grid when you need to. When you produce more power than you need, it is fed into the grid and the utility then takes over to move it where it is needed. When this type of a policy is in place to define the relationship between a solar energy system owner and the utility it is called net metering. In this case, the utility acts as an unlimited battery backup source. As more and more people go solar, people are rethinking not only how you relate to your utility but also what is the job of a utility.
Off-grid solar explained: What’s the incentive?
People want to get off the grid for all sorts of reasons. As utilities and regulators try to figure out what their responsibilities will be in a future where more power is created by distributed sources, we’re seeing an increasing number of utilities adding fees for connecting to a solar installation to their customers’ monthly bill. Some people going solar might consider taking their house or property off the grid to avoid those fees, but the equipment needed to take your house off the grid can account for up to 25 percent of the total final cost of your system. Others may want to get off the grid to avoid possible blackouts or brownouts if steady electricity is not something you can expect with your utility. Another argument for leaving the grid is to support the free market by avoiding the monopoly of the utility.
What does it take to go off the grid when you go solar?
Getting off the grid and having constant electricity can be an expensive proposition. In order to get off the electric grid and provide your own power using solar, you’ll need to buy a specially designed off-grid solar kit like Grape Solar’s GS-400 Off-Grid Kit or Renogy’s 400 Watt kit. Your system will also need a component that stores the extra energy that you don’t use when production is high, (like when the sun is out) so that you can use it when your system is not producing power (like at night) you can still have access to electricity. In order to have a place to store your power, you’ll need to add some batteries to your system. For most American homes you’ll need several batteries in order to store the power that you need.
If you’re thinking about going off the grid using solar, the EnergySage Marketplace can help you get started.