If you’ve ever longed to go “off-grid,” you’re certainly not alone – but, beyond wanting to escape for a while, going off the grid has a specific technical meaning regarding your relationship with your utility and how you get power. So, what exactly does it mean to go off-grid? If you’re getting off the grid, there are many options to consider when it comes to equipment, including panels, inverters, batteries, racking systems, and solar charge controllers. Each product is different and you can customize your kit in a number of ways, which is why it’s vital to know exactly what you’re looking for and why. In this article, we’ll help you understand how to go off-grid with solar energy.
Key takeaways about off-grid solar
- Going off-grid means you no longer receive electricity from your utility company.
- WindyNation, Renogy, and ECO-WORTHY all produce high-quality off-grid solar panel systems.
- Make sure to compare the size of any potential off-grid system, as well as the components they come with.
- Installing an off-grid solar system can be quite expensive, and isn’t feasible for most people.
- Get started on the EnergySage Marketplace today to compare solar quotes for free.
What you’ll learn in this article
- What does “going off-grid” mean?
- Best off-grid solar kits
- Off-grid solar kits vs. grid-tied systems
- How to use a battery bank
- Why go off-grid?
- How to go off-grid safely
Going off-grid: what does it mean?
The term “off the grid” refers to living autonomously without relying on a utility for power. Off-grid living is often ideal for small homes in rural locations where there’s a lack of reliable grid access. Off-grid homes require alternative power options like solar energy and some form of energy storage.
What kind of power do you get from the grid?
You can get power from all types of sources on the grid – the power sources that generate your electricity depends on your location and the mix of energy your utility offers. Depending on your utility company, you may also be able to choose your energy sources (typically for a higher cost).
Some states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) (also called renewable energy standards, or RESs); these are regulations that require a certain percentage of power produced in the state come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. Thirty states, Washington D.C., and three territories have RPSs, and seven states and one territory have non-binding or voluntary renewable energy standards. Learn more about where your electricity comes from depending on your state.
Understanding off-grid setups
When a building is off the grid, it means it has no connection or relationship with a utility; instead, you produce all of the power you consume on your own. For example, if your house was exclusively powered by a small, private coal-fired power plant or nuclear reactor, you would be “off grid” because you wouldn’t be receiving any power from your utility company – you would be generating everything that you need by yourself.
However, the easiest way to go off-grid certainly isn’t with coal or nuclear power – most off-grid setups today use solar power. Generally, you’ll need the follow system components for an off-grid solar setup:
- Solar panels
- Solar inverters
- Mounting equipment
- PWM or MPPT charge controller
- Energy storage (typically a solar battery or a backup generator)
- Safety equipment (safety disconnects, grounding equipment, surge protection)
Best off-grid solar kits
Separating yourself from the grid can be a costly and complicated process, which is why we’ve researched some of the best solar kits for generating your own off-grid power:
|Product||Price||Efficiency||Solar panel power output||Inverter continuous power||Battery output power||Warranty|
|Renogy 400 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Starter Kit + Inverter||$1,017||22%||100 W (4)||3000 W||Not included (a 200 Ah battery costs $360)||5 years for panels, 1 year for inverter|
|WindyNation 400 Watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit + Inverter + Battery||$1,918||N/A||100 W (4)||1500 W||100 Ah (4)||N/A|
|ECO-WORTHY 4.8KWH 1200W 24V MPPT Solar Power Complete Kit||$3,100||21.5%||195 W (5)||3000 W||100 Ah (2)||1 year|
The Renogy off-grid solar system includes four 100 Watt (W) monocrystalline solar panels, for a total system output of 400 W. These panels are highly efficient at 22%, making it easy for you to produce off-grid solar electricity for your boat, RV, cabin, shed, or trailer. In addition to the solar panels, the bundled kit comes with a charge controller, adaptor kit, brackets, connectors, and 3000 W pure sine wave inverter. The 30A PWM Wanderer Li charge controller also has built in protections against things like overcharging and overloading for a longer functional life. While this solar kit is the cheapest on our list, keep in mind that it doesn’t come with a battery, which you’ll need for off-grid living. Renogy does also offer a 200 amp-hour (Ah) deep cycle AGM battery for $360, which you can easily add to your system.
View the Renogy solar starter kit + battery on Amazon.
This off-grid kit is easily installed on smaller structures like RVs and boats, making it a good option for on-the-go solar energy production. The complete solar kit includes four 100 W solar panels, a charge controller, a solar cable, connectors, mounting hardware, a 1500 W inverter, and four 100 Ah batteries. WindyNation doesn’t provide information on the efficiency of its monocrystalline solar panels or on its warranty. This system can also work well for a tiny cabin because it’s easily expandable, but you’ll likely need to upgrade the solar charge controller for this type of setup.
View the WindyNation solar panel kit on Amazon.
This complete off-grid solar kit is ideal for RVs, sheds, cabins, or small homes, but can also be used to power appliances like TVs or air conditioners. While it’s the most expensive solar kit on our list, it provides four times the power output of the other options at 1200 W. ECO-WORTHY’s solar kit comes with six 195 W monocrystalline solar panels, a charge controller, two 100 Ah lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, a 3000W pure sine wave inverter, connectors, mounting brackets, and extension cables. The solar panels are highly efficient at 21.5% and are covered under a one-year warranty.
View the ECO-WORTHY solar power complete kit on Amazon.
Does going solar mean you’re off the grid?
While going solar means that you’re producing power, it doesn’t mean you’re going off-grid. The majority of residential solar power systems in the United States remain grid-connected so they can draw power from the grid when they aren’t producing power (like at night). If you want to go off-grid with your solar array, you’ll need to also install a solar battery to store energy.
However, if you live in a state with a net metering policy, the grid will essentially act as an unlimited battery backup source. When you produce more power than you need, your system will send it to the grid and your utility will move it where it’s needed. In exchange, your utility company will compensate you for this energy – typically at the same rate you pay for electricity, unless you live in an area with net billing.
Off-grid solar kits vs. grid-tied solar systems
In many cases, solar panel kits are meant to be installed as off-grid systems. The primary difference between an off-grid solar kit and a grid-tied system is that an off-grid system must provide all of the energy for your home or property, while a grid-tied system can rely on backup power from the electric grid in times where there’s not enough solar energy to go around. In order to completely rely on an off-grid installation, you’ll need to install a battery or set of batteries to store excess power, so you can pull energy from them when the sun goes down.
Here are some of key considerations about off-grid solar kits:
1. You’ll need a lot of power
An off-grid DIY solar solution can be a solid way to power a shed or a portion of your home, but it may be difficult to produce and store adequate power for nighttime or long stretches of inclement weather. When you buy an off-grid solar power kit and install it yourself, you won’t have the benefit of backup power from the grid – so, if you want to be able to power your home at night or on cloudy days, you’ll need to install battery storage as part of your solar energy system. Batteries can add extra costs and cut into the savings you gain by shopping for solar panels on your own.
2. Installing a solar energy system is complicated
On top of the limitations of off-grid solar, installing solar is a complicated undertaking. Most solar installers have years of experience installing solar energy systems, so if you choose to install a solar kit on your own, make sure to do a lot of research first. Solar is a worthwhile investment, but it will cost thousands of dollars at the start – not exactly the ideal situation for a trial-and-error DIY off-grid installation. Learn more about what it costs to go off-grid.
3. Equipment options are limited
You also might consider working directly with a solar installer instead of purchasing an off-grid solar kit because many of the best solar panels for sale on the market aren’t available for you to purchase directly. To buy them, you have to be a solar installer who has a relationship with a solar equipment distributor. In fact, solar installers often get a better price on solar panels for sale, because they’re buying in bulk. If your priority is to build a high power output photovoltaic system for your house, your best bet is to work with a qualified, pre-vetted solar installer like the ones on the EnergySage Marketplace.
How to use a battery bank to store excess solar energy
Residential-scale solar batteries on the market today can store the energy generated during the day for your home to use at night. This can be particularly beneficial in areas where net metering caps have been reached, or in areas where utility companies don’t have good policies for compensating homeowners who generate excess solar electricity.
What’s a battery bank?
You may have heard of “solar panel battery banks” as a way to harness large amounts of energy in order to become completely independent of the grid. Because off-grid projects require enough energy to power your entire home, you’ll hear battery bank terminology used when a contractor is trying to estimate a total wattage for a combined battery system. In theory, you can find DIY methods for storing mass amounts of renewable energy with these connected battery setups – however, in practice, going off the grid is more complicated than you might think, particularly if you live in an area with significant climate variation.
Should you go off-grid with solar-plus-storage?
While it’s technically feasible to go off the grid with solar batteries, it’s rarely cost-effective. Most often, solar shoppers maintain their connection with their utility company, even when they choose solar-plus-storage solutions. However, whether you should go off-grid depends on multiple factors, including your location, set-up, and energy needs. For example, if you live in a small cabin or RV and have relatively low energy consumption, you could be a good candidate for an off-grid system. Or, you may frequently experience power outages, making it worthwhile to go off-grid entirely. In some places (particularly in remote areas), off-grid solar battery systems are the best, or even the only, option.
The trickiest problem with off-grid solar-plus-storage systems is capturing excess electricity generation in the summer (when solar power generation is highest) to use in the winter (when it’s at its lowest). Preventing total power loss in the event of a winter snowstorm or extended overcast days requires a lot of storage capacity, a very large solar panel system, and a significant financial investment to install.
What are the best solar batteries?
If you’re looking to go off-grid or install a grid-tied solar-plus-storage system, it’s important to explore your battery options. There are two primary types of batteries in solar setups: lithium batteries and lead acid batteries. The technology behind lead acid batteries is much older and they tend to be cheaper, but they aren’t as power dense. So, most solar-plus-storage systems today include lithium ion batteries, which can store a lot of energy but are often more expensive. Learn more about the best solar batteries available.
Why go off-grid?
People want to get off the grid for all sorts of reasons. As utilities and regulators decide what their responsibilities will be in a future where more power is created by distributed resources like solar energy systems, it’s possible more solar shoppers will choose to go off-grid. For example, an increasing number of utilities are adding fees to electric bills for those who connect their solar installations to the grid – so, some people going solar might consider disconnecting their house or property from the grid to avoid those fees. Others may want to support free market principles and avoid monopolized utility companies.
It’s also possible you’re looking to get off the grid simply to avoid blackouts or brownouts if steady electricity is not something you can expect with your utility. However, when deciding if off-grid living is the best choice for you, it’s important to keep in mind that an off-grid solar energy system for a typical home is significantly more expensive (and complicated) than a grid-connected system.
How to go off-grid safely
Producing energy completely independent of the grid poses many safety risks that need to be assessed before you make the decision to go off grid. Any time you’re working with electrical systems, risks like lightning strikes, malfunctioning equipment, or electrocution are present. For these reasons, safety disconnects, grounding equipment, and surge protections should all be on your radar when buying components for any off grid system. All of these pieces prevent harm to you or the wiring of your system. When in doubt, talk to a licensed electrician or solar installer to learn more about the safety requirements for going off grid with solar panels.
Start your solar journey with EnergySage
Getting off the grid and having constant electricity can be an expensive undertaking. Unless you’re just looking to power a small home or an RV, in most cases, you’re best off keeping your solar or solar-plus-storage system grid-tied. The best way to lower your solar installation costs – whether you’re staying on the grid or going off of it – is to compare quotes. Check out the EnergySage Marketplace to receive up to seven quotes from our network of pre-vetted solar installers, and make sure to add a note if you’re looking to install an off-grid system.