Solar Power Myth: Saving with Off-Grid Solar

Here’s a myth: You can save money with off-grid solar, and stick it to the man!

One word for people who think they can save money by going off-grid – batteries. With grid-tie solar, you simply make electricity when the sun is shining, and sell any excess back to the electric company, who then sells it to your neighbors. When the sun isn’t shining, you just buy power from the grid, same as everyone else. If you “cut the cord” and go off-grid, you have to make and store all of the power you need. It can be a dramatic lifestyle change. You have to base your electric use on the sun. For example, only vacuum or run the washing machine on sunny days, when you have plenty of energy available. The first thing you need to do is greatly reduce your power usage, so that you’ll need to make less than you currently use when you are on the grid and don’t really think about if you can get all of the power you need.

The downside to living only with solar power is one more word – winter. In addition to greatly reducing your power usage, you need to install a lot of solar to handle the reduced sunshine most areas get in the winter, and install a large battery bank to store it for stretches of bad weather. Most off-grid solar systems also have a generator to help out when the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you live in an area that does not have bad winter weather, or are planning this for a seasonal camp, then it is not as much of an issue.

The initial cost of going off-grid is higher than staying connected to the grid for most locations in the US, and many locations worldwide. There are recurring costs with off-grid, including fuel for the generator and replacing the batteries every 5 to 12 years, depending on the battery technology and how well they are treated. You can pay a higher upfront cost to get batteries that can last a lifetime, but again, this will not result in you saving money, it will almost always be less expensive staying on the grid.

Not to say that going off-grid is never a good option. Off-grid living can be amazing, but only if your expectations are properly set. If your home-to-be is in a remote location where it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to bring the grid to you, you may save money by going off-grid. But if you have grid connection now, the best way to save on your electricity bill is to implement energy saving plan, install a grid-tie solar system, and buy less power from the grid.
 

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Amy Beaudet

Solar Queen at altE
Amy Beaudet has been in the solar industry at the altE Store since 2007. She’s been a sales rep, an instructor, and an all around solar evangelist, sharing her passion for solar around the world. When not at work, she’s either sailing or skiing, depending on the season, but odds are good she’s still talking about solar on the boat or on the slopes.

About Author

Amy Beaudet
Amy Beaudet has been in the solar industry at the altE Store since 2007. She’s been a sales rep, an instructor, and an all around solar evangelist, sharing her passion for solar around the world. When not at work, she’s either sailing or skiing, depending on the season, but odds are good she’s still talking about solar on the boat or on the slopes.

5 Comments

  1. Russell

    I have solar city ,can I hookup to batties ? Thank you.

    1. Amy Beaudet (Post author)

      You would have to check with Solar City to see if it is possible to add batteries. They are about to be bought by Tesla, who is making the PowerWall battery. They may offer the battery as an option in the future. It may depend on what inverter they installed, if it is SolarEdge or Fronius, it might be upgradable. I suggest giving them a call and asking if they know if it will be possible in the future.

  2. keith

    Interesting article,
    Hasn’t been my experience to be honest. I have been Off Grid for 6 years now. The “payback period” was the second I flipped the switch because it would have cost the same amount for a single pole and transformer and after having spent that pile of cash, I still wouldn’t have power. I replaced my batteries once now (gc-2’s) so the replacement batteries equal my “electrical bill” and have added up to 15 dollars a month.

    1. Amy Beaudet (Post author)

      Yes, we do mention that at the end of the article. If you are in a location that will cost a lot of money to get the grid, going off-grid can be a cost effective option. But if you are already connected to the grid, and choose to disconnect, that will most likely not save you money.

  3. keith

    Hi Amy,
    Yes you did mention this, though – in my opinion – the “grid” isn’t all that far from me….a whopping total of 15 feet from my fence. I would urge anyone who is building a new home to look into what the costs are to get hooked up vs becoming your own power supplier. Certainly, in my case it has proven to be a HUGE money saver. I would have paid the power company approximately 8000 dollars so far in fees and power charges (not including the 12 thousand for the pole and transformer they wanted to charge me for) so I have saved about $6920 in bills so far. Worth it for sure.
    The added benefit has been that as the local economy has faltered and I am currently uhmmm…”under employed” and for the most part it doesn’t have the panic effect one would imagine it would. I don’t have to worry about anyone turning off my power because I can’t pay the bill. So…uhm…I guess I did “stick it to the man”

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