Welcome to Alberta's Experts in Renewable Energy

Living Off the Grid

Living Off the Grid may or may not require a lifestyle change depending on the design of the system and the current lifestyle. In reading on-line discussions on this topic, there are a lot of opinions on the subject. In this discussion, I would like to present the actual facts.

About Us

  • We have lived Off the Grid for over 14 years without ever using a generator or any other backup power source.
  • We cook with electricity
  • While we still have one wind generator, it is braked all of the time since it needs repair again.
  • We run everything here from our renewable energy system, including the boiler system, fridge, freezer, convection microwave, computers, electric range top, table saw, power tools and everything else that we need for our home and business.
  • Anyone coming here would not really know that we are Off Grid, since we have everything and use everything that is normally used in a household and business.

What kind of Off Grid Systems are currently being used?

Presently, there is everything from little one module systems powering a light bulb and the odd other item to full sized homes that feature home automation, electric cooking, elevator, full hydronic heating and many other items. Many systems are more generator systems than they are truly Off Grid Solar Systems as they rely quite heavily on the generator with its accompanying costs and problems. If you have a generator, you are not really truly Off Grid, as you still need the fuel for it, whether it is piped or hauled to you, at some point it requires the Grid to produce it or move it. There are a lot of systems that are very undersized which result in short battery life, problems and frustration. Many of these systems are not Code compliant and some are outright dangerous in the way that they have been installed or cobbled together.

People have different reasons and philosophies for living Off the Grid and, therefore, there is not going to be a one size fits all type of answer or system. The first thing to mention is that nearly anything is possible, so the goals and purposes are what really will determine what, if any system will be right for an individual. The worst thing to do is to try and get away with the cheapest system as it will cost more in the long run, not be reliable and cause lots of frustration. Basically, the best advice here is to do it right or not at all.

What can you expect from an Off Grid Solar Power System?

  • Generally, if the system is designed and sized right, it will be more reliable than the Grid power.
  • Batteries, if good ones are used and charged properly can last 15 years or more.
  • At the beginning, there will be a familiarization time with the system which will take a bit of time.
  • Mainly at the beginning, there will be a bit of fine tuning of the system and monitor.
  • With wet cell batteries, once you are past the initial learning and fine tuning stage, battery maintenance is reduced to intervals of 3 to 6 months.
  • We normally size a system for the worst time of year (winter), therefore, if you have enough power for November and December, you will have lots extra in the spring to fall period. This really helps to prolong the life of the batteries and provides for a worry free system.
  • Most of the problems with Off Grid Solar systems have to do with the generator, so the less you need one (if at all) the better off you are. Definitely do not have an Off Grid system that relies on a generator and expect to be able to just leave for a while when it is cold.
  • It is a good idea to look at the system monitor in the morning to get a good feel for what is normal for your system. During the initial learning stage, record the details for reference.
  • Since it is your own power system, you are now responsible for operating and maintaining it unless you hire someone to do it for you.
  • It is a good idea to build some redundancy into the system just like you have with the Grid Power system.
  • All of our systems have web enabled devices, so if desired they can be remotely monitored and some have some very good information for diagnostics as well, which really reduces the costs related to having someone come and take a look at it.

System Design Considerations

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