- Think about the costs & payback
Is going off-grid worth it for you in pure financial terms? Unless your property is a new-build home with no existing grid connection (i.e. you’ll need to pay for a new line to be run out to your home), the answer is probably ‘no’.
If you’re already connected to the grid, all your electricity-related costs will be spread out into the future as you consume energy – ‘pay as you go’. Contrast this with the costs associated with installing an brand new stand-alone power system, which will need to be large enough to both meet your daily electricity demand (at its hypothetical peak), as well as generate & store enough excess energy to get you through rainy days. This means that no matter how you look at it, it’s likely to cost a fair chunk of change (especially for the batteries).
The higher the out-of-pocket cost of your system, the longer it will take for it to ‘pay itself off’ in comparison to what you would have paid by staying grid-connected. While going off-grid may mean that you get to live life free of electricity bills and associated price fluctuations, that doesn’t mean your energy will be ‘free’ – just that you’ve already paid for it.
- How much solar capacity can you fit on your roof?
If you want to go off the grid without changing your daily electricity consumption habits, you’ll need to have enough solar & battery storage capacity to meet your needs throughout the day. For most homes – the greatest limiting factor may be the amount of roof space on which to mount solar panels.
Once you max out the space available, your two options are to a) invest in higher-efficiency panels, and/or b) reduce your electricity consumption to such levels as can be supported by the amount of solar capacity that you can fit.
- What will you do for back-up power?
While you can design a solar & storage system to be large enough that you should not need any additional form of generation, there are a few situations where it may nevertheless not be able to supply you with energy.
- If you run your batteries down to empty over a spate of bad weather and it’s nighttime (i.e. there’s no sunlight to charge them back up until at least the next day).
- If there’s a fault or breakage in the system.
- If your system is undergoing regular maintenance.
- What if your energy use suddenly spikes?
A home’s electricity consumption isn’t steady throughout the day – imagine what happens when you switch on a vacuum cleaner, an oil heater and a washing machine all at the same time, for example. While the grid’s capacity to keep up with these power spikes is substantial, an off-grid solar and storage system has to be engineered with these peaks in mind – which usually means more capacity and higher costs.
- Are you prepared for the lifestyle change?
In order to make off-grid living work, you’ll need to strike some sort of balance between the amount you’re willing to pay for the system and the behavior changes you’re willing to adopt. Things like having guests over, dealing with extreme weather and hosting a party are things that will take on a completely new dimension of considerations if you’re living off-grid vs connected to the grid.
- What about battery safety?
Most battery types must be installed, operated and maintained in a certain way to ensure that safety risks are kept to the absolute minimum. If you opt to go off-grid, do your research and make sure that, you are 100% confident that the system you choose will be as safe as possible – and don’t cut corners on costs that may sacrifice safety.
- What is the running costs of the system?
In addition to the initial capital outlay for your system, there will also be occasional upkeep costs that are necessary to ensure it operates optimally. Solar panels will come with a 25-year standard warranty, but batteries and inverters will need to be replaced every 5-10 years, depending on the warranty. Additionally, if you have a diesel generator, you will need to pay for fuel on the occasions that you need to run it.
- What about system maintenance?
When you go off the grid, maintaining your power supply becomes your responsibility. Regular services by an electrical professional are essential. If something happens to your system that causes downtime, you may be stuck running your generator or – worst-case scenario – left without electricity until it gets fixed. You’ll want know all the details about who services your system’s warranties and how quickly they will be able to respond to warranty claims.
- How will going off-grid affect your property value?
While you may want to live off the grid, when it comes to selling your home, potential purchasers may not share your point of view. As opposed to a solar system on a grid-connected home (which is often seen as a bonus and could potentially add value), it’s safe to guess that while an off-grid home may eventually sell for more than a comparable home, it will probably spend more time on the market due to its niche appeal.
There’s also the question of the age of the system at time of sale: Someone moving into an off-grid home would probably rather have many years of maintenance-free operation ahead of them as opposed to ending up with a system that they know they’ll need to replace a great deal of in the next few years.