Off Grid cabin on the Buffalo River, Arkansas

Off Grid is a term used for people who do not use or depend on public utilities or electricity. This term can mean different things to different people. Some use it casually like not using their cell phones for an extended period of time considering themselves “Off Grid” while on vacation somewhere. When I think of off grid it could be something as small as a fence charger system with a tiny solar panel and a battery or as large as an entire house producing all the power it needs to sustain itself. You are independent from using power from an outside source. There are many advantages to an Off Grid system and there are some disadvantages as well.

Why would I want an Off Grid system?

Some may prefer an Off Grid system because they want that lifestyle or it just makes sense for their application. Some may not have a choice because they are so rural that the cost to run power to their property would be 2-3 times more than a solar setup. There are so many different applications for an Off Grid system. I’ve set up mobile units for farmers pumping water on remote wells doing cattle grazing rotation to doomsday bunkers that were elaborate and could sustain themselves in the event of a natural disaster or SHTF. I currently do all my lighting in my barns off of a single 12v battery with a small solar panel. I had chicken coops with a solar set up with timers to open doors and turn on heat lamps. The possibilities are endless. A lot of boat docks in this area are being required to use solar for their electrical needs because of safety issues. I’ve used a solar panel like a jumper box and charged vehicle batteries. These are all kinds of examples for Off Grid applications.

I believe there is a growing fear of power disruptions to our electrical grid. There are several articles and books out there on this subject and can easily go off in a rabbit hole. For practicality I think if someone was to be prepared for a natural disaster or a man made disaster it could save lives. Even if it were a small radio for communications, lighting, charging cell phones, or more importantly pumping fresh water.

Why would I not consider an Off Grid system?

I think it takes a fairly handy and capable person to keep up with an Off Grid system. You will have regular maintenance that is vital to your system. You have to check on the system almost daily if in full use. It requires the end user to become very involved with the system and they would have to really take the time to learn each component and how to self diagnose issues that may arise. This may not apply to smaller applications, larger applications will be difficult to manage unless that user gets very familiar with the system or if you have a service person that can manage this consistently. Smaller applications may be set and forget like a fence charger or a gate opener.

The price of an Off Grid system is much more than a typical On Grid system. Batteries can be very expensive and for best results people should expect to size their battery bank for at least 3 days of no sun. This will prevent the batteries from being drained too low. This can become expensive even on smaller projects. Battery technology is changing and developing and I am excited to see what the future holds. There are additional components as well that would be additional just for Off Grid systems such as monitoring and controlling the energy from the solar panels to the batteries.

I will have another article on BATTERY TYPES and will delve more into the different options and pricing in that article.