top of page
  • Writer's pictureSarah Lozanova

What Do You Need For An Off-Grid Solar Permit?

Updated: May 28, 2021

Many potential solar clients dream of living off-grid because they want to be self-sufficient and have greater energy freedom. Although an off-grid lifestyle is appealing to some, it’s not for everyone. The truth is that living off-grid requires more diligence to available sunshine, power loads, and battery capacity than a grid-tied home.

Living off-grid usually involves some lifestyle sacrifices. Unless the solar PV system has a lot of capacity or a backup generator, it probably can’t power an air conditioner. If there are several cloudy days in a row, occupants might need to scale down the use of specific power loads. In many cases, it is helpful to have some gas-powered appliances, such as a stove and water heater, but this still involves reliance on fossil fuels.

Off-grid solar photovoltaic systems contain solar panels, an inverter, and solar batteries to store power. Unlike solar arrays with battery backup, off-grid systems are installed on homes that are not connected to the power grid. In some cases, off-grid properties also use backup generators to supply additional power when needed, especially during prolonged periods of cloudy weather. Off-grid solar systems make the most economic sense when it is costly to extend the power grid to the home.

Installing off-grid solar projects can boost your renewable energy business. Solar installers who live in areas with rural populations might find strong demand for off-grid solar projects. Also, many other solar companies don’t specialize in these systems, so it can be a way to establish a niche market with little competition.

Do You Need A Permit For Off-Grid Solar?

The permitting requirements for off-grid solar vary widely. If your client lives in a rural area, there might not be any permitting requirements. This is good news because it saves installers time and money.

If you are installing a project in a city, there will likely be permitting requirements. When in doubt, determine if the town or municipality requires solar permits for off-grid PV systems. If a building permit is needed, the city will likely require an inspection after installing the solar PV system to ensure that the system meets electrical and building codes. Although most code requirements on electrical and building codes are standard, some details can vary depending on local requirements. Because off-grid solar power systems are not connected to the power grid, no utility interconnection permit is needed from the utility company. Also, the system doesn’t qualify for net metering because it isn’t connected to the utility grid.

How To Apply For Off-Grid Solar Permits

If solar permits are necessary for off-grid PV installations in your area, then it is crucial to contact the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). The solar permitting process and requirements vary widely between towns. Some building departments have online platforms for the permit application, while others require paperwork. The permitting fees for solar systems also vary widely and are designed to fund the permitting and inspection process.

In some areas, merely listing the solar panels, inverter, racking system, charge controller, batteries, and project cost might be enough for the off-grid solar permitting application. In other towns, town officials may require solar installation line diagrams and equipment spec sheets.

Tips For Success: Living Off The Grid With Solar Panels

In most grid-tied homes, occupants fire up appliances whenever it’s convenient. Off-grid solar clients need to understand that this isn’t the case with an off-grid system unless they install a robust one. Because off-grid living often requires shifting the way they consume power, it is essential to make sure your clients are well informed.

Understand Electricity Loads

When sizing an off-grid solar system for the proposal, installers typically have clients list their power loads. Keep in mind that some power loads are seasonal, such as the heating system. Now is also an excellent time to examine energy efficiency. Does your client have any really inefficient appliances that consume more power than needed? Do they have any loads running that don’t benefit them, such as an empty supplemental refrigerator or freezer?

It is also helpful to understand instantaneous loads, so the inverter is adequately sized. To avoid overloading the solar system, it is beneficial to spread out loads. For example, if the homeowner runs the microwave, there might not be enough amperage for the water pump, power tools, and dishwasher.

Determine The Necessary Voltage For The System

When deciding between a 12- and 24-volt solar system, there are pros and cons to either. Regardless, it is crucial to match the voltage of the battery bank and the inverter. A 12-volt solar system is ideal for small projects, like RVs and tiny cabins.

For homes that use 1,000 to 5,000 watts daily, a 24-volt system is usually ideal and has some benefits. These systems are more economical due to lower wiring and charge controller costs. Typically installers series connect the batteries in a 24-volt system which has durability advantages, and there is also less wire loss at a higher voltage.

Consider An Energy Storage System

Adequate solar battery storage is vital for comfortable off-grid living. Because solar energy is intermittent and not always available, batteries must provide power when the sun isn’t shining.

Keep in mind that the federal tax credit does apply to off-grid systems and includes the battery cost. Thus, a more expensive battery will have a larger tax credit.

Common battery types:

· Lithium solar batteries have the longest lifespan and often come with a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty. Solar customers also like this option because they are safe and require no maintenance.

· Lead-acid batteries have a shorter lifespan and require some maintenance. The upside is that they have a lower upfront cost.

· Sealed AGM batteries have a shorter lifespan than lithium batteries, but they don’t require regular maintenance like lead-acid batteries.

Prepare Your Clients For Going Off The Grid

It’s crucial to be upfront with off-grid solar clients about the limitations of these systems, especially after a couple of days of cloudy weather. Otherwise, customers may go solar and be disappointed. When solar shoppers have misconceptions about solar energy, it can lead to highly dissatisfied customers. If clients are open to making some lifestyle adjustments around how they use power, an off-grid system is an excellent way to be more resilient and self-sufficient.

Aside from permitting, off-grid has a number of other details and intricacies to be aware of. Unbound Solar is recognized as one of the leading online solar solution providers with a Do It Your Way approach. They're known for off-grid, but are equally versed in their grid-tied resources and solutions for solar installers and homeowners alike.

For permitting needs, GreenLancer’s marketplace has a network of licensed solar designers and engineers who specialize in AHJs all across the U.S. Obtain permit-ready drawings, solar project consultation and more. Connect with a rep today by filling out the form below.

bottom of page