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Quick Guide to Off-Grid Solar Systems

Updated: Jun 14

off-grid solar system

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 with an off-grid solar system requires more diligence to available sunshine, power loads, and battery capacity than a grid-tied home.

Living with off-grid solar 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 or an electric range. 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.

What is an Off-Grid Solar System?

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 a 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 System?

The solar 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, money, and hassle.

If you are installing an off-grid solar system 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 electrical and building code requirements 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, so it's critical to know the process in the given jurisdiction.

Some building departments have online platforms for solar permit applications, 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, solar 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 With Off-Grid Solar

In most grid-tied homes, occupants fire up appliances whenever it’s convenient. Off-grid clients need to understand that this isn’t the case with an off-grid solar system unless they install a very 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, such as the heating system, are seasonal. 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. Spreading out loads is beneficial to avoid overloading the solar system. For example, if the homeowner runs the microwave, there might not be enough amperage from their off-grid solar system for the water pump, power tools, and dishwasher.

Determine The Necessary Voltage For The Off-Grid Solar System

When deciding between a 12- and 24-volt solar energy 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.

A 24-volt system is usually ideal and has some benefits for homes that use 1,000 to 5,000 watts daily. 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. There is also less wire loss at a higher voltage.

Consider the Batteries for the Off-grid Solar 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 off-grid solar 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 and are easy to recycle.

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

FAQs on Off-grid Solar Power Systems

Read on to learn more about off-grid solar panel installations.

Can I install solar panels without a permit?

In most places, including California, installing solar panels without a permit is not advisable and is likely illegal. Solar panel permits are typically required to ensure that solar installations comply with building and electrical codes, local building regulations, and zoning ordinances. Always check with your local building department or relevant authorities to understand and adhere to the permitting requirements in your area. Whereas permits are required for grid-tied solar panel systems, off-grid systems in rural areas may not require solar panel permits.

How does the off-grid solar panel permitting process work?

For off-grid solar panel installations where permits are required, the permitting process typically involves submitting an application to the local building department. The solar permit application includes system specifications, electrical plans, and details about the installation. After review, the local authorities issue a permit if the installation complies with safety codes and regulations. It's crucial to check with the specific jurisdiction for their requirements and procedures, which may also require a solar system inspection for the permit approval process.

Can off-grid solar systems power cell towers?

Off-grid solar systems can power cell towers effectively. They utilize solar panels to generate electricity, which is stored in batteries for continuous operation, even in remote locations without access to the grid. This setup ensures reliable communication services while reducing reliance on traditional power sources and minimizing environmental impact.

Is off-grid solar legal in California?

Off-grid solar panel systems are legal in California, but you may need to obtain a solar permit and follow certain guidelines and building codes. Per the 2022 California Electrical Code, the solar installer must be a licensed C-10 or C-46 contractor. In addition, off-grid solar equipment, including off-grid solar panels and inverters, must comply with specific standards set by bodies like the California Energy Commission. These standards ensure that off-grid solar equipment is safe, reliable, and effective.

Are there monitoring systems for off-grid solar power systems?

Solar system monitoring is available for off-grid solar systems. These monitoring systems track the performance and energy production of off-grid solar panels, allowing users to monitor their system's health and efficiency. Off-grid solar monitoring can include real-time data on energy production, battery charge levels, and system performance.

Some monitoring systems even provide alerts or notifications when there are issues or anomalies with the off-grid solar system. These monitoring solutions help off-grid solar system owners optimize their energy usage and identify any potential problems promptly.

What states have the most off-grid solar?

Some states with significant off-grid solar installations include:

  • Alaska: Given its remote locations and limited grid infrastructure, Alaska has a significant number of off-grid solar power systems. These installations provide essential electricity to properties that are not connected to the main power grid.

  • California: Although California is primarily known for its grid-tied solar installations, it also boasts a considerable number of off-grid solar systems. These systems are commonly used in remote areas or for specialized purposes such as agricultural operations or rural cabins.

  • Texas: With its vast landmass and areas far from the grid, Texas has seen a notable increase in off-grid solar installations. These systems offer energy independence and reliability in areas where grid electricity may be less accessible.

  • Arizona: Due to its abundance of sunshine and remote desert regions, Arizona is popular for off-grid solar. These installations provide power to off-grid properties, including ranches, farms, and recreational sites.

  • Colorado: Its scenic and remote locations make it an ideal candidate for off-grid solar systems. These installations are common in mountainous areas and cabins, providing electricity for off-grid living or vacation properties.

Do I need a backup generator for off-grid solar?

Although a backup generator is not mandatory for off-grid solar systems, it can be a useful addition to ensure a continuous power supply during extended cloudy periods or high energy demand. The decision to include a backup generator depends on factors such as your energy needs, location, and the reliability of your solar and battery storage system. A generator provides a dependable source of electricity during times when solar energy and stored battery capacity may be insufficient.

Are Fortress Power batteries good for off-grid solar systems?

Fortress Power batteries are considered reliable and efficient options for off-grid solar systems. They are known for their backup power capabilities and have been positively received by solar installers for their performance and ability to provide reliable power storage for off-grid applications. Fortress Power batteries offer lithium-ion technology, known for its higher energy density, long lifespan, and lower cost per kWh.

Prepare Your Clients For Off-Grid Solar Living

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 solar but are equally versed in their grid-tied resources and solutions for solar installers and homeowners alike.

For solar 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 solar plan sets, PE stamps, solar engineering reviews, and more. Connect with a rep today by filling out the form below.


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