Going Off-Grid with Solar Power

Clean energy that costs less than what utility companies charge for using power from the grid? Save money and reduce my carbon footprint? Yes, please!

Due to rising electricity prices and the effects of climate change, the world has started to turn to renewable energy. Solar panels and solar farms are being touted as the way out of conventional energy. Solar power is clean and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also sustainable and literally endless.

Big tech companies — one of the biggest contributors to global emissions — such as Apple, Google and Starbucks have pledged to go 100% renewable.

What is solar power?

Solar panels (sometimes called photovoltaic panels) are made up of solar cells that collect sunlight and convert it into electricity for power generation. These solar cells consist of silicon semiconductors that create an electric field and generate direct current (DC) electricity. The panels store sunlight during the day and use this excess power at night. In domestic setups, solar panels can typically convert 20% of the sunlight it collects into usable electricity.

A typical solar system consists of solar panels, battery, charge controller, grid box, inverter and mounting structure.

Not all solar power systems are created equal. What works nicely for a small home in a sunny NSW may not work for a larger home in the cloudy Faroe Islands.

There are three types of solar power systems, and each one creates a unique power generation and power storage experience:

1. Grid-tied solar

Grid-tied solar power systems are the most common type installed in homes and small- to medium-sized businesses. These solar systems are connected to the local utility company’s power grid. This means you can enjoy a completely solar setup, but you also sleep easy knowing that you can always tap into the grid if your solar energy is running low (for example, during rainy seasons when the sun isn’t always out).

2. Off-grid solar

An off-grid solar system is not connected to an electric grid. A house with an off-grid system relies entirely on solar energy, which gives it total energy independence. This system is ideal for remote areas where other power sources are unavailable or impractical — such as in rural areas, farms, army camps, and communications towers.

3. Hybrid solar

As the name suggests, a hybrid solar system combines grid-tied and off-grid. These systems are equipped with their own battery storage system but are also connected to a power grid. Hybrid systems are the most flexible option, allowing you to draw energy from either the grid or the battery when your energy needs exceed your energy production.

How do off-grid solar units work?

Most people installing an off-grid solar system are looking to satisfy all their energy needs through solar energy. You will need an off-grid solar kit if you’re planning to go truly off-grid with your Mod.

The panels of an off-grid solar unit capture the sunlight and then dispatch it to an inverter that turns the energy into electricity. When the batteries (a solar battery is a large, deep-cycle battery) reach a level at which they can discharge electricity, the battery inverter transforms the direct current (DC) power from the battery into alternating current (AC) electricity. The AC powers your devices. Depending on the capacity of your solar power system and backup battery bank, your devices will continue to run as long as you don’t deplete your stored energy.

How long do off-grid solar power units last?

A solar power system typically has a lifespan of 20 to 30 years. Most solar panels have a standard 25-year warranty, guaranteeing that their energy output will remain at a minimum capacity of 80% for 25 years.

Solar battery units last anywhere between five to 15 years. Most manufacturers guarantee their batteries for a specified number of cycles or a specific period.

Still, a battery’s longevity is not based on how many years they’ve been installed but on how often the batteries are used. Laptop or smartphone batteries don’t last as long between charges after a certain time. The more often the battery is charged and discharged, the less time each charge will last. A fully charged laptop battery that lasted the entire day when it was new will barely last the morning after a certain number of cycles. Similarly, if you have an off-grid solar system that uses battery power every night, your batteries won’t last as long as when you have a grid-tied system that only taps into your battery when the grid power goes out.

Three types of batteries are commonly used in solar storage:
  • lithium-ion
  • lead-acid
  • saltwater

Of these three options, lithium-ion batteries are considered the gold standard because they’re lighter, more compact, last longer, and have a higher depth of discharge* (DoD) than lead-acid batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are not the least expensive option, but they generally offer the best storage capacity.

*DoD is the percentage of the battery’s stored energy that you utilise.

How to take care of your batteries

Manufacturers assign each battery unit a recommended maximum DoD. Paying attention to this figure will extend the lifespan of your batteries. For example, if your battery’s capacity is 10 kWh, and you use 8 kWh of its charge, your DoD would be at 80%, safely under the maximum. DoD is critical because pushing your battery beyond its recommended DoD can massively shorten your battery’s lifespan.

Where you install your battery unit also makes a massive difference to its lifespan. Neither a super-hot nor freezing environment is ideal. In extreme heat, the chemical reaction in the batteries will advance the wear and tear on the battery unit. In extreme cold, the electrons slow down, and the chemicals don’t last as long as they usually would, causing the battery to drain faster. It’s frustrating but inevitable. Technology has limitations, and it simply isn’t possible to completely protect your solar unit from the harsh elements.

Your batteries may last longer if you store them in a garage or basement or a part of the building tucked away in a temperature-controlled area. Your battery can be installed outdoors if you live in a region with mild temperatures.

Off-grid systems are relatively easy to maintain. The only maintenance your battery would require is periodic cleaning of the solar panels because debris or snow lowers energy efficiency. You can clean the panels yourself, and every three years or so, you can hire someone more experienced to clean the entire system thoroughly.

When the warranty expires, your panels will still produce energy, but they may generate less over time. However, when properly cared for, your solar power system can continue operating for years beyond the warranty date.

An off-grid solar kit will cost anywhere from $12,000 to $50,000 — plus installation, permits and other fees.

At Mod Hauz, we can take your Mod completely off-grid in with a solar add-on installed at $11,500 (6m Mods) or $17,400 (12m Mods).

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