If you are concerned about the likelihood of a power grid failure in 2023 and are considering solar energy as an urban survival alternative, there are three things you need to know. Solar energy is not as simple as putting up some panels and then plugging in your appliances. If your 2023 survival plan involves ‘getting off the grid’ with a whole house solar plan, you had better learn some things about the limitations of most solar systems first.
Most “Off the Grid” Houses Are NOT Off the Grid
Contrary to popular belief, most homes that produce “all the energy they need from solar panels” are still very much connected to and dependent upon the power grid. In fact, it is the power grid that balances out their overproduction of electricity during the day with their lack of solar electricity during the night.
What is actually happening is that their panels are producing a lot more electricity during the day than they can possibly use. This excess electricity goes back into the power grid and they are credited for it on their monthly bill.
Then after dark, the home takes back electricity from the power grid, but maybe less than they generated during the day, and so the net result is that they used “no electricity.”
Storing Solar Energy for Nighttime Use
However, storing enough surplus daytime electricity to power energy hogs like the refrigerator and furnace / air conditioner at night would require an enormous bank of expensive batteries. Since this is a huge expense, few of these homes have the ability to store up electricity for when the sun goes down.
The net result is that if the power grid goes down, many of these “off the grid houses” would be dark. As long as the power grid is up, they have no electric bill, or may even get a credit. But they are still dependent on the grid just like everyone else.
There are ways of setting up a solar system to run as a backup now and to be more of a reliable “whole house” system off the grid if the worst case scenario materializes and we can no longer count on the power grid.
True Energy Independence
The easiest way to be truly off the grid is to invest thousands of dollars in batteries to store energy for nighttime use. However, a better way is to convert your appliances to more energy efficient models to drastically reduce the amount of batteries you would need.
When you store energy in batteries, it is in the form of DC current. Using the batteries to power your AC appliances requires an inverter to change the current, which is wasteful and not energy efficient. Visit a truck stop and you’ll find a lot of different cool appliances that over the road truckers use, all of which run off of 12 volt DC.
Switching to LED lights that run on DC is an easy way to ensure you have light at night that requires little power, though it is not inexpensive.
If money is no object, then a combination of conservation by switching to DC systems and investing in a smaller number of batteries to store power is a very viable option.
However, those who plunge into large solar projects without knowing the difficulty of being truly “off the grid” may be in for a big surprise if they don’t understand the challenges.
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Great info. Here is a real life example. We live on our 35ft sailboat. We have a 600amp hour AGM battery bank using Rolls Batteries (best and most expensive deep cycle marine batteries in the world), a 100 amp alternator, 240 watts of solar, a 2kw generator, fancy battery monitor, fancy solar regulator (both include temperature monitoring), 2500 watt inverter, 100 amp DC charger, and 100% of the wiring has been upgraded to reduce resistance and energy loss.
All lights are LED, the fridge (which is the #1 amp draw) is just 3.4 cubic feet with R40 insulation, the freezer is .5 cubic feet with R50 insulation. Fridge and freezer are equipped with ‘smart’ controls that constantly monitor temp and humidity and run the compressor at the most efficient speed. The big fancy fridge in your house is likely 20-25 cubic feet. Ours might be the size of one shelf in a home model.
We are very careful with out power use and our AH budget is 120 per day. To put that in context if we were to use the inverter to run a single 100 watt light bulb for 24 hours that would take just short of 200 amps. A single 100 watt bulb draws 8.3 amps per hour. In reality it would take closer to 250 amps, as the overhead from the inverter and monitors adds 2 amps per hour. So running a single 100 watt bulb would use up 40% of our total battery capacity and 80% of our usable capacity. (Drawing the bank below 50% dramatically shortens its life. Replacing a 600AH bank costs $3000).
Our solar panels provide a maximum input of 13.2 amps, that only occurs in perfect conditions. On average on a year round basis we are able to replace 55-65 amps, roughly 50% of our daily power needs with solar. While at anchor or sailing (engine off) we can get 5-6 days before the bank is at 50% and we have to fire up the generator for 5 hours or run the engine for 8 hours to bring the bank back to 90% (getting it to 100% takes to much time and fuel).
Two people living in a small space with the most efficient gear, a tiny fridge, and all the technology available for regulating and monitoring and we can only produce enough energy from solar to meet 1/2 our needs. Total cost for a full system replacement to use lithium batteries (which charge faster, can be discharged deeper, and can store more energy in the same footprint) is $15-20,000. We don’t have room for any more solar panels. We’ve considered wind, but that is even less user friendly than solar. We’ve seen a wind generator disintegrate in 60knots of wind when the auto blade locking technology failed to work. Not a pretty sight.
Translate all of the above to a house and multiply by 10 is about what you would need to be able to be totally off grid. And be prepared to replace all the batteries every 5 years and the solar panels every 10 years. Solar panels begin to lose efficiency after 6 months and at the end of 10 years their output will be reduced by 50%.
The “transition to solar” idea is total garbage. Maybe I can get one of those climate idiots to come spend a week with us to really understand that what they claim to want is literally impossible. Hmm. On 2nd thought, nah, I’m sure they all have the personalities of dweebs.