Getting off the Grid

How to switch your Home over to Solar Energy

This month we’re highlighting saving energy at home. Many people still do not realise that an off-grid solar electric system isn’t as difficult as it seems.

How does it work?

Off-grid solar electric systems need ‘balance-of-system’ equipment, to be properly sized based on energy loads, and the appropriate permits before installation.

Step One

The first step to installing an off-grid solar electric system in your home is to research the equipment you will need based on what you want the system to accomplish. For all systems to produce electricity safely, you will need equipment to ensure that power is integrated safely into your home supply, as well as produce and/or store electricity for future use. Do you want your system to store power for use when it isn’t producing? If so, you will need a battery storage system and charge controller.

In all cases, above, you need the experts to come in, assess your needs, and then provide you with a fully itemised quote, detailing every aspect of the proposed system. As always, ensure you get quotes for at least three or more providers – and remember, most expensive is not necessarily the best, and least expensive is not necessarily below standard. Find out who in your area has gone off grid and ask them for their impressions.

Contractors are very unlikely to provide you with details of clients who have been unhappy with their services – so ask around.

Step Two

Once you’ve decided an off-grid system makes sense, you will need to analyse your electricity load to understand how your energy needs fluctuate daily and annually. Before you determine your system capacity, consider energy efficiency measures that can be implemented. The analysing stage is the perfect time to have a professional conduct a home energy assessment.

The sort of questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • Is anyone home during working hours?
  • How many people live here?
  • Is every room in use?
  • What sort of appliances/equipment are used on a daily basis? Work out their total power consumption.
  • What energy-saving measures can you introduce? (Turning the geyser thermostat down to 55°C or 60°C; turning lights off when leaving a room; making a clothes-drying rack under a patio awning so that washing can be largely air-dried, and tumble-drying is reduced).

Having a more efficient home will reduce your electricity use and allow you to potentially purchase and install a smaller and less expensive system. If you are building a new home, work with the builder to incorporate renewable energy into the home’s design.

To determine your total electricity consumption:

  • Multiply the wattage of each appliance by the number of hours it is used each day (be sure to take seasonal variations into account). Generally, power use data can be found on a sticker, metal plate, or cord attached to the appliance.
  • Record the time(s) of day the load runs.
  • Don’t forget either that many appliances continue to draw a small amount of stand-by power when they are switched ‘off.’ These ‘phantom loads’ occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as TVs, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. Turning them off completely can save a lot of energy when viewed over weeks and months.

Step Three

Think you have all of your ducks in a row now? Not quite. Check with your local authority as it might have specific rules, regulations, and building codes governing the type of renewable energy systems that can be installed and who can install them. Check with local officials, and/or a local renewable energy organisation to see what requirements apply to your community.

OK, now you’re ready to get the process started!