There are numerous entry points to reaping the benefits of clean, renewable solar energy.
You can supplement the power you already use from the local electric grid to reduce your utility bills and dependence on aging infrastructure and have a reliable backup for blackouts. In both cases, a portable solar generator may meet your needs.
If you want to go completely off-grid, you need to produce enough electricity to run your home all year. Off-grid solar systems give you energy independence and virtually eliminate your carbon footprint.
Before you make the move to go entirely off-grid, you should know that the investment can be considerable. An off-grid solar system will take time to pay for itself.
Depending on the size, number, and quality of panels, your solar array will cost, on average, anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000.
Numerous government programs and tax incentives can help significantly offset these costs — and you can recoup those costs over time by eliminating your electricity bills.
Read on to learn what’s required for an off-grid solar power solution — and how to price out and select the right system for you.
Components of an Off-Grid Solar Power System
A solar energy system consists of more than the photovoltaic (PV) solar panels you see on rooftops. You need to collect and convert the sun’s energy to run your home during daylight hours and store enough to supply your needs at night and during the shorter days of winter.
An off-grid solar power system consists of all the components to achieve this goal.
Let’s break it down…
The part of your solar system you will recognize most readily is the solar panels themselves. Each panel consists of photovoltaic solar cells that absorb sunlight to convert it into electricity.
The number of panels you need depends on the size of the panels, their rated power output, and the amount of electricity you need to power your home. Unless you’re relying solely on portable solar panels, you’ll need to mount an array of panels on your home’s exterior — typically on the roof — and position them to maximize sunlight exposure.
Many people believe that solar power only works when the sun is shining. But, in fact, an off-grid solar solution allows you to run off renewable energy any time of day or night.
Your battery bank is the component that allows solar power to meet your needs when the sun goes down.
Your solar panels should receive enough energy from four to five hours of direct sunlight to power your house for the rest of the day. Batteries in your system store the excess power you collect so you can keep powering your home during off-peak hours.
Options like EcoFlow’s Smart Home Ecosystem let you customize your system. You can expand your output capacity and how much energy you can keep in reserve by adding additional components.
Batteries with enough power to run an off-grid household usually cost between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on your required capacity.
Your solar panels and battery collect and store the sun’s energy as direct current (DC) electricity. Home appliances, however, almost always run on alternating current (AC), better known as household electricity.
Your off-grid solar power system requires an inverter to convert the DC power into household electricity to meet your off-grid power needs.
A standalone inverter typically costs between $3,000 and $13,000. You also have the option to purchase a solar generator with a built-in inverter — like the EcoFlow DELTA Series — helping reduce the upfront cost and eliminating possible compatibility issues.
Running solar energy directly into your batteries would run the risk of overcharging — decreasing the battery’s lifespan, and even presenting a fire hazard. For this reason and others, your solar system needs to include a charge controller.
A charge controller measures and regulates the rate electricity runs into and from your batteries and also ensures that the battery shuts down when power gets too low.
There are two types of charge controllers for residential off-grid solar power systems: MPPT and PWM. MPPT charge controllers may have a slightly higher price tag, but they make up for that by being far more efficient. PWM technology is arguably becoming obsolete.
All of EcoFlow’s off-grid solar power solutions come with MPPT charge controllers built-in.
Charge controllers maximize the efficiency of your system, keeping solar batteries charged without overcharging or draining them excessively. This component usually costs anywhere from $50 to $1,000.
Mounting and Wiring
Each of the components of your system needs to be connected: to your home and each other. Mounting equipment allows you to fix solar panels and other components in place, maximizing placement to capture the most solar energy possible for your home.
The wiring connects the panels in your array together and directs the flow of electricity to the batteries, the inverter, and your home’s circuit box. These are essentially the circulatory system for your solar energy solution.
Typically, you have the option to connect your solar panels in series or parallel — there are advantages and disadvantages to each.
In most cases, mounting and wiring equipment won’t incur separate costs but should come with the solar panels and other components of your system.
Factors that Affect the Cost of an Off-Grid Solar Power System
Why do these components come with such a broad price range?
Generally speaking, a system that generates more solar power will cost more than one that produces less.
The total cost of your system depends on multiple factors and will vary by size, materials, design, and quality.
System Size and Capacity
If you’re buying quality components, more solar panels and more batteries will cost more money. If your home is on the small side, a 5 kWh capacity solar energy system may be enough to keep you going.
To go completely off-grid, most houses today require at least 10 kWh.
EcoFlow’s Power Kits come with everything you need to go entirely off-grid — except the solar panels — and offer capacities from 2kWh all the way up to 15 kWh. Check out the Power Kit Calculator to help determine what size you need.
Your house size and energy consumption will dictate how much capacity and how many solar panels you need to fully power your home with solar energy.
Quality and Efficiency of Components
Not all solar power systems provide the same efficiency. Most photovoltaic panels currently have an efficiency of 15-20%. EcoFlow’s 400W rigid solar panels boast an efficiency rating of up to 23% and are perfect for fixed off-grid builds.
Since the sun is such an abundant energy source, even 15% efficiency is enough for an array that can fully power a home off-grid. But the higher the efficiency rating, the more power you can produce with fewer panels.
High-quality panels, solar batteries, and balance of system components might cost more upfront, but you may need fewer to reach the capacity you need.
Off-grid solar power systems from reputable manufacturers will typically last longer, reducing your costs over the long term.
Location and Installation Costs
If you live in an area with a sunny climate year-round, you will need fewer solar panels to meet your needs than someone who receives less direct sunlight. Even the cost of components themselves can change based on where you live.
The labor cost of installing your system can affect your overall expenses. While some systems allow for self-installation, you may want to work with expert installers. Don’t forget to factor installation costs into what you expect to pay.
Maintenance and Upkeep
An off-grid solar energy system comes with substantial up-front costs. Still, maintenance costs for a system that uses lithium-ion or LFP battery technology should be minimal, if any.
The LFP battery technology in EcoFlow’s Power Kits, DELTA Solar Generators, and Smart Home Ecosystem can last for over a decade without diminishing efficiency.
High-quality rigid solar panels regularly last 25 years or more and typically only require occasional cleaning.
If you have a rooftop installation and don’t feel comfortable inspecting and cleaning the panels yourself, you can always hire a professional to do it.
Estimating the Cost of an Off-Grid Solar Power System
Considering all of the factors above can feel like a lot.
Once you understand what you need in terms of output and storage capacity, you can start breaking down the cost structure.
One of the benefits of going with off-grid solar energy is that you can build your system according to your unique energy usage and needs. The right knowledge base empowers you to make the right purchasing decision for your home.
Calculating Your Energy Needs
Investing in a suitable off-grid solar power solution begins with determining your energy requirements. To calculate your energy usage, you can start with your electric bill. Find your average monthly or annual consumption over the last year, then divide the total by the number of days. That number will be the average daily capacity you need based on current consumption.
Alternatively, you can use online to help you calculate usage based on the size of your home and the appliances you use. For example, if you’re interested in a Power Kit, EcoFlow provides a calculator to help determine the system capacity you need and the right Power Kit to achieve it.
Off-grid packages like the Power Kit make estimating and reducing costs easier. You can purchase a system with all the numbers calculated for you in terms of electricity output and storage capacity.
It takes both guesswork and math off the table as you shop. With essential components like the inverter and charge controller integrated into the system, there will be no compatibility issues. Power Kits are expandable to 15 kWh if you’ve initially underestimated your requirements.
Comparing Costs of Different Components and Brands
Now that you know the parts you need for your solar system, you can shop around for the costs of different components or systems. If you want to build your off-grid solar power system one component at a time, you must consider not only quality but potential compatibility issues.
Look at all-in-one systems — and individual components if you’re dying to DIY — and compare prices, customer ratings, and other quality measures, such as reviews from reputable sources.
Of course, you want to ensure you’re getting a good deal…
But more importantly, you need the right system in place.
Considering Financing Options and Incentives
Different manufacturers and retailers may offer financing that helps make your off-grid solar goals more achievable. When comparing prices, that can make a significant difference.
It will take some years before your energy savings surpass your initial investment in off-grid solar. Financing can help spread that cost burden out and cushion the up-front cost in the process.
Government incentives can also help. The United States has numerous federal, state, and municipal programs encouraging people to switch to clean, renewable solar energy.
Government incentives can help significantly reduce the cost burden you face in purchasing and installing an off-grid solar system.
Getting Quotes from Solar Installers
You likely have several solar installers in your area to choose from. Ask around, and collect quotes from several of them once you know the capacity of the system you need to install.
Your system’s manufacturer may have recommended installers and incentives, which are always worth considering.
Some systems provide detailed self-installation instructions. Before you do so, it’s worth pricing out professional installation options. You want your system to work at maximum efficiency for decades to come. Getting installation is critical to making that happen.
Additionally, damaging system components during an installation will typically void your warranty. Professional installers carry insurance to prevent against such eventualities.
Choosing the Right Off-Grid Solar Power System for Your Needs
Once you’ve done your legwork, you should be ready to start shopping for your solar energy system.
Moving from theory to practice can feel like a big step, but by breaking it down into several smaller, more manageable ones, you can find your path to the off-grid energy solution that works best for you.
Assessing Your Energy Usage and Budget
Before you go off-grid, you have to be able to generate enough electricity to do so. The size of your home, the appliances you use, and how you use electricity all factor into this.
Take the time to assess the appliances you want to run and how much power they consume daily. Your daily usage should determine the size of the system you need.
Your budget is your own. Only you can determine what you can afford in up-front costs versus financing your system.
Consider what you consume now and what you pay now for electricity. Explore all the incentives and options available.
Assess what you’re comfortable paying. But keep in mind that unless you buy an expandable system, your investment in an off-grid solar system that doesn’t meet your electricity needs could end up being a very costly mistake.
Considering the Size and Layout of Your Property
Ground-level solar panels may be an option if you own a lot of land. For most, the best placement is on your rooftop. How you install your panels depends on the size and angle of your roof, the direction it faces, and numerous other factors.
If you have trees blocking sunlight from parts of the roof, your solar array installation should take this into account. In some cases, you may find portable solar panels are a better option for you than a fixed rooftop solar array.
Comparing Different System Configurations and Technologies
Some systems operate more efficiently than others due to the system configuration and technology used.
Consider the impact of connecting panels in series vs. in parallel; the optimization effects an MPPT charge controller could have, and the energy and efficiency gains you can achieve based on different configurations or technologies.
There are many different ways to achieve the electricity output you need, so don’t assume that one solution is the only way to get there.
Seek Advice from Experts and Experienced Off-Grid Users
Help is available to you. If you reach out to other off-grid solar users, they can offer practical advice for meeting your goals.
Further, local installers and retailers often come armed with an abundance of knowledge earned through experience working with customers in a similar position.
Don’t be afraid to seek advice and collect wisdom from those around you. An off-grid solar system is a significant investment. Make sure you get it right.
Pricing out an off-grid solar power system can be daunting. It requires understanding the long-term gains from your investment and the benefits of energy independence and freedom.
Take the time to fully understand how much electricity you consume and what kind of system you need to replace what you currently get from the grid.
Check out EcoFlow for the information, the components, and the power you need to leave the local power grid behind for good.