There’s something incredibly alluring about the idea of ‘off-the-grid living’. Being able to generate your own electricity enables you to adopt a more self-sufficient lifestyle, minimises the impact your household has on the environment and provides you with a level of independence that is difficult to match.
What’s more, as technology continues to become more affordable and efficient, it seems likely that we’ll see more and more people living off the grid in the future.
However, living off the grid is not without its drawbacks. Producing and storing your own electricity can be an expensive endeavour and could be more costly than traditional grid-generated power. In addition, the technology requires a fair amount of ongoing, hands-on maintenance, which may be beyond the means of time-poor households or anyone not technically able.
So, how do you know if it’s right for you? The first step is to carry out a solar power cost-benefit analysis, which can help you determine if moving to self-sufficient energy production is an economically viable solution. A comprehensive review will take a range of factors into account, including…
#1. Your energy use
When connected to the grid, you have a nearly limitless supply of electricity to power your home. Off the grid, of course, you don’t have the same luxury and, consequently, it’s important to get a good estimate of how much energy you’ll require.
Electricity-thirsty households may require more solar photovoltaic (PV) panels than the typical home, and extra storage capacity to help them meet their energy demands. High electricity consumption levels require larger solar systems, which are naturally more expensive than their smaller counterparts.
Install a smart meter while you’re still connected to the grid to get an accurate report of your power usage in real time. The average Australian household reportedly uses about 16 kWh, according to the Department of Industry & Science. See how you stack up against your neighbours in terms of usage. Appliance calculators are also an excellent way of gaining a better understanding of how your electrical household products affect your energy consumption – and your power bill.
#2. The environment
Thanks to its ‘sunny disposition’, Australia is an excellent country for anyone using solar PV panels to move to off-grid power. In fact, according to Geoscience Australia, we have the highest levels of solar radiation per square metre of any continent on Earth. That makes our country a phenomenal source of solar energy and a great place to slip slop slap seek and slide!.
Some places receive more sunlight hours than others, which could have an impact on the cost and feasibility of generating your own electricity. Geoscience Australia noted that the desert regions in the centre and north-west of Australia are exposed to the highest solar radiation in the country. If you have a rural property located in one of these areas, living off the grid may well be a cost-effective alternative to traditional electricity. On the other hand, if you’re an apartment-dweller in Sydney or Melbourne, you may find it difficult to set up an off the grid ‘system’ at home to sustain yourself.
Don’t like getting your hands dirty? Can’t tell your spanners from your socket wrenches? You might want to reconsider generating your own electricity.
When connected to the grid, your electricity distributor is typically responsible for maintaining the infrastructure that supports your energy and ensuring that any power outages are dealt with as quickly as possible. By moving to off-gird power, you will lose the support of your electricity provider, and will instead have to rely on your solar panel/service provider
Maintaining your own electricity generation and storage can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but be realistic about your abilities. If you have a busy day-to-day schedule as it is, or lack confidence when dealing with technical (and potentially dangerous) gear, you may frequently need the assistance of professionals, which will drive up the overall cost of your solar system.
Historically, off-grid solar energy systems have been somewhat restricted by inefficient batteries due to their low storage capacity. This meant that an array of batteries was often necessary to support a single household, which made solar energy storage economically unviable for many.
Thankfully, this is changing. The Climate Council noted that battery storage capacity is forecast to increase by 50 times its current amount, which will significantly reduce the waste of surplus energy current associated with solar systems. Crucially, this technology will remain fairly affordable, with lithium-ion batteries expected to fall in price as key manufacturers ramp up production.
The affordability of batteries could be instrumental in encouraging more Australians to move to off-grid solar energy. The Climate Council estimated that by 2018, battery storage will be similar in price to the expenses involved with staying connected to the grid. This will give consumers even more options in terms of electricity generation, allowing electricity customers to not only choose between energy retailers, but also decide if they want to abandon conventional power production methods altogether.
The other option for Aussies is to supplement their existing set up with solar power. It’s a great jumping off point for most of us to get involved in renewable energy, while still accounting for its existing shortcomings.
There’s no denying that there are some substantial up-front costs involved with moving to off-grid power entirely. However, as the technology continues to drop in price and improve in efficiency, it seems likely that we’ll see more electricity customers disconnecting from the grid in years to come. Whether or not you should join them will depend on your unique circumstances, and by carrying out a solar power cost-benefit analysis you’ll be equipping yourself with the insight necessary to make a more informed decision.