Off-grid solar: Costs, process, and best products in 2023

Off-grid solar systems.

If you've ever longed to go "off-grid," you're certainly not alone – but beyond wanting to escape for a while, going off the grid has a specific technical meaning regarding your relationship with your utility and how you get power. The notion of living off the grid is becoming increasingly popular. Given the rising cost of electricity throughout the country, it's hard not to consider at least cutting the cord every time a utility bill comes through the mail.

If you're getting off the grid, there are many options to consider regarding equipment, including panels, inverters, batteries, racking systems, and solar charge controllers. Each product is different, and you can customize your kit in several ways, so it's vital to know exactly what you're looking for and why. We'll explain the key considerations of going off-grid, what equipment you need to generate your own electricity, and how much it costs. 

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Key takeaways

  • Going off-grid means you no longer receive electricity from your utility company.

  • Going off-grid is often ideal for people with low electricity consumption or homes in remote locations with limited access to an electricity grid.

  • Renogy, WindyNation, and ECO-WORTHY all produce high-quality off-grid solar panel kits for generating your own off-grid power.

  • Make sure to compare the size of any potential off-grid system and the components they come with.

  • Installing an off-grid solar system can be expensive and impossible for many people.

  • Whether staying on the grid or going off-grid, comparing quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace can lower your installation costs.

The term "off the grid" refers to living autonomously without relying on a utility for power. It means completely removing any connection to the larger electric grid, which powers most homes, buildings, and businesses nationwide. If you go off-grid, you'll need to meet all your household needs with electricity produced onsite. Off-grid living is often ideal for small homes in rural locations where there's a lack of reliable grid access. Off-grid homes require alternative power options like solar energy and some form of energy storage.

What kind of power do you get from the grid?

You can get power from all sources on the grid – the power sources that generate your electricity depends on your location and the mix of energy your utility offers. Depending on your utility company, you may also be able to choose your energy sources (typically for a higher cost). 

Some states have Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) (also called renewable energy standards, or RESs). RPSs are regulations that require a certain percentage of power produced in the state to come from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. Thirty states, Washington D.C., and three territories have RPSs; seven states and one territory have non-binding or voluntary renewable energy standards. Learn more about where your electricity comes from depending on your state.

Understanding off-grid setups

When a building is off the grid, it has no connection or relationship with a utility. Instead, you produce all of the power you consume on your own. For example, if your house were exclusively powered by a small, private coal-fired power plant or nuclear reactor, you would be "off-grid" because you wouldn't receive any power from your utility company – you would generate everything you need.

However, the easiest way to go off-grid certainly isn't with coal or nuclear power – most off-grid setups today use solar power. Generally, you'll need the following system components for an off-grid solar setup:

  • Solar panels 

  • Solar inverters

  • Wiring/cables

  • Mounting equipment 

  • PWM or MPPT charge controller

  • Energy storage (typically a solar battery or a backup generator)

  • Safety equipment (safety disconnects, grounding equipment, surge protection)

People want to get off the grid for all sorts of reasons. As utilities and regulators decide what their responsibilities will be in a future where distributed resources like solar energy systems create more power, more solar shoppers may choose to go off-grid. An increasing number of utilities are adding fees to electric bills for those who connect their solar installations to the grid. If you plan on going solar, you might also want to consider disconnecting your home from the grid to avoid those fees. You might also want to go off-grid to support free market principles and avoid monopolized utility companies. 

It's also possible you're looking to get off the grid to avoid blackouts or brownouts if steady electricity is not something you can expect with your utility. When deciding if off-grid living is the best choice for you, it's important to remember that an off-grid solar energy system for a typical home is significantly more expensive (and complicated) than a grid-connected system.

In most instances, the desire to go off-grid may be less about cutting the cord with your utility and more driven by improving resiliency. By installing one or two solar batteries with islanding capabilities, or the ability to form their own grid, you can ensure that your house remains powered during a severe weather event or outage on the rest of the grid. For most solar shoppers, this is a cost-effective way to improve the resiliency of your home without breaking the bank to go off-grid entirely.

Separating yourself from the grid can be a costly and complicated process, which is why we've researched some of the best solar kits for generating your own off-grid power:

Product
Price
Efficiency
Solar Panel Power Output
Inverter Continuous Power
Battery Output Power
Warranty
Renogy 400 watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Starter Kit + Inverter $1,030 22% 100 W (4) 3000 W Not included (a 200 Ah battery costs $360) 5 years for panels, 1 year for inverter
WindyNation 400 watt Monocrystalline Solar Panel Kit + Inverter + Battery $1,918 N/A 100 W (4) 1500 W 100 Ah (4) N/A
ECO-WORTHY 4.8KWH 1200W 24V MPPT Solar Power Complete Kit $3,300 21.5% 195 W (6) 3000 W 100 Ah 1 year

Renogy

The Renogy off-grid solar system includes four 100-watt (W) monocrystalline solar panels for a total system output of 400 W. These panels are highly efficient at 22%, making it easy for you to produce off-grid solar electricity for your boat, RV, cabin, shed, or trailer.

In addition to the solar panels, the bundled kit comes with a charge controller, adaptor kit, brackets, connectors, and a 3000 W pure sine wave inverter. The 40A MPPT solar charge controller has built-in protections against overcharging and overloading for a longer functional life. While this solar kit is the cheapest on our list, remember that it doesn't come with a battery, which you'll need for off-grid living. Renogy offers a 200 amp-hour (Ah) deep cycle AGM battery for $360, which you can easily add to your system. 

Renogy solar starter kit and battery.

View the Renogy solar starter kit + battery on Amazon.

WindyNation

It's easy to install this off-grid kit on smaller structures like RVs and boats, making it a good option for on-the-go solar energy production. The complete solar kit includes four 100 W monocrystalline solar panels, a charge controller, a solar cable, connectors, mounting hardware, a 1500 W inverter, and four 100 Ah batteries. WindyNation doesn't provide information on its solar panels' efficiency or warranty. This system can also work well for a tiny cabin because it's easily expandable, but you'll likely need to upgrade the solar charge controller for this setup. 

WindyNation solar panel kit.

View the WindyNation solar panel kit on Amazon.

ECO-WORTHY

This complete off-grid solar kit is ideal for RVs, sheds, cabins, or small homes, but it can also power appliances like TVs or air conditioners. While it's the most expensive solar kit on our list, it provides four times the power output of the other options at 1200 W. ECO-WORTHY's solar kit comes with six 195 W monocrystalline solar panels, a charge controller, a 100 Ah lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery, a 3000W pure sine wave inverter, connectors, mounting brackets, and extension cables. The solar panels are highly efficient at 21.5% and have a one-year warranty.

ECO-WORTHY solar power complete kit.

Solar panel kits are often meant to be installed as off-grid systems. The primary difference between an off-grid solar kit and a grid-tied system is that an off-grid system must provide all the energy for your home or property, while a grid-tied system can rely on backup power from the electric grid. If you rely entirely on an off-grid installation, you'll need to install a battery or set of batteries to store excess power and pull energy from when the sun goes down. 

Here are some of the key considerations about off-grid solar kits:

1. You'll need a lot of power

An off-grid solar system can be a solid way to power a shed or a portion of your home, but it may be challenging to produce and store adequate power for nighttime or long stretches of inclement weather. Without the benefit of backup power from the grid, you'll need to install battery storage as part of your solar energy system to power your home at night or on cloudy days. Batteries can add extra costs and cut into the savings you gain by shopping for solar panels on your own.

2. Installing a solar energy system is complicated

On top of the limitations of off-grid solar, installing solar is a complicated undertaking. Most solar installers have years of experience, so if you choose to install a solar kit on your own, make sure to do a lot of research first. Solar is a worthwhile investment, but it will initially cost thousands of dollars–not the ideal situation for a trial-and-error DIY off-grid installation.

3. Equipment options are limited

You also might consider working directly with a solar installer instead of purchasing an off-grid solar kit because many of the best solar panels for sale aren't available for you to purchase directly. To buy them, you must be a solar installer with a relationship with a solar equipment distributor. Solar installers often get a better price on solar panels because they buy in bulk. If your priority is to build a high-power output photovoltaic system for your house, your best bet is to work with a qualified, pre-vetted solar installer like the ones on the EnergySage Marketplace.

Residential-scale solar batteries on the market today can store the energy generated during the day for your home to use at night. This can be particularly beneficial in areas where net metering caps have been reached or where utility companies don't have good policies for compensating homeowners who generate excess solar electricity.

What's a battery bank?

You may have heard of "solar panel battery banks" as a way to harness large amounts of energy to become completely independent of the grid. Because off-grid projects require enough energy to power your entire home, you'll hear battery bank terminology used when a contractor tries to estimate the total wattage for a combined battery system. With these connected battery set-ups, you can find DIY methods for storing mass amounts of renewable energy.

Should you go off-grid with solar-plus-storage?

While it's technically feasible to go off the grid with solar batteries, it's rarely cost-effective. Solar shoppers often maintain their connection with their utility company, even when choosing solar-plus-storage solutions. Whether you should go off-grid depends on multiple factors, including your location, set-up, and energy needs. For example, if you live in a small cabin or RV with relatively low energy consumption, you could be a good candidate for an off-grid system. 

Some homes can function well off-grid with smaller, less expensive solar and storage systems. These homes are designed specifically for this purpose, often because they are located in remote areas that don't have access to an electricity grid. Some of these houses are built to Passive House standards and require very little energy for heating or cooling. Others use wood burning for space heating and limit the extent of electrical systems in the house. Homeowners in these situations may pay a premium for these features or manage their lifestyle with an expectation of periods throughout the year without electricity. 

The trickiest problem with off-grid solar-plus-storage systems is capturing excess electricity generation in the summer (when solar power is highest) to use in the winter (when it's at its lowest). Preventing total power loss in a winter snowstorm or extended overcast days requires a lot of storage capacity, a very large solar panel system, and a significant financial investment to install.

Producing energy completely independent of the grid poses many safety risks you must assess before you go off-grid. Risks like lightning strikes, malfunctioning equipment, and electrocution are present whenever you work with electrical systems. For these reasons, safety disconnects, grounding equipment, and surge protections should all be on your radar when buying components for any off-grid system. All of these pieces prevent harm to you or the wiring of your system. When in doubt, you should talk to a licensed electrician or solar installer to learn more about the safety requirements for going off-grid with solar panels.

Going off-grid isn't cheap. An off-grid solar solution might be practical for property owners with unusually low electricity loads. However, for most solar shoppers, going off the grid with solar is a much more involved and expensive process than you might initially think.

Going off-grid with solar requires more than installing solar panels and disconnecting from your electric utility. Costs, physical space constraints, and energy-hungry habits can make going off the grid daunting. There are four key steps to determine if going off-grid is feasible for your home, as well as how much it will cost:

  1. Calculate how much electricity you use;

  2. Determine how many solar batteries you will need;

  3. Design a solar panel system to fit your needs;

  4. And add up the costs of the combined solar plus storage system.

How much electricity do you use?

The first step in going off-grid is understanding how much electricity you use, also called your consumption or electricity load. To determine how many solar panels and solar batteries you need to go off-grid, you need to know how much electricity your home uses daily.

There are two primary ways to calculate your home's daily electricity needs. The first and easiest is to find the monthly consumption number on your electric bill (expressed in kilowatt-hours, or kWh). To get daily electric consumption, divide your monthly usage by the number of days in the month. Since use can vary monthly, performing this calculation for multiple months is a good idea.

The second method for calculating your daily electricity load is a "bottom-up" approach: multiply the wattage of each appliance in your home by the number of hours you use it every day. Though you may not be able to find the specific wattage for all of your appliances, most large household electronics – like TVs or refrigerators – come with a yellow Energy Guide sticker that estimates yearly energy use. Divide that number by 365 to get these appliances' estimated daily electricity load.

One of the best tools available for estimating energy use is the Department of Energy's calculator. Based on that calculator, here are some estimates for the electric load of common appliances:

Appliance
Estimated Annual Load (k Wh)
Estimated Daily Load (k Wh)
Refrigerator 600 kWh1.6 kWh
Air conditioning unit 215 kWh0.6 kWh
Central air conditioning 1,000 kWh2.7 kWh
Space heater 600 kWh1.6 kWh

The above approach is a great way to review your historical energy usage, though it may not be as helpful to forecast future energy consumption. The second approach, on the other hand, is better at predicting what you may use in the future. Both of these approaches are estimates. If you're planning to install solar and storage to go off-grid, it may be worth purchasing a home energy monitor or an energy management system to get a more precise estimate of your electricity usage.

How many batteries will you need?

To go off-grid, you need a way to store the electricity produced by your solar energy system at times when you're not using it. Not every solar battery can operate independently of the grid, even if you feed it solar energy: You specifically need a battery that can "island" or form its own grid so that the panels will recharge the battery daily without a grid connection.

To determine the number of batteries you need to power your house for a single day, you need to know your daily electricity consumption and the amount of electricity stored in a standard solar battery. 

The amount of electricity stored in a battery is called the "Usable Energy," expressed in kWh. This is the amount of electricity you can get out of a battery after accounting for electrical losses and any energy needed to power it. 

With these two data points in hand, calculating the number of batteries you'll need is straightforward. For instance, the average American household uses about 30 kWh per day. Given the conversion losses associated with storing electricity, you'll need enough batteries to store slightly more than what you use per day, likely closer to 32 kWh, depending upon the efficiency of the battery you select.

Two of the most common solar batteries are the Tesla Powerwall 2 and the LG Chem RESU 10H, which store 13.5 kWh and 9.3 kWh of usable energy, respectively. In this example, the average American homeowner would need 3 Powerwalls or 4 RESU 10H batteries to meet a single day's electricity needs. 

This is just the number of batteries you'll need to power your house for a single day. In reality, you'll want enough backup storage capacity to power your home for many days, or even an entire week, to ensure you still have electricity if you have a period of inclement weather or need more than your average daily usage in a single day. 

How many solar panels will you need?

Next, you'll want to design a solar energy system that'll supply electricity to your property and a storage setup large enough to fill your battery every day. 

The electricity your solar panel system produces directly results from the amount of sunlight your panels receive. The average home in the U.S. gets an average of 5 sun hours per day, which doesn't represent the amount of time your panels are in the sun but instead measures the number of hours during which sunlight intensity is 1,000 W/square meter. Learn more about what your average sun hours are depending on your state. Other factors like shade and the angle of your panels relative to the sun also affect the electricity your panels produce.

To determine how many solar panels you need to fill your batteries every day, divide the amount of electricity required (in this case, 32 kWh) by the number of expected sun hours (5 in this example): 

32 kWh / 5 hours = 6.4 kW

Thus, we need a solar panel array of about 6.4 kilowatts to fill up a battery bank with a capacity of 32 kWh daily.

The number of solar panels you'll need for a 6.4 kW system depends on the power output (in watts) of the solar panels you use, which generally range in wattage from 250W to 400W:

Solar Panel Wattage (W)
Number Of Solar Panels For A 6.4 K W System
250 W26
300 W21
350 W18
400 W16

Adding up the costs

The average cost of solar in the U.S. is $2.95 per watt, meaning our 6.4 kW system comes to $18,880 before incentives. A Tesla Powerwall battery costs between $14,600 and $16,850, so installing three Powerwalls would likely cost somewhere between $43,800 and $50,550 before incentives. Add that with the cost of your system, and you're looking at a total installed cost somewhere between $62,000 and $70,000 before any rebates, tax credits, or other incentives.

However, remember that these are just the costs for a system capable of powering an average-sized (or slightly below average-sized) American home for a single, average day. In reality, not every day requires the same amount of electricity, nor is every day perfectly sunny. While the average daily usage in American households is 30 kWh, hot summer days with AC on full blast could use as much as 80 kWh.

Once you start considering seasonal and day-to-day weather variations, the prospect of going off-grid becomes more complicated. What happens if it rains for a week straight or if you live in a region with snowy winters? Just an hour of cloudy weather during the day could reduce the production of your solar array by up to 20 percent, meaning that if you only size your solar plus storage system to meet your average daily consumption perfectly, there may be many times throughout the year when your system doesn't produce enough electricity to power your home. Going off-grid in nearly every case requires more than a day of backup electricity. 

The only way to safely go "off the grid" is to ensure you're ready for the most extreme situations possible because being left without power and without the electrical grid to pull from can be dangerous. 

Instead of looking at averages across the whole U.S. and making several uniform assumptions, let's look at what it would take to go off-grid in two real, specific places: Massachusetts and Arizona, where solar energy has seen significant growth and support over the last decade.

Going off-grid in Massachusetts

To go off-grid successfully in Massachusetts, you'll need to plan for the cold, snowy winter months that typically might have days with only three sun hours each. For this example, we'll assume a residential home uses 750 kWh of electricity per winter month, which comes out to 25 kWh of electricity per winter day.

Fewer sun hours on a winter day and extended periods of cloudy weather and snow mean you'll need to install a much larger storage system and solar array to harness enough electricity. To be safe, install an off-grid solar energy system with enough storage to power your home for one week

How does the math on an off-grid system in Massachusetts pan out? Seven days of electricity use in the winter adds up to 175 kWh (25 kWh/day x 7 days). Using Tesla Powerwall batteries with 100% depth-of-discharge, you'll need 13 individual Tesla Powerwall batteries for a storage system with a total capacity of 175kWh. Even if you include the small amounts of sunlight that will get through to your solar panels during cloudy and snowy days, you're still looking at potentially ten or more batteries.

Once you've sized your battery storage setup, you can calculate the panel array size needed to keep it full. Assuming you want to be able to charge 175 kWh worth of battery storage in a week, you'll need to install an 8.3 kW system (8.3 kW x 3 sun hours gets you 25 kWh of electricity per day, and multiplied out over a whole week, that adds up to about 175 kWh of solar electricity).

Going off-grid in Arizona

To go off-grid successfully in Arizona, you must plan for the hot summer months when you'll run your AC at full blast. Unlike winter in Massachusetts, there is plenty of sun, so we'll assume 7.5 sun hours each day during the summer months in Arizona. We'll also assume a residential home uses 1050 kWh of electricity per month, which comes out to 35 kWh of electricity per summer day.

More sun hours per day means you won't need to install a much larger solar panel system than usual, but a high electricity load increases the need for storage. To be safe in the case of cloudy weather, you should install an off-grid solar energy system with enough storage to power your home for three days.

How does the math on an off-grid system in Arizona pan out? Three days of electricity use in the summer add up to 105 kWh (35 kWh/day x 3 days). Using Tesla Powerwall batteries with 100% depth-of-discharge, you'll need eight individual Tesla Powerwall batteries for a storage system with 105kWh.

Once you've sized your battery storage setup, you can calculate the panel array size needed to keep it full. Assuming you want to be able to charge 105 kWh worth of battery storage in 3 days, you'll need to install a 4.7 kW system (4.7 kW x 7.5 sun hours gets you about 35 kWh of electricity per day, and multiplied out over a whole week, that adds up to about approximately 105 kWh of solar electricity).

Getting off the grid and having constant electricity can be an expensive undertaking. Unless you're just looking to power a small home or an RV, in most cases, you're best off keeping your solar or solar-plus-storage system grid-tied. Whether staying on the grid or going off it, the best way to lower your solar installation costs is to compare quotes. Check out the EnergySage Marketplace to receive up to seven quotes from our network of pre-vetted solar installers, and make sure to add a note if you're looking to install an off-grid system.

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