Going Off-Grid With Solar Panels: Everything You Need to Know
Katherine Gallagher is a writer and sustainability expert. She holds a B.A. in English Literature from Chapman University and a Sustainable Tourism certificate from the GSTC.
Whether it’s to help lower electricity costs or just a general desire to live unplugged from the rest of society, more and more people are choosing to go off-grid. While the concept of off-grid seems simple enough, actually putting it into practice can be complicated and costly if you’re not properly prepared.
If you’re entertaining the idea of going off-grid using solar panels, consider aspects like costs, installation, and local laws before taking the plunge.
Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar
From an electricity perspective, taking your home off-grid means removing any connection to your area’s larger electric grid. This electric grid is usually what’s responsible for powering a majority of homes, buildings, and businesses through the region, so you’ll require a personal on-site energy system in place that can meet all the demands of your household electricity needs.
Off-grid systems are more popular in remote locations, where the added costs of batteries, solar panels, and generators are less than the cost of extending power lines to the main grid. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the cost of extending existing power lines to connect with the grid in remote areas can range from 15,000 to 50,000 per mile.
It is important to note that installing solar panels doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve gone off-grid, either. Typical solar energy systems aren’t always designed to generate enough electricity to power an entire home, but rather maintain a connection to the utility company’s main grid as backup. This is referred to as a hybrid system, a less expensive and more flexible option, especially for homeowners that live closer to their area’s power grid.
Which System Should I Choose?
When it comes to off-grid solar power, monocrystalline solar panels tend to be the most commonly used. That’s because they are generally more efficient and have a longer lifespan. However, monocrystalline solar panels are more expensive and create a high amount of waste during production.
Polycrystalline solar panels are another option, which is less expensive than monocrystalline. Polycrystalline may not be a good choice if you are trying to go off-grid on a smaller property, since the panels are larger and take up more space, though they can be more efficient in low light situations than monocrystalline.
The third main option is thin-film solar cells, which are lighter with a smaller carbon footprint, though the materials to make them can be highly toxic and leach into the groundwater supply if they’re not disposed of properly.
The first step to going off-grid with solar is to determine whether or not it is even financially advantageous for your home. You’ll be able to figure this out by calculating how much energy you use, determining how many solar batteries you will need, researching solar systems that fit your specific needs, and then add up the costs.
To figure out how many solar panels and batteries you need to go completely off-grid, check out the monthly consumption number on your personal electricity bill or multiply the wattage of your appliances by the number of hours you use them each day. The U.S. Department of Energy has a handy calculator to help you estimate the electric load of common household appliances, or you can always purchase a home energy monitor to get an exact number.
You’ll also need a backup generator and solar batteries to store the electricity produced by the solar paneling system for cloudy days, when the power goes out, or at night when the panels aren’t producing any energy. Your daily electricity consumption will help with this, as you can simply compare that to the amount of electricity stored in a specific battery (or “usable energy”). In 2020, the average American household used about 10,715 kilowatt hours (kWh) worth of electrical energy annually, or an average of 893 kWh each month.
Whether or not you’ll be able to install off-grid solar panels on your property depends on your county and state laws. For example, in California, you must be or employ a licensed C-10 or C-46 contractor (or a qualified person per the latest California Electrical Code) in order to install an off-grid solar system.
Some states will even discourage residents from off-grid living by imposing harsher laws, require that you use particular materials, or not even allow you to live in homes of a certain size with off-grid systems. Most states, though, will have some sort of building regulations for solar panel systems, so be sure to check with your local county’s website or hire a licensed solar panel installer to assist with the process.
The average American home would need to produce about 7 Kw of power to go off-grid. That would be equivalent to using about 35 200-watt or 20 350-watt solar panels.
You can absolutely run a house on solar power if you live in a sunny enough climate. In order to do so, though, you’d need an adequate number of high-efficiency solar panels and batteries to store the power (at least two or three). Without a battery, your house is tied to the grid and not necessarily always using solar energy.
In the U.S., the cost of a full off-grid solar system ranges from 30,000 to 60,000 before tax credits and rebates. That’s including the panels, battery (or batteries), inverter, and installation.
- Off-Grid or Stand-Aline Renewable Energy Systems. United States Department of Energy.
- Luceño-Sánchez, José Antonio, et al. Materials for Photovoltaics: State of Art and Recent Developments. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 20, no. 4, 2019, pp. 976., doi:10.3390/ijms20040976
- Taraba, Michal. Properties Measurement of the Thin Film Solar Panels Under Adverse Weather Conditions. Transportation Research Procedia, vol. 40, 2019, pp. 535-540., doi:10.1016/j.trpro.2019.07.077
- Baghar, Askari Muhammed, et al. Types of Solar Cells and Applications. American Journal of Optics and Photonics, vol. 3, no. 5, 2015, pp. 94-113., doi:10.11648/j.ajop.20150305.17
- How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use? U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Off-Grid Solar System Design Installation Guide
So, you’ve decided to start your journey to off-grid living.- congratulations! Installing an off-grid solar setup can be intimidating, so we’ve put together this complete guide to off-grid solar system design and installation to help guide your project.
Inside, you’ll find a complete overview of the process of going off the grid with solar, including detailed calculations to help you size an off-grid system that precisely fits your needs. We’ll also outline how to build an off-grid solar system that is safe and code-compliant.
Off-grid solar systems are not the same as grid-tie solar systems. With an off-grid system, you are entirely independent of the grid and 100% responsible for your power needs. You won’t be able to harness extra electricity from the utility company. Learn more about off-grid vs. grid-tie systems.
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Off-Grid Solar System Components
Here’s a quick overview of the parts you can expect to find in your off-grid solar system. It’s important to pick components specifically rated for off-grid use. For example, most grid-tie inverters are not configured to connect to a battery bank.
Solar panels absorb the sun’s rays, converting sunlight into DC (direct current) power.
While you may find that some panels are marketed as “off-grid solar panels,” this is a bit of a misnomer. There used to be panels that were designed to match the lower voltages of specific types of charge controllers and battery banks, but the technology has improved enough that the design standard has become outdated. Nowadays when a panel is marketed as off-grid it often means that the wattage is lower than the current standard, and many of the panels marketed this way tend to be of inferior quality.
Now, MPPT charge controllers allow us to make use of standard, mass-produced solar panels in off-grid applications. Any traditional 60/120 or 72/144 cell solar panel will work just fine, and if you have space on your property to mount full-sized panels, that will be your most cost-effective option.
Common solar panel sizes:
Both 60-cell and 120-cell solar panels are about 3.5 feet by 5.5 feet. The difference is that 120-cell panels utilize half-cut cells, which are slightly more efficient and resistant to failure.
72-cell and 144-cell solar panels are about 3.5 feet by 6.5 feet, with 144-cell panels using half-cut cells as well.
60/120-cell panels are easier to carry and offer more flexible design options, while 72/144-cell panels cost less to install. Compare 60/120 vs. 72/144-cell panels here.
Monocrystalline (mono) solar panels are cut from a single section of silicon. They are slightly more efficient than polycrystalline (poly) solar panels, which contain cells made of blended fragments of silicon.
Mono solar panels cost a bit more than poly panels, because their increased efficiency allows you to fit more solar in a smaller space. In terms of performance, mono and poly solar panels will produce power equally well, but an array of poly panels would take up more room on your property.
The centerpiece of off-grid solar systems. Batteries store the energy you produce. You can draw power from your battery bank to run your appliances at any time.
Off-grid solar systems use deep cycle batteries, which are designed to be discharged and recharged gradually. Typically solar batteries are sized to cover your energy usage for one night and recharge from solar during the day, completing one charge / discharge cycle over a 24 hour period.
Some common battery types used in off-grid solar applications:
Flooded Lead Acid Batteries
Flooded lead-acid (FLA) batteries are sometimes referred to as wet cell batteries because the electrolyte is in liquid form and can be accessed by removing the battery caps.
Charging flooded batteries causes water in the electrolyte solution to evaporate, so they regularly need to be refilled with distilled water to keep them topped off. This need for routine maintenance means flooded batteries are only suitable for those who have the time (and the desire) to perform maintenance checks on their battery bank on a monthly basis.
FLA batteries are especially prone to failure if not properly maintained, and we find that most people can’t (or won’t) commit to the monthly maintenance schedule needed to properly care for FLA batteries. Their strict maintenance requirements means they are not suitable for vacation homes, nor would we recommend them for full-time off-grid residences, unless you really love the idea of getting hands-on with your system.
Sealed Lead Acid Batteries
Sealed lead acid (SLA) batteries get their name because the compartment containing the electrolyte is sealed, which prevents leaks and noxious fumes coming from the battery.
Unlike flooded lead-acid (FLA) batteries, sealed batteries have minimal maintenance requirements and do not need to be installed in a ventilated battery enclosure. SLA batteries can also be mounted in any orientation, because the contents of the battery are sealed shut.
There are two sealed lead acid battery types: absorbent glass mat (AGM) and gel batteries.
- AGM batteries are less expensive and perform better than gel batteries in cold temperatures. They are also capable of higher charge and discharge rates. They are the more cost-effective sealed battery option, recommended in most off-grid solar applications.
- Gel batteries are an older technology that cost more than AGM batteries. They take longer to charge and are not as widely available as AGM. Gel batteries do perform better in high ambient temperatures, so they may make sense in hot climates, but AGM is usually the more cost-effective option.
Lithium Ion Batteries
Lithium Ion batteries tend to be about 3x the cost of SLA batteries, but they also last about 3x longer, so the higher initial cost balances out over the life of the system. (For a lifetime cost comparison chart, see the “Cost of Off-Grid Solar” section below.)
If you want a high performance battery that you don’t have to replace for a decade, lithium batteries are the most convenient option. They have faster discharge and recharge rates, weigh less and are maintenance-free. In addition, lithium batteries are modular, meaning you can start small and expand your battery bank as needed.
# of batteries
Charging Temperature 32°F to 114°F
Discharging Temperature.4°F to 131°F
The inverter is the central hub of the system, responsible for routing power between its various components. For off-grid solar, you need an inverter that is purpose-built for off-grid use.
State of the art off-grid inverters have a variety of capabilities and Smart functions. MPPT charge controllers are built in to many inverters. Some not only accept generator power inputs, but can start the generator if battery power dips too low. Inverters include the brain for monitoring systems so that you can monitor your system remotely. And if you are using lithium batteries, many inverters can communicate directly with the battery’s built in BMS (Battery Management System) in order to maintain proper charge levels and to make battery bank information available for your monitoring.
Your off-grid inverter takes low voltage DC power from the battery bank and converts it into 120/240V AC, the standard format that powers household appliances.
State of the art off-grid inverters offer several Smart features to manage your system. A few examples include remote monitoring, automatic generator start, and the capability to communicate directly with lithium battery banks to monitor and maintain proper charge levels.
The foundation that supports your solar array. We recommend the Ironridge XR metal rail system.
Racking is universal between grid-tie and off-grid systems. There’s no special equipment; it’s just a metal structure that supports the weight of the solar array.
Both roof and ground mount racking works well, and there are pros and cons to both options. Take a look at our article comparing ground mount vs. roof mount solar if you’d like help deciding where to mount your array.
A solar charge controller regulates the battery charging process. Charge controllers keep solar panels from overcharging your battery bank by regulating the voltage the panels generate.
48-volt batteries are common in off-grid systems; however, most solar panels deliver more voltage than is required to charge the batteries. Charge controllers convert the excess voltage into amps, keeping the charge voltage at an optimal level while reducing the time necessary to charge the batteries fully.
Undercharging and overcharging both reduce the expected lifespan of your battery bank, so it’s important to pick the right controller and properly program the charging profile of the batteries.
There are two main types of charge controller: PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) and MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracker).
- PWM controllers are an older technology that we do not recommend for off-grid homes. They are less efficient and have limited options for compatible solar panels. PWM controllers are better suited for less intensive applications, like remote telecom setups.
- MPPT controllers are a more efficient and reliable technology that maximizes the current running into the battery bank. As the intensity of sunlight changes throughout the day, MPPT controllers automatically adjust the voltage to charge the battery bank as efficiently as possible. We exclusively use MPPT charge controllers in our solar kits to meet the demands of full-time off-grid living.
A power center is a pre-wired unit that contains the “brains” of the system.- the inverter, charge controllers, monitoring system, overcurrent / surge protection, AC and DC inputs/outputs, and wiring to tie it all together.
Buying a pre-wired power center, or a state of the art off-grid inverter that has most of these features built-in, saves the intricate work of correctly mounting and wiring a number of components together.
How much does it cost to go off grid with solar?
First, the standard disclaimer: every off-grid solar project is different, and your costs will vary (™). To put together a custom off-grid solar package that suits your needs, reach out to us for a free PV proposal.
However, it can be useful early in the research process to look at some sample systems to help benchmark the costs of off-grid solar. Feel free to take a look at our off-grid solar kits in our shop for up-to-date pricing.
Please note that the kits in our shop do not include the cost of batteries, as the battery bank will need to be sized to match your energy consumption (we’ll explain how to do that in the Off Grid Solar System Design section).
Tax Incentives Polices by State
You are eligible to claim the solar tax credit if:
- You owe taxes for the filing year that the system was installed
- The system is installed at your primary residence
- You are the owner of the system (leases / PPAs do not apply)
Backup Generator Costs
While solar can handle your day-to-day power needs, most off-grid systems are designed for a single day of autonomy (days that you can fully meet your energy needs with solar). You will inevitably encounter stretches of bad weather where your solar panels can’t produce enough power to cover your needs.
For that, off-grid systems must include source of backup power. For most people, that means adding a backup gas generator to get through periods of low solar production.
Be sure to budget for a backup generator as part of the overall cost of your system.
We’ll help you design an off-grid solar system. Whether you’re converting an existing system to off-grid or starting from scratch, we can guide you to the best energy-saving solution.
Minimizing Off-Grid System Costs
Before you size your off-grid solar system, consider whether you can take measures to reduce your energy usage. Lower consumption means you can get away with a smaller battery bank and inverter, reducing system costs.
Two simple things to consider:
- Propane Appliances Consider outfitting your off-grid home with propane appliances to limit your electricity usage. We recommend looking for a propane stove, clothes dryer, wall heater and on-demand water heater; in our experience these are more cost-effective than running them off electricity. Be sure that you have reliable access to a propane vendor near you. Some places have propane delivery services, which are convenient.
- Stagger Appliance Usage Usage Off-grid systems are designed with peak consumption in mind.- how many electrical loads are run simultaneously. By staggering your usage of major appliances, you can reduce the peak demand on your system. For example, if you’re willing to run your dishwasher and laundry at different times, that will reduce peak demand and keep system costs in check.
Off-Grid Solar System Design
Off-grid living means you are fully responsible for your own power production; if your energy storage doesn’t live up to your needs, there’s no grid power to fall back on. For that reason, it’s critical to take all the factors that impact solar production into account during the system sizing process.
Factors that Impact Off-Grid System Design
Before we get into the system sizing process, consider the following:
Sun Hours Some parts of the country get more exposure to the sun than others. You’ll need to know how many sun hours you get in your location.- a measure of the duration and intensity sunlight in your region. Fortunately there’s no guesswork involved, thanks to the solar insolation maps provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Look for the DNI (Direct Normal Irradiance) maps and take a note of the average sun hours in your location. Most places in the US fall in the range of 4-5 sun hours per day. You may notice from the monthly maps that sun hour availability dips dramatically in the winter. Your solar production will fall below your needs in the winter months, and it will be up to your generator to pick up the slack. While you could theoretically oversize your solar array so that it works in those bleak winter months, it would be insanely expensive (think triple the system costs). It’s much more cost-effective to size your solar array to be effective most of the year, but let the generator take over in the winter.
Obstructions Solar panels work best in full sunlight, so you want to keep them free from obstructions that would cast shade on the panels. Check your build site for trees, chimneys, or anything else that could block sunlight from hitting your panels. Keep in mind that shadows get longer in the winter as the sun takes a lower arc across the sky. Make sure that your build site will be free from shade all year-round. If partial shade is unavoidable, the impact can be mitigated with micro-inverters or power optimizers. However, they won’t match the output of an array built with full exposure to sunlight.
Orientation Solar panels produce the most power when they face directly toward the sun, which takes a path in the sky that follows the Equator. So if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you want to face your panels due South. In the Southern Hemisphere, face them North. As you select a build site, make sure you can face your panels in the right direction. If you don’t have a suitable space on your rooftop, consider a ground mount away from obstructions to get the most out of your panels.
System Voltage Solar batteries come in a variety of voltages, including 6V, 12V, 24V and 48V. We recommend a 48V DC battery bank simply because it’s the most efficient and cost-effective option available. At lower voltages, you will need to buy more electronics and invest in more cabling to handle the higher amperage from the system (the amperage is doubled every time the voltage is cut in half). In an off-grid residence, 48V is the better option. For best results, it is most common to use 6V batteries and wire them in series for a total of 48 volts.
Determine Your Energy Needs
There are three key factors to consider when sizing an off-grid system:
(“KWh” stands for kilowatt-hour, the standard measure of how much electricity your appliances consume while in use. You can find this rating on the appliance’s EnergyStar sheet.)
To start, make a list of each appliance’s wattage consumption. Then write down how many hours you plan to use each appliance on a daily basis. This information is necessary to move forward with the sizing process.
off-grid load calculator
We’ve got a handy off-grid load calculator to help you keep track of your appliance’s wattage consumption.
Important! 1,000 watts = 1 kilowatt. Be sure to convert watts to kilowatts before you make your kWh calculations, or your numbers will be off!
What is Your Peak Power Demand?
What are the electrical loads that you will need to run? Will they all run at the same time, or can you rotate the loads?
Your peak power demand is your total wattage usage when you are running all the electrical loads you need simultaneously. By staggering usage of major appliances at different times, you can reduce your peak power demand and bring system costs down.
Figure out how many appliances you expect to run at the same time, and add up their wattage consumption. The total is your peak power demand. Make note of this number, as we’ll be using it to figure out your inverter size.
What is your daily kWh usage?
Using the load evaluation worksheet you filled out, multiply the appliance wattage by the number of hours it will be in use each day. As an example, if you run a 1,500-watt dishwasher for 30 minutes each day:
1,500 watts x 0.5 hours = 750 watt-hours (Wh)
Remember to divide by 1000 to convert from watts to kilowatts.
750 Wh / 1000 = 0.75 kWh daily usage
Repeat this step for each appliance you will use, and tally them all up to get your daily kWh usage. Write that number in your notes.
What is your nightly kWh usage?
In the daytime, the power you use comes straight from your solar panels. When the sun goes down and panels are no longer generating power, the battery bank takes over and your appliances will run off of stored energy.
Using the same method as above, add up the appliances you’ll use at night and tally them here. Your fridge, TV, and smartphone charger are common appliances that run in the evening and overnight. Your inverter also has a self-consumption rating (the amount of power it takes to run the inverter) which should be accounted for.
Well-designed off-grid homes can use as little as 3-4 kWh per night, but yours may be higher if you want to run power-intensive appliances in the evening, like an HVAC system.
Tally up your nightly kWh usage and write the number down in your notes.
Off-Grid Battery Bank Sizing
With the above figures in hand, we’re finally ready to begin our system sizing calculations. We’ll start with the battery bank, which needs to be sized to accommodate both peak and continuous demand.
For the purpose of demonstration, we’ll walk through the math for a sample off-grid system with the following energy needs:
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Your new solar system will perform at 90% or better of the quoted production, or we will cover any additional cost incurred on your electric bill for the entire first year.
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We installed solar about two years ago using Simply Solar. We obtained three bids, but were most impressed with the service side of our initial meeting with them. It was pointed out that we needed to upgrade our electrical panel and that work/permit was included in our bid. We then needed two more panels the next year and again, friendly and professional help.
Our home solar system has been great. Competitively priced, and with top quality panels, etc. They stood by commitments made at the time of sale. Their original estimated installation date was perhaps overly optimistic, but rain was a factor. Installers were respectful and cleaned up after themselves. Customer support is great. A minor early issue (with monitoring) was addressed quickly and painlessly. The estimate their engineers made for yearly output was impressively close to the KHW we get. I recommend them.
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The Best Off-Grid Solar Systems of 2023
Check out our picks for the best off-grid solar systems that you can buy today and compare features, pricing and more.
Despite the rise of grid-tied solar systems. off-grid solar panels continue to be in demand. The best off-grid solar systems offer an easy way to power remote cabins, camper vans and nearly everything that lies or ventures outside grid coverage.
We at the Guides Home Team have conducted hours of market research and reviewed dozens of products to create a reliable list of the best off-grid solar systems. We based each pick on our in-depth solar methodology, which focuses on key factors like system components, price and warranties to help you find the best fit for your off-grid solar project.
Offers 7 solar panel brands Partners with Enphase for battery options Helps customers enroll in savings programs
Off-Grid vs. On-Grid Solar Systems
You can utilize solar power through off-grid or grid-tied (or on-grid) systems. Although both systems technically work the same way, the difference lies in whether you connect your panels to the local electricity grid. While off-grid systems still use solar panels to produce energy, they rely on batteries to store excess production rather than sending it back to the grid, as with a conventional (or grid-tied) home solar system. You can use that stored energy to power your devices in remote locations. Grid-tied systems are more common today since the majority of the population lives in the coverage area of an electric grid. However, off-grid solar is often the only option if you plan to power a cabin in the woods, a recreational vehicle (RV) or even boats.
Pros and Cons of Going Off-Grid
- Creates access to usable energy regardless of grid coverage
- Easier to set up than standard solar systems (no permits or regulatory requirements)
- Ready-to-install kits eliminate the need for an electrical contractor (in most cases)
- Portable solar panel options
- Offers flexible applications (can be used on a tiny house, campervan, boat, etc.)
- Smaller in size and cheaper than conventional systems
Cons of Off-Grid Solar
- Solar batteries are almost always necessary
- You cannot benefit from net metering and other financial incentives
- Large systems can be difficult to set up (most DIY kits are small in size)
What To Look For in an Off-Grid Solar System
There are a few factors to consider when shopping for an off-grid power system.
- Your energy needs: Your system needs to generate enough energy to offset your consumption. You can estimate your energy usage by totaling the expected loads of each appliance and electrical device you plan to run, or you can use an online solar calculator.
- Cost and kit: Try to find a balance between the cost of a kit and its features. Look for higher efficiency, Smart features and reasonable pricing.
- Installation: The best kits are simple to install. You can look for kits that are “plug-and-play” by design. Each kit should also come with a detailed solar installation manual.
- Batteries and storage capacity: Look for modern, high-efficiency batteries. preferably lithium batteries. Also, the higher a battery’s storage capacity, the longer you can run your devices and appliances.
- Additional equipment needed: A proper system needs more than just solar panels and batteries. Look for kits that come with all the necessary equipment bundled together, including cables, cable ties, connectors, etc.
- Warranty on the kit: As a general rule, the longer the warranty on any solar product, the better. The industry standard is a 10-year product warranty for panels and a 25-year performance guarantee.
Compare Off-Grid Solar Systems
Top 5 Off-Grid Solar Systems of 2023
Renogy 400 W 12 V Complete Solar Kit
- Our rating: 5 out of 5 stars
- Cost: 1,700
- Power output: 400 W
- Warranty: 5-year material and workmanship warranty and 25-year performance guarantee
Renogy is popular among off-grid enthusiasts for offering solar kits that combine reliability and affordability. The 400 W kit includes everything needed for an off-grid solar array of this size, including four high-efficiency, monocrystalline solar panels and two 100 amp-hour batteries for ample energy storage (you can pick between AGM or lithium-ion batteries).
The kit also includes modern controllers with digital displays, a basic but reliable 1,000 W inverter, and all the necessary cables, fasteners and connectors. Renogy claims this unit can generate up to 2 kilowatt-hours (kWh) each day — sufficient for a small cabin or a camper.
Cons Basic package does not include batteries or an inverter Some online reviews complain about missing kit components and instruction manuals
- 4x 100 W monocrystalline solar panels (compact design)
- 2x 100 amp-hour batteries (AGM or lithium-ion phosphate)
- MPPT charge controller
- Bluetooth modules (for performance monitoring)
- Battery monitor with shunt
- System fuses, branch connectors and cables
- Mounting equipment
Why we picked it: Renogy’s complete off-grid solar kit offers affordable pricing at less than 5 per watt. Plus, it offers some of the best solar panels on the market — with solar cells that can reach up to 22% efficiency. We also like how comprehensive this kit is, with every small component included.
altE Off-Grid 300 W Base Kit
altE’s base kit comes in a handy 300 W size, which includes two monocrystalline solar panels and offers unique customization options. You can choose between an AGM battery or a lithium battery. If you want to install a more permanent system, you can also choose between roof-mounting or pole-mounting racking equipment.
The kit is quite affordable in its basic form, costing just over 1,100. altE also rightly calls it a “cabin kit” since it is a perfect fit for small-sized off-grid cabins.
Pros Customizable options, including the battery bank Offers system mounting racks Affordable pricing
- 2x 150 W monocrystalline solar panels
- PWM charge controller
- Combiner box
- Connector cables, surge protection device, mount breakers and other components
- Optional battery bank (AGM or lithium-ion)
- Optional mounting equipment
Why we picked it: The altE 300 W Base Kit offers essential solar equipment (batteries not included) and mounting options to power your cabin. Its monocrystalline solar panels and AGM and lithium battery add-on options offer modern technology for reasonable pricing. But the best highlight of this kit is its customizability, especially with roof and pole mount racking options.
Goal Zero Yeti 1000X Boulder 200
Goal Zero is considered one of the best portable solar product companies. Its robust, high-quality solar panels and generators have taken the off-grid world by storm. The Yeti 1000X and Boulder 200 briefcase combo offers a rugged, portable off-grid kit for those who need power on all sorts of outdoor adventures.
A foldable, briefcase design makes your solar panels easy to carry and store. And the solar generator comes with an integrated battery, inverter and ready-to-use ports.
- Power station
- 2x 100 W briefcase solar panels
- Solar panel carry case
- 120 W power supply
- Combiner and extension cables
Why we picked it: Goal Zero’s kit offers exceptional simplicity of use along with incredible portability. It eliminates excess connectors, cables and all the effort needed to wire a system. You simply plug the panel cable into the generator, and it charges the battery. Similarly, you can just plug your appliance directly into one of the generator’s ports, like using a wall unit.
WindyNation Complete 100 W
- Our rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
- Power output: 100 W
- Warranty: 5 years for solar panels, 1 year for all other components and a 25-year performance guarantee
If you don’t need to run a dozen appliances on your solar kit, WindyNation’s 100 W package offers a basic output without breaking the bank. The kit comes with a 100 W monocrystalline solar panel, an AGM battery, a pure sine wave inverter and other miscellaneous components.
The kit has no Smart components or outstanding features, but it manages to compile all the minimum necessities into one affordable package.
- 1x 100 W monocrystalline solar panel
- 1x 100 amp-hour AGM 12 V battery
- Charge controller with an LCD display and user adjustable settings
- Solar and battery cables
- Solar mounting hardware
Why we picked it: Not all buyers are looking for a full-fledged system that can run fridges, TVs and other appliances. The WindyNation 100 W kit can power a few lights and a fan for a small cabin or boat. It is also easy to connect and relatively inexpensive.
Eco-Worthy 4800 W 48 V Kit
Not everyone needs a small off-grid kit —some people may need enough power to sustain a large cabin full of modern appliances. Eco-Worthy’s 4,800 W kit offers plenty of power to keep a modern cabin running continuously. This system is so well-specced that it can provide backup power to run your whole house for a few hours.
While typical grid-tied solar systems with batteries often cost tens of thousands of dollars, this kit bundles everything into one neat package for less than 10,000.
Cons May require some expertise to install May be too large for some off-grid applications (like camping or small cabin use)
- 24x 195 W monocrystalline solar panel
- All-in-one inverter and MPPT solar charge controller
- 4x 50 amp-hour 48 V lithium batteries
- Cables, connectors and other wiring components
- Mounting brackets
Why we picked it: Eco-Worthy’s off-grid home solar kit bridges the gap between smaller kits and full-fledged solar systems without costing a fortune.
Main Components of an Off-Grid System
While specific components will vary by company, most off-grid solar system kits include the following:
- Solar panels:The most important component of an off-grid solar system is the solar panels. Also known as photovoltaic (PV) modules, solar panels convert sunlight into electricity, which then flows through your system’s wiring and provides power. There are different types of solar panels. including monocrystalline and polycrystalline, for home and off-grid applications.
- Inverter: Most household appliances operate on alternating current (AC), while solar panels generate direct current (DC). An inverter converts the DC power from your panels and battery into AC power, which allows you to use solar energy for your appliances.
- Battery: Batteries store excess energy that your panels generate during the day to supply electricity at night, on cloudy days or during power outages. While all batteries store energy, different types of batteries (such as lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries) are suited for different solar needs.
- Solar charge controller: Power flowing from your solar panels to the battery can fluctuate, reducing your battery’s charging efficiency and even lowering its usable life. A charge controller optimizes the incoming current and voltage, boosting efficiency and safeguarding battery cells. It can also prevent your batteries from overcharging.
- Miscellaneous components: Any solar power system requires several small components to operate correctly, including cables, nuts, bolts, connectors, fuses, etc. These components are sometimes known as the Balance of System (BoS).
The Bottom Line
Off-grid solar systems offer an excellent power source when you don’t have access to the grid, making them popular among campers and people looking to power tiny homes or cabins. They are also a great way to power appliances in an outhouse or food truck, helping to lessen your reliance on a traditional utility company.
There are dozens of off-grid kits available on the market, each offering a different set of component specifications and features. No single kit is the overall best — you will need to consider specific parameters depending on your needs.
For instance, the Goal Zero bundle is a superb option if you plan to connect, disconnect and move your system. Similarly, the Windynation 100 W is perfect for someone looking for a very basic kit costing a few hundred bucks. Alternatively, the Eco-Worthy 4800 W kit is a good choice for larger applications that require maximum power or home battery backup.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to understand your own requirements, then narrow down a few options and choose based on system features, warranties and cost. If you are looking for a more permanent solar option, check out our guide to the top solar companies for residential use.
Frequently Asked Questions About Off-Grid Solar Panel Systems
How big of a solar system do I need for off-grid usage?
A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work with solar power systems. The system size you need will depend on your energy consumption. You can use an online calculator to figure this out or do some basic calculations. Based on your calculation, you can select the appropriate system size and features. Here’s an example of energy calculations:
|TV||120 W||4 hours||480 kWh|
|Laptop||80 W||5 hours||400 kWh|
|Lights||60 W||6 hours||360 kWh|
Based on the above figures, your total energy usage would be around 1.94 kWh, which converts to 129 W. So for this example, the Goal Zero Yeti 1000X Boulder 200 or altE Off-Grid 300 W Base Kit systems would supply enough energy to meet consumption needs.
What is the most efficient off-grid power source?
Energy sources have different efficiencies, ranging from 10% to 90%. Solar power converts light to electricity at an efficiency of around 20%. Since a solar panel’s input (sunlight) is readily available in most places and easy to convert, off-grid solar is better than most other options, like wind energy.
Is an on-grid or off-grid solar system best for powering a home?
On-grid and off-grid systems serve different purposes, so we cannot label one as the best. Off-grid systems are useful in situations that do not require a power grid, such as camping. But since on-grid solar panels connect to the local power grid, they are generally better suited for homeowners looking to lower electricity bills.
Is an off-grid solar kit worth it?
If you are looking to power a camper, cabin or tiny home, an off-grid solar system is worth it unless you have another readily available and cheap source of electricity. Off-grid systems are relatively simple in terms of installation and use, offer a long service life and can help reduce your carbon footprint and lower electricity costs.
Where can I buy an off-grid solar panel kit?
You can purchase an off-grid solar power kit online by visiting the retailer’s website. You can also look on websites like Amazon or other online marketplaces. While most DIY solar kits are ideal for beginners, more advanced systems may require professional installation.
Methodology: Our System for Ranking the Best Off-Grid Solar Systems
Aniket Bhor is a solar engineer who has spent nearly a decade studying and working in the solar power sector in the European, Asian and North American markets. He is a climate enthusiast and avid cyclist, and he also loves to lose himself in books and cooking.
Tori Addison is an editor who has worked in the digital marketing industry for over five years. Her experience includes communications and marketing work in the nonprofit, governmental and academic sectors. A journalist by trade, she started her career covering politics and news in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her work included coverage of local and state budgets, federal financial regulations and health care legislation.
What Does “Off The Grid” Really Mean?
As you research whether or not you should install solar panels on your home, people may mention that using solar power means you are going off the grid. The term “off the grid” implies that your home is totally independent of the electricity distribution system operated by the utility company in your area, and you can generate your own power, which makes you less vulnerable to blackouts or brownouts.
With this article, we will help you understand the meaning of off the grid. We’ll then talk about why going solar doesn’t mean that you’re saying goodbye to the grid.
What Exactly is “The Grid?”
The “grid” is how the energy industry refers to the infrastructure used by the utility company to transmit and distribute electricity. That includes transmission lines (aka “power lines”), electrical substations, and the power distribution equipment that connects the grid to every home and business.
Although the power plants that create the electricity are connected to the grid, they aren’t considered part of it. The same logic applies to your home or business in that they’re connected to the grid, but they aren’t part of it either.
In most cases, the power used by your home or business is generated by local power plants affiliated with your electric utility company and then transmitted to you over the local grid. However, most power plants are still interconnected across large regional grids.
For a thorough overview of The Grid, check out our Beginner’s Guide To The Electric Grid.
What Does Going Off The Grid Mean?
The only way to be truly off-grid is if your home or business is not connected with any electric utility in any way. Thus, the meaning of off the grid is that there are no physical wires leading from the power lines into your home, and you don’t get bills from the utility company or a retail electric provider. When you’re completely going off the grid, you are entirely dependent on generating all your own electricity for your energy needs.
Off-grid living includes installing solar power or using your own generator, but it also requires that you take the extra step of disconnecting from the grid.
Going Solar Is Not The Same As Living Off The Grid
That’s right. simply installing solar panels on your roof is not going off-grid. However, wiring your rooftop solar system into your home’s electric system to run your appliances and meet your energy needs does make you the primary producer of your home electricity.
Your solar power system produces electric power by converting sunlight into a flow of electricity, and as you’d imagine, it only generates electricity when the sun is shining. In most cases, your home will use electricity as the system generates it. Thus, your average home using solar panels isn’t considered off-the-grid solar because it still needs electricity when the sun isn’t shining (e.g., at night) or shining less (e.g., in the winter).
The Importance Of Installing Battery Storage
Batteries for solar power storage are increasingly effective, and many homeowners add them to their overall solar power system design. Solar batteries store the excess power created by the solar panels when the sun is shining, and that stored power can be used to meet your needs at night or during extra cloudy days.
However, the chief problem with off-the-grid solar is installing enough energy storage capacity to meet all your power needs. It is very expensive to install enough battery capacity for the times when you are not generating solar energy.
To learn more about energy storage, check out our Solar Battery Guide.
You Should Still Connect To The Grid
Thus, most homeowners who install solar power remain connected with the grid. Using a combination of solar panels and grid electricity produces substantial, regular, and long-term savings on your electricity bill because you are generating most of your own energy.
You still have advantages staying on the grid, including:
- In areas with Net Metering, you can receive credit for the extra electricity that your home produces and feeds back into the grid.
- Any time your solar panels don’t generate power (including nights and cloudy days), you automatically and seamlessly switch to using power from the grid.
- If you need to fix a problem with your solar system, you use the grid for power until the repairs are complete.
- You become part of a new future for energy generation solutions in America.
What It Takes To Use Off-Grid Solar
Even given all the advantages of going with solar energy while remaining on the grid, approximately 200,000 people in the United States do live off the grid. However, with a U.S. population of 312,000,000, such people are a small fraction of one percent. Why? Because it’s an intricate process with several interconnected systems and some considerable sacrifices.
To make this choice work, a homeowner needs massive energy storage in the form of batteries so they don’t lose power during long storms, nighttimes, and the short days of winter when it’s harder to generate enough solar power. The problem is that building a system so heavily reliant on battery storage is expensive.
For that reason, the few people who elect to use off-grid solar for ideological or environmental reasons make very intentional choices about their energy usage, such as designing homes that use very little electricity. Even then, they often have backup generators installed on their property in case their solar panel system can’t meet all of their energy needs.
Reduce Your Dependence On The Grid With Solar
Many people want to go solar because they want to help the planet and be protected from problems on the larger electricity grid. For most homeowners, the ideal setup is to install solar panels and remain connected to the grid, even as you enjoy some of the perks of using off-the-grid solar. Not only will you use less grid electricity because you’re generating your own power from your solar panels, but you can still use the grid as backup in case of emergencies.
If you have more questions about the benefits of solar panels, you should learn how solar panels work on your home. If you’re interested to learn how much you can save with solar power, check out Palmetto’s Free Solar Savings Estimator.