We are fast approaching the end of our second full year of living unplugged from the electric grid (yeah for team solar!). It has been a phenomenal experience so far and, after a few initial tweaks, the house has performed better than expected. Our home is completely normal, being an 1,800-square-foot two-story with three bathrooms (yeah for flushing toilets!!!) and central air. In fact, the house is so "normal" that almost no one believes it is battery powered...that is until we show them the battery bank in the garage.
“How can a house this size be off-grid?” is a question we often hear.
The short answer: because technology has outpaced awareness. There are two major factors to this gap between preconceived notions and reality. The first is cost and the second is efficiency.
Over the last 40 years the price of solar panels have come down... A LOT! Our home power system consists of a 7.8kW array with batteries and a backup generator. After rebates, the cost was $28,000 installed. To put this in perspective, the 7.8kW array alone would have had a purchase price of $598,026 in 1977. Sort of makes you wonder about the next 40 years.
“But how long will it take for the system to pay for itself?” we’re often asked.
“Depends,” is the only answer we can give.
In a worst case scenario, let’s assume that we’re only saving $1,000 a year. At $28,000 that would be 28 years. This is admittedly a long time. But, that’s 28 years we aren’t supporting another pipeline or another lobbyist. It’s 28 years of us living by our convictions and not adding to a system that seems to be so intent on wrecking this beautiful planet we live on.
So for us, the cost is totally worth it. But let’s say, for sake of numbers, that we trade one of our gas powered vehicles for an electric car. How much do you spend every month in gas? Suddenly, that 28 years to payoff gets much smaller.
As I write this, our house load is showing 1.3 kW of demand. The outside environment is hot and humid with a projected heat index reaching close to 100 degrees. The upstairs mini-split is keeping things cheerily cool and the dehumidifier is set at 50 percent. There is a whole host of phantom loads that I can’t get rid of, including a fridge, but the main pull on power is the mini-split and the dehumidifier. I don’t know what kind of wattage it would have required to run central air and a dehumidifier for 1,800 square feet of living space 40 years ago, but I’ve got to think it would have been significantly more.
Between LED lighting and hyper-efficient appliances, engineers have made incredible accomplishments in energy reduction. (Honestly, I don’t think they get enough applause.) But thanks to their efforts, they have made it so that if you do your homework and know exactly what your load is — both at peak startup and run — you can really reduce your dependence.
I am convinced that as awareness comes inline with reality, more and more people will take advantage of home power systems. Current capability and cost are to the point that if you are building a new home right now and not planning on it powering itself, you are building yesterday’s home. Think of it as building a house without a garage — which is totally acceptable, but not always the best for resale.
For us, powering our own home and living unplugged has brought more than just reassurances against natural disasters or even a zombie apocalypse (lol). It has brought a new mindset; one of responsibility and caring. I would have never guessed when this adventure started that I would be tending chickens everyday or eyeing a dirt-covered rototiller and wondering if it’s really going to work on my cover crops come next spring. But the mindset that has come from this new "techy" reality of solar power has moved me as an individual closer to the character of my amazing, "make-it-on-your-own" grandparents than I would have ever thought possible.