You would be surprised to know how many calls and mails we get from nature loving people who want to live completely off the the grid. The exceptions of these callers is to generate their own energy for their own need installing renewable and energy storage systems, day and night. In a nutshell it is possible to do so using solar panels and batteries, and adding wind turbine where-ever possible. Let's discuss in detail on how viable these projects are.
In Short: On-gird vs Off-Grid
For those who don’t know the difference in on-grid systems and off-grid systems the difference is simply in the power storage option. In a on-grid solar power plant, we connect the output from the plant directly to your homes power input side so that whatever power generated from solar is used directly and required excess power is drawn in from the grid. This allows you to save money on your energy bill and you can install a small sized plant as per your will. In an off-grid system batteries are also used so that in the absence of solar power the batteries power the load.
While living off-grid is not always the ONLY option, some people who have an option of using the conventional energy from their local DISCOM yet still want to opt for this. Let me note down their intentions for this:
1. To be Environment Friendly
It might seem that generating your own power for your own need is environment friendly. Why shouldn’t it be you would be saving a lot of CO2 release, reducing your own carbon footprint and be able to use all the power that you want without worrying that it might contribute in global warming right ? While this all is true, you should also take into consideration about the carbon that is released while the components for this project are manufactured. The batteries in particular, which are nothing more than some chemical reactions occurring. Batteries are a major source of mineral resource depletion. For such a heavy storage solution, the batteries used would contain a lot of these chemicals inside them and while manufacturing them.
2. To pay “0” electricity bill, literally
Yes, if the system is designed to produce and store energy to power your home around the clock for 365 days you literally would have zero electricity bills.
3. To be free from power cuts
Whenever there is a lighting storm or the pole near your house gets knocked out, you still have power. You get free from transformer failures, line faults and even your own energy meter faults (This is more common than you might think) !
4. It’s exciting
You can’t ignore the fact that living off the grid is a exciting and fun concept. No more power cuts for life! Whenever you turn on a light or fan, the feeling that the energy used is generated literally our of thin air.
Now let me list down some disadvantages of this:
1. Calculated power:
You won’t be able to simply plug and play whatever instruments you want once you remove the grid power. For your home, the grid power can be considered as unlimited source of energy so you can simply purchase a new air conditioner and run it through the grid power. But in case of off-grid systems, they are designed as per the load you currently have or plan to add in the near future. So, if you choose to install some electrical loads which draw a lot of power you would need to consult with your Solar installation company.
Off-Grid plants are generally not installed to save money or as a investment. Though they would save you money in the longer run, these systems are quite investment heavy in the beginning. Off-grid systems are about 70-75% more expensive than the on-grid power plants which are installed for investment purposes. The main cost increase is due to the batteries and the short life of these batteries with respect to the plant’s other components. Li-Fe batteries do provide with a distinctive advantage on life due to higher number of charging cycles, yet the initial cost for them is high and they require some other special parts.
3. It’s the only source of power
Yes, you are protected when the grid fails due to faults but when your system fails which is once in a blue moon kind of event you don’t have a alternative power source to keep the house running till the system is up again. To prevent you from being in absolute darkness, we do install fail safe’s and extra backups in place. This ensures that even if there is a fault in the system, your house gets minimum power to keep the essential loads running.
Well, the concept of living off the grid is not always a luxurious one the main source of it is being able to power homes which are at remote locations. Off-Grid power systems are mainly used to power the places where energy lines are not yet laid down and no DISCOM is present. Mini-Grids and Hybrid power systems are currently used to reduce the drawbacks of Off gird systems, for which I will write another article shortly. For now, check out our article where we describe the need of decentralised rooftop solar pv system for rural India development.