WHAT IS OFF-GRID
The most basic definition of off-grid is being disconnected from public utilities (water, sewer, electricity). This is no easy task considering the American lifestyle has spent the last 100 years building itself around such luxuries and conveniences. To further muddy the waters, off-grid is typically thought of as being off the electrical grid, continuing to receive water and sewer from public utilities and more. What you personally consider off-grid can be best determined by what your goals are. Do you want to disappear from modern society leaving no trace of your existence? Do you want to decrease your monthly overhead? Do you want to just be a better steward of the fossil fuels used to power towns and cities across America?
Most people find success with a hybrid system. They remove themselves from the power grid by employing solar panels or wind turbines for electricity but use propane for heat and cooking. That leaves them only to need clean water and propane tank refills. Not such a bad course. Should you choose to go this route you do have to determine what your electrical needs are though and how you will achieve them off-grid.
PLUG IT IN
Depending on the electrical needs of your tiny house you can go off-grid with as little as a solar panel plugged into an "all-inclusive" battery bank that has plugs built right onto it. They typically cost just a few hundred bucks but can provide enough power to charge a laptop, run a lightbulb, and even let you run a coffee pot or single burner. That is hardly enough to actually live on though. Those type of systems are designed for recreational fun rather than full-time living. To do that you'll need to invest in a more robust system with more "moving parts." Such a system will include multiple solar panels, a battery bank monitored by a charge controller, and an inverter to turn the DC solar electricity into AC electricity capable of running more traditional appliances.
Before moving forward though, you should ask yourself a few important questions:
- What is my true electrical need?
- How much space to I have for solar components?
- What is my budget?
A tiny house on wheels averages about 24 feet long and 8 feed wide. With those measurements, a simple solar panel system with batteries can truly take you and your tiny house off-grid. The key though is embracing energy efficient appliances as well as propane cooking and even alternative heating. 4 solar panels charging 8 batteries can provide all the energy needed, and cost well below $10,000 in today's market. In some locations, there may even still be a solar tax credit!
The components are:
- 4 - 250 watt solar panels
- 1 - pre-wired inverter panel
- 8 - 6V batteries
The aforementioned setup should produce enough power to run a refrigerator and a mini-split HVAC system, charge mobile phones and even laptops, as well as keep the lights on. TRANSLATION: the panels themselves will make nearly 5 kilowatt-hours of electricity on a sunny day, while also charging the batteries to a point that will allow your tiny house to operate for 3 days without the sun! A truly well-thought system will also plug into a generator or even the grid to avoid letting the batteries run dry thereby damaging them.
So at this point, it is time for the rubber to meet the road. Taking your tiny house off-grid now requires some legwork. Make a list of all the appliances you use to determine how much energy you need. Cross-reference those needs with the wattage of solar panels keeping in mind how long you will need to charge your batteries, and then choose the equipment that will transmit and/or transform the power needed in your home.
Are you already off-grid? How did you design your system? Was it easier or harder than you thought it would be? Any regrets? Let us know in the comment section below.