How many solar panels do I need to go off-grid?

I can tell you from the personal experience of living off-grid, that it is a pretty unique feeling when you have the ability to provide 100% of your own electricity with zero reliance on anyone else. The unpleasant variables such as severe weather, threats to the power grid or just the monthly ‘correspondence’ from your utility, are all non-existent.

But this ability to stand independent does require more on the part of panels, than if you were grid-tied.

If you are a family that is focused on energy conservation, you will need 30 to 36 solar panels take your to take a house off-grid (this meaning a system that is capable of generating around 12kW of electricity).

If, however, your needs are less, say a small cabin for example, then fewer panels could be expected. Obviously, the number of panels that your needs require for off-grid living will depend on how much energy your lifestyle uses.

# Important Note #

It should be understood that panels come in different sizes. So if you acquire panels with lower power production – say 260 watts vs. 320 watts – then more panels will be needed. For more on this check out – How many panels do I need?

Our home power system

Our current solar array counts at 30 panels. It is a ground mounted array that measures roughly 32 feet across and 16 feet deep. At the time of quoting, panels producing 260 watts were quite common. Consequently, our system of 30 panels, rated at 260 watts each, gives us a combined capacity of 7800 watts or 7.8kW.

This size of system would most likely not be adequate for the average home to go off-grid. However, our home was a new construction where energy conservation was our primary focus.

But for the sake of understanding what can be accomplished with an off-grid system, here are some of the home’s features:

  • 1800’ of finished living space
  • 3 flushing toilets
  • A/C
  • Microwave
  • Dishwasher
  • Clothes Washer & Dryer (gas heat)
  • Water Heater (electric heat pump with element assist)

When sunshine allows, we can use electric heat (in the form of mini-splits) for our winter needs. However, given our usual cloudy environment, our wood pellet stove sees more use.

In the summer, I will even use an electric lawnmower to mow the lawn (till I get tired of fighting with the chord).

In short, we have all of the normal amenities as we did when we were tied to the grid. The TV still sees countless hours of use, though not nearly as much as the many computer and handheld devises that consume our days. But this is only possible on 7.8 kW because of the effort that was put in when building the home and choosing appliances.

Conclusion

Off-grid systems, almost always, require (cost) more than their grid-tied counter parts. This is due largely to the need of storing energy. For most of us, life moves beyond the hours of active daylight. So if you’re going to be off-grid, you will need reserve power. This service is already provided by the utility for grid-tied users and consequently, requires less in the way of individual system costs.

However, it should be noted that a grid-tied solar panel system is utilizing infrastructure that is already in place. And as such, any system that is tied to this infrastructure is operating according to the utilities’ goodwill.

There have been, and will continue to be, instances where the utility tells a homeowner to ‘unplug’ their panels. Regardless of the utilities’ reasoning, they have every legal right to mandate what happens with their infrastructure. This is something that any potential panel purchaser should keep in mind.

Both grid-tied and off-grid home power systems offer users a chance to utilize the sun for their energy needs. Each of these systems have their own unique advantages and disadvantages and as such, any potential purchase should be carefully thought through.

In the case of off-grid power, there is generally a higher installation cost involved. However, as you are not connected to the utility grid, then you are not subject to the variables associated with the electric company – most notably, the monthly ‘correspondence’.

That’s not to say that off-grid systems are worry free. But when you assume responsibility for your own needs, you remove the reliance on anyone else. In other words, your ability to keep your family out of the dark depends on you… and no one else.