Most people thinking about adding solar to the home are curious about how to convert and store solar electricity so you can completely take your home’s electrical source off the grid.
While this isn’t entirely feasible (more on that below) the alternative energy movement is relatively dynamic and there are some technologies and players who are making big impacts to accomplish some of those goals.
The Reality of Take Your House off the Grid
Yes, you can purchase battery back up systems for your home. If you want to use your backup system there are two things you should know: one, AC coupling technology makes it a bit more feasible than it was before to use your solar power during a storm or a black out. Two, it’s not cheap. Add another $16,000 at a minimum to your price for grid tied solar. Also, the technology used for back up battery cabinets is the very same as the one you’d find in your car. It’s hardly more environmental or cost effective to invest in a shed’s worth of acid-based batteries to run your home instead of pulling power from your utility.
Dealing with your Utility Company
Many local utilities won’t permit you to take your home to off of their system. Check your local regulations, but you may only be able to use these batteries (which must charge daily) in case of an emergency. If you’re powering batteries, your utility company isn’t getting the benefit of your panels until the batteries are fully charged, so you may not in turn get the full economic advantage of your system.
Keeping enough battery power to run your household is somewhat subjective. Do you want to be able to watch TV? Run the washing machine and your refrigerator? You can certainly price out these systems, but the reality is that this market isn’t yet supporting off the grid electricity for single family homes in the U.S.
As Go Electric Cars, So Go Batteries
If you want to follow developments in this arena, Elon Musk and Solar City are big drivers in battery systems.
Elon Musk is a huge proponent of electric cars, which is appropriate what with his being the CEO of Tesla Motors (as well as the chairman of Solar City; he’s one busy billionaire). Electric cars need powerful batteries to stay on the road without needing a charge. New battery technologies aiming at this very application will be twofold: one, small; two, powerful. Those small, powerful batteries being developed for automotive applications are not far off. Private investment from the major automotive companies are driving (that’s quite a pun) development of batteries that could revolutionize the way we live.
But, they’re not here yet. The good news is that when they are, they will need an electrical charge. The panels you install today will charge those batteries of the future. In the meantime, wait for the upgrade and go for a grid tied system.
Swimming pool owners can spend a little bit of extra money and run the pool’s circulation pump directly from solar panels. Most brushless pumps run off of AC electricity. DC-powered pumps, however, are just as efficient and can be powered directly by the DC electricity solar panels generate. Ask your pool maintenance professional or search in your area for a pool installer that sells Lorentz or SunRay solar pool pumps for more information. Depending upon how much you run your pump during the summer, this could actually save you quite a bit of money.
If you’re setting up a home in a remote area without power, and need to dig a well, check into buying a submersible DC well pump. This will help you generate fresh water without having to drag power or run a gas guzzling generator. Speaking of generators…
While they use acid-based batteries, solar generators can help in secluded conditions like a cabin or a homestead situation. This is definitely not an alternative to power your home. Rather, it’s a cheaper method of bringing a small amount of electricity to a remote location. This could help you power lights, emergency equipment, computers, and other small appliances during the evening.
Small Solar Devices
If you want to experiment with solar equipment, solar ovens use reflective surfaces to create and retain heat. You can set these up anywhere, and are useful if you are living or vacationing in a remote local without electricity. Solar composting toilets are still in the relatively new phase of development, but could be an alternative to an outhouse, sump pump, or sewer line.
The Bottom Line
Running a single family home in an urban or suburban area completely on a non-grid tied solar system is still impractical. You can take some larger lifestyle items, like your pool, off the grid for a much smaller cost. If you have a weekend getaway spot or are living off the land, you can build out your home with solar pumps, generators, ovens, and maybe even a toilet to refrain from using any chemicals or gas-burning generators.
Have any questions? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.