Example of an installation connected to Hydro-Québec net metering, where the energy of photovoltaic solar panels is injected into the network and credite
Example of a completely autonomous and off-grid house.
What exactly is living off the grid?
I want to start the article with this short definition, because not all people have the same project in mind when they say they are interested in off-grid life. Some have the simple vision of a house with solar panels to generate their electricity, nothing more.
However, it is possible to have photovoltaic solar panels and to be also connected to Hydro-Québec (this is called net metering), but this is not the subject of this article.
In this article, the term “off-grid” is used literally: it only applies to homes that are not connected to the power grid
Two projects using photovoltaic solar panels: one connected to the network in net measurement and the other outside the electricity grid.
I emphasize the distinction between the two situations, because I have often observed some confusion among people explaining their project.
Another trend I’ve seen is what I call pink glasses, which is to have an idyllic view of off-grid life for the people dreaming about it. That disconnecting from the network and becoming self-sufficient would bring them an unparalleled freedom and abundance … The reality is that producing your own energy is quite feasible, but it’s not done by snapping your fingers…
In fact, cutting oneself off the electricity grid also means giving oneself the job of generating 100% of the energy consumed by one’s home. I know that you realize this already, but the efforts and the rigor that you will have to exercise to arrive there are often unknown. Living off the grid is a challenge, whose aims are quite attainable (the goal here is not to scare you, quite the contrary!). It’s just about doing it the right way. And that’s actually the main motivation behind writing this article.
Why do you want to live off the network?
The first thing you need to do to start your project is simply to ask yourself this question. It may seem trivial and even not so much exhilarating to start such an exciting project, but I assure you it is of paramount importance. Indeed, if you say that you want to live off the grid, that you install a multitude of devices to ensure your comfort and that you do it without having the exact motivation in mind by doing so, you may become disappointed after a few years of use …
To help you, here are some common motivations that our customers generally see for their installations:
- Environmental considerations, to use less energy and the one you will use will be from a renewable source (solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, river turbines, etc.);
- Independence from the system, whether from a philosophical (freedom) or rational (no longer vulnerable to failures) point of view;
- Social / political values, such as taking responsibility for your own energy consumption;
- Economic cost, if, for example, you are so far from the last utility pole that staying disconnected is cheaper.
The reasons that make you want to live off the grid will greatly influence the design of your systems. Having your first motivations in mind when making important decisions is very wise, it is even valid for many other decisions in life (but we deviate from the subject)!
The components of an autonomous off-grid system
In order to familiarize yourself with the different devices that make up an off-grid system, here are some pictures of an installation made in the past by Ecosolaris:
Autonomous system with a lithium battery bank and generator
List of components:
Here is a small description of the main components:
Solar photovoltaic panels
The best known component of the general public, these panels are used to generate electricity. The solar panels will be chosen mainly with the necessary power for the system as well as the space available on the building.
The charge controller is used to control the charge of solar panels towards batteries to fill them with energy. This type of device is very important, because a bad charge of the batteries can damage them in the long run.
Batteries are the heart of an autonomous solar system. Too often overlooked, they support and communicate with all other devices in the system. They receive the energy produced by the solar panels and store it in large quantities for later use.
This device mainly occupies the function of current transformer. It will take the DC power (12, 24 or 48V) from the system and transform it into alternating current (120v or 240v) to power the various electrical appliances in the home.
When we produce our own energy … we spend it efficiently!
In the everyday life, for all of us who live on the network (I include myself in this set, even if I have a small solar system on my tiny-house), we do not think more than it takes about our energy consumption. In Quebec, electricity costs very little and the disadvantage that it causes is that it is consumed as an inexhaustible resource… Indeed, Quebec has the 3rd largest electricity consumption in the world, if it is calculated per inhabitant, ie 25,153 kWh / inhabitant (Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources Naturelles du Québec, s.d.)!
If you cut off the power grid and you have to produce your own energy, you will have to change that mentality without a shadow of a doubt. If you’ve explored Ecosolaris’s offer for the components highlighted above, you’ve realized that an off-grid system can quickly become expensive.This means that the more compact your system is (especially in terms of energy storage), the more you will be able to reach your primary goal (what is it already?).
Not only that, but unless you over-size your system (including a more complex installation and cost-effective deterrent), you will never be able to run everything on electricity. Indeed, some of the most energy-hungry systems will have to operate from another source of energy:
- Space heating;
- Water heating;
- Power-hungry electrical appliances, such as the washer and dryer for clothing, baking oven, etc.
Fortunately, there is a variety of appliances to reduce the pressure on your autonomous power grid:
Chinook solar air heater
Use the power of the sun to heat your home or cottage independently thanks to its super simple, but effective, operation!
Propane water heater
Different models with tank or instantaneous (without tank) are available.
Some great chefs swear by propane cooking and it’s not for nothing …
Other recommendations could include a solar passive design, a solar water heater, a solar cooking oven, a wood stove, etc.
Click here to see all of the off-grid devices that Ecosolaris offers.
Note that we have several other models and products available, you can contact us to explore the possibilities for your project.
In short, the planning behind a lifestyle outside the network is often more complex than expected. But it can be easy to do, if we respect the three basic principles of off-grid life:
- Transfer some heavy electrical loads to other more suitable energy sources, as mentioned above;
- Significantly reduce your consumption by applying energy efficiency measures (for tracks in this direction, you can consult the Hydro-Québec website);
- Use energy proportionally with that available, so learn to manage your energy consumption in harmony with production.
In short, life outside the grid seems to make more and more people dream and that is understandable: no longer dependent of the system, failures and increases in the rate of Hydro-Quebec … But this freedom comes at a cost, you will have to manage to produce all your energy, whatever the situation (you will be happy to see the sun after 5 days in the dark during the winter)!
For many, the game is worth the effort! As mentioned above, other more advanced articles will be written in the coming months to help you plan better your project.
In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone (1-800-966-7987), we have extensive experience in dimensioning off-net systems of any kind and will be pleased to explore the appropriate solutions for you. I hope that reading this article has taught you a little more about this lifestyle as liberating as exciting!
Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources Naturelles du Québec (s.d.). Consommation d’électricité. [Online]
https://mern.gouv.qc.ca/energie/statistiques/statistiques-consommation-electricite.jsp (Page consulted on June 6, 2019).