How much does it cost to go off-grid with solar?
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Off-Grid Solar System Cost Guide
Updated: December 22, 2022
As energy costs rise and concerns about the environment grow, homeowners are seeking their own energy solutions. Many homeowners have started installing solar panels to go “off-grid” and reduce their dependence on traditional electricity. Going completely off-grid or creating a stand-alone power system involves more than installing solar panels. Those who accomplish it untether their homes from the standard electrical power grid.
The cost to install an off-grid solar system varies based on your home’s location and the amount of electricity you use each day. The standard home uses a minimum of 7kW of electricity per day, which could require a system of six panels and three batteries. This system ranges from $45,000 to $65,000 to install before tax credits and rebates, with most homeowners spending around $55,000 for an installed 7kW system for a home with average energy needs in a moderately sunny climate. This project’s low cost is $20,000 to install an off-grid process for a home in a sunny climate with backup systems. The high cost is $100,000 for an installed 20kW system for a home in a moderately sunny climate with excessive energy needs.
Off-Grid Solar System Prices
|Off-Grid Solar System Costs|
|National average cost||$55,000|
What Is an Off-Grid Solar System?
Off-grid solar systems can generate your home’s or business’ electrical needs without relying on the electrical grid. The system is made of multiple parts designed to help generate and store energy. The system works by harnessing the sun’s energy using solar panels, which are mounted on the roof, a pole near the home, or both. The energy harnessed by the panels charges batteries via a charge controller, and the batteries store the energy until needed. Then, an inverter converts the charge from the batteries into electricity. By storing energy until it is needed, you can eliminate the need to be tied to the electrical grid. Most systems need a backup energy source but can be useful for homes located in rural areas or homeowners who want to be self-reliant.
What Does It Mean to Go Off the Grid?
To go completely off-grid, your entire home must run on electricity or energy that you produce yourself, usually through solar power. Being off-grid means your home is not connected to the town’s electricity grid or supply. Installing solar panels alone is not enough to be considered off-grid, and most people who use solar energy still rely on electricity from an outside source. If you are using solar panels to lower your energy costs, you are likely still connected to the grid. You can rely on traditional sources if your panels do not produce enough energy.
To go completely off-grid, you need a much larger system and a storage system to smooth out energy production and usage over time, storing excess energy as it is produced to use later. You also need a way to transfer energy into the batteries and convert it to electricity. Many people also install an extra backup system like a generator or wind power for times when solar power cannot be relied on.
Off-Grid Solar System Cost by Size
You can purchase solar systems in many sizes. However, not all of these systems can go off-grid. If you live in a very sunny climate and you have a backup system, you can go off-grid at 3kW or 4kW. The minimum for most homes is 5kW to 7kW, and if you have higher-than-average electricity demands, expect to need at least 10kW. In many areas, even 5kW may not be enough to go off-grid unless you live in a very sunny climate. 7kW is usually considered the average most homes require, but 10kW may be the minimum you need if you live in a climate without much sun.
There are smaller systems, and if you want to go off-grid with them, you need to use them as a supplemental system. 1kW, 2kW, and other small systems can be used for tiny homes, RVs, and other smaller structures. However, they are most commonly used as a supplementary system. Other systems producing or acquiring energy can help complete your off-grid setup rather than create it.
You can also find systems that are 20kW or larger. These are generally for businesses or farms with higher energy needs than the ordinary residence.
Below are the average costs for a range of system sizes:
|System Size||Average Costs (Materials Only)||Average Cost (Installed)|
|1kW||$10,800 - $13,500||$12,000 - $15,000|
|2kW||$18,000 - $22,500||$20,000 - $25,000|
|3kW||$27,000 - $31,500||$30,000 - $35,000|
|4kW||$31,500 - $36,000||$35,000 - $40,000|
|5kW||$36,000 - $40,500||$40,000 - $45,000|
|10kW||$63,000 - $72,000||$70,000 - $80,000|
|20kW||$90,000 - $108,000||$100,000 - $120,000|
|30kW||$108,000 - $135,000||$120,000 - $150,000|
Off-Grid Solar Cost by Type
Not all solar systems are created equally, nor do all of them use the same parts. What might work well for a small home in a very sunny area may not work for a larger home in an area with more shade. For this reason, several systems can be used to go off-grid. Most people ultimately use AC solar or an AC system with a backup generator to ensure continued electricity, even in inclement weather. However, you can use smaller and less expensive systems that rely on wind power or use fewer batteries if you have lower energy needs. Below are the average costs for the different systems.
|Type||Average Costs (Material Only)||Average Cost (Installed)|
|Only DC||$6,000 - $10,000||$6,600 - $11,000|
|Mixed DC and AC||$10,000 - $50,000||$11,000 - $55,000|
|AC With Wind||$20,000 - $80,000||$22,000 - $90,000|
|AC Solar||$30,000 - $60,000||$33,000 - $70,000|
|AC With Back-Up Generator||$40,000 - $70,000||$44,000 - $80,000|
DC Solar System
DC systems average $6,000 and $10,000. Installed, they cost roughly $6,600 to $11,000. Most traditional solar systems are DC or direct current systems. They do not use inverters or batteries but supply power directly to your home. If you use a DC-only solar system and want to go off-grid, you need a tiny home or cabin with very few electricity needs. This system can power lights and a few small appliances. If there is no sun, there is no electricity because there are no batteries to store power, so you do not have electricity at night or in some inclement weather.
Mixed DC and AC System
Expect to pay between $10,000 and $50,000 for a mixed DC and AC system, depending on the system size. These systems installed cost $11,000 to $55,000 on average. A mixed DC and AC (alternating current) system can be used if you have more electrical needs than a DC system can handle but do not want a fully involved system. With this system, you can use fewer panels along with batteries to power more heavy-duty appliances than a stand-alone DC system. This system is designed for low energy usage, but you still have batteries to provide electricity when the sun is not out. This can be a good system for tiny homes or cabins but may not be enough for a larger home.
AC System With Wind
Expect to pay between $20,000 and $80,000 for an AC system with wind, depending on the system size. Installed, these systems cost $22,000 to $90,000. If you do not want a large solar-only system, use an AC solar system with a wind generator. This is good for those living in areas with inconsistent sun but high winds. In this case, you can scale down your solar array and use wind as your backup system. When the AC system is down, the wind system generates electricity. Both components use batteries and inverters, so you can use electricity at night.
AC Solar System
Costs range from $30,000 to $60,000 for a typical AC solar system, depending on the size. For an installed system, expect to pay $33,000 to $70,000. An AC solar system is great if you want to go off-grid with solar energy. You need a full array of panels, several batteries, and an inverter to convert from DC to AC. The system needs to be large enough for your needs, which depends on sunlight and energy usage. For most who use solar energy off-grid, choose this system with at least 7kW. This is a good system to consider if you live in an area that is sunny most of the time.
AC System With a Back-Up Generator
Expect costs for an AC system with a back-up generator to range from $40,000 to $70,000. Installed, this system costs $44,000 to $80,000. This is the most common setup for homes that use solar power off-grid. The AC system is sized to handle the entire load of the home. The backup generator is there in case of a prolonged period of little to no sun. If there has not been enough sun for the system to store for several days, the backup system kicks in to meet the home’s needs. Generators on their own are not usually enough to power a home day in and day out because propane is so expensive. But this can help eliminate potential downtime with your electrical needs as a backup system.
Off-Grid Solar Cost by Component
Going completely off-grid means adding several components to your system to make sure it functions. Solar panels alone are not enough to handle all your home’s needs and cannot produce electricity when the sun is not out. Therefore, the other components are necessary to help power your home at night or on cloudy/low-sun days. For this reason, the most common system uses panels, batteries, inverters, and charge controllers for each battery. If you choose to use a backup energy source, such as a generator or wind power, you have additional costs. If you use a DC system with another main system as your primary power source, you do not need inverters, batteries, or controllers, only the panels.
|Component||Average Costs (Material Only)|
|Solar Charge Controller||$550 - $600/each|
|Alternative Energy Source||$2,000 - $20,000|
|Solar Batteries||$4,000 - $14,000/each|
|Solar Inverter||$7,000 - $8,000/each|
|Solar Panels||$10,000 - $18,000|
Solar Charge Controller
Solar charge controllers cost around $550 to $600 each. The solar charge controller charges your batteries. The batteries cannot handle the energy on their own, so the charge controller helps convert the energy into a storable form. Each battery needs its own controller to operate. You may have 2 to 8 batteries in your home, depending on the battery type you have and the system size you need. You also need 2 to 8 charge controllers to operate them
Alternative Energy Source
The cost of an alternative energy source ranges from $2,000 to $20,000, depending on the type. Prolonged periods of insufficient sunlight or other issues may cause your system to fail, so you need a backup or alternative energy source. Some people like to install hydro or wind turbines, which cost between $6,000 and $11,000. Others prefer to use a backup generator, which can be powered by propane and costs around $10,000 to $20,000.
Solar Battery System
Batteries cost between $4,000 and $14,000 for each installation. Batteries are what makes it possible for a home to go off-grid. They collect excess energy and store it for later. This stored energy powers your home at night and when the sun’s energy is insufficient. Several battery types can be used as a backup system with on-grid setups, but going off-grid can currently only be reliably achieved with flooded lead-acid batteries (FLA) and lithium-ion batteries.
Flooded lead acid batteries are one of the most common batteries because they have been around for a long time and people are comfortable with them. Of the two, they require more maintenance and have a shorter lifespan. However, they are considerably less expensive.
Lithium-ion batteries are newer. They cost more to purchase and install but last a lot longer with much less maintenance than FLA batteries. Therefore, they are the most recommended battery type for off-grid systems.
|Type of Solar Battery||Average Costs (Material Only)|
|Lead Acid (FLA)||$4,000 - $6,000|
|Lithium-Ion||$12,000 - $14,000|
Solar Off-Grid Inverter
Costs range from $7,000 to $8,000 for solar inverters but can go higher, depending on usage. The inverter converts solar energy into electricity. The required type, size, and number of inverters depend on the number of panels, number of batteries, and amount of electricity you need. Generally, you need one inverter per battery, but there are many types and configurations available. The energy produced by your solar panels needs to convert from DC to AC to be effective and stored. The inverter does this, making the energy usable, and the more energy you have, the more inverters you need.
Solar panels cost roughly $10,000 to $18,000 for most systems. Typically, you need a solar panel array or a set of several panels designed to meet your needs. It is common to need up to 20 or more panels for these systems. Solar panels make up the bulk of off-grid system costs. This component harnesses the sun’s energy and starts the production of electricity. The number of panels, cells, and type of cells vary, depending on your location and needs.
Labor Costs to Install an Off-Grid System
Labor costs make up only a small percentage of the total cost to install an off-grid system. The cost to map out the best position for the panels, install the panels and batteries, connect the various components, and get the system up and running comes out to about 10% of the system’s complete cost. For a $50,000 system, the labor portion is usually around $5,000. Most companies roll the labor cost into the system’s cost rather than pricing it separately. For this reason, you are unlikely to get separate material and labor charges when installing a new system.
Total labor costs vary depending on several things. These include the general layout or setup, if your roof requires additional reinforcement to support the panels, the pole type for mounting the panels, and the project’s size. The larger the system, the higher your labor and total costs are. Below are the average labor costs to install some of the most commonly sized systems.
|System Size||Average Labor Costs|
|3kW||$3,000 - $3,500|
|5kW||$3,500 - $4,000|
|7kW||$4,500 - $6,500|
|10kW||$7,000 - $8,000|
|20kW||$10,000 - $12,000|
How Many Solar Panels Are Needed to Run a House Off-Grid?
The number of panels in your system is tied to your home’s power needs. Most homes need roughly 7kW to go off-grid, but smaller homes may need less. Larger homes, homes with less sun, and homes with higher energy needs may require more.
The average solar panel can produce between 250 and 400 watts. There are 1,000 watts in a kW, so you need 18 to 28 panels for the average 7kW home, depending on the wattage and panel type. Other factors can also impact your system size and type, such as location, sunlight, home size, and energy usage. This usage can vary by time of year, so ensure you have enough panels to meet your needs at peak demand.
This solar calculator from SolarReviews can help you determine how many solar panels you will need.
Below is the average number of panels that may be needed for differently sized systems.
|System Size||Number of Panels|
|3kW||8 - 12|
|5kW||13 - 20|
|7kW||18 - 28|
|10kW||25 - 40|
|20kW||50 - 80|
On-Grid vs Off-Grid
Most people who install solar panel systems are still connected to the grid. These systems offset traditional electricity usage but do not replace it. This means you rely on the traditional electrical system less and have lower energy costs. But you could still draw on the grid to meet your needs if there were a prolonged period of little sun or your electrical needs were higher than average.
With an off-grid solar system, your home’s electricity is completely dependent on the power you produce. When you disconnect your home from the local power grid, you likely need backup power like a generator in case of an emergency. This means the system must be sized to meet your absolute highest demand. If there is little sun for several days or you have a sudden spike in electrical usage, your backup system kicks in to help meet those needs.
Off-grid systems are more expensive because they are larger. However, they can give you more flexibility in where you live because you do not need to be near an on-the-grid town or area.
On-grid systems are less expensive and give you the ability to utilize traditional electricity when and if you need it. This can give you greater peace of mind.
Below are the average costs of the two systems fully installed.
|Type||Average Costs (Installed)|
|On-Grid||$15,000 - $21,000|
|Off-Grid||$45,000 - $55,000|
Maintaining Your Off-Grid Solar System
Off-grid systems are fairly easy to maintain. The only regular maintenance they require is to be kept clean. This is particularly important for the solar panels because debris or snow lowers energy efficiency. You can do this cleaning yourself, and it is recommended to hire someone to clean the entire system thoroughly once every 3 to 4 years.
The major components of the system, such as the batteries, inverters, and controllers, must be replaced periodically. Depending on the components you use, this can be anywhere from 5 to 11 years. For example, FLA batteries need to be replaced closer to every 5 years, while lithium-ion batteries need to be replaced closer to every 11 years.
You should also inspect the system every 3 to 4 years. This can help ensure that everything is working properly and give you a chance to replace worn parts or clean components to keep the system working.
Ideal Candidates for Solar Energy
While you can install solar panels on nearly every home, not all homes are good candidates to go off-grid with solar energy or even to make solar energy the home’s main energy source. You may live in an area with too much shade or not enough sunny days or long enough sunny days to make it worth it.
In some areas, costs can also be much higher. This can make costs prohibitive when compared with the cost of staying connected to the grid. The ideal candidates have good sun exposure and above-average energy needs. In this scenario, you see the most benefits and fewest drawbacks from the installation of solar panels.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Off-Grid Solar Systems
Off-grid solar systems have many benefits, but they are not always right for every home. In some cases, their disadvantages outweigh the positive benefits you can get from their installation.
The biggest advantage of using this system is for homeowners who want to live or build in a rural area. In some very rural spaces, electrical lines are not currently available. By going off-grid, you can still have most of the modern amenities and appliances that you would otherwise have to go without.
Going completely off-grid also means you use considerably less fossil fuels. This can save money and help the environment. Disconnecting from the grid can be a good idea for those who are concerned about climate change and want to do their part.
However, being off-grid has high startup costs. You need to anticipate the absolute highest amount of electricity you may need and purchase a system sized for that peak - even if you only hit that amount once or twice a year. This means you likely need a larger system than you anticipated and a backup system. This is costly and takes up a great deal of space. Most off-grid systems use more panels than can fit on the roof of the home, so you need to install poles or an array on your property.
Being off-grid may mean your home insurance costs can go much higher or your insurance company may declare your home uninsurable. For those who can insure their off-grid homes, the cost is often much higher, with lower benefits.
Off-Grid Internet Solutions
While installing solar panels can help meet your energy needs going off-grid, it does not provide you with an internet connection. And because so much of today’s life and world are connected to the internet, this is now considered an essential need that you must address if you decide to disconnect from the grid. This is particularly true in areas where electrical grids and other utilities are not available.You need to find a way to provide your own solution.
Thankfully, there are several ways to get internet services while you remain off-grid. These methods can range from being best in an emergency to providing you with the same quality high-speed internet you may enjoy currently. Costs vary depending on your location and needs, so research what is available in your area.
The average cost of satellite internet ranges from $50 to $150 per month. One option you might consider for off-grid internet is satellite internet. There aren't many companies offering satellite internet at the moment, but the popularity of this service is rising in certain rural areas. Satellite internet requires you to mount a dish on your home but can provide you with fairly reliable service.
Cell Phone Data
Unlimited cell phone data plans cost between $50 and $120 per month. If you're living in an area that still gets cell phone coverage, you can simply invest in a cell plan that gives you unlimited data or a sufficient amount of data to be able to carry out your usual online activities. This lets you use your phone as your main internet access point, which is useful for keeping in touch with loved ones. Some plans allow you to use your phone to create a hotspot, allowing you to run computers and other devices on the same network.
Public Wi-Fi is available for free in many areas. If you're looking for a more affordable way to stay online, you can also access the internet via free-to-use public Wi-Fi hotspots in various places like fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, parks, and so on. Each establishment may have their own rules for usage and for how long you can use it, so check and do your research rather than assuming.
Enhancement and Improvement Costs
Your batteries last between 5 and 11 years on average, depending on the type. You can use a battery monitor to help keep track of how old they are and how much life they have left. A battery monitor keeps track of the battery’s health so that you are not caught unaware. They cost around $100 to $150 on average.
If you live in a lightning-prone area, you need to install a surge suppressor on your system. If a lightning strike occurs, solar systems can get easily overwhelmed and malfunction due to the excess energy. A suppressor grounds the excess energy so that the system does not overload. Suppressor costs start at around $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the system size.
If you are living off-grid, you need a septic tank. Being off-grid means you are not connected to any municipal systems and are responsible for your own waste. A septic tank requires pumping and maintenance, but it is still not a fully dependent system. The average cost of a new septic tank and leach field is around $4,500 to $9,000.
Well and Electric Pump
To have running water on your off-grid property, you need to drill a well and install an electric pump to bring the water indoors. If you have a ground spring on your property, you can dig a well about 10 - 15 feet deep. Otherwise, you need to drill at least 50 feet or more, depending on the depth of water in your area. The cost of drilling a well and installing an electric pump is around $7,000 to $10,000.
An alternative to indoor plumbing and a septic system is to use a composting toilet. Composting or compostable toilets are designed to naturally dispose of human waste with significantly less water than regular toilets. The waste gets mixed with a substance like wood shavings or peat moss, and most composting toilets don't need any water at all. These systems cost between $500 and $1,800, on average.
Build a Greenhouse
Some people who live off grid also grow their own food. If you do, a greenhouse can be beneficial. A greenhouse is essential in many climates for growing different kinds of plants, helping to keep them safe from the elements while still providing the light and warmth they need to thrive. Building a greenhouse can cost between $5,000 and $20,000, depending on various factors.
Additional Considerations and Costs
- Tax rebates and credits. Tax rebates and credits are available to offset the cost of solar panel installation in many areas. This can help reduce the cost of your off-grid system..
- Benefits. If you live in an area prone to power outages or failures, going off-grid can be beneficial. This can ensure you have more consistent power and energy.
- Warranty. Warranties on off-grid systems vary by brand and installer. Check to find out what your warranty may be.
- Care and maintenance. Care and maintenance for each system may vary as well. Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for best practices.
- Permit. You may need a permit for this project, depending on where you live. Check with your local municipality for more information.
- How much solar energy do you need for off-grid?
This is different for every situation because location, home size, and energy usage all play a role. Most homes require at least 7kW to go off the grid, but some may need more.
- What is the difference between on-grid and off-grid solar systems?
An on-grid home is still connected to your town’s electrical supply. At night or if you have higher-than-average energy usage, you can still purchase electricity from this source. In an off-grid system, you need to produce your own energy, so the system is usually larger and has a backup source like a generator.
- Can I be off the grid with solar energy?
You can, but it is common to also have a backup energy source, such as wind or a backup generator in case you have higher-than-anticipated energy usage or a prolonged period of less sun.
- What are the two main disadvantages of solar energy?
The biggest disadvantage is the cost, particularly if you go off-grid. The cost of the system can be as high as $100,000 for some homes. The second disadvantage is the need for a backup system. If the sun is not strong for several days or you have a sudden spike in energy usage, a solar system alone may not do the job.
- How much power does a 5kW solar system produce per day?
This depends on the amount of sun, your location, and solar panel type, but expect between 12 and 28kW per day of AC power.
- Can you live off grid legally?
Yes it is possible to live off the grid legally, and many of the aspects of off-grid living are completely legal. However, it's important to do your research as laws can vary from state to state and certain zoning restrictions and property regulations can complicate the situation. While it may be legal, you may find that your home is not insurable off grid.
- Do you need permits to build off the grid?
Yes, in most cases, you'll need to get a permit to build any kind of dwelling or structure, even on your own land and even if you're living off-grid. Your structures must also meet building codes. You may also need permits for other parts of your off-grid home, like the septic tank. Speak to your local municipality about what permits you may need for your off-grid home.