I have solar panels, why is my power out? Learn how to use solar panels during a power outage, plan for sunless days, and more in this month’s “Gone Off-Grid.”
My husband and I have lived off-grid since 2012. Regarding your advice on battery backup systems (see “Grid-Tied vs. Off-Grid Solar and Battery Backup Systems,” Gone Off-Grid, June/July 2023), we’ve discovered you have to make sure your grid-tied system can be islanded* if you want to stay up and running during power outages. That’s because when the grid shuts down, power companies shut everything down to protect their utility line workers. Our neighbors have solar panels and batteries, but they lose power during outages. Off-grid isn’t perfect, and it can get complicated. For example, our generator runs off propane. We built in backups for our backup systems, because we have nothing to fall back on except for what’s on our homestead. — Tory, New Hampshire
An energy system capable of islanding can detect a drop in grid-delivered power, causing the system to automatically disconnect from the grid. In island mode, your solar-battery system will continue to produce power even after the grid has failed.
Thank you for responding to Mother Earth News’ Gone Off-Grid column. Kerena and I hoped we’d hear about readers’ firsthand experiences. You’ve pointed out two extremely important issues for readers to be aware of: A grid-tied solar photovoltaic system shuts down by design during a power outage, and going off-grid is a huge lifestyle change, but one that can be rewarding.
Your experiences are a wake-up call for anyone planning to go off-grid. And you’re wise to have installed a generator as a backup, which we always recommend as a backup to the backup. If the generator is coming on frequently and staying on, it’s a sign the system may need more solar panels and batteries — and that means you’ll spend a mint. Your generator should also be rated for continuous duty for prolonged periods of poor sunlight, because it may need to run for long periods of time.
To paraphrase an old cowboy, “There’s a lot they didn’t tell me before I signed on with this outfit!” A number of folks think that way when they first go off-grid. That’s why we’re here — to help answer some of those questions.
— Hoss Boyd
Tory, I’m so glad you and your husband are living off-grid and continuing to learn through Mother Earth News. As for the imperfections, they’re a given with any lifestyle you choose. For me, so long as I can say the obstacles and challenges have been worth it, I know I’m in the right place doing the right thing. I hope that’s true for you and your neighbors too! May you live well.
— Kerena Reese
We’ll do our best to answer your questions on energy subjects in upcoming issues. Email them to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com with “Energy Q&A” in the subject line.
May all your days be filled with sunshine — even when it rains!
Hoss Boyd is founder, president, and CEO of TeraVolt Energy. Kerena Reese is an independent engineer. They’re recognized solar and energy-storage experts.
Originally published as “How Complicated is Off-Grid, Really?” in the October/November 2023 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine and regularly vetted for accuracy.
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