How much does an Off Grid Solar System Cost? As energy costs rise and concerns about the environment grow, homeowners are seeking their own energy solutions. Many homeowners have started installing solar panels in an attempt 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 just installing solar panels. Those who accomplish it, though, completely untether their homes from the standard electrical power grid.
off grid solar system packages
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 7 kW of electricity per day, which could require a system of six panels and three batteries. This system ranges from $30,000 to $60,000 to install before tax credits or rebates, with most homeowners spending around $50,000 total on the project.
Off Grid Solar System Cost
|Off-Grid Solar System Costs|
|National average cost||$50,000|
|Average range||$30,000- $60,000|
What Is an Off-grid Solar System?
An off-grid solar system is a multipart setup used to produce energy for homes or businesses. The system is designed to harness 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 is used to charge batteries via a charge controller, and the batteries store the energy until needed. An inverter then converts the charge from the batteries into the electricity that powers your home.
What Does It Mean to Go Off-grid?
Many people use solar panels to offset the cost of electricity, but this does not mean that they have gone off-grid. Using solar energy to offset energy costs means that you are still connected to the local power supply and can use it if you need more energy than your panels produce.
To go completely off-grid, your entire home has to run on electricity or energy that you produce yourself using solar panels and batteries. Your home cannot utilize any electricity from the town power supply. Simply installing solar panels is not enough to be considered off-grid, and most people who use solar energy still rely on electricity from an outside source. To go completely off-grid, you also need a storage system to smooth out the production and usage of energy over time. Finally, you need a way to transfer the energy into the batteries and convert it into electricity.
Pros and Cons of Off-grid Solar Systems
Like any project, installing an off-grid solar system has positives and negatives to consider. Off-grid solar systems have high start-up costs, for example, but tax rebates and credits are available that can lower the overall cost. These systems can also eliminate your monthly electric bill, saving money long-term. Furthermore, while traditional energy costs continue to rise, your system’s costs would remain constant, making budgeting easier.
If you live or want to build in a rural area where electrical lines do not reach, an off-grid solar system allows you to have many modern amenities in your home that would be impossible without electricity.
Going off-grid can also be better for the environment because many areas use fossil fuels to produce their electricity, contributing to climate change.
On the other hand, going off-grid means anticipating all potential electricity needs ahead of time and making sure that your system can handle them. Electricity needs can fluctuate throughout the year. This means that you may have to install a larger, costlier system than you originally planned for.
If you go off-grid for electricity, you may still have other utilities connected to the grid. If you eliminate those as well, you may find that you have higher insurance costs or that your home is no longer insurable. You should speak to your home insurance agent to find out more before you begin going off-grid.
Off-grid Solar Power Components Costs
Going completely off-grid means adding several components to your system to make sure it functions as needed.
Solar panels make up the bulk of your off-grid system costs. This is the component that harnesses the sun’s energy and starts the production of your electricity. The number of panels, number of cells, and type of cells vary depending on your location and your needs. Expect to pay around $14,000 just for the panels.
The batteries are what make it possible for a home to go off-grid. They collect excess energy that you are not currently using and store it for later. This stored energy powers your home at night and when the sun’s energy is insufficient. Batteries cost between $5,000 – $7,000 each, and you need two to four batteries to complete your system.
The inverter converts solar energy into the electricity that you use to power your home. The required type, size, and number of inverters depend on the number of panels, number of batteries, and amount of electricity you need. Costs start at around $3,000 but can go much higher depending on usage.
Solar Charge Controller
The solar charge controller charges up your batteries. Each battery needs its own controller, with costs starting at around $550 each.
Alternative Energy Source
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 $4,500 to $9,000.
Off-grid Solar Systems Calculator
Many factors go into figuring out the type and size of the system needed to go completely off-grid. These include your location, how much sunlight you have, the size of your home, and your average energy usage.
Keep in mind that your daily energy usage varies depending on the time of year. For example, your daily usage in March may look different than in July, when you have an air conditioner running.
Therefore, calculate your total energy usage to establish the size and number of panels you need. Also, factor in your location. This solar calculator from Energy Sage helps you determine your solar energy requirements. Once you decide on the number of kilowatts needed per day, then you can calculate the number of panels and batteries you require.
Labor Costs to Install an Off-grid System
Labor costs make up a large 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. Many companies, however, roll labor costs into the overall package rather than pricing it out separately.
Labor costs vary depending on several things. These include the general layout or setup; whether your roof requires additional reinforcement to support the panels; what type of pole or other apparatus you have for mounting the panels; and the total size of the project.
On-grid vs Off-grid Solar Systems
Most of the home solar systems currently installed are considered on-grid. These systems offset traditional electricity usage but do not replace it. With an on-grid system, you remain connected to your local utility company. Your system may or may not have batteries. When the system is unable to meet the electricity demands of your household, you use purchased electricity.
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 some other backup power, such as a generator, in case of an emergency.
On-grid systems are usually less expensive. Most people spend around $18,000 – $20,000 for an on-grid solar panel system versus the $50,000 it costs to go entirely off-grid.
Maintaining Your Off-grid Solar System
Once they are installed, off-grid solar systems are fairly easy to maintain. They need to be kept clean, and the batteries, inverters, and controllers must be replaced every 5 to 11 years. The body itself only needs to be cleaned once every few years. Scheduling a checkup once every 3 years and replacing the parts as needed is all that is necessary to keep it running properly.
Ideal Candidates for Solar Energy
Not every home is right for solar energy. Some homes may be too shady, or the climate may not be ideal, making the installation and system costs prohibitively expensive. The ideal candidates would have good sun exposure and above-average energy needs. They would also have occupants who intend to stay in the home long enough to see the financial benefits of reduced or eliminated energy bills.
Enhancement and Improvement Costs
Your batteries will last between 5 and 11 years on average, and you want to keep an eye on how much they are holding so that you know when to replace them. A battery monitor keeps track of the battery’s health so that you will not be caught unaware. They cost around $100 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. A suppressor grounds the excess energy so that the system will not overload. Suppressor costs start at around $1,000.
Additional Considerations and Costs
- Even if you are unable to go completely off-grid, you can still benefit from installing solar panels. The technology becomes cheaper every year. Zero-down loans are available so that you start saving on electric bills right away even as you pay off the loan. Tax rebates and credits are also available to offset the cost.
- If you live in an area that is prone to power outages or failures, going off-grid can be beneficial.
- Many brands offer off-grid packages, which makes it hard to choose. These brands include ECO-WORTHY, WindyNation, ECO LLC, and Renogy.
- Not every off-grid system has the same warranty. Check with the manufacturers to find out their warranty policies.
- Care and maintenance for each system varies by manufacturer as well. Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for best practices.
- You may need a permit for this project, depending on where you live. Check with your local government for more information.
What are the pros and cons of DIY solar panels?
Before we jump into the 11 steps for a DIY solar panel installation, I think it’s worth going over the pros and cons.
After all, a DIY solar is a big and costly commitment. It’s best to figure out whether or not DIY solar is right for you before you’re too heavily invested in the process!
Pro: Cost savings
At the risk of stating the obvious, the biggest reason people opt for a DIY solar panel installation is to save money on the upfront installation cost.
Solar panel systems have dropped in price — by over 70% in the last decade alone — but they still represent a significant financial investment for most homeowners.
Right now, the average cost of solar panel installation by a professional solar company is around $3.00 per watt. For a typical 5 kW (5,000 watt) solar panel system, that works out to $15,000.
On the other hand, you should be able to buy a 5 kW DIY solar panel kit for under $2.00 per watt. Assuming you perform all of the work by yourself (i.e. no contractors for any of the tasks), the total cost of the 5 kW DIY solar project would cost no more than $10,000.
That works out to a potential savings of over $5,000 by choosing DIY over a professional solar installation.
Of course, the exact cost difference between the two is affected by many variables. Factors that can affect costs include system size, your location, your choice of brands, your roof layout, your state and local incentives, and more. And you’d also want to take into account 26% solar tax credit would apply for both a professional installation and a DIY job, reducing the cost and thus the price differential between the two methods of going solar.
That said, there is without question a substantial price difference between buying a DIY solar panel kit, and hiring a solar company to complete the installation for you.
Pro: DIY satisfaction
If you’re someone who really enjoys a big and challenging DIY project, then a solar installation might be what you’re looking for.
You will have to draw on many different skill sets, such as the ability to negotiate municipal processes, financial planning, proficiency with power tools, electrical work, and even tax accounting.
And there are many stages to the solar installation — researching, planning, shopping, permitting, installation, electric wiring, and monitoring.
This is a project that will keep you busy for a while.
Con: It’s a lot of time and effort
I know, in the point immediately above this one I framed the challenging nature of a solar installation as a positive. Yes, it can be rewarding — but only if you’re actively seeking a difficult and time-consuming DIY challenge.
If, however, your idea of a DIY project doesn’t expand far beyond assembling some Scandinavian flatpack furniture, then you might want to steer clear of taking on solar. It is a very time-consuming project. From conception to commissioning, a DIY solar installation for a home usually takes between one to four months.
Con: Risk of roof damage or leaks
This is perhaps the biggest financial risk when it comes to a DIY solar installation.
Unless you have a flat roof, your solar installation will involve drilling a large number of holes into your roof. Drilling into the wrong spot on the roof can cause structural damage, while incorrect sealing and flashing can cause a roof leakage and/or mold issues.
Another factor to keep in mind is that a DIY solar installation is likely to void the warranty of your roof, so you’ll have to foot the bill for any repairs that may be needed.
Con: Physical danger
Heights and high voltage electricity. If you’re doing a DIY solar installation from start to finish, there’s no avoiding these two risks.
Falls are a hazard in DIY solar panel installation. Image source: Twitter
And the physical risks can continue after the installation. If your panels aren’t performing as they should, you may need to get back on the roof to troubleshoot the issue.
Worst of all, if you haven’t connected the wiring properly, your rooftop system could catch fire!
Con: Inability to claim some incentives
Many states offer incentives and rebates that dramatically reduce the cost of going solar.
Some incentives, however, are only available when the installation is completed by a certified solar company.
Con: No support for faults or warranty claims
You are on your own if there is ever a fault with the equipment.
Of course, you can still contact the manufacturer directly, but it can be difficult to prove a warranty claim. Furthermore, if you perform an improper installation, you can actually void the warranty.
The 11 steps for DIY solar panels
Let’s now dive into the 11 steps needed to take your DIY solar panel project from conception to completion.
1. Decide on your goals
If you haven’t already, you first need to decide what your goal is for going solar.
The goal you’re shooting for will determine the best system type for you, how complex the installation will be, and how much the project will cost.
Homeowners usually choose between the following goals.
- Financial savings
- Backup power
- Energy self sufficiency (independence from the electrical grid)
We strongly recommend that you decide on your goal right at the outset. There is an almost infinite number of options and permutations when it comes to DIY solar, so you need to be clear on what decisions you make, and why.
2. Choose the right solar system type
The next decision is to choose the right solar power system type to match your goal.
There are three main types of solar installations:
- Grid-tied solar panel system
- Hybrid solar panel system (aka grid-tied with battery storage)
- Off-grid solar system
All of these system types have many features in common: they all involve solar panels, inverters, mounts, and wiring. There are, however, some crucial differences, and they can impact the project’s cost and complexity. Here’s a brief summary of each.
Grid-tied solar panel system
A grid-tied solar panel system is a solar setup that is connected to the grid and uses it as a battery through net metering. Grid-tied solar panel systems are usually smaller than the other types and have the lowest upfront cost.
Best for: Maximum financial savings
Pros: Lowest cost, simple design and installation
Cons: The system will shut off during a grid outage. Your system will need to pass inspection before it can be connected to the grid.
This video shows how a grid-tied solar system works for a typical home: https://www.youtube.com/embed/A5Wb61nEoZc?rel=0
Hybrid solar panel system (aka grid-tied with battery storage)
A hybrid solar panel system is also connected to the grid; the key difference here is the inclusion of a battery storage solution.
As with a regular grid-tied system, a hybrid solar system can import and export power from the grid as needed. But a hybrid solar system can use the battery system for two additional uses: for backup power during a grid failure, and to take advantage of Time of Use (TOU) arbitrage.
However, solar batteries — the most famous example of which is the Tesla Powerwall — are still an expensive option, so adding one to a solar system nearly always lowers the return on investment for the homeowner. In other words, the increased cost of adding a battery typically does not lead to an equivalent increase in savings.
Best for: Backup power
Pros: Emergency power supply during grid outages
Cons: Requires a battery backup solution, and unfortunately batteries are still expensive to buy. Your system will also need to pass inspection before it can be connected to the grid.
As the name suggests, an off-grid solar system operates independently of the grid.
Since there’s no grid to fall back on, the solar system needs to be very large so that it can meet the home’s power needs 24/7, 365 days a year — even during winter and/or long stretches of overcast weather.
To achieve this, off-grid solar systems require a large number of solar panels as well as a large battery bank.
Best for: Energy self sufficiency
Pros: Zero reliance on the electricity grid and no interaction with the utility company, and no inspections.
Cons: Very expensive, and lots of space required for the large number of solar panels and accompanying battery storage.
3. Check solar rules and regulations
There is a wide range of rules governing solar installations. They can vary greatly between states, and even between local jurisdictions.
You will usually need a building permit and a utility permit before you start your installation. This usually involves an on-site inspection by either a structural engineer or a licensed electrician. You will need to pass another round of inspections before your system can be activated and connected to the grid.
Some states don’t allow a solar system to be connected to the grid unless the installation was performed by a licensed contractor. If this is the case where you live, you won’t be able to install a DIY grid-tied or hybrid solar system.
It is important to know these rules beforehand so you can judge if a DIY solar panel installation is possible where you live; and if it is possible, if it’s still a worthwhile option to pursue.
4. Design a system
This is one of the most complicated parts of the DIY solar panel process. You want your system to take into account all of the following factors:
- Your energy usage
- Climate and the number of sun hours you’ll see each month
- Solar panel orientation
- Solar panel angle
- Natural efficiency drop
- Conversion losses
- Battery size and charging (for hybrid and off-grid systems)
The PVWatts Calculator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a well-known tool that takes into account the above points to show you total system output over each month of the year.
We also recommend you try out our solar panel calculator. It builds on the data provided by PVWatts to recommend a system size for your specific home, and even shows you which section of your roof you should use for maximum exposure to sunlight.
Calculate the system size you need to offset 100% of your electric usage
If you’re adding batteries for a hybrid or off-grid system, you’ll need to take care to size your battery correctly. If your battery is too small, you may run out of backup power just when you need it. On the flip side, if your battery is too big, you’ll wind up spending too much, and might quickly diminish battery capacity by failing to charge it sufficiently.
For more information about batteries, check out this handy guide on battery sizing.
As part of your system design, you’ll want to create an electrical diagram. This will be useful as a blueprint when it’s time to install your panels; it will also be required when you’re applying for permits.
5. Do the math
By this point, you should have a clear idea of what kind of system you want, as well as what’s allowed (and what isn’t) under the rules and regulations governing solar in your area.
Now you’ll want to move on to specifics and work the numbers, i.e. your estimated costs and savings.
Make a solar costs and savings projection covering the guaranteed life of your panels (typically 25 years). Image source: Freepik
Based on your system design, you should be able to search online and find the costs for the equipment you require. The simplest way to do this is to look for a complete, all-in-one DIY solar kit that matches your needs.
Next, you want to work out your utility bill savings. Using the system size you worked out in your design in Step #4, it’s relatively easy to calculate the annual output of your system. Based on that, you can figure out and total up avoided utility costs. When projecting ahead, be sure to account for inflation in utility costs.
Some homeowners may be constrained by limited roof space; in that case, they should calculate the maximum number of solar panels that can fit on their roof, and then figure out costs and savings from there.
Now, with the cost and savings figure in hand, you can calculate what the return on your DIY solar panel project will be, and if it’s worth going ahead with from a financial perspective.
6. Stop and reevaluate
Assuming you’ve already completed Steps 1-4, you should have a clear idea about whether a DIY solar panel installation is feasible or not. Specifically, this is what you should know by now:
- If a DIY solar panel system is allowed where you live
- The permitting and approval process
- The solar panel system size you want, and whether you have the space for it
- The estimated cost of the installation
- The electricity bills savings you will receive
- If the financial equation is right for you
- All of the risks associated with a DIY solar panel installation (refer to the ‘Cons’ section earlier on this blog)
If you’re still unclear on any of the points, step back and continue your research.
If you do have all this information, then I recommend you pause and reevaluate.
Is solar right for you? And if it is, here are the three options you can choose to make it a reality.
DIY solar panel installation
You’ve done your research and are clear on what DIY solar installation entails. You’re confident in your ability to perform all the necessary tasks yourself, and have a plan to avoid or mitigate all the risks. Congratulations, you’re ready to get started and get your hands dirty.
Outsource part of the installation
You may decide that you’re better off outsourcing part of the installation. This is often a good idea if there’s a specific section that you don’t feel comfortable with. For instance, many solar DIY-ers decide to hire an external contractor to perform the electrical installation.
Get a professional solar company to perform the entire installation
While this is the most expensive in terms of cost, it’s the cheapest option when it comes to time, effort and peace of mind. The solar company will design the system for you, source all materials, and deal with all permitting requirements. Furthermore, if there are any issues with panels or workmanship down the line, they will be there to handle them for you.
I encourage you to check out this option. To do so, simply use our solar panel calculator to request no-obligation quotes from licensed solar installers in your area.
See live solar prices in your area and request obligation-free quotes
If you’re still not sure which is the best way forward, here is a solar decision matrix to help you out.
|Financial costs||Time costs||Roof leakage risk||Permitting requirements||Ease||Personal safety|
|DIY solar install||++||–||–||–||–||–|
|Outsource part of the installation||+||+||+||–||+||+|
|Professional solar install||–||++||++||++||++||++|
7. Start permitting process
You’re ready to get your hands dirty and install some solar panels! But wait — remember the rules and regulations you researched back at Step #3?
If you haven’t already, list out all permit processes required by the state, your utility, and your authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).
There’s a good chance that you’re going to have to apply for a building and utility permit before you start any work. This will often involve an inspection by either an electrician or a structural engineer, or both.
It’s important to follow all the steps required to ensure that your installation is code-compliant and legal.
8. Choose supplier and buy equipment
Here’s is a brief list of all the equipment you’ll need for you solar setup:
- Solar panels
- Solar inverter
- Mounting and racking equipment
- Wiring and general electrical supplies
- Battery system (for hybrid and off-grid system)
- Charge controller (required for some battery systems)
Ideally, you’ll find a complete DIY solar panel kit that includes everything you need for your solar installation. That’ll save you time that you would otherwise spend searching for individual components and then figuring out whether each part can work together.
When you’re comparing kits, we encourage you to check product reviews on SolarReviews to make sure that you’re buying from reputable brands that homeowners are happy with.
When it comes to picking a supplier, you want to choose one that offers great warranty and after-sales support. I would prioritize both these factors over price — unless you’ve performed a solar installation before, you’re going to have to talk to the vendor many times during the installation, and maybe even after.
9. Install the solar panel system
At this point, you should have successfully applied for all necessary permits and approvals, and accepted delivery of your solar equipment. It’s now time to install the panels!
The actual specifics of the installation will depend on what system type and equipment you’ve decided upon.
The process I’m describing below is for a grid-tied system that uses microinverters for the DC to AC power conversion.
Task 1: Install solar panel racking and mounting
Use a chalk line to measure and mark out exactly where on your roof the racking system will be installed.
Next, look for solid bits of the roof to drill into for the installation of lag bolts. You should consider using a stud finder with AC current detection to ensure you’re not drilling through a power line.
Caulk the holes and install flashing to create a waterproof seal before you screw the lag bolts in. Once the lag bolts are all ready, you can install L-feet and then lock the rails on to them.
Task 2: Connect microinverters
Onto the microinverters. These are little boxes that will modulate the output of each panel. You’ll connect them to the rails using the provided bolts. Each box will have a positive and negative wire coming out of it, which you will connect together to form a series connection for each array.
Microinverters attached to a rail. Later, each solar panel will be connected to one before it is mounted. Image source: Enphase
Task 3: Connect grounding wire
Connect copper wire of an appropriate gauge across the rails as grounding. This is an important safety precaution and will help dissipate any anomalies caused by a lightning strike or a fault.
Task 4: Install roof junction box
You’ll need to drill a hole in the roof to install a junction box. If you have more than one solar array, you will run the trunk cable from each into the junction box. This will allow you to channel the power from the solar panels to your house.
Task 5: Install the solar panels
It’s now time to haul the panels onto the roof. Each module is about 65 inches by 39 inches, which can be an awkward size for one person to handle on their own. Consider getting someone to assist you with this part, especially if your roof is steep. I also strongly recommend that you use a harness while you’re up there.
It’s now time to attach the solar panels to the mounting rail. Before laying them down flat, first get the wiring in order. Each solar panel will have a negative and positive DC wire attached. You don’t want the wires to touch the roof, so you clip or zip-tie them to the panel. You can then connect the wires into the microinverters you’ve already attached to the railings.
Next, insert the provided mid-clamps into the railing to hold the solar panel in place from each side. For the solar panels that lie on each end of the rail, use end-clamps to keep them in place and present a more aesthetically pleasing look.
Task 6: Home run connection
With the solar panels ready, it’s time to connect them to the house. For this you will need to install:
- A conduit
- An external junction box
- An emergency disconnect box
The conduit will carry the wires from the roof junction box down to the external junction box.
The junction box will in turn connect to an emergency disconnect. This is a safety feature that allows you to quickly shut off your solar panel system, and is a required feature in many jurisdictions.
From the emergency disconnect, the wires are passed through to the home’s main electrical panel. The external junction box and emergency disconnect box should be weatherproof and installed in an area that is easily accessible and allows easy connection to the home’s main electrical panel.
Your solar panel system is now ready, but unfortunately there’s still a couple of more hoops to jump before you can actually switch it on.
10. Final inspection and interconnection with the grid
Once your installation is complete, you’ll have to schedule an inspection with the local AHJ. The inspector will come out and inspect your system to ensure that it’s compliant with local ordinances, and that the design matches those laid out in your plans.
The system will also need to pass an electrical inspection to ensure that it is code-compliant.
Once the inspection is done, you will need to apply for interconnection with the grid. The utility will either install a second meter, or replace your existing one with a bi-directional (or net) meter. The bi-directional meter can record your home’s power exports the grid so that you can receive credits on your power bill.
11. Switch on your system
Assuming your system has now met all state, local and utility requirements, you can now commission it.
These days, most inverters offer solar monitoring app that allow you to check your system performance online from wherever you are. Use this to make sure that your solar system is performing as expected.
It was hard work, but you can now benefit from a solar panel system that produces clean energy, lowers your electricity bill, and improves the value of your home. Congratulations!
DIY or not, solar power is highly rewarding
If you’ve read through this very lengthy blog post, kudos – you are definitely serious about going solar! You are now on a journey that I’m sure you’ll find highly rewarding.
Here are some of the best things about having solar panels:
- The satisfaction of receiving a much lower utility bill – and thinking of all the things you can do with the money you’ll be saving over the years
- Monitoring your solar panel production and usage from day to day
- Pride in producing clean energy and doing your part in combating climate change
If you have a lot of time on your hands and the skills to pull it off, you can achieve all these benefits at the minimum possible cost.
However, if you’ve read through this guide and feel that a DIY solar installation is just too much work, then fret not: you can still get all the benefits by getting a professional solar company to do the work for you.
Either way, we encourage you to check out our solar calculator. It will recommend a system for you that offers 100% offset of your utility bills, and can show you what the panels will actually look like on your roof.