Solar Power: Is It Right For You?

Solar Power is an attractive way to buy power in advance. By going solar you lock-in the future price of energy, and provide for you and yours better power than most people have who live on the grid. However, as attractive as solar power is, it may not be the right thing for everyone.

Micro Solar is great idea for everyone, but to go all the way to power your home requires some thought and a serious investment. Before you commit yourself economically, it's important that you think about the issues and make sure you're comfortable with your choice.

We've been living off-the-grid for many years and we really like it, but it is not for everyone.

Lets look at a few of the issues:

1.  Protect yourself from rising energy costs
2.  Available where commercial power is not financially feasable
3.  In many cases better and more reliable power
4.  After installation, extremely low operating costs
5.  No fixed monthly expenses
6.  If you're good at DIY, you can save a lot of money on the installation
7.  Improves the value of your property, especially in remote locations
8.  Some locations have government supported 'buy-back' options for 'grid-tie' solar systems
9.  How much is power worth if you can't get it?
10. Micro installations for emergency use can be very inexpensive.

1. Power available is limited to what you can afford to install
2. Not suited for people living in the city, or in apartments, condos, etc
3. In many places, initial hookup to the grid is very low cost
4. Utility companies are fighting 'buy-back' by paying wholesale prices, and selling retail
5. If you have problems with power you deal with it, not your public utility
6. Weather is an issue in many locations
7. In some areas building permits require you to connect to the power company, whether you want it or not

If we were to take each of these bullet points and discuss them in detail, we could fill a book and make the decision even more complicated. This is not my intention. Obviously, there are side effects to making decisions and we need to think clearly, but the decision to go solar is not a tough one for many people who go off the grid.

Usually the decision is a simple matter of economics. i.e. You want to build a cabin in a remote area for a family get-away and you want some power. The utility wants a fortune to connect you, so solar power rockets to the top of list as a great way to get you what you want. In our case the utility wanted $27,000 to connect us up, which was completely out of the question.  For the cost of hooking up to the grid, we could pay for a very nice system that belonged to us and not the utility company. An easy decision.

Some utility companies think they are doing the people a favor buy selling power to them. Selling power does require an investment on behalf of the utility, but they get a return on that investment over time. Why should consumers have to pay for equipment that is owned by the utility?

I'm not saying the utility should be charity organization, but they should be trying to expand their markets on their own dime, or eventually pay back consumers for their investment in a financially risky installation. Utility companies are the energy backbone of our nation and the work they do is critical for the vast majority of America and our way of life. But there needs to be a balance and an alternative for those who fall outside the range of 'normal' consumers.

Power monopolies are provided to make electricity cheap and abundant for the consumer, but lack of competition and the need to pay dividends to stock holders result in a conflict of interest not easily overcome. When you have millions of customers, an individual becomes mighty small indeed.

Micro Solar Installations

Whether you go completely solar or not, I advise everyone to consider buying a single solar panel, a small charge controller, a single deep cycle battery and a small inverter or inverter/charger. You can use this to power a radio or battery powered TV, charge a cell phone, a laptop, a tablet PC, mp3 player, electric razor, rechargeable lights, etc. There are so many uses for electricity in small quantities. When the lights go out it's really great to have a backup even if it's not enough to run your home.

Emergencies happen when you least expect them. When the lights go out you can use your micro solar power system to keep in touch through an emergency, provide emergency lighting, and keep things going until power is restored. A lot of us use wireless phones that go dead when the power is off, now you can keep it working. Recharge your cell phone if service is available, and if it's a smart phone you can catch important news. Keep you wireless router up and running so you have access to the internet. A small amount of power makes a big difference!

Wire or plan your system so that when emergencies occur you don't have to worry about what to do. Preset things so that backup power starts automatically wherever possible. The emergency is not the time to break out the manual and figure out what to do with what you have. Do the preparation before it's needed. In the news you see large areas of the country where power is out for weeks! It only makes sense to prepare as best you can, and for this kind of need solar power is a must.

If you're not a gadgeteer you can buy a complete package for a reasonable cost, but you will save money if you buy components individually and put together your own system.

Solar is not all or nothing. Look for uses and you'll find them. Rechargers, calculators, watches, all sorts of things. Trickle charge systems for campers, trailers, and cars. All these things add up and add a lot of benefit to your life.

Sunforce 37126 260W Crystalline Solar Kit
Amazon Price: $882.51 Buy Now
(price as of May 17, 2015)
UPG 85980/D5722 Sealed Lead Acid Battery (12V; 35 AH; UB12350)
Amazon Price: $89.95 $64.84 Buy Now
(price as of May 17, 2015)
Two of these double the time your power will last.