A survey released by The Australia Institute last year found that 80 per cent of those with PV solar panels would like to go off grid by using battery power. Consumers want to take back control, but is going off grid really the solution?
Living off the grid using a solar battery system certainly appears to have its upsides. You can generate energy free from the sun during the day, and use it at night. There are no expensive, unpredictable energy bills. And there’s no carbon footprint guilt factor.
However, purchasing PV solar panels, an inverter and solar battery outright is a considerable outlay for the average person. What’s more, a number of people have found that their rooftop solar systems do not meet their power needs. This is likely because of the difficulty in adequately determining the correct supply for a household, both to match their current needs and in the future.
Going off-grid forces you to think seriously about managing your power demand and supply, especially short periods of peak demand or periods of intermittent supply.
There is a very fine balance between the size of the battery, PV system, inverter and household use. Household usage of power also changes over time as families – and their number of always-on devices grow. Calculating existing power needs is difficult, but when it comes to five, ten years down the track – not even the most well-meaning installer has a crystal ball to figure that out.
One other issue to consider with going off grid is what happens when there is little sunlight, or worst still, your system fails. No one is there to rush out and restore your power. Sustainable house blog writer Michael Mobbs, who went off grid two years ago in Sydney, recently wrote about his own power issues resulting from heavy cloud cover in recent weeks. Mobbs had to turn off his fridge during the day to ensure his house had enough power at night.
Like an off grid set up, virtual power is when a household installs PV solar panels, an inverter and a solar battery. They gain the same independence and control over their power. The difference is that they remain connected to the grid.
It is a relatively new concept in Australia, but it has shown to have considerable benefits in other parts of the world.
Join Sunverge Energy’s Phil Keogan as he will be speaking re: ‘Engaging major utilities to change the status quo’ at RenewEconomy’s Innovation and Start-ups in the Energy Sector conference, in Sydney on May 8-9