Can You Expect Full Energy Independence from Your Solar System and Storage?
In recent years, society has had to increasingly face pressures from various sectors to become more digitised and interconnected. The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has increased these pressures manifold. This has had the effect of increasing our demand for power. If climate change wasn’t bad enough to begin with, the earth’s finite resources will be hard pressed to keep up with electricity production if things stay as they are. Many Australians are now moving towards cheaper and sustainable forms of energy, in face of these challenges. Solar energy is already well established in Australia, and its footprint is growing every year. The coronavirus has caused recessions in many industries as production and demand have plummeted, but the solar industry has only seen an uptick in activity. As people have been forced to stay home and as uncertainty gripped the world, it became clear that being energy independent may be essential for us in the future. Now, let’s face facts. Ost of use can’t and don’t need complete energy independence. Most people just need to reduce their bills as much as possible through affordable solar solutions. But those of us who fancy living off the grid may want to know what options they have and whether it is at all feasible. This article will explore whether Australians can achieve complete energy independence through solar energy. Let’s take a look at the pros and the cons of considering a life off the grid.
Questions of Legality
To begin with, there is some good news. Yes, it is completely legal to live off-grid in Australia. Living off-grid doesn’t mean having a house in a remote area, surrounded by barbed wire. On the contrary, energy independence entails having complete control over your own electricity supply and not having to rely on the gird. This can be achieved in a suburb just as well as it can in an isolated shanty in the outback. One can even retain a connection to the national grid just in case, yet use one’s solar energy system as the primary source of energy. This is probably the best and most realistic option for most people, given that living in an isolated home may not be appealing or financially viable for most people. Nonetheless, whether someone wants to unplug from modern life and move out, or whether they want to have a net zero electricity bill, the good news is that it is perfectly legal to switch off the grid electricity completely, and plug in your solar power systems.
Why Choose Solar Energy?
“Going off the grid,” or “energy independence” means that a home or business produces enough electricity to be able to meet its demand. This has to meet the following criteria:
- The home or business in question must be able to produce its own electricity from a renewable resource.
- The electricity produced must meet the demands of the business/home and its employees/residents for day-to-day use.
- A storage system must be present to save excess energy and provide it to the occupants when they require. This may become necessary on days when electricity production is low or demand is especially high.
- The system must be self-contained, needing a minimum amount of support from anyone outside it and must be able to operate without support from the national grid.
Solar energy fits these criteria beautifully. Bet’s break it down step by step and find out how.
- What resource is more readily available, cheaper and more sustainable than the sunlight. Literally every part of the earth’s surface gets at least some degree of sunlight at some point in time during the year, and Australia gets more than its fair share. There can be literally no better resource for a company or a home wanting to achieve energy independence in Australia. The sunlight is plentiful and infinite.
- Compared to other sources of power, solar has the best chance to help a business or residence produce sufficient energy for mundane use, especially in Australia. Wind is not very viable in most parts of Australia, and setting up wind turbines is prohibitively expensive and logistically demanding. Other than that, wind turbines are also far more maintenance-demanding than your average solar panels. Solar panels do not demand much in the way of space either. You can stick them on areas you don’t use, like the roof, or a parking lot. And though we did not mention affordability as a primary criterion, it most certainly is. In Australia, solar panels are more affordable and easier to install and use than any other type of renewable energy.
- As far as storage systems go, solar energy storage is a booming market in Australia. Storage systems range from li-ion batteries to air and hydraulically powered systems. Solar storage in Australia is both subsidised by the government through rebates and also widely available, making it the optimal choice for energy storage.
- Solar energy offers the best solution for self-sufficiency. Solar panels use a ubiquitous resource i.e., the sunlight. Coupled with a storage system, they can conveniently store this energy for use during the night and on cloudy days. This makes a solar system truly independent from the national grid. The caveat is that the system must be planned in advance. This means that the production and storage must be sufficiently in surplus to ensure that enough energy will be harvested during the day to use at night (when demand is typically higher) and on days when sunshine may be interrupted by precipitation or cloud cover.
Is it Possible to go 100% Solar?
The short answer, is “yes.” However, there’s a “but” in there. Just because something is possible, that does not mean it is ideal or even advisable. Let’s break it down.
The first thing we have to consider is where the residence or business in question is located. If it is located in a suburb, then being mostly energy independent is certainly an option. If it is located in an urban centre, space constraints mean that complete energy independence, though still possible, is not ideal or financially sound. And finally, if the residence is located on the outskirts of an urban area, or if it in a rural or isolated location, then yes, complete energy independence may be worth considering. The same metrics apply to businesses.
Two major constraints that Australians will face while trying to go 100% solar are:
- Space: The Grattan Institute estimated in its studies that an average home requires a 7-kW solar energy system and a 35-kWh battery system to meet 95% of its energy needs on a daily basis. This would need 60 and 70msq of clear roof space, facing north. In a spacious rural area, this is not likely to be an issue. In an urban area, this is most definitely going to be an issue. If you do still want to go completely solar, then you will either have to become very energy efficient or consider abandoning some of the comforts of daily life.
- Cost: Going 100% solar may not be financially advisable because of the amount of solar panels and batteries one would require to achieve it. Mind you, it has been done, and there are many large areas outside major cities in Australia that have completely gone off the grid, but bear in mind that the larger your solar installation gets, the more it will cost and the longer it will take to provide you a return on your investment.
In conclusion, while it is completely possible to go off grid, the financial toll such an endeavour would take makes it a hard sell. The costs get too high with the amount of battery storage and solar panel area you would need to achieve this, and it may not be worth your while in the long run – unless going off grid is precisely what you want. An average sized solar panel system with batteries will recoup its costs in four to six years, which is perfectly reasonable. For most people, a hybrid system is best. In such a system, a home would get 30-60% of its energy (depending on whether it has solar storage or not) from solar power, and rely on the national grid for the rest. This will allow you to generate clean energy for most of your needs, and still have access to the grid-supply. Now, one thing to keep in mind is that as solar technology advances, going off the grid is likely to become more and more possible. In all likelihood, homes of the future will generate 100% of their own energy.