Off-Grid Solar Energy Outlook

March 27, 2019 - pkcinna
Off-Grid solar energy is still not practical for individuals seeking energy independence on par with that provided by public power utilities.

Progress is Disappointing

Corporations and governments have little incentive to empower individuals with electric power not controlled by a central authority. To further muddy the water, public utilities and government organizations invest in public relations campaigns promoting positive opinions about “green” energy and environmental stewardship but on the other hand they simultaneously seek profits and long term viability by making sure people need them. Utility companies boast about new solar farms and how they provide discounts and incentives to anyone wanting to get solar panels. Governments talk about reducing green house gases and climate agreements. Oil companies advertise about green energy research they are doing. Unfortunately any breakthrough or pardigm shift in favor of the individual that comes from these top down power structures is countered by newly engineered needs or necessities within the society.

One example is how my local public electricity provider bills with a high monthly connect fee and requires utility approved installers for solar. The high monthly connect fee makes sure they get at least $60 per month per customer. They advertise a low KWH charge but in reality they just adjust the monthly connect fee plus average KWH use per customer to realize the same profits and simultaneously make sure any power you generate is not worth much money (7 cents per KWH). The approved installers are also a clever scheme to make sure installations have lots or red tape and expenses.

Beyond Lead-Acid Battery Banks

Good battery banks will probably not be affordable for another decade. There are impressive technologies emerging across Asia but it would be socially destabilizing for a significant portion of homes in the USA to suddenly drop off the grid. That said, there are creative approaches to becoming energy independent now. Insulated water pools or tanks can be heated or cooled with solar technologies and used to heat or cool interior spaces and tap water. Wood burning technologies from the past and present prove it is possible to heat a home or power a steam generator. Critics will say that steam generation is too dangerous but that is primarily because there are no standards or documented best practices for DIY projects.

China is a creative powerhouse in battery and solar technologies. Places like Shenzhen have no rival in the world. Sometimes the creativity inspired at the government level in China is funny and others it is awe inspiring. Batteries and super capacitors are already being produced with graphene in various forms.

Wild West

Many off-grid projects are generally creative experiments. There is no place to document best designs and performance characteristics. If there was a place to document proven designs then individuals and small companies could build and improve equipment to use or sell.