Unplugging From The Grid And Making Your Own Energy
Although rules and permits vary by state, you can actually unplug from the grid and make your own energy. In fact, some folks are making a little bit of extra money selling energy back to the electrical power companies.
Even businesses small and large are starting to unplug from the grid and make their own energy. A Kroger food distribution center in California installed a system that allows them to convert bacteria created by out of date or damaged bread and other organic material into biogas that is then burned to generate around 20 percent of the energy used on-site.
A detailed report by Home Power magazine revealed that more than 180,000 homes in the United States supply their own power entirely. Approximately one million homes have solar panels installed and allowed the family to at least partially rely on energy they produce themselves.
Another 27,000 homes use either wind or solar energy to go partially off grid, reducing their energy bills in the process. Becausesolar panels have decreased in price by roughly 50 percent since 2008, more Americans can afford to have them installed and provide more of their own energy.
What appears to be a growing number of states actually offer either tax breaks or income tax rebates to residents that purchase clean energy systems for their home. In 35 states with net metering laws it is both legal and possible to sell generated energy back to utility companies at retail rates.
South Dakota Off Grid Laws
Off-grid solar seems to be legal in South Dakota.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in South Dakota.
Composting and other off-grid toilets are legal in South Dakota, but only when other systems are not available. Even when used in conjunction with a septic system or grid-tied toilet, a permit is still likely to be required. You may even have to submit a design plan for approval.
Install A Pv Diverter
PV diverters are a low-cost and low maintenance option for increasing your own consumption of solar electricity .
Most of the time your solar PV system either:
Instead of sending surplus electricity to the grid, a PV diverter switch can power the immersion heater in your hot water tank, storing hot water for you to use later. On its own, excess solar energy is unlikely to meet all your hot water needs, but it can help reduce your bills.
A PV diverter switch installation could add around £500 to your installation costs.
If youre interested in using PV diverter, speak with your installer. They might also suggest increasing the number of panels on your roof to provide more electricity for your hot water needs.
You could also export the excess electricity to the grid and consider applying for export payments via a Smart Export Guarantee.
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Connecticut Off Grid Laws
Connecticut is one of the few states which promotes off-grid solar. They have legislation that supports microgrids and homes with off-grid solar could qualify as a microgrid. However, the laws are still not very clear about how private individuals need to be classified to be allowed to have a microgrid.
Rainwater harvesting in Connecticut is allowed or not regulated under state law. It also seems to be legal to disconnect from the water utility completely.
Composting toilets are legal in Connecticut. However, property owners must submit an application and the toilet must be approved by the local director of health. Waste from the composting toilet must be buried or disposed of in another approved method.
Keeping Track Of Your Electricity Usage
Regardless of whether your utility company offers net metering or a different scheme , if you have grid-connected solar, you will need a new electricity meter from your utility company. Itâs this utility meter that will let them know how much solar electricity you generate and how much grid electricity you use so that you can be billed for the difference.
You might get a bidirectional meter installed, which will track in real time whether you are using electricity from the grid or sending excess solar power into the grid.
Or you might have a dual metering setup, in which one meter tracks power drawn from the grid and a separate meter that tracks the solar electricity generated.
Which type of setup you end up with will depend on your utility company.
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Purchase The Components That Make Up A Solar Panel
You will need:
Image source: Energy.gov
Solar cells are what converts the suns energy into electricity, each solar panel consists of about 36 solar cells.
Buying pre-soldered tabbing wire will cut some steps out of the process, but you will still need a soldering iron to solder the wiring to the back of the solar cells and string the wire correctly to connect the solar cells.
Non-conductive material to attach the cells to, like wood, glass or plastic
For DIY solar panels, wood usually works best as backing because it is easy to drill holes for the wiring. Once you have your solar cells wired together, you can glue these to the wood backing and then attach all of the wires and solder each solar cell together.
After wiring, you then connect these wires to a charge controller, which regulates the volts of energy. Wood can also be used to build a box to protect the solar cells and then to lay the plexiglass on top for moisture protection.
Seal the solar panel with plexiglass
Once your solar cells are wired and glued to the wood backing, you need to seal them with plexiglass for protection from heat, debris, and moisture.
New Mexico Off Grid Laws
Off-grid solar is legal in New Mexico, though a permit is likely required. The state offers incentives including rebates for both off-grid and grid-tied solar systems. There are also licensing restrictions about who can install solar systems.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in New Mexico and most homeowners can install systems without worrying about water rights concerns. In fact, the state actually offers incentives for installing rainwater systems such as rebates up to $150 per barrel. Read more here.
Composting toilets, pit privies, and other off-grid toilets are legal in New Mexico. Permits are required and there are some regulations that might make it illegal on your property to use one of these off-grid toilets. See the permit application, which lists requirements, here.
See detailed New Mexico Off Grid Laws
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Is It Legal To Collect Rainwater
Collecting rainwater is actively encouraged throughout Texas. House Bill 3391 outlines provisions to support property owners, builders, or developers to include rainwater collection systems in new homes. The rainwater collected must be filtered and meet safety standards, but it can be the only supply of water. Some property tax exemptions are on offer for such properties, and rainwater harvesting supplies are exempt from state sales tax when you fill in this form.
Because every property is subject to laws, restrictions, and guidelines from numerous organizations, Texas property code 202.007 stops homeowners associations from having the power to prevent rainwater collection systems. However, if you use rain as your primary water source, it must be stored, filtered, and piped into your home to provide hot and cold running water.
Houston building codes specifically require pipes to supply potable water at adequate pressure a device to supply hot water at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit sources of cold and hot water for each bathtub, shower, and lavatory In each kitchen, provide and maintain connections to sources of cold and hot water for a sink.
Related reading:How to get an off-grid water supply without a well.
Cabins And Tiny Homes
One way to get around all the laws about off-grid homes is to build a cabin or tiny home. Generally, most counties allow buildings below a certain square footage to be built without any permits, regulations, or inspections. You could then easily set up solar, rainwater catchment, and a compost toilet and truly live off-grid.
However, in almost all places, cabins used as a primary residence will be subject to local regulations.
In theory, you could live full-time in your cabin without the local government knowing, thus freeing you from meeting local regulations. If the area is remote enough, its unlikely anyone will ever come out to complain about you living there. For legal reasons though, Im absolutely not recommending you do this! Abide by local laws or face the consequences.
Rules Prevent Solar Panels In Many States With Abundant Sunlight
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Few places in the country are so warm and bright as Mary Wilkersons property on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., a city once noted in the Guinness Book of World Records for a 768-day stretch of sunny days.
But while Florida advertises itself as the Sunshine State, power company executives and regulators have worked successfully to keep most Floridians from using that sunshine to generate their own power.
Wilkerson discovered the paradox when she set out to harness sunlight into electricity for the vintage cottages she rents out at Indian Rocks Beach. She would have had an easier time installing solar panels, she found, if she had put the homes on a flatbed and transported them to chilly Massachusetts.
My husband and I are looking at each other and saying, This is absurd, said Wilkerson, whose property is so sunny that a European guest under doctors orders to treat sunlight deprivation returns every year. The guest, who has solar panels on his home in Germany, is bewildered by their scarcity in a place with such abundant light.
Florida is one of several states, mostly in the Southeast, that combine copious sunshine with extensive rules designed to block its use by homeowners to generate power.
States like Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York not known for clear, blue skies have outpaced their counterparts to the south in the installation of rooftop solar panels.
West Virginia Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electric is legal in West Virginia. Many rural areas do not have building codes and do not require you to be connected to the electric grid.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in West Virginia. You can see the States recommendations here.
NSF-approved composting toilets are legal in West Virginia, but only when used in conjunction with an approved gray water treatment system, such as a septic tank. You can find the laws about off-grid toilets here.
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Illinois Off Grid Laws
Not only is it legal to use off-grid solar in many places in Illinois, but the state also has a very progressive microgrid policy. The policy allows individuals or groups to be considered their own utility providers and run an alternative energy system.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Illinois and is even encouraged by the state.
Composting toilets are legal in Illinois so long as they are NSF approved. The contents must be disposed of by either discharging into the municipal sewage system, sludge lagoons or sludge drying beds, incinerator devices, or disposed of at sanitary landfills.
How Do I Make Sure My Solar Panel Additions Are Properly Licensed
The best way to make sure your solar panel addition will not violate any codes is to have a professional solar panel installer come in, assess your building and your project, determine the permissions you will need and help you obtain them. One of the reasons people resist this idea is because they think it will be cheaper to install solar panels themselves. This is usually wrong for several reasons.
The first, as you can see, is that without the necessary experience, you might not get all the permissions you need, and this can be far costlier than having professionals do the job. But even beyond this, there are a number of expensive pitfalls you can encounter while attempting to install your own solar panels, including failure to install the panels correctly which might necessitate professional intervention even after you spend a lot of time and money on the job or damaging your roof, requiring an expensive roof repair that will probably not be covered by your homeowners insurance.
On top of all of this, attempting to install solar panels yourself can present a safety issue. You can fall off or through your roof while attempting to install, panels can fall and hurt someone below or you may be hurt by electrical wiring.
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Florida Off Grid Laws
Despite the bad press, Florida got in regards to the Ms. Speronis case , it is legal to live off-grid in Florida.
Heres what happened in the Speronis case: A woman living mostly off-grid had her home condemned and was evicted. I say mostly because she was still using the citys sewage disposal system. Speronis took her case to court and the judge ruled it wasnt illegal to use off-grid solar and water. However, she was still using the local sewage system without paying for the costs. Since the jurisdiction had interconnected water and sewage, she wouldnt be able to fully disconnect from the water utility unless she installed a septic tank or other approved sewage disposal method.
Off-grid solar is legal in Florida. You can have a completely off-grid solar system. If you choose a grid-tied system, you are required to have safety features if you want to use the system during a power outage. There is net metering in Florida for grid-tied solar systems.
Rainwater harvesting is legal and encouraged in Florida. Many municipalities even offer incentives and rebates for rainwater harvesting. Note that, as in the Speronis case, many municipalities have interconnected water and sewage. If you want to stop paying for the water utilities you must install your own septic tank or other waste disposal system.
Consider The Condition Of Your Roof First
If you have a roof that is over 20 years old, you are going to want to have it inspected by a professional before attempting to install solar panels on it. There could be any number of structural issues that could lead to leaking, sagging and ultimately collapse which would likely destroy your panels in the process an expensive problem to repair.
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Washington Off Grid Laws
Off-grid electric is legal in Washington State. There are many off-grid communities already established in the state.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Washington State and some counties may offer incentives for installing rainwater capture systems.
Composting toilets and pit privies are legal in Washington State. However, the law states, Connection with sewer.No privy, cesspool, septic tank or similar receptacle for human excrement shall be constructed, maintained or used on premises where a sewer is at all accessible which is part of a sewerage system from which sewage is lawfully discharged into the waters of the state.
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. Its now time to install the panels!
The actual specifics of the installation will depend on what system type and equipment youve decided upon.
The process Im describing below is for a grid-tied system that uses microinverters for the direct current to alternating current 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 youre 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.
The method Ive described here is for a system using roof mounts. If your roof isnt suitable for an installation, you may want to consider ground mounts instead.
Task 2: Connect the microinverters
On to the microinverters. These are little boxes that will modulate the output of each panel. Youll 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.
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Massachusetts Off Grid Laws
It is unclear whether residential homes can legally disconnect from the electric grid in Massachusetts. Regardless of the law, there are many people living with off-grid solar in Massachusetts. There are also loopholes and permits for camping on your own land.
Rainwater harvesting is legal in Massachusetts and even encouraged by the state. Some counties may require you to be hooked up to the municipal water though.
Composting toilets are legal in Massachusetts, though there are many regulations. The composted waste must be disposed of by burial or by a licensed seepage hauler. Any liquid byproducts must be discharged into a septic tank and leaching system or removed by a licensed septic hauler.