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Can Solar Get Me Off The Grid?

by | July 3, 2019

So, you want to go off the grid?

Don’t trust ComEd?  Don’t like their rates?  Want to be self-sustainable?  We get it.  Many of our customers feel just the same way.  In this post we’ll break down exactly how – and how not – solar can help you get off the grid and achieve energy independence.

Solar can get you off the grid

Solar panels can absolutely get you off the grid.  But, there’s a trade off.

Here’s how it would work.  Solar panels only produce energy when it’s sunny (obviously).  Thus, they don’t produce any energy at night.  But, presumably, you want to use energy at night.  This means you either (1) need some means of storing energy on-site, or (2) you need to be willing to “net meter” with the grid.

One more issue: If you’re physically off-grid, you’re not eligible for the Illinois solar incentives.  Scroll down for more detail on why not.

Energy storage: Now or later?

Energy storage – in layman’s terms, a battery – is essential to going truly off-grid.  When you overproduce energy, you’ll want to store it on-site to be truly self-sustainable.  A battery does that.

The problem is, batteries are expensive.  While solar panels have dramatically declined in price over the past decade, batteries are still sitting at the top of the cost curve.

Does that mean you can’t go solar today?  No: Our systems are compatible with a number of battery solutions that can be installed after the solar installation.

Net metering: Energy independence but not off the grid

If you want to skip the battery, your best bet – and what most homeowners choose to do – is to “net meter” with the grid.

Net metering allows you to achieve energy rate independence in that the grid (ComEd) credits you on a 1:1 basis for any excess energy your solar system produces.  Thus, in a sense, the grid itself acts like a giant battery for your solar system.

Off the grid means no SREC payments

For many Illinois homeowners, the best economic reason to go solar is the incentives.  If you go solar in Illinois, you get two key incentives:

  1. The federal tax credit (equal to 30% of the price of the system)
  2. The Illinois Shines incentives (an incentive based on how much energy your system produces)

Going off the grid does not affect the federal tax credit.  But, it does affect the Illinois Shines incentive.

How so?  The Illinois Shines incentives is structured as a contract between the homeowner and the utility (for most of our customers, the utility is ComEd).  Through this contract, ComEd agrees to buy from you the SRECs (solar renewable energy credits) your system produces.

Here’s the catch: If your system isn’t connected to the grid, then ComEd can’t buy the SRECs.  Thus, going off the grid means you lose access to one of the main economic benefits of going solar.

What we recommend

You want to reduce your reliance on a giant corporation.  That makes total sense.

We recommend going solar and maintaining your grid connection.  And, if you want a battery, even better.

But, by maintaining your grid connection, you get the benefit of both worlds: energy rate independence from ComEd as well as a back-up connection to the grid and the very substantial Illinois solar incentive.

This post was written by Jesse Feinberg.
Jesse is one of Certasun's founders.

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