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Community and Q&A

Installing a Whole-House Off-Grid Solar Power System

K Wx | Posted in Building Code Questions on

I would like to install a whole house off grid solar system in Clark County Nevada, sandy-valley. I was told by the building department that I need to get an OK from the power company that controls the jurisdiction with my Homies. That makes no sense, but I did  jumping through the hoops To determine viability.
The bottom line is this: it would make more financial sense for me to spend seven8 to $10,000 down For a whole House  solar system rather than pay them $10,000 for the privilege of  Paying them forever!!!!!!!!
according to my research senate bill 405 states that the citizens in this state have the right to generate and store their own Alternative energy

does anyone have any insight ?
is that bill total bullshit?

the CFO OF THE Energy company that the property is on the juridiction of, was nice so far.  But has not yet produced the letter granting me the ability to have an off grid solar system.

i had a dream that I lived in a country that actually believed in true Freedom, liberty, and choice.

The monopolist in question had me fill out an application it was actually a binding contract even though I voiced my reluctance to do so because you look like a contract
it very shady.

energy cooperative?

any insight would be greatly appreciated

k

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Replies

  1. John Clark | | #1

    Are your truly going to be off grid with no access to power, water/sewer? AB405 is written assuming that you're still physically connected to the grid. Utilities are one of the most highly regulated entities in the US. If Nevada Power could set rates at whatever they wanted, and were not required by law to buy your excess output then they probably wouldn't care what you did. In any case you still have the freedom to do what you want. Just not the freedom to do it free of charge. *wink*

    btw..you'll have a helluva a time selling a house which doesn't have street access to the grid. IJS.

    http://puc.nv.gov/Renewable_Energy/Renewable_Energy_Bill_of_Rights/

    1. K Wx | | #12

      I'm not selling the house. When I say off grid, I mean not connected to power company, that was the focus of this discussion: Electricity to a residence. Although, I'm also going to have a septic for waste and no gas either I just realized.

  2. Expert Member
    Akos | | #2

    There are two significantly different issues here.

    If you are going truly off grid and no connection to the utility then you can do pretty much anything as long as it passes electrical inspection. The utility has no say in it since you are not connected.

    If you want to generate and store solar on site while still connected to the grid, that is completely different. In that case you do need utility approval, depending on your juristiction and stored energy size, it can get very complicated.

    P.S. You'll be spending many times more than $10k for a truly off grid year around power. If utility connection is available, your best bet is to use it and add enough solar without storage to offset most of your use.

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #7

      There is quite a bit of speculation as to whether g0ing off-grid in areas of Canada where electrical service is available is legal anywhere.

      BC's Code says: "Where electrical services are available, electrical facilities shall be provided for every building in conformance with this Section."

  3. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #3

    >"The utility has no say in it since you are not connected."

    That is unfortunately not entirely correct. There are some jurisdictions where there are regulations regarding off-grid properties that have utilities available -- basically homes that COULD have utility connections but CHOOSE not to. The US Virgin Islands are an example of such a place. The issue is that if enough people were to go off grid, the cost structure of the utility changes and results in higher rates being needed for everyone who IS connected. In a relatively small location like the USVI, this can be a big issue. It's the regulators (govt) requiring this sort of thing though, the utility itself doesn't really have any power to make you do anything.

    If you have utility power available, DO NOT go off grid. You are just making your life more difficult if you do. There are some posts on here from one of GBA's past editors, Martin, who IS off grid and also says DON'T go off grid if you don't HAVE to.

    Off-grid installations are not the "free power forever" that some claim them to be. Off grid living is different than on-grid, since you have to ration your power (unless you really build a massive system). This means more care as to what you do and when you do it, and extreme care if you go through an extended cloudy period with lower than normal solar output. You also have maintenance issues with the system, especially the batteries, and those are hazardous disposal items when it comes time to replace them. Many systems also require battery maintenance (watering, etc.). It's not a "build it once and forget it" type of system.

    I would go with a grid tied solar system and I wouldn't worry about net metering if this was my personal installation. See if you can get a "time of day" electric rate that charges you more during peak times (usually around mid-day, mine is 11am-7pm weekdays), and a discounted rated the rest of the time. This way your peak solar output occurs at the same time as the higher electric rates, so you maximize your dollar savings with your solar output by offsetting your normal household electrical load. This is the best bang for the buck type of system. With a setup like this, the goal is to size the system to offset as much of your typical daytime electrical load as possible (on average), without going overboard and trying to offset your energy use during night time periods the way you would if you were trying for a net-zero system.

    Bill

    1. K Wx | | #13

      yes, must get a massive system-- massive battery actually, and a generator. The entire point of my delimma has always been that spending 8-10,000 for the Privelige of paying someone is bs and ticked me off. So, instead , take that money and put it down on a massive system, and don't get screwed as rates go up and up and up, have self reliant independent power, especially in the rural situation I'm moving to.
      I'm not claiming there are no cons, all options have pros and cons.

      I believe that most people cheap out and don't get proper systems and/or don't work on reducing energy consumption.
      OR I'm wrong and solar equipment is shoddy and all breaks down.

      I'd rather pay a small amount and just get grid power rather than be hassled with solar and more debt when I'm already trying to achieve a miracle by building an efficient house on a low budget.

      I have now been told I can choose grid or off grid, I just have to let them know when I submit plans and show the system meets code.

  4. DCContrarian | | #4

    The reality is your local government is a co-owner of your property, they get paid a percentage of its value every year in property taxes. They have an interest in safety, but they also have an interest in preventing people from building houses that are impractical, won't last or will be impossible to sell. Which is why they will require that they be built to a minimum standard.

    1. K Wx | | #9

      I agree. No one really owns land. We merely lease it.
      Don’t agree?
      Stop paying your lease charges ( taxes).

      Let me know how that works out for you.

  5. K Wx | | #5

    first of all, thank you so much for your replies, I sincerely appreciate you taking time to voice your thoughts.
    Im still reading all of them, but I have to say this from what Ive read: I think it's incorrect to think that you can do "whatever you want" if you are not connected to the grid. And let me clarify: I'm talking about not being connected to the local power company. I don't give a damnm about some philosophical stance. I don't care about environmental issues, or 'being right' in any way. My whole argument is that it's dumb to pay 10.000 dollars for the privilege of paying forever . I should be able to get say a 30k-40k+ whole house with back up and batteries with 10k down. HaVE IT paid off in under 7 years, and then simply replace parts going forward and NEVER have an electric bill . The facts have changed, and solar is becoming inexpensive enough for this to become a real viable choice. I should happen this way. Yes, many parts are still expensive, however it is close enough if you build houses as if we had some measure of intelligence. With high R values, Passive house level air tightness and some attention to details, THEN, it makes sense, even if batteries and components are still somewhat costly.

    Now, the Government: they rule, and denying this is straight foolish. They have the military might to shut any builder or homeowner down dead in their tracts. I hate this with every fiber of my being , but this is reality. Which is why I contacted my local county authority and asked how I could do it legally and without incident.
    i have no desire to debate this part of it. I'm simply operating as though that is the case because i simply don't have time or money to risk gambling that it isn't .

    they told me to get written ok from local power (not nevada power btw).

    When I tried to do so, I was put in touch with their CFO, who has been nice, but wants to persuade me otherwise. Ok, fair enough, honestly , I would rather go grid now, and switch to solar later as I could do it myself for cheaper. But, if I have to pay such high fees to do so it doesn't make sense. this is simply a cost benefit analysis .

    They have lowered the entry fee , so to speak, but still , not low enough Think.
    depends on if I can get solar system with 7-8k down that will give me enough .
    I simply don't have the time to learn everything to do this all myself.

    I'm already doing the jobs of architect., structural engineer, civil engineer, lighting designer, interior dessigner and home designer.

    I can't be a solar energy elictircal engineer too.

    So, I need to pay more than needed to get the whole house with generator back up online.

    and, I need to get this done last month !
    at least before the Greater Depression fully hits us.

    that is my goal
    that is my delimma.

    I need to decide grid and get ripped off, or off grid and hope I don't have problems.

    K

  6. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #6

    The solar panels themselves will likely last well past 7 years and still have near rated output.
    The inverters might, but probably won't, last that long.
    The batteries won't last that long, unless you pay a LOT for some of the longer life telecom type (lead calcium with fancy plate designs, some have a design life of 20 years).

    A big part of my work is designing power systems for critical facilities, telecom switching sites and datacenters. We often have battery plants of well over $100k. The typical lead-acid batteries are said to have a design life of about 5 years if you treat them right (correct temperature, state of charge, etc.). It's not uncommon to have them fail sooner than that. I tell my customers to expect 3 trouble-free years from this type of battery. There are better batteries with a 7 year design life, with about 5 years of trouble-free life.

    If you want longer lifetime, you're into the EXPENSIVE flooded cells, or some of the better VRLA types with a 15 year design life. There are "bel cells" out there with a 100 year design life, but each cell (2 volts) is several thousand dollars. You very rarely ever see these anywhere. A 48v string of 15 year VRLA cells will probably run you at least around $12k, probably more, especially when you add in racking and cabling. To get that rated life, you need to maintain the correct temperature and state of charge, which means never discharging the cells all the way. This gets you a battery string of about 50kWh, or about 2 days of electric service for a typical home's electric load.

    I don't have any agenda here, just trying to help you understand what you're asking for. Off grid systems involve a lot more than grid tied systems.

    Is that $10,000 a connection charge? You pay that to the utility to have them connect service to your home? That sounds VERY high to me, unless they have to set a pole or two or extend the primary a long way to reach you. In my area, the meter can is free, and you pay your electrician to do most of the work. The utility just makes the final connection. They don't charge much unless you're doing something unusual (like a 1,000 foot run of cable to get from their nearest pole to your house).

    I'd try getting that $10k reduced. Maybe you can dig your own trench, for example. Excavation is expensive. Run a 2" PVC conduit at code depth for the utility to pull cable into. Maybe they'll let you pull your own cable. Lots of possibilities here. Less work for the utility should mean less cost for you. Most utilities aren't trying to make money on connection charges, they want to make money selling you power. This means the charges for construction are usually either pretty minimal, waived, or are done at their cost. In my area, for example, the gas co charges less to install underground gas line than I can get done myself -- and I do utility contract work and get pretty good prices!

    Be friendly with the utility, and see what you can work out. It's usually the service planner for your region of the utility's territory that you need to talk to for this kind of thing. Be careful if you have to do any excavation into a public right of way like along a road, you need special permits for that.

    Bill

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #19

      Bill, my in-laws are off-grid and their current batch of lead-acid batteries are almost 20 years old. They (now just my MIL) are religious about keeping them charged and topped off with distilled water. I know the standard line is that they will only last 3-5 years, but with proper care they can last a LOT longer.

      1. Expert Member
        Zephyr7 | | #20

        3-5 years is for typical sealed cells, the ones that look like car batteries and can't be watered. The REAL flooded cells that can be watered can last MUCH longer if properly maintained. Rated life is usually 15-20 years for VRLA batteries which are something of a hybrid between sealed and flooded cells. If you're OK with slightly degraded Ah capacity, then the batteries can often last decades.

        The problem most people run into is they don't maintain them properly, or at all.

        Bill

        1. Expert Member
          Michael Maines | | #21

          Ah, thanks. These look like old-school car batteries and they top them off monthly, equalize them weekly, never let them get below I think 60% capacity. I don't fully understand the system even after 20 years of trying to learn. They are in an unheated location. With 7kW of PV panels in Maine my MIL lives a fully modern lifestyle and rarely needs to use the generator.

  7. K Wx | | #8

    thank you so much,
    that's exactly what pis$%@ed me off! I agree, it should be practically nothing to hook up! There are 2 poles 5 feet from my property line. even IF they had to install a transformer, that's the cost of infrastructure 1!! i't s a cost of doing business!
    oh, and by the way, they are requiring me to trench and supply the box as well.

    so , that's all a given.

    I know that some people say there are things to deal with in solar, but , a number of other people say that if you set it up correctly, you don't have to mess with it. Some people sound like it's something that has to be maintained weekly., for other, nothing could be further from the truth .
    The fact is, I live in extreme desert, cooling the house is of extreme importance. But, With high r values and extreme air tightness , I think my energy needs will be lower, even though I keep my house much colder than most people.
    I've paid 250-350 per month for years on electricity. but, this is in shit built houses! I see light through my doors to [email protected]!!!!!
    I"m probably going to give up having a clothes dryer, and I have designed this house for this.

    There will be no losses at any of the windows or door opening for the most part. I'm completely sealing them for most of the days and nights.

    If off grid solar is garbage that needs to be constantly maintained and thought about, then, that fact needs to be known and knowledge spread. And that needs to change. I mean, wtf?
    Solar industry, get your shit together if that's actually the case!

    I am not certain of that. I think off grid can be done , and done well.

    but, like the building of a home, it has to be done well.

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #10

      User ...630,

      I can't follow the logic: Why should the utility spread out the costs of things specific to your project? If the grid should pay for your hook up and transformer, why not the poles on private land necessary to connect a remote rural residence - or why stop at the meter? Why don't they supply the main panel, or wire the whole house?

      1. K Wx | | #14

        your comment makes no sense. In most businesses, not monopolies, capital investment is a cost of running the business. So yes, the company that will profit from selling electricity should pay the investing in their infrastructure. Suggesting they pay to wire my house is stupid. They are charging outrageous amounts when the power poles are two feet from my property line because they have no competition .
        and they are making me dig the trench and supply THEIR metering device.

        1. Expert Member
          Zephyr7 | | #16

          We have, in the service industry, the concept of "MRCs" (Monthly Recurring Costs), and "NRCs" (Non-Recurring Charges). It is standard practice to have the NRC cover all, or a portion of, the costs involved in connecting someone to a system. MRCs then cover the cost of the service itself. Usually the NRC isn't a profit center, and often makes no money at all for the service provider.

          It would be very unusual for the utility to require YOU to provide a meter. I've never even seen that -- and I've done projects in multiple countries. EVERY utility I've ever seen provides the meter, and is usually required to by statute. The reason for this is that the utility wants to make sure you didn't tamper with the meter to cheat them, and the regulator wants to be able to require that the utility calibrate the meter so that they don't cheat you. Many utilities require that you provide the meter SOCKET, but those same utilities will often provide the socket for free for your electrician to install.

          If the pole is "two feet" from your house, but it's a rural setting, I'm guessing the utility will have to place a new transformer? That's probably where their biggest cost is. It is pretty common for the utilities to require that your contractor run cable to the nearest pole. The utility then makes the final connection of your wire to their system and plugs the meter into the socket you installed and tests it.

          The MRC cost of the service covers maintenance of the system, fuel costs, all the other stuff that goes into providing and delivering electrical service to your home. The charges to connect your house to their nearest lines are usually covered by the NRC. This is all standard in the industry.

          Bill

        2. Expert Member
          Malcolm Taylor | | #18

          Good luck with the rest of your build. I suspect you are going to bump up against a whole range to things you didn't know about and don't agree with.

    2. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #11

      A typical solar setup doesn't require daily or weekly maintenance, although it would be a good idea to just check every so often for alarm lights and things like that. I tell my commercial customers to do battery PM (preventative maintenance) at least annually, and ideally, quarterly. This is done with a cellcorder that measures internal cell resistance. By keeping track of that, you can predict when individual cells will fail and replace them before they die and compromise the entire string.

      If you're using flooded wet cells, you have to "water" them periodically. This means at worst every few months usually, but it depends on the operating conditions.

      Inverters have near zero maintenance, maybe changing fan filters unless they are alarming on something. Solar panels are also near zero maintenance, just clean them if they get covered in tree goo or anything like that.

      Utilities usually charge developers for buildouts into new subdivisions, and those costs will be rolled into the purchase price of the homes in that development. If a new transformer is needed they may or may not charge you for that. Like I said, be friendly with your service planner -- they usually have a good amount of flexibility with what they can do. Then tend to be overworked and underappreciated, so don't yell at them. They aren't your enemy, they have a job to do. They have to show how the connected customers and didn't get the company hosed doing so.

      If everything was "free", you'd be paying for it somewhere else. My suggestion is to try to do as much of the work yourself to cut your costs. Utility construction isn't cheap. I had a customer once that was guessing it would cost around $500 per mile to build fiber optic networks out, using existing poles. My usual budgetary number for that is $35,000 per mile. I budget underground work at $100,000 per mile where there is greenbelt (grassy sides of the roads). In a city where everything is dense and paved, I've seen $250,000+ per mile. Those costs are part of the monthly service charges you pay for the services those systems deliver to you. Nothing is ever free.

      Bill

  8. K Wx | | #15

    I never asked for anything for free, just not obscene high. This is a rural type situation, but the power poles are two feet from my property line. They are happy to collect hundreds per month and want to pass full costs of adding equipment to me. It's bs, and smarter financially to get solar and more and more people need to do this.

    1. James Someone | | #17

      7708630,

      We all hear ya buddy.. But this rant won't change anything of importance..

      Go with grid power and use the least amount of electricity monthly as possible. My fairly efficient home costs only $75 monthly in utilities. I would never invest in solar when a new refrigerator and heat pump would reduce my billing further, at a small fraction of the cost of solar and will offset future rate increases when needing replacement.

  9. Walter Ahlgrim | | #22

    My guess is the building department misunderstood that you wanted to be off grid home. If they insist that you need OK from the power Co you should insist that they provide you with a copy of the ordnance they are enforcing. My guess is the building department thinks you want to do a net metering grid tied solar system that would require the Companies approval.

    I think if you have the option to be on grid at anywhere close to the same cost you would be a fool to reject the grid.

    Solar has made great strides but off grid is not is not ready for prime time yet.
    Feel free to show us your numbers
    Power budget in watts per day?
    Solar production in watts on the shortest day of the year given your location?
    Battery storage capacity in watts?
    Fuel powered backup generator capacity in watts?
    System cost? Install labor cost?

    Walta

    1. Expert Member
      Malcolm Taylor | | #23

      Walta,

      Our provincial building code has a provision that any building located where power is available is required to connected to it. There is some speculation that it prohibits going off-grid unless you are unable to be hooked up. I've never looked into whether it is being interpreted that way or not.

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