Is it time to go off-grid?
15 May 2019
Once considered a radical way to live, many Australians are now viewing an off-grid lifestyle as both economically and environmentally savvy. We delve into some of the pros and cons to help you determine whether it’s a good choice for you.
Just a few years ago, going off-grid wasn’t something many people would seriously consider unless they lived in a remote area or had strong environmental leanings. However, increasing instability in the electricity grid, soaring utility bills and climate change are some of the reasons why more Australians are exploring the idea of an off-grid lifestyle.
What does going ‘off-grid’ mean?
Going off-grid means living self-sufficiently by detaching from public or private utility companies. While solar is generally the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the words ‘off-grid’, going off-grid isn’t just about electricity - it also involves disconnecting from municipal water, sewerage and gas services and adopting a lifestyle underpinned by self-sustainability.
The transition to an off-grid home will often occur when families are either renovating or building a new home, which makes it relatively easy to add things like batteries, rainwater tanks, new plumbing and solar panels, but these things can also be easily retrofitted to an existing home.
How much does it cost?
In terms of costs, to live off the electricity grid you will need a reliable solar battery, a large off-grid solar system and a backup generator. All up, living entirely off the energy grid could initially cost up to $25,000, even after factoring in government rebates and incentives. Water-wise, the best rainwater tank system and fittings depend on your house. Most complete rainwater systems cost around $11,000.
Sewage can sometimes prove the trickiest aspect to transitioning off-grid, with some local councils reluctant to allow people to treat their own sewage. However, with the appropriate permissions, there are options such as composting toilets and worm farms. A complete sewage recycling system could cost up to $11,000.
Government solar incentivesThe Federal Government’s Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme encourages households and businesses to install small rooftop solar systems. The scheme awards people by allocating ‘Small-scale Technology Certificates’ which is like a discount voucher for your system. The number, and therefore the value of the certificates awarded to you depends on factors such as the size of your solar system and your location. By 2030 this scheme is likely to be completely phased out.
There are also differing state incentives such as rebates and interest-free loans. To find the programs available, refer to the Government energy website.
What are the pros and cons of going off-grid?
Despite the costs listed above, taking your home off the grid has never been more affordable than it is today. Solar power is a cost-effective way for homes to generate their own electricity in the long term. And, with battery costs coming down, the length of time from purchase to ‘payback’ is getting shorter and shorter.
What is the payback time?
Payback occurs when you have covered the cost of setting up an off-grid system via savings incurred from no longer having to pay utility bills.
It’s important to remember that calculating the payback time for your solar and battery system depends on a number of factors, such as average sunshine hours in your location, individual consumption patterns, the future price of electricity (whether it will go up or down) and the size and cost of your system.
As a rough estimate, a 5 kilowatts solar system with a medium-sized battery will take the following number of years to pay back1:
From an environmental perspective, going off-grid halts your reliance on fossil fuels and creates a self-sustaining system of energy, water and waste management, which will heavily reduce your environmental footprint.
That being said, there are a number of things to be aware of before turning your back on the grid entirely. These include:
- Roof limitations: make sure your roof has plenty of space to fit enough solar panels to go off-grid.
- Maintenance costs: you will need to maintain and replace your systems as needed. For instance, solar batteries need to be replaced every six to 12 years, depending on usage.
- Property value: not everyone is interested in off the grid systems and may see them as a deterrent to buying your home rather than an attraction, potentially pushing your house price down rather than up.
Going off-grid is a considerable investment and it may not be the right option for you and your family. There are a host of other changes you can implement to help reduce your impact and live a more environmentally-friendly life such as reducing the amount of meat you eat, not using disposable items such as plastic cutlery and reducing your electricity consumption.
If you’re considering an off-grid lifestyle, contact us and we can help assess how it could affect your financial plan.