Most preppers don’t like the idea of having our fates under the control of someone else because self-reliance is at the core of being a prepper. One of the things we would all love to be free of is the power grid and monthly electric bills. Solar Power is one of the ways in which we can come closer to achieving that goal. However, solar power technology isn’t yet at the point where it is as efficient as conventional means of power production. In other words, while on the grid, we have the luxury of being able to turn on every electronic device in our homes at the same time and there is power to spare. But if you go off the grid and run on solar power only, there is a limited amount of power available and your power usage has to be managed.
In short, there are 4 parts to a basic solar system: solar panels, a charge controller, a battery bank and an inverter to convert the DC power to AC (for most of your home appliances). The way a solar system works is that you don’t actually ever run anything straight off of the solar panels. You actually run everything off of the battery bank via the inverter and the solar panels keep the batteries topped off (if its during the day). At night when there is no sun to produce power, you are strictly running off of the batteries which of course is a set amount of power that you have to budget. Once the batteries are dead, no more power until the next day when they sun hits the solar panels and recharge the batteries.
Solar panels are at maximum power production during the middle of the day. But when the sun is at a low angle in the sky during the early morning or late evening, when there are clouds or rain and of course at night, your solar panels aren’t producing much power if any. Therefore if you were to run your house on solar power alone, you will have to start to make decisions about what devices you can have running and when you can run them. You will likely need to replace most if not all of your appliances (including entertainment items like your TV and computer) with super high efficiency models as well as replacing all of the lights in your home with LED lighting in order to maximize efficiency.
The appliances which consume the most power in the modern home are devices that heat or cool something. Your refrigerator/freezer consumes an enormous amount of energy but not nearly as much as your air conditioner or electric heater. An electric hot water heater and electric clothes dryer consumes the next largest amount. Surprisingly, close behind these devices is your coffee maker. If you were to try and run all of this at once on solar power alone you probably couldn’t unless you had your entire roof covered with solar panels plus some extras in the yard and it was the middle of a bright sunny day. So living on solar power alone requires some adjustment to how you live and when you perform certain tasks. You would have to try and use the most power hungry devices in the middle of the day on the clearest days (washing clothes, etc).
Your battery bank needs to be large enough so that if you had a long period of rain, snow or storms, there would be enough power stored to run the essential appliances for several days without recharging. In fact, the battery portion of a solar system is often the largest cost associated with a solar power system. Even low cost deep cycle solar batteries are around $250 each and you will need a several dozen to run a full home. A very important note about batteries: you don’t want to completely drain your batteries every night because that will shorten their life span to somewhere around 300 charge cycles (less than a year). However if you only deplete your batteries by about 20% each day (leaving them 80% or more charged at all times) they will last many thousands of cycles (up to 8-10 years) and this is why batteries are such a large expense and why you need so many of them.
All this being said, solar power isn’t an all or nothing option. You could set your home up to run on the grid, but if the grid gets shut off you have solar power as an emergency backup running the essential appliances. You could also add a small wind generator or two to supplement the solar panels when it’s dark outside. You should also know that setting up a completely grid free home has an expensive front end cost.
There are many intricacies to explore when thinking about powering your home with solar power that I don’t really have time to cover here (google or youtube the info). But I think I have given you a good overview of what you need to think about. But the best piece of high level info I can give you about going solar is that the smaller your living space (an RV, tiny home or converted shipping container home) the easier it is by far to run with solar power completely off grid. The larger your home is (conventional homes as an example) the expense and technicalities of running completely off grid grow exponentially.
Going off the grid is an extremely liberating thing, but be prepared to deal with the large upfront cost and slight change in lifestyle that it requires.