Off-Grid Solar Panels With Battery Backup

It’s no surprise that off-grid solar is pretty rare in Southwest Florida. Lee, Charlotte, and Collier Counties are densely populated and well-covered by utility services. Off-grid solar is mostly unnecessary on the mainland except in the far reaches of wilderness, which are often protected lands with few structures needing remote power. However, there are a couple of areas where off-grid solar is essential: the barrier islands of Cayo Costa and Keewaydin Island.

Who Does Off-Grid Solar Locally?

There is a serious scarcity of qualified solar contractors in Florida who specialize in off-grid solar energy systems. These islands have been served by a few professionals who started “back in the day” when solar energy was in its infancy, before grid-interactive solar energy systems became popular. During that time, most solar energy systems incorporated batteries because there was little to no benefit from grid interactivity. Solar panels were too expensive and were mostly used when there was no alternative, like for off-grid homes.

An Off-Grid Solar Panels Battery Backup System on Cayo Costa

Fast forward to the 2010s, when solar panels became competitively priced with utility power, and the grid-interactive solar energy industry exploded. A flood of new solar professionals entered the market. Unfortunately, these new entrants didn’t come with much knowledge or experience in the off-grid solar world. In the early 2020s, we experienced a revolution in battery technology, with powerful, energy-dense, smaller, and consumer-friendly lithium-ion batteries becoming cost-effective. These new solar professionals found themselves in the battery backup business as demand increased. However, grid-interactive battery backup systems do not translate well to completely off-grid systems. In fact, many of the new battery options aren’t supported by manufacturers for strictly off-grid systems.

Experience Matters For Off-Grid Solar

Advising customers in the off-grid solar world takes experience, and there is no substitute for it. I have lived completely off-grid, which is how I got into the solar energy industry in the first place. The knowledge I gained by living the life, making all the mistakes, and learning what you can and can’t do successfully with an off-grid solar energy system is now available to my clients through the services I offer. Some would like you to think that it’s just a numbers thing—calculations that tell you how much storage, solar, and power you need. That is not the case. There is an art to designing a successful off-grid system that will satisfy the owner. It takes a good understanding of how the client will use the property, what their demands are, and a tolerance for the inevitable issues that will arise.

Many of the systems installed years ago on Cayo Costa and Keewaydin Island were done by a respected contractor who really knew his stuff. Without these systems, homes out there would be little more than fishing shacks run on generator power when occupied. His contributions to the local solar energy industry will be remembered. He retired years ago and turned over his business to others. Since then, the islands have been serviced by a handful of solar guys who I don’t really know. Most systems are currently in need of repair, upgrades, or outright replacement. Recent hurricanes have also wreaked havoc on the islands.

My Role in Off-Grid Solar

My local focus started in the solar pool heating arena and shifted to grid-interactive solar electricity systems as the boom years emerged. Despite having a background and deep understanding of battery backup and off-grid systems, I didn’t see much demand for them locally, and it was not a lucrative business target. But something has changed recently. This is an exciting time for battery systems, with many new products on the market and prices making larger systems more affordable.

At the same time, there is a building (and rebuilding) boom on Keewaydin Island and Cayo Costa, and the homes being built are no longer little fishing shacks. There are new homeowners arriving who want the creature comforts of the mainland and an uncompromising lifestyle while respecting the serenity of the islands. Nobody wants to hear the whining of a generator, but air conditioning, internet, refrigeration, water services, and lighting have become basic necessities—not to mention boat lifts, electric carts, and other power-hungry appliances.

With today’s technology, we can now deliver on those needs. For that reason, I have decided to jump back into the off-grid world with both feet. I have been installing (and fixing) systems on the islands successfully, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I am delighted to have this opportunity because it gets me back to my solar energy roots. These systems are all different, with no cookie-cutter approaches. The clients are super interesting and engaged in the process. This has rejuvenated my excitement about solar energy, and I can’t wait to help more people on the island fulfill their off-grid solar needs.

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