Q+A: What's Needed for an Off-Grid Solar System in NZ?

Q+A: What's Needed for an Off-Grid Solar System in NZ?

Can I install off grid solar myself?

You can 100 percent do your own off-grid solar system. The law in New Zealand states that anything under 120V DC is considered Extra Low Voltage and does not require an electrician - you can do it yourself. For going off-grid, NZ this covers all the connections between the components in our kits, from the solar panels, to the batteries, inverter and charge controller. The part where it gets finicky, and you legally need an electrician, is if you have a hybrid inverter/charger or intend to wire a standard inverter into your household switchboard. This wiring deals with 240V AC, which is considered prescribed electrical work, and cannot legally be done DIY.

What Do You Need in an Off-Grid Set-Up

Everyone knows you need solar panels if you’re going off-grid, NZ—that’s a given. Part of what people don’t know about an off-grid solar system, especially when they’re used to residential systems, is how the solar power becomes usable power. Off-grid systems are different because they have batteries to store power from the solar panels, without feeding anything back to the grid - it's a completely closed system. A charge controller takes the fluctuating power coming in from the panels and uses it to charge the batteries safely, then the inverter takes the power from the batteries and makes it the right voltage and current to power household appliances (240V). Some people choose not to use the inverter for everything, because they run things like lights or toilet fans on the same voltage as the batteries (such as 12/24/48V), but generally people do use the inverter for a simple closed system. Our kits include all four of these components, plus all the cables, breakers and other bits you need to get up an running. In our systems, you can also upgrade to a hybrid inverter/charger, which simply combines the charge controller and inverter into one unit while also easily allowing input from the generator.

DIY Fully or DIY Partially: Your Pick for Power Off-Grid, NZ

Some people are uncomfortable with doing any electrical work and choose to get an electrician anyway, but you can still DIY a little bit. You can mount the hardware to your wall and install all the physical components in their places without running the cables - it's the same as putting up a picture frame on the walls. So when it comes to our off-grid solar system kits, you can DIY fully or DIY partially and hand it off. But it’s totally something you can do yourself if you want. And if you don't want to do anything, we have a number of electricians around the country who are comfortable installing full kits.

Is the Off-Grid Solar System Set-up Different for Staying in One Place or Moving Around?

There’s not a huge amount of difference in the kind of off-grid solar system kit you need if you're moving or plan on staying in one place. If you mount your solar panels on the ground, obviously they have to be picked up if you move around, but if everything is contained in the one building with panels on the roof then it's no different to towing around a caravan with solar. The only consideration is if you want to have input from the mains, and that’s only available in one spot on the property, you might not be as mobile as you want to be. If you choose to earth your system, you will need to disconnect from the earth prior to moving. Otherwise if nothing is installed on the ground, you'll be free to go where you please. Some people in caravans simply lay panels flat on the ground, then they pick them up when they’re ready to move on!

Keep an Eye on the Weather
If you've ever lived in Auckland, you already think about the weather enough, so it’s not going to be anything new if you’re going off-grid, NZ. You don’t need to be too concerned about exactly how sunny it’s going to be at any given moment but you want to know when long stretches of bad weather are coming. Several days of overcast weather mean you will likely need to reduce your power usage; and you need to be aware that your batteries aren’t going to charge up enough for normal usage over those few days. You may want to be prepared with an alternate power source for surprise weather, or you could end up living with a candlelit dinner for a night or two. In addition to a lack of sun, you want to be aware of extreme weather, such as hail and hurricanes. Make sure your panels are adequately secured to your roof if you're expecting windy weather. For hail, you may want to cover with a blanket—the panels are very tough but a giant chunk of hail might crack them.

Find and Install the Power You Need

So, whether you intend to fully DIY or partially DIY your off-grid solar power set-up, both are options with GridFree. Find the right GridFree DIY solar panel set-up that fits your lifestyle. Have more questions about your particular scenario? Contact our friendly team with your specifics and we will empower you with what you need to go off-the-grid.