How do you get power when you’re off the grid? Off-grid power explained in minutes

Warren Oberholser
Warren Oberholser
Published on January 13, 2021

Hi, I’m Warren Oberholser. I’m a realtor in the East Bay Tri-Valley area in Northern California. My goal is to help both buyers and sellers get maximum results for one of their biggest investments, their home.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Warren aren’t most of the homes in the Tri-Valley area on the grid, and they have power from the utility companies?” And in this area it’s provided by PG&E. The answer is, not necessarily. You see, some of the residents in the outer city areas, like in Pleasanton, Livermore, and Danville, may not get power from their local utility companies.

Now, this can be for a few reasons. One, their home may be located in a rural area where the utility company does not provide power. Two, it may be cost prohibited to have the utility company run power to their location. And three, some homeowners would rather handle the power themselves and not beholden to a utility company. This is becoming more popular since California started having its rolling blackout periods during the fire season.

Let’s see what’s entailed and the cost when it comes to generating your own power. I’m going to interview Eric who lives in a house off the grid with his wife, Courtney.

Eric, Courtney, Fitz and Stella

They live on a five-acre parcel in Los Gatos in the unincorporated area in Santa Cruz County. Now, Santa Cruz County is an area, I have brokered several real estate deals for both buyers and sellers, particularly vacant land parcels. In fact, I was the realtor who represented Eric and Courtney when they purchased their property.

Eric and Courtney’s house under construction

After purchasing their home, they remodeled everything, so it would be energy efficient for living off the grid. Their home is approximately 2,200 square feet and has all the creature comforts you would expect in a modern home, including a full kitchen.

Finished modern kitchen
Remodel- Front entrance
Remodel- side

They generate power from two different sources, solar cells, and a gas generator. Eric will explain the infrastructure for his power system, how to maintain and operate it. And, most important, what were the costs to have it installed?

Now, it’s important to point out, Eric and Courtney nor myself are electricians. So, for any questions you have, please consult with a licensed electrician, especially somebody who specializes in off the grid power systems. Let’s start with the solar panels.


Eric: We have 12 panels that are all interconnected into three circuits, four panels each.

Solar panels

So, each panel produces: 330 watts, together all 12 makes about 4,000 watts.

On a typical summer day, we get about 250 amp-hours, which is basically 1 amp used for 250 hours, this is enough power to run everything in our house for the whole day.

In the winter, we have to supplement our power with the generator. This is a standard off-grid setup for a typical house.

Our solar installer, Land and Sea Solar, recommends this type of set for most households like ours.

For maintenance, we have to clean these every month or so. To clean them, we have an extendable pole with a mop head attachment. With soapy water, I scrub them and then wash them off with pure water. It takes about 15 minutes by myself, or five minutes if someone helps.

The reason we choose this spot is it has good southern exposure. Being surrounded by 300-foot redwood trees makes it difficult to have full sun all day. Fortunately, in this located the panels get sun from about 9:30 AM until 5:30 from spring to fall.

Here we are underneath the solar panel. Installing this, we’ve just cemented these poles into the ground and built the structure up. It took about a day. The whole frame kit was about $1,000. We got our solar set up about two years ago and we haven’t had any problems.

For life expectancy: The inverter should last about 10 years. The batteries should last 15 years if taken care of properly. The panels are supposed to have a 30-year life span. Although, in 10 years there’ll probably be some new technology we’ll want to replace them with because solar is always getting better and cheaper.

The solar panels are made by CanadianSolar. They are 330 watts. Cost is $250 each (approximate), We feel this is a pretty good price considering most homeowner’s monthly PG&E bill is about that ($250 per month). So, the price of one year of PG&E, equals what we paid for the panels. This should provide power for us for 20 years.

The panel wires joined together in this electrical panel box and exit as one big cable that runs throw a pipe traveling underground about 120 feet to our garage. This is where the inverters and batteries are.

Eric’s interview continues in the garage:

Power converters and main panel

The power comes from the solar panels, runs underground, comes out from this wall, and connects to the Midnite Solar inverter. Then, it goes into this main breaker, which is also a Midnite Solar Inc, which has a 250 amp breaker. This sends the power to the batteries where it is stored. When we want to use it, power comes out of the batteries back to this breaker, and then to this MagnaSine Magnum Energy inverter. This was about $2,000


From the control center that we can control the rate of charge from the generator. We can control at what point this will shut off our whole power. If the batteries get low, we can set the low cutoff point. We can set it to automatically turn the generator on when it gets low. And we can monitor our usage, and tell how much charge is left in our batteries.

This is our main circuit breaker for our house. This is not involved in the solar directly.

We have 16 batteries, all connected together in series. They are made by Interstate Battery. They are high capacity L-16 deep cycle batteries, which are lead-acid.

Battery Maintenace: We have to add water (to keep them cool) approximately every three to four weeks when they are completely charged. If maintained correctly, the batteries should last 10 to 15 years. These batteries have the capacity to produce 840 amp hours of power at 50 to 60 volts. On a typical house that’s tied to PG&E, typically, the power operates at 120 volts. Sometimes 240 for washer/dryer set up.

Since we’re off-grid, we operate at 60 volts, which means everything uses twice as many amps (amps are watts divided by volts). When you use 60 volts, everything uses twice as many amps. So, 840 amp hours is more than we need on most days. The only time we really run the generator is when we run the well for an extended period of time. The well uses 45 amps. So, if we run it for 10 hours that’s 450 amp hours, which is well over twice our batteries’ capacity.

For efficacy, we run the generator when the well is on. The generator will not only power our well, but it’ll also top off our batteries at the same time. It charges the batteries at 50 to 64 amps (depending on what it is set to). In 5 hours, we can fill up half our water tank while charging our batteries to 100%. The generator uses about 4 gallons of gas ($10) produce approximately 2,000 gallons of water, and enough electricity to last us for two days.

The entire cost: Approximately $15,000 for the panels, batteries, inverters, all the wiring, and the labor.

The last area we’re going to look at is Eric’s generator.


This is a Champion generator from Costco (Lowes). It cost approximately $700. We use the generator in the winter, or when we need to run the well. It is 9,000 watts when you use gasoline and 6 to 8,000 when used with propane. We use gasoline to run it. It’s just like any gas powered tool.

Generator maintenance: You need to change the oil.

It starts up just like a power tool. It looks kind of confusing, but it’s really simple. These are the breakers.

Another generator option is the Yamaha EF4500iSE

Yamaha EF4500iSE Generator


Warren Oberholser:

To recap on a couple important points from Eric’s interview, the company that Eric hired was Land and Sea Solar. Apparently, this was one of the few companies that will set up a solar system that is off the grid. Eric said the cost for the entire system, including parts and labor to set up, was about $15,000 (excluding the generator).

I’d like to thank Eric for being so generous to give us a tour of his off the grid power system. Again, please reach out to a licensed electrician for any specific questions you may have on this.


Now, here’s my Off the Grid bonus. If you like my top picks for properties in the rural areas in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Cruz County, then email me so you can have immediate access to them. [email protected]

Make sure you stated which county or counties you are interested and include any specific details you are looking for such as acres and price. I will then create a custom property search so you have immediate access to these types of properties when they come on the market. 

Now, this is a vacant land search. So, some will have homes on them, some will not. This is how I found the property for Eric and Courtney.

Now, for those of you who want to live on the grid, in other words with power, in the Tri-Valley area, please click on the link down below, so you can have immediate access to those cities:

Warren’s “Top Picks for Dublin Homes under 👉$1,000,000″

Warren’s “Top Picks for Pleasanton Homes under 👉$1,000,000″

Warren’s “Best for San Ramon Homes under 👉 $1,000,000”

Warren’s “Top Picks for Danville Homes under👉 $1,000,000″

Warren’s ‘Top Picks for Livermore Properties’ under 👉 $800,000.

About Warren Oberholser:

Hello…I work with both buyers and sellers in the Tri-Valley area of Northern California. The Tri-Valley is comprised of 6 cities: Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin, San Ramon, Danville, and Alamo. To better understand what each city has to offer, I have created a Pros and Cons video and BLOG for each – (Pros & Cons for Pleasanton, Pros & Cons for Livermore, Pros & Cons for Dublin, Pros & Cons for San Ramon, Pros & Cons for Danville and Pros & Cons for Alamo). If you are thinking about purchasing or selling a home, please reach out to me by text, phone, or email. If it is convenient, I can schedule a Zoom chat so we can discuss your home goals. Wishing you all the best on your home journey. Cheers!

Warren Oberholser

eXp Realty

[email protected]

(925) 980-4603

DRE # 01861944


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