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Off the grid and self consumption: what do they mean and what are the differences

What does off the grid mean? Being off the grid means not being physically hooked up to utilities by wires, pipes or cables. Off-grid homes therefore rely completely on their own energy sources, which can often be  renewable energy sources such as the sun and the wind. When a building is off the grid, it means it has no physical connection or relationship with any sort of utility, and all the power it uses comes from an energy source that it generates and stores on its own.


The term self-consumption is different from living totally off the grid, because it involves being physically connected to the grid to draw power when needed. Self consumption means that homes, businesses or public adnimistrations generate their own power, and is an important part of today’s energy transition.


In the case of homes, this typically means solar self consumption through the  installation of solar panels on the roof. One of the advantages of self-consumption over living off the grid is that customers opting for the former can continue to use the electricity grid when the power they generate is not available (because renewable sources are intermittent by their very nature).

What’s the difference between living off the grid and self-consumption?

Self-consumption and living off the grid share certain characteristics, but are different in a very important way. Any building that goes off the grid must be totally self-sufficient for its  energy needs, because all physical connections with utilities such as wires or cables have been severed.  Living off the grid therefore implies a robust and reliable energy generation and storage solution, since flipping a switch in the event of a power shortage is not an option. Homes, offices or facilities that are off the grid therefore generate their own power through solar, wind, wood-burning stoves, or fossil fuel-powered generators. The term self-consumption refers to the capability of homes or businesses to generate their own power from renewable resources and use it to meet part of their own energy consumption.
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Self-consumption is therefore necessary to live off the grid, but families or businesses that choose self consumption  remain connected to the energy grid and can access it whenever they need to. This is clearly a big advantage. 

What is meant by “living off the grid” and how to live off the grid?

Achieving energy self-sufficiency is a key part of how to live off the grid, and involves not being physically connected to a energy utility. People choosing to live off the energy grid and not be dependent on a utility for power must therefore generate their own energy by installing their own solar panels, wind turbines, or an on-site generator if they want to continue to use electricity for heating, cooking, and communication.


Living off the grid in terms of energy self sufficiency is relatively easy today thanks to readily available technology. One of the most common sources of power for those who chose to live off the grid is a solar power system made up of photovoltaic panels to absorb and generate energy from the sun, along with batteries to store that energy for use when the sun is not shining.

How much does it cost to live off the grid?

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In order to get off the electric grid and meet the cost of living off the grid you’ll need to make an upfront investment in an energy system to allow for self-consumption. This investment varies according to the size of the property and the energy needed, and will be recouped over the years by savings on energy costs. Once the initial investment on an energy system and storage is made, the operational costs are minimal. An investment in an energy system can mean, for example, buying a specially designed off-grid solar panels kit with a battery to capture the sun's energy, convert it into electricity, and store extra energy. Once you install the system on your rooftop or balcony, you will no longer be subject to market price fluctuations and you can start saving money on your electricity bills in the long-term.
One way Enel X can help you live off the grid is by installing a domestic photovoltaic system so you can run your home on clean energy. We offer affordable home solutions for solar power and provide installation, maintenance and repair services. Upgrading to solar panels is a cost-effective way to reduce your personal carbon footprint while saving money on utilities. Living off the grid is mostly for homes.  However, there are many successful cases of companies and public buildings that demonstrate how, while not going completely off the grid, it is possible to rely on a significant share of self-generated clean energy. Enel X has partnered with companies in several countries including Atalaya Mining in Spain and Imperial Oil in Canada to help them save on energy bills and achieve their sustainability goals through self-consumption.
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In Italy, for example, Numera, a large data center located in Sardinia, installed a photovoltaic system paired with a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), enabling it to increase its energy autonomy by more than 80% and save 86% on energy costs. Public buildings like schools, universities, hospitals, offices, and sports venues are ideally suited for self-consumption because they can be equipped with solar panels, battery storage, and energy management software to achieve cost-effective economies of scale. Spain’s University of Jaén is self-producing 20% of its own energy needs with two photovoltaic systems built by Enel X and installed on the roofs of campus buildings, reducing carbon emissions by 700 tons each year. Enel X also designs and produces various off-grid devices that can be used in cities as smart urban furniture. One example is the smart bench, which is equipped with photovoltaic panels. These generate enough energy for the bench to recharge phones and tablets through built-in USB sockets. Another example are the Enel X solar light pole and wind light pole. These are street lights powered by photovoltaic panels and by wind energy, respectively.

What are the main advantages of self-consumption and living off the grid?

As described earlier, living off the grid and self-consumption are part of today's energy transition to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. They both share similar advantages, namely lower energy costs after an initial investment.


Here are some of the benefits from achieving  self consumption and living off the grid:

  • They both play a key role in decarbonization, thereby reducing your carbon footprint
  • They both save on energy costs
  • They avoid the risk of energy price spikes
  • The both protect you from blackouts or fluctuations in the energy grid
  • They both create optimal conditions that can lead to the electrification of  energy needs
  • Self consumption may increase the worth  of your home or business because of the value of the technology installed. 

Related questions

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