For those just getting started, you might wonder is it really legal to generate your own power. Surely the government and big corporations have figured out a way to lock you in to a power bill.
Is Off Grid Solar Legal? Legal opinions agree that solar power generation is legal in the United States, and may even be a constitutionally protected right. However, local and state government has the right to restrict how your solar system is designed and installed, and some are moving toward charging customers who generate their own energy.
Currently, installing solar panels is broadly legal, and in some states even even required. However, there are several serious considerations when staying within the law.
The Easiest Way to Stay Legal with Off Grid Solar
Being off grid is one of the best ways that you can keep yourself protected from potential problems with the government while generating your own electricity. But there is one trick that you need to know.
Those people who stay connected to the grid are opening themselves up to significantly more trouble than off grid systems. This primarily comes in two forms:
- State level regulations (see the National Electric Code)
- Minimum Usage Charges
Electric Code with Off Grid Solar
While the NEC applies broadly to electrical installations (except those in moving vehicles like RVs and some tiny homes), the restrictions around low voltage DC systems are much less severe. For those so inclined, it would be fairly easy to build up a “temporary” modular off grid power system, which is basically invisible to the regulations. After all, they can’t fault you for running USB cables and extension cords, can they?
Minimum Usage Charges for Grid-Connected Solar
Additionally, power companies and special interests are beginning to fight back. There is motion in (some states to charge high minimum usage charges)[https://blogs.berkeley.edu/2015/12/04/you-have-the-right-to-generate-your-own-electricity/] for anyone grid connected. This means you pay for high power usage, even if you generate all or most of your own power.
But, so far there is no legal basis to charge off grid customers anything, although look out for mandatory hook-ups for areas with publicly owned utilities.
The Secret to Legal Off Grid Solar
Here is the secret to being legally off grid:
- Stick with a low volage DC system as much as possible
- Use “temporary” wiring which doesn’t constitute a permanent installation
- Do not connect your home or any part of your property to grid power
An easy way to do this is to make sure your home is portable, such as an RV or tiny home. But, semi-permanent off grid solar installations are certainly possible.
Interested in going off grid? I wrote a off grid solar complete solar guide to help beginners get started today:
What Laws Govern Off Grid Solar
Since I started going off grid, I’ve been keeping my eye out and doing a lot of research for things that can restrict our access to free energy from the Sun. While I am not a lawyer, these are the laws that I’ve encountered that you might want to consider
The National Electric Code
The NEC has significant specifications for (photovoltaic systems (PV))[https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/ISEP2018/national-electrical-code-nec-solar-provisions], which is the technical term for solar panels. All 50 states have adopted this code in some from.
If you decide to go with a professional solar installer, they should be following the regulations in this code. But, if you are a DIY installer, you will want a good reference to make sure that you follow these regulations if they apply to you.
Covenants and HOAs
Increasingly, relatively rural plots of land are being sold with covenants or bylaws being written in to the dead.
These agreements, which you sign on to when you buy the land, are designed to protect the area from property devaluing activity such as junk cars and livestock. However, the wording of these contracts varies quite widely, and some may have considerations that limit the number of solar panels or the overall size of your solar installation.
Municipal Nuisance Laws
Every city is allowed to pass ordinances that limit what residents are able to do with their land. While I haven’t seen a city code that outright prohibits solar panels, they sometimes get it in through a back door: city beautification ordinances.
Many cities have vaguely worded laws that specify that nothing may be installed on a roof or in a yard that is “unsightly” or “distasteful” to your neighbors. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is very possible for these laws to be used against you if you live in city limits.
Is it Legal to Install Solar Panels on an RV
Solar RV installations are both legal and quite popular.
While I have not seen a law that outright address solar panels installation on a vehicle, general road safety laws still apply. For any solar installation, be certain that your panels are well secured, so as not to fall off and cause a road hazard. Also, be certain that any exposed solar panels won’t accidentally reflect the sun in to the eyes of other drivers.
What is the easiest way to go off grid solar with your RV? There is currently only one kit that I recommend for anyone wanting the simple way to electrify their RV or tiny home… Read more
Is My Off Grid House Required to Have Power?
Whether or not your home is required to have some form of power varies from state to state. If the Amish are any indication, there are clearly areas of the country where having no power, or limited power access is legal.
From my reading of state and county building codes in my area, it seems like this question isn’t clearly addressed in the laws for people who own their own home.
While pretty much every state has some form of renter’s rights legislation that requires land owners to provide essential utilities, including power, if you own your own home, this isn’t usually specified. The assumption being that everyone will want power in their home. So the laws focus on where outlets and switches should be placed, as well as safe ways to run wiring, etc.
The consensus among off gridders that I know, is that generally if you don’t complain then they won’t come and find you.
How To Get Started Going Off Grid
Off grid solar doesn’t have to be a big headache. Even someone with no experience can design and construct their own off grid solar system at minimal cost, so long as they have a little guidance.
On this website, I have published 10,000s of words of articles describing exactly how you can go off grid and get started with off grid solar.
The best place to start if you are serious is the comprehensive article:
Also, check out the off grid energy index, which holds all off grid power related articles on the site: