Vermont's Grid Gets Smart... And Encourages People to Get Off of It

by Anna Gretz
April 2, 2017

Vermont’s Green Mountain Power utility company has a great new way to draw in new customers… by encouraging them to essentially cut ties with the grid itself. Green Mountain Power just launched the “Off-Grid Package,” a financing plan that gets customers to generate their own power independently from the power grid. This is the first time a U.S. power company has advocated for off-grid living, but with more and more people looking for independence from the grid, it may be the smartest move a power company can make.

Tell me more about what it means to go off-grid.

You’ve heard of going “off the grid.” But what does it actually mean? “Going off the grid” means disconnecting entirely from your utility company’s electrical supply. A common misconception is that this can be accomplished simply by buying solar panels. In reality, if you don’t have a home solar battery, solar panels make you more connected and dependent on the grid than ever before.

Going off grid requires more than just solar panels. Going off grid requires a way to store and manage electricity usage so that during the night, or on cloudy days, you still have electricity. In short, going off grid requires a home solar battery.

With a home battery and solar panels, you can generate all of the electricity you need with solar panels, and then store extra electricity in your solar battery for when you want electricity but your solar panels aren’t generating any electricity. A home solar battery is like a power reservoir. Water reservoirs continuously provide water, to overcome the intermittency of natural water flows. Home batteries ensure continuous power in an off-grid home, overcoming the intermittency of natural solar flows.

Getting solar panels is a no-brainer in most States. They save you money, reduce your environmental impact, and require no attention or effort. For any given home, there is an optimal sized solar system. Experts like Swell can analyze your energy usage and roof space, and provide you with a system design optimized to reduce your energy costs. But if you’re looking for energy independence, a battery is going to push you to the next level. Vermont’s Green Mountain Power gets this.

What’s included in Green Mountain Power’s new program?

We just covered how going off-grid includes the need for both an independent energy source, and a way to store it. That’s exactly what Green Mountain Power is offering. The Off-Grid Package includes a combination of efficiency upgrades, solar, batteries, and home energy management to customers who are building, or living in a home that’s pretty far from the grid. In rural Vermont, this is pretty common.

But since getting all that tech at once is a pretty hefty investment to make, Green Mountain Power is offering all of it to customers for a monthly fee with no upfront costs. How much? The fee is expected to fall between $400 - $800, depending on the average monthly energy usage of the household (between 400 and 800 kilowatt hours.)

Sound like a pretty high monthly bill? It may be for some households, but for rural Vermonters, this is a great alternative to installing their own home heating and electrical systems, or paying for the utility to drag it’s lines all the way out to their residence when they’re not already in the network area. Sure, it’s a pretty good deal for the utility company right now, but with the falling prices of both solar panels and lithium ion batteries, it looks like Green Mountain Power is anticipating more and more homeowners looking toward more affordable off-grid options in the coming years… and trying to stay ahead of the curve.

The Growing Grid Defection Trend

That curve is better known as “grid defection,” the movement of customers from grid-connected power, to solar-plus-storage systems. For utility companies in regions with a lot of sun, and higher electricity costs, grid defection could quickly become a legitimate disruption (think Hawaii and California.) In the next decade, predictions point to tens of millions of customers choosing grid independence. When you look at the fragility of the power grid, coupled with the lowering cost of solar and storage technology, this make a lot of sense. In fact, Green Mountain Power expects that a number of other utilities are going to follow their lead in exploring off-grid options for customers, but in the meantime, customers are moving off the grid whether the utilities like it or not.

People are looking independence from the grid, and energy security for their own household. Energy security doesn’t always mean completely breaking free from the grid, but often includes some combination of solar power and energy storage so households can continue to keep their home up and running in the case that the grid goes down. This can be vitally important, especially for home offices, customers with power-dependent medical equipment, or homes that count on for heating and cooling during extreme weather. Not to mention the fact that pretty much everyone hates having their lives interrupted by power outages. With solar-plus-storage… you never have to deal with blackouts again.

If you aren’t one of Vermont’s lucky few being offered off-grid packages, and you’re not ready to invest in complete off-grid detachment quite yet, EnergyShield might be a good option for you. EnergyShield is the world’s first off-grid energy plan where you get to pay per month for energy security. But here’s the kicker… unlike Green Mountain Energy’s package, EnergyShield starts at just $1 a day. With the aging American electrical grid in a tailspin, and fossil fuel costs on the rise, energy independence has never been more important. EnergyShield is a bundled package of premium black panel solar generation and a compact lithium-ion storage cell that provides total security for your home, no matter what happens. If you’re interested in producing, storing, and protecting your power, click here for a FREE EnergyShield quote. One easy add-on to your home energy system could provide the off-grid independence you’re looking for, without a hefty up-front price tag. Also, federal clean energy rebates may be available in your area. At Swell, we make it our business to know all about the free money floating around for energy storage customers, so we’ll fill you in if you qualify.

Even utility companies see the value in distributing energy, and getting homeowners the freedom and security they’re looking for. Now is a good time to look into taking hold of your own power. Swell’s here if you need us.