Off the grid solar power, using photovoltaics to harness energy from the sun, is a great way to cut down on energy costs or even get off the grid completely. This "sun power" can be used in two ways:
Photo means light and voltaics means electricity. PV panels convert light energy directly into an electrical current. This current can either be used immediately or stored in a battery for later use.
Thermal heat is using the sun to heat things up such as water or food. If you wan to use thermal heat to cook your food, a solar cooker is a good choice for you.
Use it especially during the summer days to cut down on your electrical costs (no hot stove on, thus less strain on your air conditioner) and save energy (no electricity used to power your stove).
If you'd like to save money on the cost of hot water, there are a couple of options available. If you live in a really sunny location where it rarely freezes, a passive batch water heater might be just the ticket for you.
Otherwise, you will need a more active system using flat plate collectors. An excellent article explains these two systems that heat your water using the sun's rays.
Solar panels - also known as photovoltaic modules - are cells packaged behind a glass sheet to protect them from the environment and connected electrically to produce power.
The more cells you have, the more power they can produce. If you want to go completely off the grid, be warned that you will need a lot of modules (Translate: Lots of dollars).
However, you could start with a modest number of solar panels and increase those panels as your pocketbook allows.
For example, with a little more than $1,000 (2007 American currency value) you could install an 80 watt solar panel system with four deep cycle batteries and a 400 watt inverter.
That's enough power to run a 95 watt flat screen television set, along with house lights for a small cabin, a 12-volt RV style water pump and a portable 7-inch DVD power for 3-4 hours per night.
This solar power can also be used to charge a laptop computer and cell phone.
And for backup power, you can build your own off the grid solar energy generator at a reasonable price to have on hand for emergencies.