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In these times we live in, how important is it to be off grid?

 
pollinator
Posts: 195
Location: Golden Valley, AZ 86413
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No one is ever truly 100% off-grid.  The most important grid is the web of community that makes it possible for us to live as a species.

No matter if you are grid-tied, or completely off-grid, you are still dependent on batteries and other technologies, and most importantly, the people that form your community.

A combination of sources of power is a crucial component. Wind, PV solar, all require some storage system., usually in the shape of some form of batteries.

Flooded lead-acid batteries are relatively low-tech, and they could be home-built using recycled batteries. (it's a high-pollution process, but in the case of a longer-term disruption of grid service, people who know how to make new batteries from old will be in high demand.)

In the long run, forming self-supporting communities is going to be crucial: No one can do it all on their own.

It seems to me that the batteries are the weakest link. I propose a gravity-based energy-storage system to supplement the batteries.

Think of the possibility of using excess solar/wind power to raise a weight of water to drive a micro-hydro generator. if yo have two tanks on a see-saw, transferring the water from a high tank to a low tank can drive a water turbine. if more capacity is needed, more tank-pairs can be added to a system that drives a common generator. (Picture a series of tanks using gravity-driven motion to turn a generator's armature). I think that batteries in this system would be used to maintain a regulated DC power supply from a variety of variable RE DC sources. There are probably electronic gadgets that do the same thing.

However, as long as our society continues to function, I think a hybrid grid-tied system might be useful.

What all this points to is the political necessity to support Green New Deal proposals to improve the grid infrastructure, and strengthen local community resilience. The present capitalist-driven systems are obsolete dinosaurs and their collapse is inevitable without a drastic course change.  The biggest challenges are social, not technological.

 
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I live in a rural desert area, about 30 minutes from a small rural town.  I do have electricity.  It is horrendously expensive for electric in Southern California and we tend to have blackouts at the most inopportune times.  I did look at total solar tied into the grid.  If you go mostly solar the electric company here charges you anyway, so big systems to me are counter-productive.  So what I did was put together several stand-alone systems that I could, with my limited electrical knowledge, set up and maintain myself. They were relatively inexpensive and more systems, if I need them, can be purchased as I have the cash.  I have three stand alone solar set ups: for a solar refrigerator, a solar freezer and a solar evaporative cooler.  These give me security that if something does happen; I have the basics.

I then concentrated on having a good solar oven and a tandoori oven, both which I made.  I have a small washing machine that could be run from 12v batteries if needed and a solar panel just for charging 12v batteries. For me, this has worked splendidly.  I did not have the knowledge or desire to take the time to learn how a big solar system works, nor the money to buy one, nor really, the time to maintain it.....but the standalone systems are working fine for me, now 6 years into using them.  Each system has a 240V panel, a controller and two Trojan batteries.  So when the batteries do wear out, there doesn't have to be a big cash outlay to replace two batteries.

Along with my Vermont Castings tiny little wood stove (my cabin is 384s.f.), I have been able to be relatively self-sufficiently comfortable.  As I live in the desert, the whole front of my cabin is windows and even in 20 degree weather I am warm as toast. I have tankless propane water heaters; direct vent.  They were easy to set up and are connected to 5 gallon propane tanks which are easy for me to lug into town and get filled.

I do some indoor gardening in the winter.  I have Hidden Harvest Company's LED lights.  They are white spectrum so you can keep them anywhere..they won't hurt your eyes.  Each panel is 36 watts and cost $80.  In planning all these systems 15 years ago when I built my cabin, I centered everything built on this property around the idea that I am a woman, weight less than 120 pounds, (and now am 75 years old)....my thinking was to create systems that I could build myself without outside help, and maintain as long as I am here.

So yes, if one thinks out what they want, how they can best create it without paying others to help them, can pay for in stages so they don't incur debt, and those systems can be maintained when they are no longer young, then living off grid creates security that simply cannot be found in the city.
 
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We lived in our 28-foot travel trailer, much of it off grid, after we sold our house in Nevada last July. Using a cheap Smart phone and library Internet service, we were able to search for a new place to live and recently bought a dilapidated house on a 4+ acre property at about 2500 ft in northern California. During our stint in the RV, we aimed for areas with nice weather (mountains in the summer, high desert in the fall and spring, southern desert in the winter) so we could count on solar from a couple of panels on the roof of the RV along with two robust batteries during all but the cloudiest of periods. A small generator was sufficient to charge up the batteries if need be. Since PG&E has started cutting off power whenever they perceive a combination of high winds and too dry conditions, we are getting a taste of powerlessness. Our immediate neighbors have huge generators for backup.

It's nice to have the RV backup system, especially for the fridge and stove, which run on propane. We make sure to keep the propane tanks filled, as well as extra gasoline for the generator. We learned to get by on minimal use of electricity, often washed our clothes by hand, and know how to live on 2 gallons of water a day for consumption and cleaning, as we used a composting toilet and sponge bathed rather than using the shower. We also now have a wood stove, with a flat surface for cooking and lots of sources of dead wood and will be setting up multiple water storage systems to collect winter rainfall.
 
gardener
Posts: 615
Location: SoCal USA
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jordan barton wrote:

Mark Brunnr wrote:I'm a fan of off grid and combining that with "radical simplicity" conservation. My total system with batteries cost less than the typical grid-tied inverters I've seen, not to mention the certified installer fees and everything else. I've read that the excess production rates are starting to drop, so you get paid less than you'd be charged for the same energy use too. Combined with the mandatory disconnect whenever grid power goes down (to prevent any feedback from zapping repair techs), grid tie seems like a lot of hassle.

I'm still looking for phantom loads- was out of town several days with router/modem turned off, and fridge plugged into the solar-charged batteries, and my utility claims I still used about 650 watt hours per day... so 25-30 watts per hour. Perhaps a digital clock and a phone charger plus microwave clock?



Hey mark.
Ive got a product called a kill a watt.



Hi Jordan, yeah I have a kill-a-watt as well, been moving it around to see what the cause might be. Tempted to flip the main breaker to the house and take a trip for a day or two, leaving the fridge on solar, and see if I still get charged for energy use.
 
Posts: 68
Location: Northernmost California
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elle sagenev wrote:It would take more than some solar power to make it worth it for us. We would freeze to death. We can heat with our wood stove but we have no trees. We'd be ok for a year, maybe 2, then we'd freeze to death. So to go off grid we'd need to convert our heating system to something electric. This would cost A LOT. Then we'd have to get a combination of solar and wind power. Quite a lot of them. At least 3 wind turbines would be needed for regular use. Solar for when it isn't windy out.

SO basically, if the power goes out and the world runs out of gasoline, we're freezing to death.



Yes Elle, 'power' does need to be appropriate for one's area and uses too. Lack of trees was one of the major reasons we removed Wyoming from our list of choices. And for the very same reason you stated - winter COLD. A bermed house would be a good start towards not freezing, but it would be plenty cool  in winter. I fear that wind turbines might be negatively effected by extreme cold too. Is it possible to begin planting trees that could provide future winter heat? That is one of the things that we liked seeing when we visited Germany - blocks of trees rotated on land parcels. The trees don't have to be anything special, only grow to converts sunlight into 'fuel'.
 
Jain Anderson
Posts: 68
Location: Northernmost California
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First off, lets all understand that 'solar' is several things - wind, water, heat and electrical 'power'. These all result from the sun's energy hitting the earth's atmosphere. The term 'the grid' originated from electrical power lines (originally DC!) developing to supply electrical power to those who wanted that.

Other posters on this thread are right - there is NO truly 'independent' stand alone power - its all based on industry produced equipment. I do not claim nor seek to be self-sufficent as I have no intention of mining ores, refining and foundry those into items I desire. I decided a while back to be as self reliant as I could be. This required me to get as hands on AND knowledgeable as I could manage. (we all have limits of ability and energy too)

Regarding living 'off grid' - initially our land rather forced us into going this way - power line extension was outrageously expensive (hence cheaper land). So we tip-toed into alternative energy. When we moved onto our land we sold almost everything we had that had an electrical cord. We started off very small - one 35 watt PV panel and old batteries. But we had lights, radio and a light in the propane refrigerator. As $ allowed we slowly added a few PV panels, upgraded batteries and more energy efficient appliances (Sunfrost replaced propane frig.)

The BIGGEST advantage of developing one's alternative system as you go is that one can learn to live comfortably within the 'limits' that one HAS. Our initial little single panel system taught us the folly of trying to get more from a system than it had to provide. We developed a 'count to 3' habit - 3 things (2 lights, radio) on were maximum and ALL would go OUT if we turned on another light! Self regulation is a great teacher. And we developed alternatives that replaced previous no-thinking-required practices. Bed warmers replaced electric blankets, Muscle power turned grinders, made food and sunlight dried clothes on a line. No need for a gym membership when one lives more direct!

Regarding grid tied cost factors, consider that the power companies routinely OVER produce so as to be capable of supplying electricity when needed. So 'adding' excess power from individual systems really isn't needed. Check out how the 'pay back' $$s have decreased and will continue to do so. Math still runs a business.

The bottom line is that its more and more possible for making use of direct 'solar' in whatever form one can manage/afford. This is a 'tip-over' change that happens each time a newer technology begins displacing an existing one. Think steam engines giving way to fossil fuel engines which gave way to electrical motors etc. I'm old enough to remember telephones that were cranked to 'ring central', and needing to engage an operator to make long distance calls. All that has now been replaced with direct dialing world wide!

So I've developed my own attitude named mioneering which blends the best of functioning 'old' ways with more energy efficient new devices. Keeping within our limits and demands minimized, provides us with as self reliant and enjoyable a foot print for life as we can cobble together.

Best wishes for all you to do likewise.
 
Posts: 26
Location: Near Libby, MT
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Because my home is earth sheltered I don't worry much about staying warm, or cool in summer. I am practically surrounded by Forest Service land where trees fall down a lot. I will need younger muscle to cut them up for my stove but two cords usually gets me through our Montana winter.

My major concern is water security. I currently need electricity to run the pump in my 352 feet deep well. Although I typically use less than 300 kwh/month (at a great rate of $0.065/kwh) a good share of that is probably related to the pump. Of course that cost is irrelevant if the grid is down. Note: I have an underground reservoir that holds 16,000 gallons.

So who among you has experience with, or knowledge about, good old mechanical windmills? Wind here is not consistent but it's probably enough to keep water in my reservoir given an efficient windmill. Who still manufactures such things? Who knows how to install them? Are they practical for my deep well? Don't some farmers and ranchers still use them along with a stock tank or some such? I really would like to be energy independent but access to water remains my biggest issue.

Thanks for any ideas you have to share
 
pollinator
Posts: 359
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Doug Kalmer wrote:I installed my grid tied 4.6 KW PV system in Jan 2012, and it has paid for itself as of June this year. Now I am getting paid to use electricity. I have the usual American middle class loads, AC, TV, washer, no dryer, and also two welders, glass kiln, hot tub, chest freezers. I have a 5K watt Honda genset I converted to propane I can hook into the house wiring in case the grid goes down. I just bought a Chevy Volt which has a 18.4 KWH battery I can tap into indirectly thru a 1500 watt inverter connected to the 12 volt battery. http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/PV/DougEnphase/DougEnphase.htm




Hi Doug does the volt have a inverter from the 18.4 KWH battery down to the 12 V, then you goto your 1500 W inverter?


I have been looking into buying a used Volt battery and I am curious how your system is setup...

Thanks,


Mart
 
pollinator
Posts: 248
Location: North central Ontario
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roberta mccanse wrote:Because my home is earth sheltered I don't worry much about staying warm, or cool in summer. I am practically surrounded by Forest Service land where trees fall down a lot. I will need younger muscle to cut them up for my stove but two cords usually gets me through our Montana winter.

My major concern is water security. I currently need electricity to run the pump in my 352 feet deep well. Although I typically use less than 300 kwh/month (at a great rate of $0.065/kwh) a good share of that is probably related to the pump. Of course that cost is irrelevant if the grid is down. Note: I have an underground reservoir that holds 16,000 gallons.

So who among you has experience with, or knowledge about, good old mechanical windmills? Wind here is not consistent but it's probably enough to keep water in my reservoir given an efficient windmill. Who still manufactures such things? Who knows how to install them? Are they practical for my deep well? Don't some farmers and ranchers still use them along with a stock tank or some such? I really would like to be energy independent but access to water remains my biggest issue.

Thanks for any ideas you have to share

Roberta the first thing I would want to do is figure out what depth the water comes up to in your well, and at what rate it recharges itself. most of the time they hit water at that deepest depth but the well level rises much closer to the surface then that. They then proceed to hang the electric pump that deep because that gives them so much more capacity above the pump so you can't run it dry. It was not uncommon once upon a time to have the main deep well pump hung low and a much smaller jet pump installed close to the surface. They even make hand pumps and windmills for that application. You could not pull faster then the well can recharge itself but its somewhere to start.
 
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Mart Hale wrote:

Doug Kalmer wrote:I installed my grid tied 4.6 KW PV system in Jan 2012, and it has paid for itself as of June this year. Now I am getting paid to use electricity. I have the usual American middle class loads, AC, TV, washer, no dryer, and also two welders, glass kiln, hot tub, chest freezers. I have a 5K watt Honda genset I converted to propane I can hook into the house wiring in case the grid goes down. I just bought a Chevy Volt which has a 18.4 KWH battery I can tap into indirectly thru a 1500 watt inverter connected to the 12 volt battery. http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/PV/DougEnphase/DougEnphase.htm




Hi Doug does the volt have a inverter from the 18.4 KWH battery down to the 12 V, then you goto your 1500 W inverter?


I have been looking into buying a used Volt battery and I am curious how your system is setup...

Thanks,


Mart



Yes, the traction battery will keep the 12v battery up as long as the car is on. When the traction battery gets discharged, the ICE cuts in to charge it. 1500 watts seems to be the limit to pull from the 12v battery, not sure why, just what I've been told on Volt forums.
 
Posts: 9
Location: Wilderness, South Africa
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In South Africa, the 'grid' is barrelling towards an inevitable crash in the not too distant future. Experts have been warning the government for decades that our wildly inefficient coal powered electrical grid is not up to the job of keeping the country connected but, as always, the government knows better. Even more so when the coal companies line the pockets of government officials. Current predictions put a total blackout at 2040. I wonder if it would be better if that came sooner. We have been having 'rolling blackouts' for years where they intentionally blackout certain neighbourhoods and suburbs for hours at a time in order to try and maintain the demand-supply balance. They came up with a comprehensive schedule so that everybody would know exactly when the power was going off and plan their lives accordingly. They rarely stuck to that schedule.

A couple of years ago Cape Town nearly ran out water. It would have been the first major city to ever do so. They started implementing water blackouts as well. The taps would only run between 4-8 a.m and 4-8 p.m. This wreaked havoc in the house I was staying in with 5 other young adults, all with weird schedules and sleeping patterns. The competition became how many times you could reuse a batch of water or how little water you could use to get all your daily necessities completed. And Cape Town was only the poster child for the drought crisis. There were many other smaller municipalities that were, and still are, in dire straits.

In short, if you want all the comfort and amenities that we have become accustomed to in this era of automation, being off-grid is paramount.

I have not read all the posts preceding mine but something that I often see overlooked when being off-grid is discussed is sewage. How many 'off-grid' dwellings are still tied to the waste water grid? This has always amazed me because our wastewater is tied to a grid that turns an excellent resource into a noxious, dangerous by-product. And the solutions, to quote Bill Mollison, "are embarrassingly simple". Even for the squeamish where the idea of pooping in a bucket sends them running, a vermicomposting, wastewater flushing system may be set-up.  
 
pollinator
Posts: 701
Location: Southern Oregon
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Given that they shut of power in parts of California, I would say that it's very important.
 
roberta mccanse
Posts: 26
Location: Near Libby, MT
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David Baillie, thanks for your response. I will find the well log. Initially we got 5 to 6 gallons/min. That dwindled to a pretty consistent 2 to 3/min. There is no aquifer here so we depend on seepage from rock. We put in the reservoir because we sometimes ran out of water in the middle of a shower, etc. So I don't think that there is a lot of water standing in the bottom of the well. In the meantime I love my reservoir.

Last week we replaced a broken pot filler and had problems getting the water turned back on. Had to replace a switch and will need to change out one of the pressure tanks (after I get property taxes paid). In the meantime water security is not the only issue. I also have "sewer security" concerns. Electricity runs the lift pump that brings waste from the septic tank to the drain field. Long and short, living remote is not for the faint of heart or for the technically challenged.
 
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Hi, I want to live with electricity and solar grid system. In summer days solar cell is help full, but in winter its hard to survive with the solar system. I love to use both combination and most of the time I charge my battery with the solar system.
 
David Baillie
pollinator
Posts: 248
Location: North central Ontario
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roberta mccanse wrote:David Baillie, thanks for your response. I will find the well log. Initially we got 5 to 6 gallons/min. That dwindled to a pretty consistent 2 to 3/min. There is no aquifer here so we depend on seepage from rock. We put in the reservoir because we sometimes ran out of water in the middle of a shower, etc. So I don't think that there is a lot of water standing in the bottom of the well. In the meantime I love my reservoir.

Last week we replaced a broken pot filler and had problems getting the water turned back on. Had to replace a switch and will need to change out one of the pressure tanks (after I get property taxes paid). In the meantime water security is not the only issue. I also have "sewer security" concerns. Electricity runs the lift pump that brings waste from the septic tank to the drain field. Long and short, living remote is not for the faint of heart or for the technically challenged.


"not for the technically challenged" Roberta I agree. BUT There is good earning potential figuring out how these things work and being able to diagnose and fix them. A good part of my calls come from troubleshooting solar, electrical and pumping equipment now. I am a terrible gardener though.
 
pollinator
Posts: 245
Location: Ozarks
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Near a major city is not where you want to be in a long term teotwawki(end of the world as we know it). Once the city runs out of food, which won't take long, they'll sprawl out looking for something to eat. That'll take like a week. When a hurricane is heading towards Florida, the store shelves are bare within a few days and all the stuff people buy lasts a matter of days.

Air, Water, Food, Shelter and depending on the weather, shelter may be earlier in that order. Clothing is shelter in a way.
Air, not much control over that. Might be able to improve air quality with HEPA filters.
Water - do you have a well? Can you pump from that well?
Food - hard to grow enough for yourself. Takes quite a bit of water too. Learn to store it. Look up Long Term Food Storage.

Internet - everything runs off the internet these days which is kinda scary. Hackers or a virus could be devastating.
 
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