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

 
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my mother has grid tie solar, she never has electric bill, but one thing that amazed me is after a storm took out power lines on the street the grid power went down she had no power even though the sun was shining, I guess that's just the way her systems works. I'm no expert but just in practical terms I would think that type of set up needs to have a way built in to still provide you with power no matter what happens with the grid power.
 
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That happened here. Two of the three households with solar are off-grid but one is grid tired (and we still have a 700 foot line to their house, so we get a boost of maybe 10 kwh every winter when we get a week of clouds). When the derecho came through in 2012 it knocked out power for up to three weeks around here. My neighbors only lost power for one day, but it was a hot sunny day--felt good to pipe power up to keep their freezer going. They worked out that it would be possible in the event of permanent grid failure, to convert it to daytime usability but I think not easy.
 
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Mart Hale wrote:How you have to prepare depends on your resources, and what trouble will come your way.

I have 3,000 Watts of solar, but that will be worthless if an EMP hits and takes out my charge controller.     Emp may be from solar ejection, or by war.  



I tend to doubt that the EMP will ever be caused by war.  If this occurs, the most likely scenario would be a low altitude nuclear device with limited regional consequences.  I live 40 miles south of St. Louis, and I doubt that our enemies would target that city, although there is an Air Force Base across the river.

I believe that the grid is vulnerable primarily due to neglect on the part of the political class.  Lots of infrastructure projects remain unfunded.  However, a nationwide blackout might occur if there is a coordinated terrorist attack on large capacity, High Voltage transformers for which replacements are not readily available.  Either a Cyber attack, or a series of targeted explosions could take down large portions of the grid for months.

My 17.4 kW system features 2 grid tied inverters, and I have added a 3rd inverter that charges a battery bank.  The batteries can provide power to a critical load panel for up to 4 days even if the sun does not shine.  Sunny days extend the range, of course.

I also have two 7.5 kW generators that burn propane (a Generac unit with auto-transfer switch, and a portable generator with a manual transfer switch) and I have a 400 gallon propane tank at the ready.  I really want to build a batch digester so that I might power the portable generator with bio-gas using grass clippings from the 3 acres that I mow.

The ability to heat the North end of the house with a wood burning stove is good, but I am also building a passive solar heating capability on the South end of the house.

I still need to build a greenhouse to supplement my hugelkulture growing beds in the winter, and I need to re-activate my aqua-ponics system once I can protect the Tilapia from freezing.

Once the Zombie apocalypse begins, it won't take long for the Zombies to find me.  My 8 acres is secluded, completely surrounded by trees, but they will find me eventually.
HV-Transformers-at-Risk.jpg
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Mary Cook
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Our wood stove easily heats our whole house, but we have a small attached greenhouse, seven by twelve feet. Given how cloudy it is around here in winter, it isn't a significant heat source, but on sunny days it can sometimes make the difference where we don't need a fire. More importantly, it's the place I start seedlings for my own and two other gardens; and the place I hang plants to dry (beans, peanuts, sunflower heads, sorghum heads, onions) and also I put my towel there after a shower to get toasty dry before the next one. We had to have a solid tin roof because there are hickory trees which bomb us in fall, but my husband figured out putting an inner roof at such an angle that the low winter sun comes through glass at the south end to add heat and light--but doesn't come in during the warm months. I've taken to wondering how any homesteader gets by without an attached greenhouse. Actually I need anothger shed for drying plants...is there a thread on How to keep mice out??
 
pollinator
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bruce Fine wrote:my mother has grid tie solar, she never has electric bill, but one thing that amazed me is after a storm took out power lines on the street the grid power went down she had no power even though the sun was shining, I guess that's just the way her systems works. I'm no expert but just in practical terms I would think that type of set up needs to have a way built in to still provide you with power no matter what happens with the grid power.




Good point: When you are grid tied, the electricity can be directed to the most necessary (emergency) users]. That would be  hospitals, police, old folks'homes, schools traffic signals  and other necessary services.
Which means that in theory, you could get a grid tied system installed and have it fail you at a crucial moment. This would be more likely if your local electric company has given you 'help' / 'incentives' in getting it tied  to help you get there. Here, in Wisconsin, there has been a couple of lawsuits because the amount of electricity you would *give* to the grid was not as valued as the amount of electricity you would *take* in a lean period. [Old wisdom, here, but if they helped you, they had their reasons]
I feel myself leaning toward off grid. We could survive on the food we produce, be warm in winter and have water that is not tied to the grid pretty easily. So I feel we are sitting pretty.
In a pinch, I'm looking for appliances that are DC, like they used in mobile homes, with maybe some solar panels to feed these batteries. We don't use *all* devices at the same time, so it should be possible to do intermittent switching?
Cumbersome system, no doubt, but still survivable.
More problematic is the possibility to have to defend your system against folks who are starving and have not prepared and are set on violence. It is true that civilization is only a veneer, and when things go bad, all hell can break loose. I hope to interest folks to be willing to change to get water/ food/ shelter rather  than resort to violence. I may be naive, but I'd rather be naive than heartless. I do believe that folks would rather be honest and work than just steal.
Give them fish and they's eat for a day. Teach them how to fish and they'll eat for a lifetime kinda reasoning.
 
pollinator
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I'm not as worried about this as I used to be. I used to be a firm believer that the end was nigh. But recently, I'm more concerned with communication security, economics of running my farm, and solving problems I have with homebrew technology. I hope to solve the problem of secure communication (ie, not being spied on 24/7 by who knows what entity) with encrypted radio. My old hobby right out of high school was creating languages and ciphers. So once I can actually send the messages, it should be quite easy to protect the data at the level of the Voynich Manuscript. Of course, radio has a lot of untapped potential. There is a pirate shortwave station in New York state that broadcasts television. You have to have a special setup to view it, but it still kind of blew my mind. One of the great things about radio communications is that radios don't have a gps in them. Your CB radio in your truck doesn't post on social media without even telling you. Your CB will not ping your location every 30 seconds. Your radio cannot be hacked. Cell phones are a damn bad idea unless you open them up and remove the mic and camera and gps...
 
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Mart Hale wrote:I believe we should be able to live without, and have a plan.    



This is what makes sense to me. My wife and I lived completely off-grid for a couple of years in the early '70s in the Slocan Valley of BC in Canada, relying on wood heat, in a tipi until the cabin was finished enough to move in. A small generator was enough to power a circ saw, so I didn't have to cut all boards by hand (or chainsaw). Kerosene lamps worked but were stinky and kind of messy, and I'm glad they were well in our past by the time our first child was crawling. It was a real treat to finally get electricity brought in to our subsequent property in rural Ontario, and it enabled much faster construction of the house we built there, and finally having an electric pump was wonderful for domestic chores and garden irrigation. We continued to rely on wood for heat and cooking (with a small propane stove for summer).

Having developed the more primitive skills of our forebears, we have the confidence of knowing we can live without modern conveniences. But that doesn't give us any reason to prefer living that way, and we have a portable generator with a transfer switch hookup for the odd time that the power goes out for more than a few hours. I'm truly amazed when I consider how productive I'm able to be with modern conveniences -- particularly tools (including computing devices). Learning to live like the old-timers was a satisfying adventure in our twenties, but we're able to enjoy our senior years a lot more with grid-supplied electricity. I've found cordless tools and outdoor solar lights to be marvelous applications of rechargeable batteries, but I'm leery of the environmental damage that goes with large-scale applications. For that reason, I can't see off-grid living that relies on big battery storage as environmentally conservative ("friendly"), although it may be the most practical for some specific remote locations.

We lived through the Great Ice Storm of 1998, about two weeks without power, only a borrowed generator for a few hours, and then an airtight fireplace stove to heat part of the downstairs, so that was a refresher in off-grid living. It was because of being in a rural area that it took that long for the old lines through wooded areas to be repaired; apparently maintenance had been somewhat neglected. Even so, I think it's extremely unlikely that there will ever be a truly long-lasting outage (unless there really is a zombie apocalypse!), so our backup supply is good for "these times we live in". I figure that if we can survive the zombies, we can make it through just about anything!
 
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bruce Fine wrote:my mother has grid tie solar, she never has electric bill, but one thing that amazed me is after a storm took out power lines on the street the grid power went down she had no power even though the sun was shining, I guess that's just the way her systems works. I'm no expert but just in practical terms I would think that type of set up needs to have a way built in to still provide you with power no matter what happens with the grid power.



Your mother is TIED to the grid. Really just a supplier of electricity for it. What she uses comes from it. If she was INTERtied to the grid, most likely she would have an inverter that is set to supply her needs first with excess going to the grid. That works fine while the sun shines, but even with an inverter favoring her needs, without storage ability (aka batteries) she would be without electricity when the sun isn't shinning.

We have been stand alone solar long enough to remember when that was OFF grid. Intertie used to mean dual ability for electrical source. Now off grid has broadened to mean anything  off main stream (like homesteading).

It makes us shake our heads to see HUGE amounts of PV panels mounted on roofs. Our entire house functions perfectly OK with 10 350 watt panels. And we aren't living in a yurt either. Appliances include - dishwasher, 2 chest freezers, washer, (gas) dryer, 2 computers (laptop), TV/dvd player, CF and LED lighting, occasional use of power tools, vacuum cleaners, electric (rechargeable) toothbrushes, electric shaver, hair dryer, curling iron etc. etc.

What the sellers of grid tied power DON'T tell you is how roof mounting can decrease output of PV as well as life span of those panels. PV crystals do NOT like heat. Even though here is an air space under the roof mounted panels, heat still builds up. So expect to replace those panels in less years than properly elevated mounted panels will last.
 
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Interesting question and an interesting thread

I moved into my home on Thanksgiving Day 2004.  Between then and May 8, 2009, we had 4 major power outages (if memory serves) that lasted over a day.

On May 8, 2009, we experienced a tremendous storm.  Technically it was a somewhat rare storm called a derecho, but this particular one is classified as a super derecho.  You can read about it HERE:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_2009_Southern_Midwest_derecho

Locally people called it an inland hurricane, and for good reasons.  There was a powerful storm, followed by a calm, windless period (that lasted about an hour) and on satellite pictures it looks like the eye of the storm.  It passed directly over us.

After the calm came the second storm.  We had sustained 100 mph winds.  This puts the winds in category 2 hurricane level.  I was at school and the sound was deafening.  After about 90 minutes the storm just disappeared.  The sights outside were devastating!  I could not get to my home only 5 minutes away due to downed trees.  I picked up my son from kindergarten, normally a 10 minute trip, this day taking 45 minutes from debris, trees and power lines on/hanging over the road.  About 1/2 of the power lines were snapped in half.  I eventually picked up my daughter about an hour later.  We were all hungry but there was no food and grocery stores were all closed.  I had to evacuate 4 hours north.

My point in all of this is that when I returned from my brief period as a climate refugee, I did so with a generator.  I got home, hooked up the generator and got it running and the power came back on less than a minute later!

In the decade since 2009, I have used the generator twice, both times for less than an hour.  I am planning on building a “solar generator”—really just a case with a good sized battery, a charge controller, an inverter, and some power outlets.  I might also buy 1-2 solar panels to go with it.

My wife thinks I am being silly.  Since 2009, we have had no major power outage.  I am thinking that most of the trees that could blow down and wreck power lines did.  I also know that some advanced switching has enabled a genuine power outage to be a just a brief, 1-3 second long loss of power (essentially the power gets routed a different way, bypassing the knocked-out power line.

Long story short, I am pretty certain that electrical power is more, not less secure than in the past.  It is always good to be prepared, and yes, I do get a little thrill of knowing that I can hook my generator to the house and “beat” the emergency.  I even wired my house with a dedicated panel to safely switch from grid power to generator power.  We have only used it once, and for only 45 minutes.

Again, I am all for preparation and safety.  I am building my solar generator out of a combination of curiosity/fascination and preparedness/safety.  But I don’t foresee a collapse of the electrical grid any time soon.  Storm emergencies can of course happen, but for me, these are the exception and not the rule.

Again, just to give you an idea of how bad the storm was, I really recommend a quick read HERE:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_2009_Southern_Midwest_derecho


Eric
 
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I am not convinced it is important to be off the grid.  I have a 2000 watt solar array.  So, it is goal of mine.  I also have a large pond that has a spillway that flows 9 months of the year that I am thinking about putting a wheel on.  But, I am not prepared to generalize.
 
Eric Hanson
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John,

I think you have a very sensible approach to off grid.  I am starting a very small off grid project.  I am building a small “battery generator.”  Really that is a poor term for what amounts to a little 12v SLA battery that has 12v and USB power output.  It will be based on a 12v 15 amp hour battery.

This unit is basically a test run for a much larger unit that will be based on a 100-125 amp hour battery that in addition to 12v and USB will also have 120v and a buck converter, a device that will allow me to dial up a wide range of DC voltage.  I would like to be able to use it to power a laptop which requires about 20v DC.

Either of those units would be useful for power outages or other off grid situations.  I would also like to eventually get a couple of decent solar panels to charge in the case of an extended power outage, something like what happened during the May 8th storm of 2009.

At any rate, I like your setup.  You have enough power at hand to operate a few powered pieces of equipment but you have not gone overboard.

Eric
 
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The one thing certain in the solar energy questions is there are ever more questions than answers.

I'm not ready to just sign up for some long term debt for a fancy system but will have to pioneer my way through low cost systems for a reality-based education.  Following YT videos, forum answers etc. just leads into ever widening circles of conflicting information.  Or I could just trust "Insert Someone's System I Paid For Here" and all will be fine, yeah right.

My Opinion:  

1) Off Grid is the way to go...

2) Major rethinking of use and reduction of need...

3) Redundancy while still have an income...

Electricity rates will necessarily skyrocket, not a matter of if but when...
EMP ~ war/terrorism or natural event is a possibility... (stockpile simple system components in sheltered case)  easier to do by upgrading simple systems over time and keep the base units.  Pick up components whenever they become available...
Live simple, be humble, be ready (as able) to help others when those who live the grasshopper lifestyle come crying on your doorstep...
Being self-sufficient is the first step in being able to help others...



 
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Greetings all.  Everyone needs a plan B.  So if North America sinks due to an EMP, social unrest, act of God we all need a life boat to jump into.  That could be a small country close by.  The country is the life boat, yet you still need provisions.  Owning a little land you can farm and build your own off grid home is the safest way to survive.  The only 2 safe and secure life boats in C. A. are Belize and Costa Rica.  
 
pollinator
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So interesting.  When I began reading this thread, I noticed that in the first post all sorts of disasters were mentioned except a pandemic.  Now here we are.  While our pandemic doesn't, so far, seem to pose a threat to the grid, the possibility of dramatic economic collapse (or near-collapse) is clearly in sight, we had food shortages (and don't forget the toilet paper!) as well as shortages of bleach, alcohol, hand sanitizer, and the like.  It's not too great a leap to some additional strains on the system that create a greater need for self-sufficiency.  Just ask gardeners (i.e., every permie) who tried to find certain seeds at their usual time, only to find that there had been a run on seeds (and seedlings) this year.  

I was impressed by Purity Lopez's plans to limit her solar power to specific items (a refrigerator and freezer, for example).  That could be a good approach for us.  In general, we can keep things cold in the winter (frozen, at least); summer is better for solar power and if that could keep the fridge and freezer running, we would only have to figure out the water situation.  We have an unreliable (vernal, more or less) spring on our property, and a public spring less than a half-mile away.

I crave solar, and especially off-grid, but our property doesn't lend itself to solar easily due to combinations of tree shade, roof orientation, and the fact that south is uphill from our property.  Also, Vermont - not the sunniest state.  But we are building a root cellar, have wood heat (and lots of trees), and are contemplating some sort of independence from our electric water pump so we could access our water.
 
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