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Why off grid?  RSS feed

 
Posts: 66
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I have seen a lot of people express interest in living off grid but I am wondering about some of the underlying reasons for wanting to make this decision. From my perspective, off-grid living only makes sense when you are in a very remote location with no option for power (or it would be extremely expensive to get hooked up), or you think society is going to fall apart in the nearish future and going off grid now will help prepare for that.

Off-grid isn't cheaper. In fact, with the cost of the equipment up front, and the need to maintain that equipment and replace batteries over time, I doubt you would ever break even.

Off-grid could be touted as more environmentally friendly, but that is only true when we neglect to factor in the environmental cost of manufacturing the solar panels and batteries, and the environmental cost of disposing of them when they are no longer used. Lots of individual homes with their own solar setups fail to harness economies of scale like a power grid does. Even if your power provider gets power from a source that you don't agree with, my experience has been that many power companies are actively expanding into things like wind and solar.

When looking at getting solar panels for my home in a grid-tied setup, it became clear that simply buying into my coop's solar farm they were building to supply the entire grid made a lot more sense.

One of the most capable and resilient people I have ever met, owner of an amazing deep-woods off-grid community, lamented that being off-grid often had more challenges than even he would like to deal with.

The reason I ask is I have looked at buying into a small intentional community that intends to be off grid, when power is easily available. They even have cabled phone and internet at the property, so power would be the only modern utility they would do without. I'm trying to understand the rationale behind this decision.

So what say you? Why would you want to be off the grid?
 
Posts: 87
Location: out in the woods of Maine
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I grew-up farming. When considering regions to settle after I retired, I wanted to avoid the drought-prone regions of the nation. So we chose New England.

The primary consumption of energy here is home heating. Active Solar Heating systems give you much better 'bang' for the buck than do solar power systems.

Here in rural Maine the power grid is unreliable and it does not extend into most townships. Most parcels that I looked at do not have grid access. If you want electricity, then you must make it yourself. That is life on the East Coast.

Yes generating electricity yourself is more expensive, but this is often the only option.
 
pollinator
Posts: 534
Location: Pac Northwest
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The definition of "off grid" can be very different to different people. For most who are actually doing it it simply means not tied to the power grid. They may have other services but not power. For others it is no grid power water and sewage, which is how I personally define it. Others have every variation of what could be considered off grid. The common denominator typically being lack of grid power. Many who are still grid dependent seem to have this misconception that off grid can't have internet, but most rural off griders do have internet since that is the most reliable communication they can get. Internet does not need to be "grid tied" in rural areas it is often satellite or line of sight beamed from towers.

Going off grid often is difficult and challenging. Especially for people who expect to still be able to consume power like being grid tied. One of the biggest things off gridders discover is when you are in charge of your power, you monitor the power consumption a lot more. You track down those phantom loads and eliminate them. You swap out inefficient appliances for the most efficient you can find. You find non-electric alternatives and get rid of a lot of power dependent things. And you find ways to just do with out. Watching TV/movies becomes a lot more special since you can only afford to use X hrs of power for it, rather than just leaving it on as background noise like so many on gridders do.

For me being off grid is about being aware of your energy consumption. Not taking it for granted. It is in fact something disused in the Permiculture Design Manual. That being off grid makes you more conscious of your energy usage and able to make better choices.

Now that said I am also in a rural area where getting power would be insanely expensive, costing more than my land itself. So being grid tied was not an option for where I wanted to live. But for those in more urban or suburban housing or even rural but with grid access I do understand your arguments. Indeed there is an environmental cost of producing alt energy stuff. Something not enough people add into the cost of going off grid. I would agree a community based power set up would be better than individual ones. A development that set up an alt energy power station for a whole group of homes would be more efficient than everyone doing it themselves or likely even the main grid (since there is so much power loss in transmission in power lines).
 
pollinator
Posts: 223
Location: Western North Carolina - Zone 7B stoney
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Hey A, there are many opinions of off-grid living.  Let me give you mine. 

I don't think that off-grid living is more expensive.  It's what someone wants to be able to do while off grid that can be expensive.  Some people decide that they need solar to run certain appliances, while others decide that they get by with a few propane appliances.  A propane fridge and a propane stove would be bear bones for off-grid living, and this would be very cheap to maintain.  Of course, we aren't even talking about primitive off grid living.  True, primal off grid is many times cheaper than living in the city

City utilities are part of the problem with being on the grid.  You are getting charged each and every month, even if you don't use the service.  There are many reasons that people decide to withdraw from the grid.  Some people don't like the costs associated with the grid.  Some people do not like the laws and restrictions associated with city living, and some people dislike electricity in general.  There are people that have sensitivity to EMFs (electro magnetic fields), and one of the only ways to get relief is to go to someplace without electric wires strewn everywhere.  These cases are a bit uncommon, but there are cases reported more often than you think.  Lastly, there are people that withdraw from the grid because of political or environmental reasons.  Some people do not like the way that our grid is powered.  Some understand that staying on the grid is simply deepening our dependence on fossil fuels, and they are against this.

Personally, I want to live off grid for a simpler lifestyle.  I dislike the whole work to pay bills cycle.  You are definitely right about the cost of solar and batteries.  However, that is only one option for off grid living.  Have you seen the "solar home" unit from biolite?  Basically, it's a 150 dollar unit that includes a solar panel, a batter unit, and multiple lights with switches.  This simple unit allows you to turn a small home into having solar power, at very little cost.  This is what I have purchased for my own home.  I have a very nice tent that I plan to use it in, but I have not hooked it up permanently yet.  It has the ability to charge USB powered devices, so many people would not see that as a full solution.  Again, this comes down to what someone needs. 

Alot of what determines people's choices, are their addictions.  I admit that when I go truly off grid, that the thing I will have to do without is my laptop computer.  Everything else is able to be charged by my solar home unit.  I've decided that I don't need a refrigerator, because I can dig a root cellar like they did in the olden days.  I can make a meat smoking shed, and preserve my meats in that old method.  Sure, some things may be "easier" with some technology, but then I would be required to drive into town for propane, and that's just another thing that would determine my agenda each day.  I am looking for freedom, while other people are looking for certain comforts. 

Think of it like camping.  Some people go out with almost nothing, while other people want to glamp (glamour camping), with all of the creature comforts of home. 
 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
Posts: 534
Location: Pac Northwest
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Galen Young wrote:The primary consumption of energy here is home heating. Active Solar Heating systems give you much better 'bang' for the buck than do Solar power systems.



Very good point. Building a home to collect solar energy well can be a better option than using solar to create power to then heat. Similarly, solar water heating is much more effecient than creating solar power to then heat the water.

When going off grid you do often need to think outside the box and look at alternatives to using power to do stuff, since it is no longer cheap and readily available. Hanging clothes outside/inside on a line rather than a drier for example saves a lot of power use. There are tons of little things you can do and big things you can do to reduce the need to use power to accomplish a goal. Being off grid you really need to access everything that uses power and figure out if there is another way. And if you can live with using the other way. Some will be fine opting for hand washing clothes, others will insist on powered washer. bneither is right or wrong, it depends on you and your family and what is best for you. A single guy washing clothes by hand is a lot easier than a family of 4.
 
Galen Young
Posts: 87
Location: out in the woods of Maine
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Devin Lavign wrote:... When going off grid you do often need to think outside the box and look at alternatives to using power to do stuff, since it is no longer cheap and readily available. Hanging clothes outside/inside on a line rather than a drier for example saves a lot of power use. There are tons of little things you can do and big things you can do to reduce the need to use power to accomplish a goal. Being off grid you really need to access everything that uses power and figure out if there is another way. And if you can live with using the other way. Some will be fine opting for hand washing clothes, others will insist on powered washer. bneither is right or wrong, it depends on you and your family and what is best for you. A single guy washing clothes by hand is a lot easier than a family of 4.



A local group had a 'Solar home tours' event today and I agreed to open our farm for tours. We just finished giving a bunch of farm tours, and had to explain this. 

A common theme among installers is to get prospective customers to calculate their monthly power usage, and then use various formulas to design a solar power system.

This builds a false narrative.



My home is on solar power. On most days my batteries are charging by 8am and somewhere between 10am and noon our batteries are at 100% SOC. We can run every home appliance and every power tool without consuming all the power that we generate. However if we were to use the above formula, it would say that our photovoltaic panels only generate about 80% of how much we 'need'.

In reality from noon everyday until 4pm we have surplus power that we can not use.

In light of this reality, my wife bought a dishwasher. It only runs during daylight hours. We have a clothes washing machine and a clothes dryer. We raise pigs and we market pork, as it turns out we raise pigs faster than what we can market pork. So we have a large surplus of pork. Which then drove us to buy more chest freezers. Today we have four chest freezers filled with pork.

To assume that using solar power means that you must handwash your dishes, or use a clothesline to dry your clothes is a false narrative.

I own a Prius Prime. It sits plugged-in right now. I can drive into town, do a couple errands and drive home again, all within the 25-mile EV driving radius that it provides. All without it's gas engine ever starting.

Living on Solar Power is a lifestyle. But you must make the shift to this lifestyle. Once that shift is made you can actually do a lot.

btw; our chest freezers are all on timers, so they can only run from 8am until 4pm. All other appliances stay off until after the sun is up each day. My wife loves her coffee percolator, but even that can only be used when the sun is out.


 
Devin Lavign
pollinator
Posts: 534
Location: Pac Northwest
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Galen Young wrote:To assume that using solar power means that you must handwash your dishes, or use a clothesline to dry your clothes is a false narrative.



I did not mean to imply you "must" just that when going off grid to look at all power consumption and see what you can do without. I in fact mentioned that for some people this means yes wash their clothes by hand but for others that might not work.

By looking at what you can do without power, you can end up paying a lot less for your off grid power system. Less solar less wind generators and less batteries means you are using up less resources to create those things and producing less waste when those things wear out. Like the OP mentioned these things still have an environmental cost.

Also like mentioned in my reply to you abut solar heating. Finding ways to use the solar energy more directly as in passive solar heating or solar water heating ends up saving you solar power generation. Since it is much more efficient to use the solar energy directly rather than covert to power then use that power to create heat.

For me a large part of the reason I am off grid is not to live in such a wasteful way as on gridders. So for me I looked very hard into reduction of power needs. I don't need to use a dishwasher, I can do them by hand. Your wife realized you have a surplus of power during the day so opted to use a dishwasher. Neither is right or wrong other than what works for you and your system.

 
pollinator
Posts: 1984
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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It started with food.
I had no job.
I was willing able and skilled, but unemployed.
I had a mortgage to pay.
I felt helpless.
Freedom from want requires controm over the means of production.
Growing food in my yard was the first step.

I look at going off grid as a way to control my outputs.
Everything I "must " do is paid for in personal freedom.
When you buy on credit, you are subject to enslavement.

I wanted to end $250.00 a quarter water bills.
I planned out how to harvest rainwater for my toilet flushing and cloths washing.
When I realized that the tank would have to huge,and it still would only last 1/3rd of a month, I got wise.
A used low flush toilet and a used  high efficiency washer  later and my water bills are down to $150.00 a month.
Most of that is sewage charges, a multiple of my winter water use.
Now a tank for flushing and washing water can be a fraction of the size,and still get me through the month.
I owe less of my time to someone else.

Solar speaks to me for the same reason.
I was between jobs when I sought out a used gas dryer.
I was ready to take a chance on it for 20 bucks, but the seller have it to me for free!
My electric bills are way down.
My refrigeration is my next target.A freezer converted to a fridge does not offend my wife.

When I get as far as conservation can take me, then I will
consider solar.
I see solar as a way to fight inflation, control my destiny,and provide for my family even after my death.
Like owning land,owning PV solar is owning the means of production.
Anything you can do to to collect and store the sunlight falling on your land is building wealth.
Turning PV generated electicity into refrigeration is like growing plants and canning them.


Home heating with wood is next,within the constraints of city building code and home insurance. with charcoal production a goal.
I see converting a conventional vehicle to burn charcoal gas as my best path to driving without gasoline.


I would like to grid tie if I'm ever able to do solar, but only if there is net metering at that point.
I would just as soon buy a share in a solar farm, if it could zero out my electrical bills.
Batteries are one more thing to take care of and maintain.

I'm not against the grid(s), anymore than I'm against the roads or the internet. I live in a city, and I'm in favor of being enmeshed in society, rather than apart from it.

I'm just trying to be a user of the grid, not used by it.
 
Posts: 171
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William Bronson wrote:It started with food.
I had no job.
I was willing able and skilled, but unemployed.
I had a mortgage to pay.
I felt helpless.
Freedom from want requires controm over the means of production.
Growing food in my yard was the first step.

I look at going off grid as a way to control my outputs.
Everything I "must " do is paid for in personal freedom.
When you buy on credit, you are subject to enslavement.

I wanted to end $250.00 a quarter water bills.
I planned out how to harvest rainwater for my toilet flushing and cloths washing.
When I realized that the tank would have to huge,and it still would only last 1/3rd of a month, I got wise.
A used low flush toilet and a used  high efficiency washer  later and my water bills are down to $150.00 a month.
Most of that is sewage charges, a multiple of my winter water use.
Now a tank for flushing and washing water can be a fraction of the size,and still get me through the month.
I owe less of my time to someone else.

Solar speaks to me for the same reason.
I was between jobs when I sought out a used gas dryer.
I was ready to take a chance on it for 20 bucks, but the seller have it to me for free!
My electric bills are way down.
My refrigeration is my next target.A freezer converted to a fridge does not offend my wife.

When I get as far as conservation can take me, then I will
consider solar.
I see solar as a way to fight inflation, control my destiny,and provide for my family even after my death.
Like owning land,owning PV solar is owning the means of production.
Anything you can do to to collect and store the sunlight falling on your land is building wealth.
Turning PV generated electicity into refrigeration is like growing plants and canning them.


Home heating with wood is next,within the constraints of city building code and home insurance. with charcoal production a goal.
I see converting a conventional vehicle to burn charcoal gas as my best path to driving without gasoline.


I would like to grid tie if I'm ever able to do solar, but only if there is net metering at that point.
I would just as soon buy a share in a solar farm, if it could zero out my electrical bills.
Batteries are one more thing to take care of and maintain.

I'm not against the grid(s), anymore than I'm against the roads or the internet. I live in a city, and I'm in favor of being enmeshed in society, rather than apart from it.

I'm just trying to be a user of the grid, not used by it.



Thank you for this post. That's exactly the way I feel. I don't want to be the person that is a slave to the grid.... I like it for convenience. Off grid would be nice... then I could go months without paying a power bill if I was watching what I was doing. However, I love my laptop! I should get my kill a watt out and figure out where the electric is going.... right now we're running at $120/month electric bills and that's higher than I care for. A/C mainly.
 
Posts: 1781
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Off-Grid aka Onsite production aka Self-Sufficiency aka Pre-Paying

Most people in the 'city' clean computers or bathrooms exclusively so that they can pay for food, energy, shelter, water, food, etc, etc.
They are dependent on the owners for everything and are usually just a paycheck away from homelessness and a storm from being lost.

So alot of people like to go off-grid
1. Shelter: they like to build/own their little cabin vs renting from the establishment (bank, landowner, etc)is
2. Water: same as above, reminded that not everything is unlimited and you customize it (type of purification, and added chemicals if any)
3. Sewer: you are 'forced' to be mindful of your impact on the enviroment
4. Food: less prepared/processed junk, less added chemical, more environmentally friendly, more nutrient dense,
5. Heating/Cooling/Electric: less over-consumption, more environmentally friendly, more renewable sources, and by designing passive/solar cooling/heating in mind actually inputs can be alot less.

Now yes it is true that most of the stuff required to build the things listed above did in fact come from the 'grid' and replacement/consumables (nails, filters, wires, etc) will have to come from the grid. And yes at time I will get my shelter from a hotel and my food from restaurants/walmart, A bottle of water from the corner store and backup power from fossil fuel via the loud generator, and thats okay with me, I just like having the option.

In the case of an emergency we will not be ashamed to go to the grid to get water/food/gasoline/duct-tape/recharge a batterypack.

Really a part of it is redundancy, being connected to the things I use/eat vs just cleaning computers/bathroom until I die. Also by not having unlimited junk food, I tend to eat less, the same goes for electric, I get to actually treat my body and environment with more respect.

I know I listed 5 things, other people might even make their own clothes, maybe someone else will only do transportation by bicycle/electric bike and for others maybe by a sailboat Powered by the wind.
On the subject of boat I would love to build this cheap wood/epoxy boat.


 
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I'm currently building a house and am going off grid.  Power is right on the property line(~600'), but the decision came down to $ and security.  To be grid-tied would cost about 10K up front for transformer, trenching, and connection.  Monthly cost I'm guessing would average $200, could be more.  My solar system(10kW) cost $26K with ok batteries, and since I have lots of wind I want to try a small wind turbine($1.2K).  Batteries are getting better and better, and as more folks move to electric vehicles I expect electric prices to increase and batteries to decrease.  I already have a couple back up generators that run on LP, but I will have a better feeling of security for my family knowing that they don't depend on the grid.  Solar systems these days are pretty solid and don't require constant tinkering.  A lot of people think they could last 30 years.  I'm not so sure about the wind turbine yet.  Still for what will be slightly better than break-even I felt that the choice was clear, especially since the cost is wrapped up in the mortgage.  Have you ever read Lights Out by Ted Koppel?  Read it and you will understand.
 
Posts: 7
Location: Portugal
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I have possibility to connect to grid (100m away) and I am not a prepper...
Why? Freedom, no more bills and clean power.
(Cradle to cradle certified Aquion salt water batteries and cradle to cradle sunpower panels)
Off grid doesn't cost more, design a small system and adjust your use of electricity.
The only downside is you have to pay upfront,...
 
pollinator
Posts: 329
Location: SoCal USA
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Currently tied to the very expensive grid, and when I look at my power/gas use it's around 15% of the average customer here, and if I tried a bit harder I could cut my use more. So I figure being off grid is doable without changing my current lifestyle much if any.

My off grid property that I'll move to in 5 or so years can have power brought in, it would be about 1500 feet from the nearest pole, assuming the easements have the clearance, all the permits and inspections are in order, and after paying around $24,000 per the utility quote I would then be allowed to buy power. Or I could spend less than half that amount for a solar system and batteries, and bypass all the other annoyances.

No illusions that off grid living is a cakewalk, you have to fix your power outages rather than the utility, and over time new batteries add up and based on my use would cost me more than the current power costs from the utility. But assuming I invested the $14k I saved by starting with solar, plus not paying a monthly bill, it's actually about breaking even when you include the long term interest you earn.

I view being off grid not as isolating yourself from others, but rather not depending so much on a profit-focused company for life essentials. As tech keeps improving these off grid systems, we get closer to a point where personal generation of power is the best bet. California is looking at a new state law (I think it already passed) to require future new house construction to include grid-tied solar panels. It will certainly help reduce peak demand for AC if more buildings were covered.
 
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