living off grid

Living Off Grid

What is Living Off Grid?

Living off grid is simply living disconnected from the commercial electric power grid. “The Grid” is the common term used for the electric power grid. This is what brings power into your home for all your gadgets and appliances.  Your home is also usually connected to natural gas, phone, cable, and water lines. Living off grid is a way to cut all those lines and become self-sufficient.

It’s completely up to you how much of your utility usage you want to cut out. You can use wind, solar, or hydroelectric for your power needs. You can drill a well for water, and a functioning septic tank will cut out the need for sewer service. It is a method that will enable you to change your way of living and avoid the high cost of monthly utility bills.

Benefits of Living Off Grid

There are a number of benefits to deciding to live off grid. For one thing, you can decrease your use of fossil fuels, which can help improve the environment. By using alternative renewable energy sources you not only have the benefit of savings by not paying monthly utility bills, but you can also help the environment. Once you have made the initial investment into green energy sources, they can pay for themselves many times over.

What do you Need to Live Off Grid?

The saying, “It’s location, location, location” is as true in off grid living as it is for business. You need room for your equipment as well as for producing food if you really want to go completely off grid. The batteries to store the power you produce will take up space too. You’ll need a place where you can reasonably drill a well and put down a septic system if you want to get off the city water pipes. The proper mindset is probably the biggest need when you decide to live off grid. The ability to be independent and the desire to live a sustainable lifestyle are important.

Finding suitable land to build your off grid living space is the first step. You aren’t going to pull this off in an apartment in the city. Once you find suitable land either with a home already on it, or where you can build, you’ll have the first piece in place to begin your off grid life. Some things to consider when choosing a property include:

  • If possible, find a site with both open land for growing a garden and some woodland for heating fuel for the winter. If you can find property that has a running stream it’s even better. You can set up hydroelectric power in addition to wind and solar. Also make sure you have an open area to the south for solar power needs. You’ll need a spot far enough from trees to allow your wind energy setup to not be blocked by the forest. Otherwise, you’ll need a tower taller than the surrounding trees.
  • Do your research and find out what it will take to drill a well for a water supply if you want to provide for your own water.
  • Do your research and make sure you can build a waste disposal system such as a septic system.

What Will I Need for Power Generation?

Let’s look at a few ways you can generate and store your own power for an off grid system. When talking about a system like this most people immediately think of solar power. We’ll look at solar power first, but remember, the sun doesn’t always shine. You need alternative ways to produce power when the sun isn’t shining.

Solar Energy

Solar energy provides heat and light for our planet. It is also a renewable energy source. The sun provides enough energy to fully supply the world’s population with power. One limitation of using the sun for energy to power all the world’s energy needs lies in technology. However, the technology does exist to allow you to take advantage of solar energy as a renewable energy source and decrease your use of fossil fuels. Today some people use solar water heating and others use solar panels to provide some or most of their energy needs. Let’s take a look at renewable solar and give you some information that may help you decrease your use of fossil fuels and increase your use of renewable energy.

One of the main advantages of solar is that it is abundant and widely available. Another clear advantage of solar is that it is friendly to the environment. Sunlight is free so when you install enough solar panels to power your home you will not have to pay for a kilowatt of electricity ever again. Every day the sun generates more energy than we can use. The sun will not die for another 4-5 billion years, so we can be sure of it providing a clean renewable energy source for at least that long. The sun provides energy for practically all life on earth and keeps the planet warm enough for all life to exist. Despite the clear advantages of solar, the impact of solar power on society has been very small – less than 0.05% of the nation’s electricity comes from solar generating stations.

The idea of solar power is not new. Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure built the first solar energy technology in the 18th century – a solar collector used to cook food and heat water. In the 18th and 19th centuries, there were a number of developments in renewable solar including Einstein’s “photoelectric effect’’, which lead to an understanding of the “photovoltaic effect’’ that is used in renewable solar panel technology today. Technology has improved vastly since the 18th century.  However, despite the fact that solar energy had a good start, fossil fuels were a cheaper option. However, many consumers are now becoming more environmentally aware and want to do what they can to slow down the effects of global warming.

By cutting down on the amount of fossil fuels burned and using energy alternatives such as solar energy, health risks to life can be reduced. Many people underestimate the damage that the continued burning of fossil fuels is doing to the health of our plants, animals, and human beings. Therefore, one of the many advantages of solar energy is a decrease in health-related costs. Over the past 20 years, the number of people developing diseases and cancer has increased ten-fold – much of this has been blamed on the burning of fossil fuels releasing sulfur dioxide into the air. Burning fossil fuels also causes smog, acid rain, global warming, and other forms of pollution.

However, there are also disadvantages to using renewable solar energy at this point in time. Even though people want to use solar energy instead of fossil fuels, for many the initial costs of installation are just too expensive. But there are things you can do right now that don’t have enormous costs associated with them. One of those is using passive solar.

Passive Solar Energy

Passive solar energy is using energy from the sun to heat, cool, and provide light using direct energy from the sun. Unlike using solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity, passive solar uses only the energy coming from the sun to reduce the heating needs of a building or to produce hot water. Let’s look at how some of these technologies work.

Passive Solar Heating

Passive solar building designs use the free energy from the sun to heat a home or office space. Passive solar heating relies completely upon the building design to maximize the radiant heating effects of the sun. Passive solar heating is the most cost-efficient way to heat a building. The goal is to use large energy-efficient windows which face south and allow the sun’s radiant heat into the interior. The building also uses materials that absorb heat during the day and radiate the heat back into the interior at night. These materials are called thermal mass. They are building materials such as concrete and masonry. These materials are good at absorbing thermal heat from the sun and then releasing the heat back into the indoor environment. Passive solar construction is designed to be airtight to trap the heat and prevent cold air from entering the building. Extra layers of insulation are used to help keep the heat inside from radiating out through the walls and ceilings. The heat can be redistributed throughout the building by the use of ceiling, or other fans.

Solar Cooling

We don’t normally think of using the sun to cool our spaces. Normally we think of the sun as a heat source. However, passive solar cooling is a real thing. It makes use of strategically placed sun blocking mechanisms and materials to help cool the structure. Passive cooling depends heavily on using reflective coatings on windows and outside walls and roofs. Using natural cross-ventilation helps to distribute heat throughout the building thereby cooling the structure.

Active solar cooling is another use for solar energy. Although not technically a passive solar system due to its use of refrigerant or evaporative cooling, the system uses solar energy. The use of solar energy to power the system makes the active solar cooling system still many times more efficient than a standard HVAC system. Using an active solar cooling system you can actually use the heat from the sun to drive an exchange system with a chiller to remove heat from an area. This type of system is talked about in more detail here.

Solar Water Heater

A solar water heater uses the energy from the sun to heat water in a tank which can then be circulated into your existing water heater to reduce energy consumption. By using the free energy from the sun instead of the electrical heating coils in your water heater, you save energy. These energy savings translate into money saved. Solar water heating systems use a tank or coiled tubes to expose water to the heat energy from the sun. Anyone who has ever picked up a garden hose that has been lying in the sun and turned on the water has experienced how a solar water heater works. In fact, you can build your own solar water heating system for very little money. If you are comfortable with do-it-yourself projects you can save substantial money by building your own solar water heater.

Converting Your Home To Solar Energy

solar home

Are there advantages to converting your home to solar energy? Is it worth the cost? How can converting your home to solar energy help you and the planet? These are just a few of the many questions asked when discussions about solar energy use in the home come up. Solar energy is billed as clean and efficient by the companies trying to sell you solar cells. But can it really replace your current electric company and free you from that dreaded electric bill each month?

How Does Solar Energy Work?

Solar panels are installed over a flat surface like the roof of your home. They are usually installed on a south-facing roof to get the greatest sun exposure, even in the winter. Solar panels use silicon cells and provide electricity by the photovoltaic effect. This is a process where an electric current is produced by light striking a crystalline substance that is in proximity to another dissimilar substance. You can read more info on the photovoltaic effect here.

The electricity produced by solar panels is DC current. This electric current is sent from the solar array to a bank of batteries or directly to an inverter to provide electricity to the home. The solar setup is usually connected to a switching mechanism so that if the power drain is higher than the array or batteries can maintain, power can be supplemented from the power grid. It is also possible to replace the 120-volt appliances in a home with 12 volt DC appliances, but these come with their own additional cost.

Electric energy use in the home is measured using a utility meter that spins backward and forwards when you install a solar system. It will go backward when you are producing more energy than you need and forward when you need additional power from the utility company. Any surplus energy produced is sold back to the electric company in what is known as net metering.

Things You Should Consider About Investing in Solar Energy

There is no doubt that there are a lot of benefits to converting to solar energy. You can save money and help protect the environment at the same time. But before you switch there are a few things you should consider.

Is your roof right for solar power? Most solar power systems can be installed as long as the roof is flat and made of a material such as bitumen, composite shingle, cement tile, metal or tar, and gravel. If this is how your roof is constructed, then there shouldn’t be any problem mounting the solar panels on your roof. The solar panels will be installed parallel to the roof surface. The panels are very light, and it is rare that any structural work would be needed before installing the system.

Compare prices of contractors to get the total cost of installing the system. Although the cost of the system upfront can be expensive, your return on investment will pay for the system in a short time. You also avoid rate hikes as the price of electricity increases. This adds even more savings to your investment.

Installing solar power will increase the resale value of your property without having to pay much more in terms of property taxes. If you have a lot of space to spare for battery storage, you may even be able to zero out your electric bill. There are also government tax credits available for installing solar power.

Best Batteries For An Off Grid System

One drawback to installing an off grid energy system is the substantial initial cost. Besides the energy production method, such as solar panels or wind turbines, one of the biggest expenses of the system is the battery bank you need to store your energy for use. You can’t always depend on the sun to shine or the wind to blow, so you need a battery bank to store your energy for when you need it. But there are ways to significantly reduce the costs associated with setting up your battery bank.

New Batteries Aren’t Your Only Option

Before we look at the best batteries for an off-grid system it’s important to note that you don’t have to buy new overpriced batteries. In fact, you can probably find the batteries you will need at little or no cost to you. Once you find these batteries you can recondition them to like-new ones and use them in your battery bank. This little-known trick can save you substantially on your investment in a battery bank. It could even allow you to spend more on your solar panels, wind turbines, or other energy generators to produce even more free energy with the money you save.

3 Best Batteries For An Off-Grid System

Golf Cart Batteries

Golf cart batteries are widely used and are widely manufactured. Golf cart batteries have a lifespan of 5-6 years. This may seem like a short lifespan, but they can be reconditioned to extend that normal lifespan even further. Another great thing about golf cart batteries is they can be found almost anywhere. You may even be able to find them for little or no money at all. You may be able to call your local golf course and see if they have old batteries they need to get rid of. Offer to haul them away for free, or even pay them a small amount.

L16 Batteries

These batteries were designed for industrial floor scrubbers. They are a good middle battery between golf cart and industrial batteries. They are a little larger and heavier than golf cart batteries. They were designed to last a bit longer than golf cart batteries. They should last 6-8 years. They can also be more expensive, but once again, if you do your research you may be able to find them for little or no money.

Forklift or Industrial Batteries

You can also take the opposite approach and use one or several large-capacity batteries instead of a bank of smaller ones such as golf cart batteries. Industrial or forklift batteries can store a large amount of energy, so you only need one or a few. The drawback of these batteries is they are expensive. They are also big and heavy. This is a consideration when you are planning your system. The main advantage is that they are generally manufactured to last 15-20 years.

You may be able to find low-cost or free ways to get these batteries too. If you know of an industrial plant or somewhere that uses a lot of forklifts you may be able to offer to dispose of the dead batteries they have stacked up in a warehouse for disposal. Even if you end up paying them a small amount, you can save substantially over buying new batteries. These batteries also lend themselves well to reconditioning.

Wind Energy

wind energy for living off grid

Using wind energy has been around for centuries. Wind energy was used in the past to mill corn and to pump water. What are some uses, advantages, and disadvantages of using wind energy?

The development of the internal combustion engine and electrical grids made the windmill obsolete by the 1900s. Wind energy works by a kind of variation of solar power. That is, the energy of the sun heats up the atmosphere and this causes the wind to blow. As warm air rises cooler air moves in to replace the rising air, and that movement of air is what we call wind. Windmills that were designed to generate electricity were popular in Denmark at the end of the 19th century.  Two or three rotor blades were linked to the shaft of a generator and the wind turned the blades. There are a number of benefits of renewable wind energy over the likes of fossil fuels in powering the world. These include:

• Wind is a positively vast and inexhaustible natural resource.
• Most of the costs are just the initial costs to build a wind system. Minor costs are maintenance and operational costs.
• Wind power helps reduce the use of fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal.
• Wind power reduces climate change. Once a wind farm is erected there are no greenhouse gas emissions.
• Wind is free.
• Electric power from wind is cheaper than power from gas and nuclear plants.

Advantages of wind energy

Unlike electricity that is generated by fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the wind does not generate any pollution or greenhouse gases. Wind power is often said to be one of the best sources of natural energy other than solar energy. There are a number of advantages to using wind energy because the wind is a free, vast, and renewable resource. A renewable resource is a resource that is continually replenished i.e. the wind is going to keep blowing as long as Earth has an atmosphere, so we don’t have to worry about running out of wind in the next 50 years. The same can’t be said for fossil fuels.

Like other alternative forms of energy, the biggest cost involved with wind energy is the construction of the wind system. There will be maintenance costs involved, but this will be very similar to the maintenance costs involved with other forms of electric generation.

Another of the real advantages of wind is that once the wind turbines are built, the wind does not cause any pollution. In contrast, the continual burning of fossil fuels causes big problems for the environment. This includes smog, acid rain, and global warming. The release of carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming is the biggest issue.

The fact that fossil fuel resources are stretching thin and the burning of fossil fuels causes damage to the environment caused scientists to look for other alternatives. Wind energy is a clean, renewable alternative to the continued burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Disadvantages of Wind Energy

The biggest disadvantage of wind energy is the noise. Wind farms create noise because there is not just one wind turbine in a field but hundreds or even thousands. Hundreds of wind turbines make a huge amount of noise. Commercial wind turbines make so much noise that they are often compared to the noise that a jet aircraft makes. With wind energy, you may get rid of environmental pollution, but you trade-off for another pollution – noise pollution. It’s not uncommon for people to protest wind farms because of the noise.

Another of the other major disadvantages of wind energy is the fact that wind can never be predicted – one day you’ll have lots of wind blowing, and other days there will be no wind at all. It is difficult to know what the weather will be like from day to day. If wind energy were the only source of power available people would go without power when the winds are calm.

It is expensive to set up wind power technology in the beginning stage.  You have to get government consent, land consent, and you have to find a land area large enough to construct the wind farm. It is often hard to find open spaces that are close to where people live.

There you have a few options for setting up energy systems for living off grid. Whether you use one or a combination of energy sources, using renewable energy can save you a significant amount of money over buying your electricity from large power producers.

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