Living on the grid has its perks. I mean, we’ve got practically unlimited access to power so we can take advantage of all our modern amenities – refrigerators, air conditioning, lights, washing machine, Netflix… you name it!
Despite having access to all this, however, there are some drawbacks. The United States experiences a ton of power outages. And, when the grid goes down, that means you do, too. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might prefer to go off grid, but for now, let’s just talk about power.
Some of the following off grid power sources can be connected to your home in the city, reducing the cost of your power bill and giving you access to electricity when the rest of your neighborhood is in the dark. Some, however, might need a different location. Take that into consideration while reading and see which resources work best in your situation.
When it comes to harnessing renewable energy, our sun is more than eager to help out. Its rays can be converted into energy to be used for anything you need – assuming you have enough solar panels. But that’s just it! These days, solar power doesn’t have to be an extremely expensive venture. With developments in technology, it has dropped in price and increased in accessibility, which makes solar panels a doable option.
If powering your home by solar isn’t feasible, there are smaller, more mobile solar panels you can use to at least power your smaller devices. These solar panels can be hooked up to certain power packs, so you can charge then go, charge on the go, or go then charge. Small, lightweight solar panels are great for many circumstances, including hiking, camping, and emergencies.
Before we get too far on this section, might I point out the obvious: Wind power requires wind. I know, I know. I’m a genius for figuring that out. But it’s an important factor to consider when deciding if generating electricity from wind is a viable option. Check your local weather service to see what your average wind speed is in your area. Once you know that, you can then begin to calculate how much electricity you can generate.
And then there’s the size of the wind turbines. According to treehugger.com, a 400-watt wind turbine is good enough to power an appliance or two (like a washer and dryer). A 10,000-watt turbine, however, could power most – or all of – your house. The more wattage a turbine puts out, the larger the rotors, and the taller the structure. Living off grid, size shouldn’t be an issue. However, if you would like to add a turbine to your neighborhood home, a 100-foot tall turbine probably wouldn't pass city ordinances.
First, look outside. Do you have a source of running water on your property? You do? Great! That means you can tap it for its electrical output.
One of the benefits of generating electricity using the micro hydro method is its constant output. If your source is good (meaning the water source is constantly flowing), you will generate electricity every single day of the week, rain or shine, day or night. And, because of the constant flow of energy, you won’t need as large a battery bank to store the generated power.
Of course, if there isn’t a stream or some kind of flowing water nearby, this option just won’t work. But, if you’re in a location where you can implement this method, you’ll be hailing hydro for its constant and effective power supply.
Once you have a way to generate electricity, you’re going to need a way to store it for later use. The sun won’t always shine, the wind won’t always blow, and your little stream might even get plugged upstream for a bit. Then you’ll be out of power in moments.
When building your battery bank, make sure you use deep discharge or deep cycle lead-acid batteries. Basically, these battery types will be able to store and produce a heap of energy when needed. An inverter is also necessary to convert that stored energy to something a little more useful. Once converted into an AC current, you’ll be good to power your household appliances, lights, and other electrically-powered machines and devices.
For more detailed information on constructing your own battery bank, check out this video:
Even though you have renewable energy – whether from the sun, wind, or water – things can still go wrong and you can be left without power. Having a backup is always a good idea. A diesel generator (or other source of backup power) will give you power when the sun refuses to shine or the wind stops blowing for a few days. Sure, your battery bank will keep you powered for a while, but as nothing is certain (especially when it comes to weather), a generator can make up for when your power sources just aren’t collecting enough power for your needs.
Now, those who have done the work of going off grid know better than anyone the cruel truths that go into this kind of living. According to Bob Ritzman – living off grid in Montana – “living off the grid is not as simple and cost efficient as many people may think.”
Sure, it’s a great thought to go out there and not have to pay electricity bills, but it does cost money to install the equipment you’ll use to gather that energy. That right there can cost quite a bit. However, once it’s set up, you won’t have to rely on the fragile grid any longer, and that kind of freedom can be worth quite a price.
Have some tips on generating power off grid? Let us know in the comments!
I have a friend who lives in an area that gets a lot of frequent power outages. She’s looking for alternative sources of energy. It’s so interesting how much solar energy has dropped in cost and increased in accessibility.
I have asked FEMA for a copy of those plans, they say they are no longer available. There is a site that charges for the plans. (I don’t know if they are the same) I’d rather not pay for them. If someone could post them that would be great!
I found those plans (and some notes) here
John in MT
Most people never heard about it, but during WWII people used wood gas to run cars and farm machinery. It is a great option to run a generator for charging batteries in an off grid situation. The fuel (wood) is more stable than any petroleum fuel and easy to find in most areas. FEMA has a basic wood gasifier generator plan available online. It can be cobbled together from an old lawn mower engine an a few spare parts. You can even do like they did during the war and run a tractor or truck with one.