off the Grid -
Alternative Solar Energy, Wind Power for Off Grid Living
WHAT DOES "LIVING OFF THE GRID" MEAN?
A lot of people
confuse the concepts of
sustainable living and living off the grid. It is how
great-grandparents lived daily, without another thought; living without
municipal water or grid electricity.
electricity and water
bills, and the fact that sometimes you just can't count on your
electricity supply being there, it is estimated now that more than
180,000 Americans are
already living off the grid, and many more search
each month for information on alternative energy in the form of solar
energy and wind power. If you have found this page, you too must also
be one of those people who want to learn more about alternative energy.
THE GRID - HOW
YOUR ELECTRICITY USAGE
So how much
electricity to you need per
hour in your house, if you were thinking about living off the grid?
Take your on-grid electricity meter readings over 12 months and total
the number of kilowatt-hours you have used over that one-year period.
Now divide that by 365 to get how much electricity you use per day, and
further divide that by 24 hours. Now you have an hourly figure of how
much electricity you will need to generate if you were to go off-grid.
LIVING OFF THE GRID -
SOURCES TO MAINS WATER
When you are
deciding to go off grid,
you will make the decision whether to stick with mains water or to
dispense with it. We all need water, so you will need to do your
homework before you make such an important decision. Before you do so,
you may consider some ways in reducing your bills by
and use less hot water
the thermostat down,
particularly in summer to 115
all leaking taps and pipes
a more efficient water
heater, if it is older than
more showers than baths –
of our water consumption
takes place in the bathroom
1/3 of your tank every 3
months to get rid of a
build- up of sediment in the tank, which in turn reduces efficiency.
Living off the
Grid and Well
Many people will
be surprised to learn
that existing wells on the property may be totally unusable for
drinking water due to pollutants found in surface water from
fertilizers, animal manure and the like. However, that doesn't mean
that you cannot pump it to your vegetable garden and flower garden –
you can and you should.
Living off the Grid and Using
Rain Water or Snowmelt
Living off the
grid also means being
harnessing nature's bounty. A lot of rain water is lost through
direct seepage into the ground.
If you have enough land on your
property and you have the right run-off, build a dam. This water can
then be used to feed your livestock and your gardens.
All roofs of
houses are suitable for
water collection. If you have rain
barrels that you position under your gutters
the down-pipe feeding into the barrel, any overflow can either be
stored in underground tanks or it can be used to feed nearby ponds. This
used later on for the garden and livestock when the rain is not that
place taps at the bottom of your rain barrels to have
easy access to your water. If you put in place a harvesting rainwater
system, and you have regular rainfall in your area, you should be able
to live off the rainwater alone. However, if you are going to use rain
water for personal drinking water when living off the grid,
has to be
Living off the Grid and
Using Rivers and
If you are lucky enough to have
or stream on your property, you should be able to pump directly from
that for your personal use. However, this must be validated with your
local authorities and usually involves a license and a quota limit of
just how much you can pump.
stream is continually running for 12 months of the
year, you can also harness this energy to create micro-hydropower which
is also known as 'run of river'. The size of your system will be
limited to the amount of energy generated by the force of the water.
Living off the Grid and Gray
Any water that
has already been
the house is called gray water. This is water that comes
dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, baths and showers, but not from
toilets. It has been suggested that if we used this gray water to flush
our toilets, we would be reducing our water consumption by about 50%!
Not only that, but instead of allowing this water to go down the drain,
there is nothing wrong with it to water your gardens, your lawns,
washing the car with it or even windows for that matter. However, the
soap that you use should be bio-degradable in nature.
Gray water can
be filtered using a
'living machine' which has biotic filters through which the gray water
is pumped, and then used as drinking water. The living machine provides
a closed-loop system which uses very little additional water, so making
it very efficient as a system.
Living off the Grid and
Sinking a bore hole
If you are
living off the grid, and you
are thinking about sinking a bole hole there are somethings you should
be aware of. There are no guarantees that you will find water in the
place you bore for it, and further when you find it, that it will be
fine to drink. It is also not a cheap exercise. This should be your
last option and you should do a lot of research first before you employ
such a contractor to bore for you.
LIVING OFF THE GRID - ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES
Unfortunately, there is
no one off-grid system that will provide you with enough electricity
for all your modern household appliances when looking at alternative
energy. So you will have to go for a
mix of systems. You could have wood for heating and cooking, solar
panels for water heating and wind turbines for electricity. Or you
could have solar paneling for lighting, geothermal energy for heating
and bio-diesel, or wood for cooking. All in all, you will need to look
at your requirement for living off the grid, your climate and your
situation, and plan accordingly.
LIVING OFF THE GRID OPTIONS
power is one
that is becoming more and more popular. Here panels are
either on the roof, or pole-mounted in such a way that they trap the
sun’s rays over the longest part of the day. The advantage of the
pole-mounted solar panels is that they can also be placed in such a way
that they follow the path of the sun over the day, maximizing the
storage of energy. Solar panels will heat both space and water and once
the system is in place and operational, there is no further up-keep.
Cells or PV
cells, as they
are called, also use the sun as an energy source, but this time to
convert the energy to electricity. The number and size
of your PV cells
will be determined by how much electricity you require.
A small PV
system will only produce a small number of watts. However, when linked
to a battery, it can provide enough electricity for a small cottage.
cells are readily
available and will provide up to several hundred watts of electricity
for a normal home. Because they only work when the sun shines you have
to have batteries to store any excess energy that can be
used when the
sun is not shining. Lead acid batteries are used for this and should be
looked after, keeping the electrolyte topped up and not leaving them
output of the
photocells is usually
limited to 24 volts,
so an electronic device called an inverter
to convert the voltage up to normal domestic levels of
computing devices will all work well on 24 volts.
The biggest problem is
your heavy current drawers such as washing
machines, tumble driers and cookers which have a voracious appetite for
If you live off grid in
areas where you do not
have a constant
resource of sunshine, then you will need to look at combining your PV
cells with wind power,
and/or a stand-by diesel
can make money
with solar power as an alternative energy source
by selling your excess electricity back to the grid via your local
Wind power is
energy that is
being used extensively in Europe for living off the grid, as
as for generating grid electricity.
Wind turbines are great
if you live in
an area that gets lots of wind as you can then harness
this energy to
provide both lighting and enough electricity to run fridges, washing
machines, computers, TVs etc and other household appliances, but never
use it for heating appliances.
You can either use the 12 volt DC power
to run DC appliances, or you can convert the DC power to AC mains power.
The problem with
wind power is in
harnessing it. When it blows lightly it carries very little energy, and
when it blows a gale, you then have an excess of energy and wind power
is hard to win and store. A fairly large windmill is necessary if
useful amounts of energy are going to be extracted from a light breeze.
the windmill must be
protected from storm damage by having a hinged tail-vane which can
swing the wind-rotor out of the wind, or have removable sails or blades
which can be made to twist into a feathered position where they then
act as air brakes to slow the rotor.
If you have wind
at 15 mph it will
generated 0.913 kilo watts. However, if you have wind at 30 mph it will
generate 3.656 kilo watts. In order to exploit wind power, you will
need to have wind at an average of at least 9 mile per hour, with no
lengthy periods of no wind.
windmill is available in kit form as or as do-it-yourself design and
therefore is perfect for those thinking of living off grid.
For those of you
who own lots of farm
animals, especially cattle,
then this could be
you. Put simply, you will need a lot of space and lots of animal
manure. The concept is an old one and based on the fact that if you
place animal manure under water it will produce bio-gas in the form of
bubbles within just a few days.
Bio-gas is a
mixture of about 60%
methane and 40 % carbon dioxide. Depending on a number
of variable, but
on average, you can have bio-gas within 2 weeks to 5 weeks of
processing. 30 liters of animal manure will give you enough bio-gas to
cook 3 meals a day on a bio-gas-fueled stove. However, it is not a
popular concept with everyone.
The methane contained within bio-gas
20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
uncontained landfill gas which escapes into the atmosphere may
significantly contribute to the effects of global warming.
If you have a
wood-firing system for
your off grid living, you would be able to use this to warm your house,
heat your water and also generate heat for cooking.
are probably the most
convenient and common forms of off-grid technology. However, like the
bio-gas methods of power, gas generators as polluters that should only
be used in a back-up situation when all else has failed.
LIVING OFF THE
toilets are often used by
those living off the grid in a saving the waste of using fresh water to
flush toilets. They are a closed unit not connected to the main
sewerage system or a septic tank.
As the name implies, the collected
waste from composting toilets is sent to a holding tank, where, over
the material eventually breaks down to become compost which can then be
returned to the earth as a valuable soil additive.
advantage of the composting
toilet is the reduced usage of water further reduces the amount of gray
water a household normally produces. There are many municipalities that
don’t allow the use of composting toilets, so you will have to check
with your council to see if you are allowed to establish such a toilet
on your property.
LIVING OFF THE
GRID - CONCLUSION
So you can see,
living off the grid
mean that you have to have a life of discomfort – far from it. What it
does mean is adopting a greener was of living, being more aware of
harnessing natural and free resources and being independent from rising
bills and spiraling costs for the use of conventional electricity and
water supplies. If you are looking for more information on living off
grid, solar or turbine kits, or even composting toilets, then visit our
Corner Store for more details.
Other Green Resources you May be
from Living Off The Grid to Self-Reliance
to Green Living
to Water Conservation
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