1. Welcome Hearth.com Guests and Visitors - Please enjoy our forums!
    Hearth.com GOLD Sponsors who help bring the site content to you:
    Hearthstone Soapstone and Cast-Iron stoves( Wood, Gas or Pellet Stoves and Inserts)

"Off the Grid": The growing appeal of going off the grid

Post in 'The Green Room' started by BrotherBart, Aug 9, 2010.

  1. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Messages:
    29,163
    Loc:
    Northern Virginia

    Helpful Sponsor Ads!





  2. smokinj

    smokinj Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Aug 11, 2008
    Messages:
    15,972
    Loc:
    Anderson, Indiana
    Sure looks good at times.
  3. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Messages:
    1,669
    Loc:
    Northern NH
    There are folks who truly live off grid but many others who trade one utility for another. Most off grid installations require battery banks and the majority of these battery banks require replacement every 7 to 10 years if they are treated correctly and frequently last less than 3 years for first timers. They generally require a gas or diesel generator to be run every 1 to 2 months for 12 to 24 hours to equalize the state of charge in the battery bank. Generally most off gird electric systems long term operating costs when capital costs, battery bank replacements and inevitably inverter "smokings" figure 35 to 50 cents per kW.

    Other folks I have run into say they are "off grid" and claim very low electric power use. Frequently after talking to them for awhile, they have a gas refrigerator, gas dryer and backup gas electric hot water heater. Sure they are the grid, but when the propane truck pulls up the driveway, they dont fill your tanks for free.

    There are some regional examples of self sustaining buildings but their initial costs are usually subsidized by some federal grant or its a non profit that has willing donors. I generally consider them great as "concepts" but when you start trying to figure the economics, I expect the rate of return is as bad as wht one could current get with a CD.
  4. BucksCoBernie

    BucksCoBernie New Member

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2008
    Messages:
    450
    I love this subject and I'm all for being more self sufficient but there's no way im crapping in a composter!

    I've been looking at solar systems for a while now and just cant get past the cost even with the tax rebates. 10yr payback is a long time to wait. I might start small and set up a small solar electric system for my greenhouse once its ready.
  5. woodsman23

    woodsman23 Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2008
    Messages:
    1,352
    Loc:
    western southern tier of NYS
    It's not all about the payback, it is however about be efficient and saving non renewable energy, wood, solar,wind, it's about saving a planet not a bank account. commitment costs money plain and simple. You do then someone else will do it and then more and more. I am 30% off the grid and only need propane once every 2 years and if need be i can get by without it at all. I use wind/solar and my batteries are well over 5 years old and are from wally world marine batteries which i have 6 at a cost of 75 bucks each. It's not easy being totally off the grid but it is a great feeling to make your own power no matter how much it is..
  6. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Messages:
    49,136
    Loc:
    South Puget Sound, WA
    10 years goes by all too quickly.
  7. Fi-Q

    Fi-Q Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2009
    Messages:
    273
    Loc:
    Bonaventure, Quebec
    My house sit in Québec where there is 0 incentive or taxe rebate for residential renewable. I am not planning to go off-grid because the grid is there, it is cheap and somehow pretty reliable. But, eventually, I want to have a solar grid-tie with back up system. For the price of power in Québec I am 99% it will never pay for itself. But, I am making a living with green energy, so, it's a goal for me, to make my part, and too, I want the ''Back Up''. So far, here what I think my system will be if it ever happen: maybe 8 to 16 batteries, with a Xantrex XW 6048, 800 watt of solar panel, maybe eventually 1 wind mill far enough from the house, and a diesel generator, just in case. I am from Eastern Québec, in the Gaspe péninsula, and I am pretty sure that if ever there is a HUGHE natural diisaster we will be one of the last place in Québec to be re-connected. I may never do it, but it is not about money, it's all about myself, the way I want to leave, my little ''Doom Day side'' and the little Green Boy inside of me...... I guess I need to see that as a hobby.......

    But who knopws right, power price keep going up... and up.... and up.... and the price of small scale renewable system keep coming down, maybe in 30-40 year for now (I am planning on still being alive then, hopefully anyway) maybe it just make sense to have our off-grid system......
  8. pyper

    pyper New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Messages:
    491
    Loc:
    Deep South
    Living off grid means not being connected to government utilities.

    Unless you're going to grow all your own food and use a mule to plow you're going to be dependent on buying stuff from other people. I don't see any practical difference in depending on other people for fuel or for food or for transportation.

    There was an interesting article on living off grid in the Christian Science Monitor recently. One of the households they featured is doing solar in the woods in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
  9. BrotherBart

    BrotherBart Hearth.com LLC Mid-Atlantic Division Staff Member

    Joined:
    Nov 18, 2005
    Messages:
    29,163
    Loc:
    Northern Virginia
    Dang! I am off the grid and didn't know it. Our electric company isn't owned by a government, it's a co-op, and we have a well and septic system.

    I am greener than I thought! :lol:
  10. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2007
    Messages:
    1,439
    I guess the more accurate term is "self sufficient." Unless you want to live very primitively, true self sufficiency is pretty much impossible. Even if you had a large enough solar array to provide all of your power needs without battery storage (which would be extremely wasteful and expensive), inverters go bad, etc...and you're not going to be fixing them with hand tools. There's nothing wrong with trying though.
  11. pyper

    pyper New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Messages:
    491
    Loc:
    Deep South
    But unless you're on an island, then your electric is connected to all the rest.
  12. timfromohio

    timfromohio Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Messages:
    520

    For me it would have nothing to do with saving the planet or saving and more to do with becoming more self-sufficient and simply not tied to the grid.
  13. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2005
    Messages:
    6,833
    Loc:
    Sand Lake, NY
    Solar and wind are pretty much site dependent. As much as I'd like, my place is surrounded by a lot of trees and doesn't face south. It is on a hill but even though it's a little windier than down at the bottom, the surrounding trees would shadow a bunch of wind I'd think.

    On the way to work, we pass a guy with a fairly new wind generator on an aluminum flag pole in his front yard. It's a fairly open location, but that thing is hardly ever spinning when we see it. Today it was, but there's a front coming in. It really warms my heart that we contributed, what, half?, to this POS gizmo with our over-inflated utility bills.

    For me, the well pump is the most current draw on startup. I've heard there are soft-start models, but to improve in this area I'd have to pull the submersible pump out from it's current location 450' beneath the earth's surface and replace that perfectly good pump, so far, knock on wood, with a new more expensive model. Even then, there's the constant load when it's running which is substantial.

    As far as disasters in Quebec, remember 1998?

    [​IMG]
  14. pyper

    pyper New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2010
    Messages:
    491
    Loc:
    Deep South
    I helped my uncle do that on his farm. I think the old pump burned out. His was about 400 feet down, too. It wasn't that hard to get it out, actually, but definitely a two person job. One to carry the top end of the pipe out into the field, and one to keep it from getting torn up on the well casing. But I wouldn't do it if the one that's down there is working.
  15. benjamin

    benjamin Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2009
    Messages:
    695
    Loc:
    SW WI
    "Off Grid" is the biggest red herring in the housing and energy field. Simple people apparently get off on words like "off grid", "hybrid", and worst of all "green". It's completely self defeating to spend more on these "experimental" technologies than will ever be returned on the investment. The only good thing about "off grid" is that it forces the users to scrutinize every watt out of necessity, in the vast majority of cases fewer resources would be used by retaining the grid and doing a small portion of the conservation required to live off grid.

    I've seen time and time again, sometimes even helped with installations that make zero sense aside from the ego stroking and attention getting. For instance, installing a small PV/battery/inverter system for a building because it's not that much more than the utility would charge to run power to the location, if you need a 200 amp service you'd be spending hundreds of thousands if not millions in renewables, if you only need a few killowatts a day you could run some 12-2 UF for a fraction of the cost (or "resources" for the greenwashed) of a chincy system that will be a constant pita.

    I've been told that even islands are often connected to the grid by way of undersea cable. Tasmania has a connection to mainland Australia to use coal fired power because they stopped building hydro out of environmental concerns.
  16. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2005
    Messages:
    6,833
    Loc:
    Sand Lake, NY
    Heck, I believe there's a proposal to feed NYC more juice from Canada with a line in under lake Champlain, the Hudson river, etc.

    As I said earlier, I object to paying the 50% or whatever to help defray the cost of ineffective renewable projects for other rate payers. it's not a free lunch - I paid for that lunch.
  17. oldspark

    oldspark Guest

    There are wind turbines that work, they are only part of the solution and what is the 50% of the funding you are talking about, a tax break or what?
  18. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 5, 2005
    Messages:
    6,833
    Loc:
    Sand Lake, NY
    Any funding, taxes or the "system benefit charge" they take it out of our electric bills.
  19. dvellone

    dvellone Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2006
    Messages:
    449
    My wife, two kids and I live "off grid" in upstate NY with all of our electric needs supplied by a 1400+ watt solar array and battery storage. The initial cost of our system was comparable to bringing in grid power so we could have gone either way. We liked the idea of our own on site system, and a limited amount of power which would force us to use electricity as though it wasn't an unlimited resource. We also get many power outages around these parts and liked the advantage of never having one ourselves.

    That said, I'll be the first to vouch for the fact that it isn't cheap. The system cost is a deep investment, and if you plan on making your house as efficient as possible so that you don't gobble up all you power you're in for many related expenses. We ran two strands of wire throughout the house to provide ac as well as dc outlets. Our lighting is all dc and the bulbs aren't cheap. Our submersible is dc and it's cost is much more than an ac model. The high efficiency dc ceiling fan cost a couple times more than a standard ac and the variable speed switch wasn't includes (that cost as much as a ac fan). And the dc refrigerators? I'll just say that after 6 years on our system I still can't bring myself to write the check though we do have a standard ac fridge. We did recently double the size of our solar array and upgrade our charge controller which further increased the efficiency of our system and received a 55% rebate between federal and state incentives.

    I won't bother trying to figure out when I'll break even. I doubt it'll ever happen. Electricity isn't that expensive here and if your on-grid house is as efficient as ours your bills would be negligible. I live in the woods though and being off grid contributes to my sense of self -sufficiency just as my wood stove does. (the labor I put into firewood if put into my trade would pay my heating bills many times over).

    I have to point out that the life of the system - even the batteries - is much longer than what some folks think. The components are all solid-state, the solar panels have a twenty year warranty and my batteries - all deep cell lead acid - are holding as much power now as they did 6 years ago. I have friends who have the same batteries they installed 20 years ago. Keeping them charged properly and well cared for will keep them healthy for many years. Change the oil on your car every 4k miles? Water your batteries every two months. As far as generator use goes, that is up to the system user. I know folks who want to live off-grid as though they're on-grid with no concern for the amount of power they consume, and they run their generator every day during the "dark months", while others who when their storage is getting low adjust their consumption so they never have to run a generator.

    As for ourselves we're doing laundry, watching tv, listening to the stereo, using the computer just like the rest of you or maybe even more so. One big difference is that to some extent we keep our eyes on the meter between October and January. If the battery bank is approaching 60% we'll maybe hold off doing 3 loads of laundry in one day, or if there's no chance for sun for days ahead we'll charge up to 100% with the generator (a honda 5000 watt). That takes around 5 hours. This is based on our 1/2 array. With the upgrade those days will be far fewer if at all.

    We're definitely not living an austere existence here. We do turn out lights when we're not using a room and the tv isn't on all day long as background sound, but I have a wood shop and I'm regularly running my table saw, chop saw, and other equipment as well as doing a fair amount of mill work. I've never been unable to run this equipment nor have had to run the generator to work in my shop. And I'll point out again that I live in upstate NY, due East of the Great Lakes. Sunny Arizona it ain't. Now if I lived there I might try to figure my break even point.
  20. vvvv

    vvvv New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2010
    Messages:
    1,449
    Loc:
    MAINE
    no standby generator 4u?
  21. MrEd

    MrEd New Member

    Joined:
    May 9, 2008
    Messages:
    426
    Loc:
    Rural New England
    I am mostly "off the grid", in the generic sense - 100% wood heat that comes from my property, well water and private septic system. In order to get off the "real grid", i.e. electric, would require a huge investment on my part, and I would make it if I thought I could get payback in 7-10 years, but I don't think I can.
  22. dvellone

    dvellone Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2006
    Messages:
    449
  23. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2008
    Messages:
    3,723
    Loc:
    Eastern Central PA
    Were all "off the grid " when the power goes out. That s the beauty of a wood stove, makes heat,light and cooks food without electric.
  24. billjustbill

    billjustbill Member

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2008
    Messages:
    120
    Loc:
    Texas
    Could you share what controller and inverter you use? I'm starting a small solar array and by your description of your lifestyle, I'd like mine to work like yours. What size and kind of batteries are working for you?

    Thanks for sharing,
    Bill
  25. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2008
    Messages:
    3,723
    Loc:
    Eastern Central PA
    Have a cabin in the woods with no electricity, been thinking about trying to Live like the amish, gas lamps,wood stove for heat,cookong and light at night, live as simple as possible, just to see what its like.We may have to do that at some point anyway.

Share This Page