If the idea of going ‘off-grid' excites you, then perhaps now is a great time to be doing it. We live in an era where the cost of items such as solar panels is continually dropping and this is juxtaposed with fossil fuel reserves that deplete day by day.
While you may even be forced off-grid if you move to a remote location, does it make sense going off-grid if you have perfectly good access (for example, in a town or village)? And with different grids – transport, gas, water – which is the easiest to unplug from?!
In this discussion (which was one of our Google+ Hangouts) we discuss some of the issues surrounding going off-grid.
Ken Silverstein, an business journalist who specialises in writing about energy
It is Best to be Off-Grid in the Broadest Sense
Paul believes that the best way of being off-grid is to be off multiple grids, such as the transportation grid, the propane grid and the fossil fuel grid, not just the electrical power grid.
There are Incentives for Those Going Off-Grid, While Those Staying on are Penalised
There is a growing trend in the US towards homeowners installing solar panels, enticed by government incentives, attractive financing packages and dramatically falling costs of the panels themselves. Ken explains that this is controversial because it is at the expense of those remaining on the grid who are left picking up a greater share of the bill for its support.
People Choose to go Off-Grid For a Variety of Reasons
Whilst going off-grid can make sound ideological sense it doesn’t always make financial, engineering or environmental sense when extra batteries and electronics are factored in. In some cases the lower cost of PV cells can be an attractive proposition while for others living in remote locations it can be a decision made out of necessity.
The Oil Industry Fights Back
Mike refers to a recent article talking about some US oil magnates and politicians attempting to put a tax on those who have photovoltaic installations. They are justifying it with the excuse that such owners are destabilising the electricity grid and should be made to pay for it.
There are Additional Energy Demands to Consider
Mike talks about his own property where, for environmental reasons, he has tried to reduce energy demands further. He has achieved this by harvesting rainwater, treating it to provide the water supply, and using a dry composting toilet system. And all this without expending additional energy.
There can be a Contradiction in Trying to be Self-Sufficient
Paul discovered a drawback in trying to be self-sufficient and using solar energy when he was landed with a large propane gas bill. The resultant measures he took to remove himself from the propane grid are documented in his book and included making his own backyard bio-gas, which can be used to run a car or heat water.
Don’t Go Off-Grid if You’re Already on it
With the sheer volume of equipment required for battery storage, in Paul’s opinion it doesn’t make sense to go off-grid if you’re already on it. This would therefore apply to people living in densely populated areas that just wouldn’t have the space for it to be stored.
Paul resorts to a backup generator for the times when the batteries are drained due to a lack of sun or wind.
Developments are Being Made into Advancing Battery Technology
Advances in battery systems have been brought about with the growing popularity of portable computers, mobile phones and electric cars. With ever greater investment of effort and finance the future is likely to produce far smaller, more efficient and cheaper solutions.
“Efficiency First, Renewables Next”
Paul’s mantra is “efficiency first, renewables next”. The ideal scenario is to have an efficient house that doesn’t have as great a need for energy. Once that has been achieved it is a case of working out your renewables based on what’s available, how much it costs, your goals and values, and your desired comfort level.
There are Added Benefits of Being Off-Grid
Being off-grid means you can be well placed if there were dramatic changes in climate, technology or fuel supplies in the future.
Whilst a premium can be paid at the outset, the reduction in ongoing costs can be extremely attractive, with Mike quoting his savings of around £3000 per year, when compared to an equivalent typical British house.
Somebody Needs to Pay to Maintain the Grid
Maintenance of the grid is extremely costly and with more people going off-grid there are fewer remaining on who will inevitably be left to pay a greater share.
Ken sees the need for some sort of reconciliation between the utility companies and those who go off-grid because the need for the grid to remain durable and reliable is so vital.
Energy Companies are Being Forced into a Strange Situation
A situation exists in the UK, for example, where government legislation dictates that the utility companies must offer to subsidise energy saving measures to households, which in turn will lead to less energy consumption with resultant lower revenues.
There is a Risk of the UK Grid Collapsing
Mike sees a future where the government will bring in massive diesel generators to cover the shortfall in supply of electricity driven by greater demand. At times of exceptional drain on the system caused by unusual weather patterns, there is a risk of the UK grid collapsing. If that were to happen there would be plenty of smug off-grid home owners sitting happy about the decision they made!
Watch the Google+ Hangout
Do you fancy getting involved in a future discussion? Well, check out the schedule.
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