If you’re like most people, you hate the idea of paying bills. The biggest one that you probably have is your electrical bill, which was traditionally one of the only things that you required as a service that you had no control over.
Nowadays, there are plenty of ways to reduce or completely eliminate your connection to the grid. However, there are rules in place that require your home to be connected to the electrical grid in case of an emergency. The only way to go truly off-grid is for a home that is in a remote location, and not have it connected to the city’s services.
This is practical for some people, but for most people, they will be living virtually off-grid. This means that their contribution to the electrical grid exceeds the amount of energy that they draw into their home. Here, we will look to explore what this means, and what it means to your wallet.
Producing Your Own Energy
The first step to an off-grid lifestyle is to find a way to generate your household electricity without having it supplied to you. There are two major systems that you can install at your home, and each has their benefits and drawbacks.
Solar installations work really well to go off-grid if you live in a residential neighborhood. Generally, you a limited amount of shade that covers your roof, and you are able to benefit from a large amount of sunlight hitting your rooftop every year.
The other benefit is that most homes in residential neighborhoods have angled roofs, which allow for more direct sunlight to hit the solar panels than if they were lying on a flat roof.
Another thing that makes solar a good option is that there are generally fewer rules in place around installing solar on your rooftop than installing a wind turbine. However, this is not always the case, and it is best to contact your residential community network to ensure that you are not breaking any rules by installing solar panels.
Solar panels do have some drawbacks, mostly in the form of variability and orientation. Some roofs are better suited for solar based on their orientation. Roofs that face towards the South are generally better at generating power than roofs that are oriented towards the North. As well, in the winter months, there is a lower amount of energy that is generated from your solar array, as the days are shorter than during the summer.
Usually, the amount of excess energy generated in the summer is more than enough to offset the minimal amount of electricity that is generated in the winter months. Therefore, you should be able to save money, and break even on your investment within 5 to 8 years.
If you live in an area that has a lot of shading, or you have fewer people living nearby (such as at your cottage) it might make more sense to install a wind turbine in order to generate your electricity.
Most wind turbines are styled in the same way they were designed in the Middle Ages, shaped like modern pinwheels. However, newer and more space efficiency designs are designed like vertical towers, that do not involve large rotors to spin to generate the electricity.
Wind turbines generally work best in areas where there is a constant wind, usually above 15 miles per hour. These really areas of the world are found in open ocean areas along the coast, or in the flatter areas of the continent. In the United States, the windiest areas are those states found in the Mid-west (including the Dakotas, Nebraska and Kansas), and the windiest state is Wyoming.
Wind power is generally more expensive to install compared to solar, but the wind speeds are more predictable throughout the year. This means that the payback period on your wind turbine could be less than a similar sized solar installation, but there are variety of factors to consider in order to determine if this is the case.
The best way to find out whether solar is better than wind is to use a tool such as Google’s Project Sunroof and use data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to determine which one of these is right for you.
Battery Energy Storage
A more recent technology that can help you go off the grid is the use of a battery storage system. There a variety of manufacturers who sell large lithium-ion batteries that can store about a day’s worth of electricity inside. The electricity that you generate from either your solar panels or wind turbine can be stored inside your batteries, and can allow you to go off-grid as well.
One of the biggest brands is Tesla, who sells 14 kWh “Powerwalls”, which will be enough electricity for a small family home. If you have a home that is larger, or you generate much more electricity as a result of your renewable energy installation, you can purchase a second Powerwall that combines to create a 28 kWh installation, which is more than enough for the average home.
These battery storage backups are extremely useful in case of a power outage, and can provide your home with electricity as a result of any severe weather problems. If you are looking to go off-grid completely, you will definitely need a large batter such as the Tesla Powerwall in order to make this into a reality.
Meeting Your Other Energy Needs Off-Grid
Heating your home while being off-grid can be challenging, especially if you plan to heat your home with electricity. Electrical heating for your off-grid home will become extremely expensive, especially if you have a large home or live in an area that has extremely cold winters.
The first thing to consider is making your home as energy efficient as possible. This includes adding thicker insulation to most areas of your home, ensuring that your windows and doors do not allow hot air to leak out, and that you install double pane or even triple pane windows to reduce the amount of energy lost through these systems.
In order to ensure that you have thought of everything, the best thing to do would be to hire an energy auditor to come and evaluate your home, and ask him for suggestions in regards to what could be changed to reduce the amount of energy needed to heat your off-grid home.
If you don’t want to spend money on this service, you can generally find a few things that you can do on your own, such as those mentioned above, that can make all the difference in terms of reducing your energy needs for your off-grid home.
To go off-grid, your water heater must use electricity from the renewable energy that is generated as part of your off-grid home’s renewable energy installation. A tankless water heater using electricity is the best option to achieve this, as it does not require constant heating of the water, and instead relies on heating the water as you need it.
Solar Hot Water Heater
You can also look into using a solar hot water heater, which complements a solar panel installation on the rooftop. Using a heat-absorbent fluid which gets in contact with sunlight, it becomes extremely warm, and transfers this energy to your water in your home. Therefore, there is a limited amount of additional energy needed in order to get your off-grid home access to hot water.
If you have access to a fireplace, you can also heat your home using wood. This is a common solution if your home is in a remote area with access to lots of fallen trees, and it much more efficient to heat your home with fire than with electricity. Wood can also be burned to heat your stove, and to cook your food over the flames. This is also a more efficient way of heating your stove than with electricity, and it also acts as additional heating for your home.
Passive Solar Heating
Off-grid homes can also be built from the ground up, and work best to passive-solar design elements included. Passive solar usually works best when the house is oriented in such a way that it directs sunlight into the home in such as way as to maximize heat gain during the winter, and reduce the amount of lighting that is required during the day.
Passive Solar Cooling
If you live in a warmer climate and you are looking to have an off-grid home, your home could be built from the ground up to have more natural shading, and therefore reducing the amount of electricity that is required in order to cool your off-grid home.
While it might not be possible for you to truly live off grid as a result of government regulations, it is possible to reduce your energy consumption entirely, and generate more electricity than you consume. Through a combination of renewable energy generation, energy efficiency improvements, design considerations, and equipment upgrades, you can find ways to have a virtually off-grid lifestyle.
If you live in a remote locations, it is much easier to not have a connection to the grid, as the regulations are generally less strict. The major thing to keep in mind in this case is to remember to have a backup plan in case you go through a period where there is very little wind or sun. Without a grid connection, you are totally reliant on the weather to generate enough electricity to meet your needs.
Always look to have a backup battery for any off-grid home that you build. Also, wherever possible, heat your home using wood, as it way more efficient than heating your off-grid home with electricity. Another thing to keep in mind is ensuring that there are passive design elements in your home that either create shade to keep you cool or wide open sunlight to keep your home warm in winter.
Off-grid homes are a great idea to reduce your energy bills. In most cases, it is possible to bring it down to zero, and in areas where it is possible to live off the grid, you won’t have to pay for electricity at all. With energy costs continuing to rise, the off-grid solution is the best way to add certainty to your family budget.