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Off-Grid Electricity: A Simple, Must-Read Guide

If you like Do-It-Yourself (DIY) projects, an off-grid electricity project might be fun, save you some money, and reduce greenhouse emissions. This guide will help you understand the pros and cons of each energy source and whether you should go completely off the grid or go with a hybrid on / off the grid solution.

Three Choices – 100% Grid, Partial Grid, or Off-Grid Electricity.

Getting off-grid electricity can be an adventure for some, but what about the rest of us? Most of us would like to maintain our current lifestyle, but many of us now desire to be less dependent on the electric grid. It is interesting to note that there are almost 1 billion people who are not on the electric grid. Most of them do not have a choice due to poverty and lacking access to an electronic grid. Over 90% of these individuals and communities are exploring off-grid solutions (see Mckinsey for more details). For us who are on the electric grid, we have three choices:

  • 100% On-The-Grid. Stay connected to the grid with no solar or batteries (most convenient)
  • Hybrid On/Off the Grid. Stay connected to the grid – but with solar and batteries that meet some or most energy needs (best option to maintain lifestyle and help environment)
  • 100% Off-The-Grid. Cut ties with the grid and have enough solar, battery and generator capacity to get through any contingency (lowest carbon footprint, but highest cost to sustain higher energy needs).
Off-Grid Electricity - Off The Grid Fun
Off The Grid Fun

Off-Grid Electricity Choices.

There are several choices for off-grid electricity, but for most of us there is one choice: solar. This is the most plentiful and accessible renewable energy source. Another consideration is how much electricity do you need to support your lifestyle. According to the U.S. EIA, the average home needs 10,649 kWh per year. The ideal location for off-grid electricity is where there is a lot of sun and wind that could be harnessed for electricity. See below for off-grid electricity choices.

  • Solar. Solar panels are normally used for solar energy.
  • Wind. A wind turbine (windmill) to turn a generator for your power
  • Geothermal. Basically heat extraction from the earth
  • Micro-Hydro. Uses the natural flow of water
  • Generator. This is not renewable, but, offers a convenient back up for off-grid home system

For more details on off-grid electricity choices see An Off Grid Life, Hoestratosphere, and Rural Living Today

Why Get Off the Grid – Pros and Cons?

Due to recent advances in technology and increased concerns to protect the environment, there are many advantages to getting off the electric grid (at least partially).  There are also disadvantages.

  • Solar Technology is Affordable. There is an upfront investment, but it can be a cost-effective way for homes to generate at least a portion of their own electricity.
  • Battery Storage Costs Are Coming Down Quickly. Batteries are needed to store renewable energy such as solar. Technology and manufacturing advances are resulting in lower costs and more capabilities.
  • Electricity Prices Increasing. This includes rising wholesale price of electricity and network (grid) infrastructure costs.
  • Solar Energy Direct Use. This can be a money saver in many parts of the country that get a lot of sun. Also, many Governments provide incentives for homeowners using solar energy. 
  • Energy Independence. Being self-sufficient or even partially self-sufficient is a great feeling.
  • Zero Carbon Footprint. With an off-grid, renewable electric solution, a nearly non-existent carbon footprint is possible to minimize the impact on the environment.
  • Lessen Fears of Grid Infrastructure or Economic Collapse. An off-grid electric solution can be great for your peace of mind.
  • Cost. For some who live too far from the grid, living off grid makes economic sense.
  • Up-Front Costs. A system completely off the grid can be very expensive if you want to keep the lights on all the time. Even a simple system can cost nearly $30,000 and still not satisfy basic electrical needs. If you have above average energy needs or live in a location with limited renewable energy options, your costs can easily exceed $100,000 and then still not satisfy all your energy needs. With solar energy, more and more there are significant savings to your monthly energy bill. For others a payback period could stretch out to 15 years or more, if never.
  • Location Dependent. Many locations cannot be totally off the grid, especially if you have a lot of electric needs. The sun does not always shine, nor does the wind always blow. In this case a generator (fossil fuel) or hookup to the grid will be needed as a backup energy source.

See Family Handyman, Utility Dive, and Fixr’s Off-Grid Solar System for more information on advantages and disadvantages of off the grid electricity.

For more information from Unvarnished Facts, See Pros and Cons of Nuclear Energy and Use of Fossil Fuels.

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