Sunday, January 11, 2015

So you want to get off grid... :-)

I hope everyone is enjoying their weekend.  Just wanted to give you something to think about if you happen to be prepping, planning, attempting to be prepared.  Many of us have the goal of eventually being off-grid.  I know some who are off grid and love reading about and watching the things they learned and have done.  I always try to keep things in perspective of sustainability.  Meaning how much of this can I provide for myself in my local environment.  Can it be done long term?  Can it be done and not sacrifice other things that are needed.  So is it self supporting and self sustaining?

That can be a challenge.  Lots and lots of preppers, survivalists, homesteaders work toward a goal of off-grid living.  However many times we have these dirty little secrets that nobody wants to talk about... Our need for batteries, and propane... Yes, I used the B and P words... Nobody really wants to talk about it, but it is still all part of the sustainable context of the things we need that keeps us attached to "the control grid".

What I am going to exhort you to do as this is what I am working on myself in my own home right now.  If you are not yet off-grid but want to be this is what you need to do to start your path of being able to do so.

1. Know how much energy you currently use.
2. Determine how much of that energy used is being consumed by what things.
3. Determine if you really need those things
4. Turn off or unplug things when not in use
5. Begin figuring out just how you plan to replace that power/energy you use for an off grid solution.

1. The biggest problem with going offgrid that I see time and time again has been people don't know how much energy they use.  For the most part we don't have  a clue.  People are then shocked when they begin to do the math on what it would cost to put up a renewable energy system(solar and wind) to replace that energy consumption.  If you have the financial means then this may not be a hurdle for you, but for most of us we are working hard just to put together a solid basic system to meet our most basic needs.
- Look at your power bill and see how many kilowatt hours your used last month, the previous months and write that down.  Pay attention to seasonal swings in power use.

2. Get a Killowatt meter and a note pad and start checking all the appliances, and things you have plugged into a wall.  Find out how much power these things use when plugged in and turned on.  Now turn them off and see how many of them are still using power even when turned off.  You might be surprised.  Write this down and lets keep track.

3.  Determine which of those things you have plugged in are really needed.  If they are not essential then maybe it is time to retire them.  If it is something you need then consider looking at energy efficient replacements for those items.   Also consider alternatives such as moving things from electricity to propane where appropriate.  When you start looking at the size or your electricity load and how much it takes to generate that much power with solar and wind you may find that moving things to other energy sources makes sense.  Keep in mind that sustainable solutions should be our goal.  However if your in an ongrid situation today you may try some of these steps today so you are ready for your move off grid tomorrow.

4.  This one is simple.  Once you have used a killowatt meter and know things are still using power even when off you should unplug them or put them on a power strip and switch them off when your not using them.

5. Once you know the numbers from your power bill and from your own energy audit with a killowatt meter it is time to start figuring out what is really needed and how your going to replace it or remove it.  Starting this process today will make tomorrow much easier.  Sadly it comes down to the math.  Once you know how much power you consume then it is time to get shocked when you learn how much it takes to generate that much power.

The biggest rule of thumb is that it is far easier and less expensive to conserve energy than to generate it.  So any watts you don't use the better off you will be.  Yes we can replace some of it with propane as a short term solution, but longer term we need a better plan, a sustainable plan.  This means using resources local to us that we can replace.

For now I am working on both my on grid energy use, and we are starting our building of our off grid homestead.  So we are practicing today for what we hope will be a better tomorrow.

MATH!  Yes, I said it... Now lets get to the stuff nobody likes.... I am going to give you a simple example.

Now we are looking at the month of January,  short daylight hours, a south facing solar panel that is fixed in position for your location.  This is providing us the average number of hours a day. Find out how many usable hours of sunlight you may have for your location or the location you plan to be.  In my case my planned/building location is only getting 3-4 hours of sunlight a day this time of year on average.

Now lets just keep the numbers simple.  Let's say you have a 100 watt solar panel at this location.  I won't bore you with the details in this exercise, but will give you a basic idea of what is going on.  Then we can get into specifics later as we go.  We are assuming a brand new panel producing at least its rated output.  As time goes on panels produces less and batteries hold less.

For reference a kilowatt is 1000 watts, so if your power bill says you used 500 kilowatts last month you used 500,000 watts in 30 days.

Our simple solar example:
100 watt panel x 4 hours(best case scenario for the month of January base don where I am) = 400 watts a day
400 watts x 30 days in a month = 12,000 a month

Now I don't know about you, but when you start to figure out how many solar panels you would have to put up to produce 500,000 watts a month it is shocking.  Even with higher power producing panels in the 200-400 watt range the costs are really out of reach for most of us.  Not to mention batteries and all of the things that go with this system to make it all work.

Now I don't want to discourage you.  Many people see these horrible numbers and start to realize that this is going to be a real challenge and they never even try.  Don't do that either.  You can however save yourself some money, time, and effort if you know up front what you need to do and try to build out your systems the best you can with the longer term plans in mind.  So build it with expansion in mind, so your not forced to upgrade and replace everything.  I can explain that more later as I am slowly acquiring the pieces and parts for a solar system myself.  It isn't cheap, and frankly with our off grid homestead I really want to build it with no electricity needed for us to live quite happily.  Electricity is a luxury so that is what we are planning for on our homestead.  So we will attempt to keep the budget and plans in check with sustainable solutions in mind.  Long term batteries have to be replaced, and components break in a solar/wind system.  This means a need for money to keep things going.  Frankly money is a 4 letter word in my book so the sooner I don't need money the better.  So I look at that as part of the sustainable equation long term to remove the need for money. 

I have followed a lot of folks who have done the trial and error method.  It is clear that in the beginning they really didn't understand what their power consumption was or how much they needed.  So they built systems that got them started, but were really not close to handling what they needed.  Then they start the expansions, upgrades, and replacements.  In the end they will eventually get the system they need, but it is a learning adventure that does end up costing more than taking your time and getting what you need.  It will probably take some time.  Learning to do without is far easier.

So here at my home on the grid we have been working on this exercise with a lot more intensity lately.  We started building at our homestead site, but we are a long ways away from being ready to move out there and start living our dream.  If jobs hold out this year we hope to have the absolute bare bones basics in place so that if we had to we could scratch a living out there.  So we are just holding our breath and praying a lot that jobs hold out long enough for us to get those things done.  We will be sharing our homestead, progress, and plans as we go.  However today we are beginning to transition our lifestyle as much as we can to one that will be doable when we get to our homestead.  We started with an energy audit.  We are now replacing energy consumers that we need and plan to use on the homestead with more energy conserving appliances like the refrigerator and freezer.  We have purchased a propane cooktop that we started using recently to reduce the electricity we consume here and get our monthly consumption down to something we could possibly produce with solar and wind.  We plan to use wood for heating and cooking as much as possible at our off grid homestead, but here in the urban homestead that isn't possible.  So we are using the stop gap of propane for now.  We are working hard to practice what we preach.  So we will give you a progress report as we go.  I will share some pictures and things of the solutions we are coming up with for reducing our electricity energy consumption.  So one of those items we purchased is a Harbor Freight cook top.  So far we like it.  You will need to buy the regulator and hose that goes with it also.  It doesn't come with an electronic ignition, so we found a peizo igniter on Amazon that just sparks to light the stove.   So far this is working well.

Ok, I hope I haven't bored you to tears.   Oh I wanted to share with you Bill and Rosa.  I have been following them on YouTube and enjoy their channel.  It is fun, interesting, and educational watching them learn as they went.  They are finally getting things to a place where they just about have a system of things ironed out.  They still need some work.  They really need to get their water system sorted out instead of playing with the energy systems.  However they did finally get a efficient wood burning stove and finally have it insulated there.  Always keep in mind your priorities.  They assumed that they would be able to just keep trucking water into their site for whatever water they were short from rainfall.  They didn't iron out the rain catchment system or size it for their needs.  There was no mention if the neighbors had a manual pump that can be used when there isn't any power, but most people overlook those details.  Power grid goes down those neighbors will be out of water too unless they have thought it through.  Even trying to run a well pump on a generator only works as long as you have fuel to run it.  So always be thinking through the details.  I enjoy Bill and Rosa's channel, and I am not trying to be critical, just learning and observing their learning adventure.  I hope you enjoy their channel.  Bill and Roas are a good example of what I am talking about with not understanded what they needed and have gone through several iterations in their solar/wind setup.  It is a good learning experience to watch so that we don't have to make the same mistakes.  Here is the link:


No comments:

Post a Comment