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Renewable Energy

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Technological Challenges of Off-Grid Homestead Living, Part 1: Resources

Technology that brings energy, food, water, and communications to our lives can be a mysterious concept to persons only familiar with its ubiquitous, invisible, and continuous aspects in U. S. cities; often low-cost and wasted rather than conserved.

NASA image of U.S.A. at Night in 2005—Dark Areas are Off-Grid

NASA image of U.S.A. at Night in 2005—Dark Areas are Off-Grid. 

Let’s begin with the most important principle: Happiness Is Good Resource Sizing

The site you have selected for your homestead has major implications that limit your options for power, water, and food plants and animals. My site has limitations as most do. It’s hard to get a good mobile phone signal up here and I have to bring in water, but the number of sunny days is outstanding and since I’m adjacent to a national forest I can practice wilderness foraging as well as grow my own food and cut my own firewood.

off grid power options

A cost advantage of off-grid power over city power is that after you’ve setup the technology that works on your site, it’s free to run and use the energy, so no utility bills—and that’s more financially sustainable. Sizing your energy system is critical because it’s expensive to either add auxiliary fossil-fuel power sources or to over-build the capacity of renewable energy devices.

For my site I chose solar electric to operate a refrigerator, LED lights, microwave oven, electronics, water pump, and vent fans. My water is gravity fed from several 55-gallon barrels including one barrel on my pickup truck that I use to get water from a nearby spring. Heat during the winter is from my woodstove and I cook using my solar oven, propane stove, and microwave. I have a greenhouse for vegetables and as I mentioned, I forage forest edibles, hunt and fish. Although I do have a root cellar with six months of preserved foods, it doesn’t mean I’m a ‘prepper’ or a recluse. I wash clothes by hand and heat water with solar thermal. My small home is well insulated and properly vented to conserve energy while providing maximum comfort.

Let’s conclude Part 1 with the Four Steps to Off-Grid Energy:

1. Know how much power you need.
2. Know how much solar, wind, and hydro energy you can obtain from your site.
3. Assemble matching on-site power generating and energy storage hardware.
4. Connect on-site energy hardware to your house.

In the remaining articles of this series, I’ll go over how I applied old and new technologies in electricity, water, food, and heat to make my off-grid homestead work. If you can’t wait, it’s fully explained in my book, Hut-Topia. Click here to read Part 2.

Christopher James Marshall is the author of the do-it-yourself small house book Hut-Topia and is a modern-day off-grid mountain man. After weathering recessions and lay-offs every decade since the 70s through the “Great Recession,” he became semi-retired by making plans to live sustainably and then built his 500-square-foot off-grid home. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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11/6/2015 2:29:57 PM

It looks like it will be an interesting series; however, the comment "it’s free to run and use the energy" might lead a neophyte to believe there is no additional cost. There are maintenance costs associated with almost all of the alternative energy sources. The costs associated with mechanical energy sources such as hydro or wind power are greater than those for solar power; however, once these costs are amortized over the lifetime of the energy source, they still tend to be cheaper than the grid. The user needs to consider as part of the maintenance costs his or her ability to perform these task. Having said all of that, it still is well worth considering alternative sources.