Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

Just Transition: Renewable Energy Can Drive Equitable Job Creation

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

The role of community choice aggregation for solar — programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents — has quickly expanded from a green commodity program to one where social benefit is at the core, providing energy resiliency and equitable jobs in the communities they serve.

Perspectives provided by a Rocky Mountain Institute webinar, moderated by James Newcombe, Aligning Toward a Renewable Economy for a Swift and Fair Energy Transition, put the plight of equitable jobs and opportunities in the clean energy transition in the fore.

Renewable Energy Driving Economic Growth

Newcombe welcomes all and lays it on the line: There has been and continues to be a lingering perception that a clea- energy economy will burden global economies. But no. He cites data that shows far more jobs in clean energy. They are growing fast and creating sustained jobs in our society.

The World Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency (IEA) presents a sustainable development scenario — “nearly Paris-compliant” — that projects that there could be 27 million clean-energy jobs in the next three years, while preventing 12 million deaths related to asthma and other respiratory diseases exacerbated by fossil-fuel emissions.

Another study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that 2 to 7 million jobs will be lost in the fossil fuel industries by 2030, and 38 to 60 million new jobs in clean energy. There are already three times as many clean energy jobs in the United States as there are fossil fuel jobs. Panelist and RMI Principal Jacob Corvidae posited a discussion with his son: “So, do you want a job in the fading fossil fuel industry, or the booming solar industry?” The choice is pretty obvious.

The pandemic has hit the fossil fuel industry really hard, so hard that it may never recover. A Deloitte study notes that of the 107,000 oil and gas jobs lost in the pandemic, as many as 70% may be permanently lost. Newcombe noted that the year 2019 may be oil and gas industry’s peak year. Meanwhile, the clean energy industry will rebound quickly. The challenge and opportunity is for the public and private sectors to come together to strategically chart a sound clean energy course. A big part of this involves jobs and equity.

Clean Energy Industry Driving Equitable Job Creation

Corvidae discussed jobs in inner cities and creating a just transition to a clean energy economy. How can small, disadvantaged businesses participate?

Corvidae said that it will take policies to make it happen. In Boston, RMI is working in collaboration with the Emerald Cities Collective to promote means for minority-owned contractors to access the pipeline of public-sector work, providing normally underrepresented companies with good paying jobs. This is “doing development differently.” He talked about Detroit and its Community Benefit Agreements, creating opportunities and addressing the structural injustices. New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires that 35% of its funds are targeted into disadvantaged communities.

Panelist Sharon Burrow Leslie began by making it clear that the post-pandemic recovery will need to be in both social and environmental balance. Due to the pandemic, a half billion jobs have been lost around the world. There is both a climate and health emergency at hand. Furthermore, Leslie noted that there has been an erosion of trust in democracy.

Fixing the Crisis of Democracy

A recent study shows that less than 45% of young people trust democracy. Given social unrest, Leslie said that we need to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency and accountability. There needs to be a just transition to our clean energy future. The European Union has plans for recovery that have a social pillar based on a green new deal and cutting supply-chain exploitation.

Martin Luther King was quoted, that we need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. If the recovery is just about money, we fail the planet, we can’t have justice. Yet there has been an explosion of global monopoly power and profits during the pandemic. Just as there have been huge corporate gains, and unconditional public subsidies of corporations, there has been marked social unrest and Leslie predicts that there will be more unless justice is served.

The times are indeed unprecedented, but they are predictable. The pandemic was predictable; so are the effects of climate change. So is the civil unrest. Now we need policies to support a just clean energy future: Yes, we need zero-net energy. We also need zero-net job loss. We cannot rebuild the global economy if people don’t have jobs and income. Every job lost must be replaced with new jobs.

How Can There be a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Economy?

Capitalism does have the brilliant merit of self-organizing. But it has inherent flaws. There needs to be means to address justice and equity within a capitalist society and in the transition to a sustainable future. Externalities can be no longer. We have the challenge and opportunity to meet both our social and climate objectives together. Jobs are a fundamental aspect of the recovery we all crave. We redefine the rules; we cannot prescribe the status quo.

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Green Hydrogen: An Energy Storage Solution for the Western U.S.

Green Hydrogen Plant

In 2025, the Intermountain Power Plant will convert from an 1,800 MW coal-fired power plant to an 840 MW combined cycle gas turbine capable of using a blend of natural gas and 30% green hydrogen in 2025. Photo by Green Hydrogen Coalitionv

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used in many applications. I learn about recent advances for its use in aviation, in trucking, and for mining operations. I thank the Green Hydrogen Coalition for expanding my brain. The group had a recent web call I attended, and where I was impressed by one single notion: That Utah’s salt caverns could become the Western United States’ centralized energy storage site.

A study commissioned by Mitsubishi Power, and completed by Magnum Energy, found that one salt cavern explored could hold 150 Gigawatt-hours of green hydrogen storage. That’s 100 times the aggregate amount of storage throughout the United States today. Utah can cost-effectively serve the region in the storage and delivery of green hydrogen, as well as renewable electricity.

Energy Storage: The Insurance for Renewable Energy

I learn a new word, a German word: dunkelflaute. It refers to the fear, or angst, of having inadequate sunshine or wind to maintain a viable supply of renewable energy. Lost a bit in translation, it speaks to being in a “dark lull” and the anxiety of it all. Dunkelflaute flags the enormous challenge of fully integrating renewables into the grid and getting to 100 percent.

How can we ride through “short periods” of up to 60 minutes without generation (when there’s no sun or wind), “medium periods” that last for a few hours to several days, and “long periods” that can be up to two weeks in cases of very unfavorable, and unusual, weather? Like insurance policies of any kind, we need to ensure enough power in the worst-case scenario. That spells lots of energy storage.

California is the leading U.S. energy-storage market. Most of the capacity in place to date is 4-hour storage, much used for peak clipping. Now we have a new acronym: LDES for “Long-Duration Energy Storage”, defined as storage with 6 or more hours of energy.

Can Hydrogen Be Used for Energy Storage?

The California shift to a renewable future has already experienced costly curtailments of renewable energy systems — when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, but the grid can’t take that much capacity. These are the best times to electrolyze water using this “excess power” and to create green hydrogen, storing power in the form of hydrogen for later use. Hydrogen can then be called upon to respond to California’s infamous “duck curve” by fueling carbon-free peaking capacity, meeting the large ramps in utilities’ net load curve as the sun goes down.

A final question: What is the biggest barrier to hydrogen in the West? Its answer struck me: getting people to recognize that green hydrogen is a form of energy storage, just like batteries.

Furthermore, planning decisions ought not be based on lowest-cost form of storage, but highest-value storage. Someone who wants the lowest-cost watch gets a Timex. Someone who wants to maximize the value of a time piece gets an Apple watch with considerable functionality. Like the Apple watch, hydrogen brings a breadth of applications and benefits. It can be used to decarbonize not only the power sector, but industry, heating, and transportation. And the West is leading the charge.

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Super Small-Scale Solar with a Portable Generator and 100-Watt Panel

Solar panel with generator.

We started our urban homestead and Be the Change Project in 2011 dedicated to living a low-impact, high-quality life. Part of having a small footprint and withdrawing support from extractive industries like coal was living electricity-free. And, aside from headlamps, we did that for over seven years. Then, in early 2018, with the trappings of 21st-Century civilization like a laptop, cellphone, and cordless power tools (ahhh, power tools) we decided to get a small solar system to meet our electric wants and needs.

Trying Out the Aejusny Portable Power Generator

Cost. Wanting a simple, all-in-one-style system, we bought a single 100-watt panel for about $85 and a 296watt-hour/400-watt Aeiusny portable power station for about $275. Now, I don’t know much about watts or watt-hours, but after describing what we were looking to accomplish to a friend, he recommended this size of generator. They are common, I’ve learned, with car campers and the RV/VW bus crowd.  We can now easily charge all of our gizmos and bring the battery in at night for some warm, yellow-spectrum light from a string of LEDs.

Using the generator. The power station’s two AC plugs and four USB ports make it easy to plug in and charge away. It has a handy LED display showing its percent charged, which lets us know when we need to get it back to the solar panel as well as how much each of our gadgets uses.

We’ve learned that the LEDs use next to nothing over several hours — maybe a percent. The cellphone uses almost as little, while the computer will drain a few points over a couple hours. My Ryobi tool battery charger drains the power station rapidly — maybe 40% for one battery. As a result, we only charge them during the day when the sun is out, which doesn’t drain the power station battery at all; there’s an equilibrium between the energy input from the sun and the output to the battery.

Charging. The solar recharging generator (another name for the power station) charges quickly in direct sun, maybe 10% an hour, and decently even in partly cloudy conditions. We have never run out of juice and after a string of several cloudy days, it will eventually dip to about 50%.

I mounted our solar panel onto a little frame with castors on the bottom so I can turn it towards the sun when I pass by it during the day. The little yellow unit (which is about as big as a large loaf of bread) rests on a base beneath the panel where it merrily charges out of direct sunlight.

Like so much other technology, this system is a slippery slope for us. Having electricity around, even very little, has opened the doors of temptation, my child. We have since bought a wireless speaker (draws about as much as the phone) and a blender (one smoothie drains 3 to 4%).

Generator with blender.

Were we a bit dogmatic, maybe even a little puritanical when we started our project in 2011? Yes. But, our goal was to live well with what we considered an appropriate amount of Appropriate Technologies: simpler tech that is accessible to most (democratic) and low-impact. Solar PV, even such a small system, was a big leap for us but we sure do like it. The blender, for example, has been a big hit with the kids (smoothies) and led to better soups, pestos, and powders from Katy’s solar-dehydrated herbs.

If we desired more power, and maybe we will a few years down the road, I would buy a larger power station and string a few panels together. With LEDs and today’s low-energy gizmos and advanced battery technology, I think a slightly bigger system would meet most of an energy-thrifty family’s electricity needs at a very affordable price.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Better Rechargeable Batteries for Powering Electronic Devices

Pale Blue Lithium batteries with USB

My wife Lisa Kivirist and I try to live Earth Day every day. We use the sun, thanks to a 10.8 kW PV system, to completely power our Inn Serendipity homestead and recharge our plug-in electric Toyota Prius Prime car. We grow most of our own food, organically. We prefer to watch sunsets, not the TV. We enjoy community potlucks featuring local food, not black tie events with flown in “fresh” fish.

But like most people, we also use numerous electronic devices that are powered by batteries. From powering carbon monoxide detectors to flashlights needed in emergencies, from keeping our Blink security cameras operational to powering our DVD remote controller, we inescapably find ourselves using batteries of various sizes and for different needs. We avoid single-use alkaline batteries, which seem to be nearly impossible to recycle for free. We’re always mindful that in nature, there is no waste. We try not to buy anything that can’t be recycled or turned into something else or used for spare parts.

As it turns out, about three billion batteries are thrown away every year in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with the majority of them ending up in landfills. About 86,000 tons of waste every year is accounted for by single-use alkaline batteries. We have used various Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries with mixed success for years, but find that it can take a long time to recharge them when depleted.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held every January in Las Vegas, my tech-savvy son Liam Kivirist and I found a number of companies addressing the need for battery power for the electronics we now use and rely upon on a daily basis, but without adding to the growing e-waste problem. Pale Blue Lithium Rechargeable Batteries and GP ReCyko are two options we’ve tested and have found to work well.

Pale Blue Lithium battery features 

Pale Blue Lithium Rechargeable Batteries

Coming in both AA and AAA size, Pale Blue Lithium Rechargeable batteries can be reused about 1,000 times and have a recharge time of only one to two hours, much faster than traditional rechargeable batteries. Pale Blue rechargeable batteries have an on-board charging and safety circuit, so we can recharge anywhere with a micro USB cable that’s included. The batteries can be topped off at any time. A built-in LED indicator lets us know when the battery is done charging.

As for how well they work, we used them in our Blink security cameras for daily photos and to keep us abreast of our home temperature when we were away on speaking and other journalism work. They lasted the entire time without one recharge. When used in a LED flashlight, the light was much brighter. The batteries also hold their charge better when not in use, another benefit of the Pale Blue lithium chemistry and smart circuitry. According to Pale Blue, one pack of Pale Blue USB rechargeable lithium batteries can replace up to 4,000 alkaline single use batteries.

GP ReCyko 2000 Rechargeable Batteries

A NiMH-based option for AA and AAA size batteries are GP ReCyko 2000 rechargeable batteries, using their GP Charger connected via a USB to micro USB cable, both provided. The GP ReCyko 2000 can be recharged about 1,000 times. They do, however, take longer to charge, about eight hours.

End of Life - Recycling of Batteries

When it comes time to recycle our rechargeable batteries, we’ll be contacting Call2Recycle, North America’s first and largest battery stewardship program for recycling batteries, especially rechargeable batteries. According to Call2Recycle, there is currently no national stewardship solution to allow for free recycling of single-use alkaline batteries, except in Vermont.

So, we’ll continue to avoid single-use alkaline batteries, even though the 1996 Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act helped phase out the use of mercury, among other toxic materials, in single-use batteries in the US. Reusing rechargeable batteries like Pale Blue, and eventually recycling them, seems to be the wiser solution to meet our power needs.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How Long Will It Take to Replace Fossil Fuels With Renewable Sources of Energy?


The world is racing to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources and for good reason. People understandably ask, "How long will it take to replace fossil fuels?"

The answer isn't straightforward. However, here's some information that might help.

The Importance of Cost

Some people think cost is the primary reason societies are switching to renewables. According to one study, renewable energy already out-competes oil. While coal is cheaper, technological advances and emission pricing schemes may boost solar, wind power and the like to the top.

Prices for renewable energy are falling, making it competitive with non-renewables. As a result, a transition to sustainable alternatives is taking place across the world. This change, however, doesn't suggest a time-frame for complete fossil fuel replacement.

As more industries realize the potential for renewable energy, others will be more likely to accelerate their transitions. Each eco-friendly choice is a step toward total replacement.

What Experts Have to Say

When we ask experts how long will it take to replace fossil fuels, some say it could happen relatively quickly. Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks of Australian National University believe the world is on track to reach 100% renewable energy by 2032. Their research shows solar and wind energy is growing fast enough to surpass coal by the mid-2020s.

Blakers and Stocks claim wind and solar power currently produce about 7% of the world's electricity. It may not seem like a lot, but, over the past five years, solar capacity grew by 28% each year. Wind capacity grew at a rate of 13% per year. These figures, combined with the stagnation of coal power, lead to the 2032 forecast.

On the other side of the spectrum is Shell, a well-known oil and gas mega-corp. In 2017, they produced 3.7 million barrels of oil per day. In Shell's Sky scenario, they imagine a world that complies with the Paris climate agreement. Shell claims they support the idea to keep the Earth's warming below 3.6° Fahrenheit. In this scenario, the world will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

Still, we won't replace fossil fuels — they'll only decline. Plus, Sky is merely a scenario — a possibility that's dependent on a number of assumptions. It'll take significant time, effort and government backing to ensure large-scale change becomes a reality.

The Substantial Impacts of Change

Back in 2014, analysts highlighted WTI and Brent crude oil prices on a downward trend. Signs suggest people are looking at new ways to meet energy needs. However, as we transition to renewables, it's essential to consider all possible impacts.

We can't shut down fossil fuel plants overnight. Consider the job losses and those with careers in the industry. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 candidate for President, plans to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050. However, he recognizes the associated losses. Sanders claims protections will be in place for affected workers. He also believes his plan will create 20 million jobs.

Industries that rely on fossil fuels will also feel the effects of a total switch. Businesses must be open to a new status quo. Agreeing to give up fossil fuels and invest in renewables will spur change. According to one study based on existing technology, full decarbonization of the U.S. electric grid would cost $4.5 trillion.

Government leaders must commit to renewables, too. China, the United States and India consume 54% of the world's fossil fuels by weight. Moreover, worldwide usage for fossil fuels equals almost 15 billion metric tons.

Individuals and companies can make changes through purposeful, collective action. However, the nation's leaders must adjust their budgets for an effective transition.

Is a Transition to Totally Renewable Energy Possible?

Some nations. like Denmark and Scotland, get all of their power from wind for brief periods. However, analysts are unsure if some countries can produce 100% renewable energy.

Michael Kelly, a professor at Cambridge University, has concerns about the energy return on investment (EROI) for renewables. EROI looks at the energy a source produces vs. energy invested in making it.

In the case of renewables, we produce wind turbines or solar panels. What's the cost to make one solar panel compared to how much power it can produce? 

Kelly claims EROI for renewables is lower than fossil fuels. As a result, investing in renewables for worldwide electricity could leave less energy for other activities.

Critics, on the other hand, say Kelly's analysis is based on studies from more than five years ago. Since then, solar and wind costs have plummeted.

Can We Fully Replace Fossil Fuels?

How long will it take to replace fossil fuels? The truth is, no one knows. The answer is dependent on many things, from implementation costs to the nation's infrastructure.

For now, focus on establishing eco-friendly habits while continuing to use fossil fuels. Buy a hybrid car or choose a renewable-powered electric provider. Each small step will lead to a significant change.

Photo by Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on You can read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Going Off-Grid with Solar, Part 2: Two Real-World Examples of Off-Grid Costs


This is Part 2 of a two-part series that explores the economics of going completely off-grid with solar. Part 1 focuses on what it actually means to go “off-grid” and how to start thinking about calculating the costs for cutting the cord with your utility. Part 2 discusses two real-world examples of sizing an off-grid solar energy system, along with the feasibility of going through with an off-grid solution.

The notion of living off-the-grid is becoming increasingly popular. Given the rising cost of electricity throughout the country, it’s hard to not at least consider cutting the cord every time a utility bill comes through the mail. But what does it really mean to go “off-grid”? For such a simple concept, the logistics of going off-grid are in fact rather complicated and very costly.

What does it mean to go “off-grid”?

Taking your home off-grid from an electricity perspective means completely removing any connection to the larger electric grid, which powers the large majority of homes, buildings and businesses throughout the country. This means that to go off-grid, you’ll need to meet all of your household needs with electricity produced on-site. 

Importantly, installing solar panels on your roof does not mean that you’ve gone off the grid. Most solar energy systems are not designed to consistently generate enough electricity to be a home’s only power source, which is why the vast majority of solar homeowners maintain a connection with their utility company. 

In these cases, a policy called net metering allows you to put the electricity produced by your solar panels back onto the electric grid when you aren’t using it, and to then pull from the grid when your solar panels aren’t producing, at night or when the weather is less than ideal. At the end of the month or year, you’re billed by your electric utility on the net of production from your solar panels and the electricity you used from the grid, hence the term net-metering. 

In an off-grid solar energy system, you don’t have access to the larger electric grid when you need it, either at night when your solar panels aren’t producing, or in the event of a prolonged period of cloudy weather. Instead, you need to create your own personal “grid”, installing on-site battery storage to store the output from your solar panels for use at a later point in time.

Two examples of off-grid solutions

Instead of looking at averages across the whole U.S. and making several uniform assumptions, as we did in Part 1 of this series, let’s look at what it would take to go off-grid in two real, specific places: Massachusetts and Arizona, two states where solar energy has seen significant growth and support over the last decade.

Example: going off-grid in Massachusetts

In order to go off-grid successfully in Massachusetts, you’ll need to plan for the cold, snowy winter months that typically might have days with only 3 sun hours each. For this example, we’ll assume a residential home using 750 kWh of electricity per winter month, which comes out to 25 kWh of electricity per winter day.

Fewer sun hours in a winter day means you’ll need to install a much larger storage system and solar array to harness enough electricity for your property. What’s more, extended periods of cloudy weather and snow reduce sun hours further. To be safe, let’s say you want to install an off-grid solar energy system with storage that will be able to run your home on solar electricity for one week.

How does the math on an off-grid system in Massachusetts pan out? 7 days of electricity use in the winter adds up to 175 kWh (25 kWh/day x 7 days). Using Tesla Powerwall batteries with 95% depth-of-discharge, that means you’ll need a storage system with a total capacity of about 184 kWh, which comes out to 14 individual Tesla Powerwall batteries. Even if you allow for the small amounts of sunlight that will get through to your solar panels during cloudy and snowy days, you’re still looking at potentially 10 or more batteries.

Once you’ve sized your battery storage setup, you can calculate the panel array size needed to keep it full. Assuming you want to be able to charge 184 kWh worth of battery storage in a week, you’ll need to install an 8.8 kW system (8.8 kW x 3 sun hours gets you 26.3 kWh of electricity per day, and multiplied out over a full week, that adds up to about 184 kWh of solar electricity).

Example: going off-grid in Arizona

In order to go off-grid successfully in Arizona, you’ll need to plan for the hot summer months when you’ll be running your AC at full blast. Unlike winter in Massachusetts, there is plenty of sun to go around, so we’ll assume 7.5 sun hours each day during the summer months in Arizona. We’ll also assume a residential home using 1050 kWh of electricity per month, which comes out to 35 kWh of electricity per summer day.

More sun hours per day means you won’t need to install a much larger solar panel system than usual, but a high electricity load leads to an increased need for storage. And to be safe in the case of cloudy weather, let’s say you want to install an off-grid solar energy system with storage that will be able to run your home on solar electricity for three days.

How does the math on an off-grid system in Arizona pan out? 3 days of electricity use in the summer adds up to 105 kWh (35 kWh/day x 3 days). Using Tesla Powerwall batteries with 95% depth-of-discharge, that means you’ll need a storage system with a total capacity of about 111 kWh, which comes out to a little less than 8 individual Tesla Powerwall batteries.

Once you’ve sized your battery storage setup, you can calculate the panel array size needed to keep it full. Assuming you want to be able to charge 111 kWh worth of battery storage in 3 days, you’ll need to install a 4.9 kW system (4.9 kW x 7.5 sun hours gets you about 37 kWh of electricity per day, and multiplied out over a full week, that adds up to about approximately 111 kWh of solar electricity).

Reduce the cost of going off-grid with energy efficiency

If you’re determined to go off-grid and don’t want to break the bank in doing so, taking appropriate energy efficiency measures around your home to reduce your electricity load is a necessity. In the examples above we assumed standard home setups and standard energy use habits, but by using efficient appliances, properly insulating your home, and shifting your habits to use less energy, you can reduce your electricity load in any type of weather, sometimes dramatically. It’s important to keep in mind that making energy efficient decisions is a way to cut down on the amount of electricity you use, and possibly make going off-grid more affordable.

Bottom line: off-grid is possible, but it might cost more than you think

Going off-grid isn’t cheap. And considering the cost of going solar and staying connected to the grid averages under $18,000 in 2019, it’s hard to justify the extra cost of going off-grid.

For property owners with unusually low electricity loads, an off-grid solar solution might be practical. However, for the vast majority of solar shoppers, going off the grid with solar is a much more involved and expensive process than you might initially think. Costs, physical space constraints, and energy-hungry habits all contribute to make going off the grid a daunting proposition. 

Staying connected to the grid provides the benefit of backup power whenever you need it. Instead of installing 8 extra home batteries to protect against the edge case of an extended period with low solar energy production, you can simply rely on the grid to provide electricity. Of course, that means you’ll need to pay a utility electricity bill. But installing solar panels can reduce your average bill significantly, especially when you consider the added financial advantages of net metering credits.

Going off grid is entirely possible, and it’s even possible to do it while keeping modern conveniences. But it’s rarely as simple or cost effective as installing solar panels and staying connected to the grid.

Jacob Marsh is on the marketing team at EnergySage, the online solar marketplace, focusing on SEO and content. He recently graduated from Tufts University with a degree in Geoscience. When he’s not checking up on the latest Google algorithm update or writing about topics in the solar energy industry, you can find him playing Ultimate Frisbee or rewatching Game of Thrones. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.



Labor and related costs account for more than half of the price of the average home solar installation. But homeowners can save thousands of dollars with this user-friendly manual, which follows the same process professional contractors use. Through detailed directions and step-by-step photos, veteran solar installer Joseph Burdick and seasoned builder Philip Schmidt teach you how to determine the size, placement, and type of installation you’ll need. This comprehensive DIY guide covers everything from assembling rooftop racking or building a ground-mount structure to setting up the electrical connections and making a battery bank for off-grid systems. Order from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store or by calling 800-234-3368.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Trouble Choosing a Home Geothermal Energy System


Geothermal heating and cooling systems have been a topic of conversation for many of my high-performance building projects over the years. I recently came across a project that I thought might be a good fit for geothermal.

This article does not cover the difference in the heating systems. The point of this article is for the reader, to recognize not only the breakdown in information between the leading companies in our area, but also to recognize that we wanted to find the most efficient system for this project. A solid long-term choice would be one that examined what technology currently exists and if that system can be upgraded to be more efficient in the future.

This particular project was a remodel that included an addition. The project sounded like it may be a good fit for a geothermal heating and cooling system, so I inquired about who the builder was. The homeowners replied that they might be looking for a builder and I said that I was interested in being involved. I was very interested in seeing how a geothermal system may work in this project and was excited to be selected as the builder of this project.

Exploring Options for Home Heating

As the project progressed, the homeowners and I decided that it was time to meet with a heating contractor to discuss which heating system would be a best fit for the project. I have always been a fan of reviewing options, so the first heating company representative showed us multiple systems, which included: upgrading the existing propane-fired forced-air furnace with air conditioning, a mini-split systems, an open-loop geothermal system and a closed-loop geothermal system.

I have learned throughout the years that there is not a magic one-size-fits-all solution to heating and cooling in a home. My hope here was that geothermal was going to be the best value versus performance for this project. The homeowners had heard that geothermal was the most efficient heating and cooling system available, and we were going to rely on the heating and cooling company to show us the performance data to see if that was correct or not.

The house was built in the early 1990s, and I was impressed with the tightness of the house. The exterior of the house had 1-inch foam sheathing with 2-by-6 walls and fiberglass insulation. The attic insulation was blown-in insulation, which, in my opinion, could use another foot of depth for better performance.

The addition that we built onto the existing house has insulated concrete form (ICF) basement walls with 2-by-6 main floor walls. We would spray foam in the walls and to the bottom of the roof deck. Another thing to note is that we stayed in the house as we were working on it, so I could witness how well the house heats and cools with the current forced-air system.

We met with our heating contractor and were presented with a number of options. It’s hard not to focus on the price tag of each option when looking at a heating and cooling system. There was a range of price from about $14,000 to $36,000, with the highest price tag for a closed-loop geo-thermal system. As a group, we gathered our composure and started to go through each system to see cost versus performance.

We asked specific questions about each system and the heating and cooling contractor did a good job of explaining everything except for why some systems were so expensive. After the meeting, we still were not close to making a decision on a heating and cooling system. We decided to contact another heating and cooling company who had been in the geothermal business since the 1980s. We set up a meeting with this company and they sent their sales manager to meet with us. We were once again very interested in learning all that we could about the cost versus performance of geothermal systems.

Trouble Getting Clear Information on Home Geothermal

My first impression of the sales manager wasn’t that great. I knew about a few “smoking guns” with geothermal systems, especially in the area of this project. I sat back, listened to his sales pitch, and waited to throw my curve ball. 

When the moment was right, I asked him a question that derailed hi and his sales pitch, “What about iron bacteria in the groundwater shutting down an open-loop geothermal system? His response sunk his ship, “We have installed thousands of open-loop systems and never had one shut down because of iron bacteria.”

“Not one?” I replied with a tiny hint of question in my voice.

“Well,” he said, “I will have to check with the owner to be for sure.” Here was a top geothermal company with decades of experience telling us that. The red flags went up and we thanked him for his time and asked him to send us his price — which came back very close to the first company’s, except he’d offered a larger geothermal system in his bid. We wondered why the two different companies had conflicting information about the size of the geothermal unit. One of the responses was, “that is what the computer says that this house needs.” Which size unit was the correct size?

Two companies into this quest and neither of the companies said the same thing about open- and closed-loop geothermal systems. The information was completely different between the two companies, including that one company said that an open-loop system was more efficient than a closed-loop system and visa versa with the other company. We all looked at each other and agreed that we needed to meet with a few more companies to try to find a common thread so that we could understand which heating and cooling system was a best fit for this project.

Over the next week or so, we met with three other heating and cooling companies. To our surprise, each of those companies gave information that contradicted what the other companies said. One company quoted a price in the $50,000 range for a closed-loop geothermal system while the others were in the mid-$30,000 range. All companies mentioned the un-capped 30 percent federal tax credit, which put the net cost of a closed-loop system back into the mid-$20,000 range. Each company’s computers told us a different unit size was appropriate.

Evaluating Electric Heating Assist Systems for Home Geothermal

One of the questions that I asked each contractor had to do with the electric heating assist, which is part of each type of geothermal system. These electric heating elements are what are used for heat when the temperature gets too cold for the geothermal system to operate the way it is intended to work. In a closed-loop system, the electric heating assist system starts operating when the earth around the buried closed-loop tubing drops to near freezing, which in Michigan, can occur as early as the beginning of January.

In an open-loop geothermal system, air temperature dictates when the electric assist starts heating the house. Some units say that 28 degree Fahrenheit is when the electric heating assist starts operating. Experts would probably add that the heating load is what determines when the electric assist turns on. We have a house that was built a decade ago and that house has an open-loop geothermal System and $680 per month electric bills because the electric assist was the primary heating source when it gets below 28 degrees. 

Each of the contractors said that the electric assist will not run that much if the system is sized properly. We were very confused at this point, because each of the five contractors had systems that were sized differently. When I brought this point up to the sales people, they simply said that the computer decides the size of the system. One company told us that the electric assist will only come on once or twice a month. I asked him to write us a guarantee stating that and he back tracked and said that he can only go by what his computer says and that he couldn’t guarantee that.

We had our favorites with regards to who presented us with the information. It was a great experience seeing how salespeople approached this topic. Geothermal is such a hot button for homeowners that these sales people basically just need to sell themselves and show numbers to support their claims to get the sale. But selecting a heating and cooling system based on how much someone likes their salesperson is a recipe for unhappiness.

Comparing Cost of Home Geothermal to Other Options

I will present you with some of the figures that we were given. One of the figures that stuck in our minds was that the difference in operating costs per year between the geothermal closed-loop system and a high-efficiency, propane-fired forced-air furnace with a heat pump, which ran for $800, or $66.66 per month. There is about a $20,000 difference in price depending on options, and I did not figure in the tax credit into this equation.

What I recognized immediately was that the closed-loop system was not extremely more efficient as it was presented to us. We can debate this in the comments section (in fact, I encourage that). Technically speaking, the geothermal would be less to operate than the forced-air with the payback on the geothermal being about 20 years — about how long one of the salespeople said that the geothermal unit would last before needing to buy another unit.

As a sustainable builder for many years, I have fostered open-mindedness to anything as long as the science and my experience supports a technology. I will be honest and say that I went into these meetings with the heating contractors with an open mind and a blank piece of paper for note taking. I was giving them the opportunity to change my mind and I did get my hopes up a few times as I heard the information being presented with such confidence. Confidence coming through in a sales pitch is a double-edged sword in my experience, and in this instance, it created many red flags.

Which System Did We Choose?

You may be wondering how this turned out. Well, after all of the meetings and reviewing of information, we decided to go with the first contractor. We decided that installing new, high-efficiency, propane-fired forced-air furnace with a heat pump (acting as air conditioner during the warm months and heating during the cold months) and using the existing ductwork as much as possible was the best fit for this project.

Four of the five geothermal contractors told us that they would have to remove the existing ductwork and install new ductwork. We also added extra zones to the heating and cooling system along with upgraded air filtering and purification components. The difference in price between the systems, versus a closed-loop geothermal system, was about $16,000. As a team, we decided that a portion of the $16,000 difference would be applied towards a solar hot water system and solar panels to produce and store electricity.

Photos by Adam D. Bearup

Adam D. Bearup is a designer, green builder and farmer, who learned about biodynamic and regenerative farming for a project he built in Northern Michigan, The Earth Shelter Project MichiganAdam has degrees in marketing and management and a Masters of Science in Green Building. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters