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

Net Metering: a Key Policy that Helps You Balance your Solar-Electricity Use

net metering explained

When you install solar panels at your home or business, you’re building a sustainable energy resource right on your own property. But did you know that most homes with solar panel systems still remain connected to the electric grid?

Unless you install an energy storage option like the Tesla Powerwall, you’ll need access to an electricity source other than solar when the sun isn’t shining. Thanks to a utility program called net metering, you can easily power your house with solar electricity throughout the year.

How net metering works with solar panels

Net metering solves a fundamental problem with home solar: Your solar panels can only produce electricity when the sun is shining, but you still need lights and power for your refrigerator and other necessary appliances throughout the night.

As a result, your solar electricity production won’t perfectly match your day-to-day needs. To ensure that you can cover your electricity use with solar throughout the entire year, your solar installer will design a system that produces more electricity than you need when the days are sunny and long. When you produce excess kilowatt-hours (kWh) of solar electricity at your home, they are fed back into the electric grid and sent where they are needed.

For every kWh of solar electricity you send back to the grid, you receive a net metering credit on your electricity bill. You can think of these credits as electricity “in the bank.” Then, when your panels aren’t producing as much electricity as you need for your home – for example, during the night or during overcast winter days – you draw from your “bank” of solar power credits to cover the difference. 

This whole process is known as net metering, and it helps you spread your solar energy use throughout the year. As an added benefit, because you’re still connected to the grid, you don’t have to worry about carefully managing every kWh of electricity you produce and use at your home. In the event that your panels don’t produce as much as you need, you can simply buy electricity from your utility.

Is net metering available near you?

Luckily, net metering is available in almost every state, with a few exceptions. Georgia, Hawaii, and Mississippi don’t have net metering, but they do have alternative programs with similar benefits. Alabama, South Dakota, and Tennessee are the only states that don’t offer net metering or a program like it.

In California, there are programs for Pacific Gas & Electric net metering, San Diego Gas & Electric net metering, and Southern California Edison net metering, among others. These three utilities cover the majority of California homeowners and businesses.

However, net metering programs aren’t just available in the big solar states like California – smaller solar markets across the country have access to this great solar incentive. Rocky Mountain Power net metering covers Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, while Nevada residents have access to NV Energy net metering. U.S. homeowners and businesses across the Southeast have net metering through Duke Energy, among others.

These are just a few examples of net metering programs across the country. Chances are good that your utility offers it too, unless you live in one of the states where it isn’t available. If you aren’t sure, contact your utility to confirm. 

Use net metering as a tool to easily shrink your carbon footprint

When you choose solar power, you are reducing your carbon footprint by running your home on zero-emissions electricity. Thanks to net metering, installing solar panels at your home ensures that you’ll get the maximum benefit – you just need to make sure you find the right solar installer for the job. By joining the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can find pre-vetted solar installers near you and compare all of their offers side-by-side to find the best deal on a long-lasting, sustainable, and reliable solar energy system. 

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of  EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's 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.

Dandelion Energy: Bringing Affordable Geothermal to New York


When I bought my home over a decade ago there was one thing I definitely noticed. The basement during the summer was always naturally cool because it was underground. One day I’m going to go geothermal HVAC. Part of the reason now how has to do with my newest partners/sponsors - Dandelion Energy which provides low cost geothermal to homeowners. and part If you are looking for an environmentally friendly way to heat and cool your home.

What’s Geothermal Again? Drill Baby Drill!

Ground source heat pumps use underground pipes to extract heat energy from the ground. They do this by circulating a mixture of both water and anti freeze across a pipe called a ground loop. Heat beneath the ground is soaked up into the liquid eventually passing through the heat exchanger and into the heat pump. Believe it or not the ground actually stays at a relatively consistent temperature so that this systems is still useable in the frostiest of winter months. They length of the underground loop depends mostly on the size of the property and that amount of heat that is required. Larger loops can certainly extract more heat but require more space to be buried with. Sometimes when space is on the tight side a borehole can be drilled as an alternative. Of course this heat can be used with traditional infrastructure such as radiators, hot water and under floor heating.

As IRENA reported recently, Central American countries, which currently rank among the world’s top countries in terms of the share of installed geothermal energy, have the potential for 20 times the currently installed capacity.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) geothermal systems are, “the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning systems available today.”

My new partners at Dandelion, a geothermal startup that recently graduated X, the research and development lab at Google’s parent company, announces a partnership with Hudson Solar, the leading residential solar installer in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region. Yes I’m teamed up with a Google Startup ok breathe breathe!).

Plus, I know Hudson Solar. They were chosen as a leading provider of solar in the Solarize campaigns throughout most of the Hudson Valley.

Then they teamed up with Artech Geothermal to do their ordered installs. That means they will be doing some drill baby drill very soon. Best part was they were originally going to install in 2018. Not anymore. Stop the presses!!

“Dandelion has lowered the cost of geothermal and set up financing so a homeowner switching to geothermal from oil or propane can save money from day one, just like with solar,” Hudson Solar CEO Jeff Irish said. ” … And with our community solar arrays, even people who can’t site solar on their property can go solar.”

With a solar and geothermal one can easily go zero carbon home. Geothermal energy companies like my buddies at Dandelion Energy will prove to provide stable and affordable electricity, while offering flexibility through the direct use of geothermal heat and cooling in homes across the Hudson Valley of New York.

The Green Living Guy, Seth Leitman is a green living expert, celebrity and Editor of the McGraw-Hill, TAB Green Guru Guides. Seth is also an author, radio host, reporter, writer and an environmental consultant on green living. The Green Living Guy writes about green living, green lighting, the green guru guides, and more. Find Seth on his website, and 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.

Cloudy Skies for Solar Incentives in the Bay State


Massachusetts’ new SMART program will lower incentives for new rooftop solar installations.

The Bay State has had its share of successes in the solar sector. First, a goal of 250 megawatts (MW) of solar was met in 2012, four years early. Now, Massachusetts has surpassed its most ambitious goal for solar energy three years ahead of schedule. The state reached 1,600 MW of installed solar energy capacity, enough to power over 260,000 homes. This achievement marks the success of initiatives lead by former Governor Deval Patrick, and continued by Governor Charlie Baker. Upon taking office in 2007, the former governor outlined a series of challenging goals for the state that at the time had only 3 MW of solar, not even enough to power a small town. The Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) has finalized plans for the next generation of solar goals and incentives. Highlights have been the announcement of the eventual elimination of the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC), and the unveiling of the next-generation comprehensive program, the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART). While the past decade has seen a focus on providing optimal incentives for homeowners who go solar, it’s becoming clear that the next era of solar in Massachusetts will provide more benefits to large-scale utilities.

The successes of the past decade have been attributed to rebates, utility requirements and especially the generous SREC program. Net metering has paid solar homeowners thousands of dollars for excess electricity production that has supplied the grid with clean energy. The SREC program allows homeowners to sell commodities generated from their clean energy production to utilities looking to meet renewable energy standards. The value of these credits fluctuates based on market conditions. It has been a win for homeowners, with credits earning well over $1,000 per year for the typical solar residence.

Utility-scale solar has flourished, launching the state to 7th in the nation for total solar capacity. Roughly 15,000 jobs have been created in Massachusetts. Talk of doing away with SREC has put both the solar industry and prospective homeowners on edge. The consensus is that if DOER is doing away with popular incentives, they better replace them with something at least as generous if solar growth is to continue. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that happened.

The headline from the debut of SMART is a call for doubling the installed capacity of solar in Massachusetts by adding 1,600 MW. That should be no problem given the record-low costs of photovoltaic equipment, installation and wholesale electricity prices at utility auctions. It appears that the overarching goal of the new SMART program is to provide long-term revenue certainty for utilities. For homeowners with rooftop solar, there’s no reason to worry. Options for future installers are undoubtedly less generous, but incentives will remain to a lesser extent. If you are already in either SREC I or SREC II, nothing changes and you will remain in the program for the remainder of your ten-year term. Starting in 2018, SREC will end for new installations. The incentives of the SMART program will immediately replace SREC for new installations only. Net metering will remain an option, along with the new option of on-bill crediting. According to Mark Durrenberger of The Energy Miser, the SMART program reduces cash incentives over ten years by about 45%. Acting fast to go solar makes all the difference now. Homeowners are likely to collect roughly $8,000 more in cash incentives if they go through with a qualifying home solar installation before March 31, 2018. Starting in April 2018, the SMART program will be the only option, and SREC will be gone.

Is There a Drawback?

One of the biggest drawbacks of SMART is the end of state incentives for homeowners who live within the territory of a municipal utility provider, rather than larger investor-owned utilities. If you are a municipal utility customer considering solar, you really want to do it now to save over $15,000 in combined incentives. Remember, SREC incentives are paid out over ten years but only for installations qualified before March 31, 2018.

For utility-scale solar, more profound changes have been made. Location-based incentives are meant to encourage solar growth in optimal environments, but may deter those in marginal areas from making the switch. The new block pricing and incentive limits also alarmed those in the utility-scale solar industry.

While the new SMART program was created with the intention of supporting continued growth, some prominent industry representatives have voiced their concerns over some provisions. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) has encouraged DOER to make changes that will protect solar jobs in the state.

It remains to be seen kind of impact the change in the SMART program structure will have on the demand for solar panels in Massachusetts - it takes anywhere from three to six months to get rooftop solar from start to finish, and the program has set a the March 31, 2018 deadline to qualify for ten years of SREC incentives. The new SMART program does provide incentives for new solar installations, although homeowners will receive thousands of dollars less over a ten-year term.

It’s clear that the DOER had the utility companies in mind when they crafted the plan. The SEIA and other regional solar advocates are now pushing for net metering caps to be increased, along with other proposals aimed at keeping rooftop solar competitive. With 15,000 jobs and thousands of homeowners committed to the success of solar, it’s likely that the Baker Administration will consider the needs of the Massachusetts solar industry.

Additional reporting for this article provided by Justin Fischer.

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.

Top Technologies to Shrink your Home Energy Usage and Carbon Footprint


Reducing your carbon footprint and simultaneously saving money is easier than ever with the growth of energy-saving technologies. From LED light bulbs to devices that monitor your appliances to solar panel systems, there are many opportunities to put smart technologies to work saving you energy around your home and lowering your environmental impact each day.

Energy Efficiency Products

An inexpensive and simple way to cut your energy use at home is to use energy efficient products – products that use energy much more effectively and intelligently to accomplish everyday tasks. For example, by simply replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with efficient LED bulbs around your home, you can dramatically cut your energy usage. LED bulbs use a fraction of the power that traditional bulbs use while providing quality lighting and lasting significantly longer.

Other efficient products like low-flow shower heads and smart power strips can also be installed around your home to reduce energy use from routine activities. A low-flow shower head reduces your water use, therefore lowering the energy consumption and costs associated with heating water. Smart power strips can sense when plugged-in devices are not in use and shut off those outlets to eliminate “vampire load,” the energy your appliances use when they are plugged in but not being directly used.

Smart Thermostats

One of the largest monthly expenses for homeowners is climate control. Keeping your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and generally comfortable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the whole year consumes tons of energy and contributes to a significant part of your home’s carbon footprint. Smart thermostats provide both fine control and hands-off services to help you reduce your energy use. Almost every smart thermostat can be controlled via a mobile app, making it possible for you raise or lower your home temperature from anywhere with an internet connection. With app functionality, you can “pre-heat” your home before you return after work or even turn off your system remotely to save money and energy. This remote access, among other features, lets you shave down your energy costs around heating and cooling.

Some products, like Nest’s Learning Thermostat, can even learn from your habits and customize your home climate scheduling. After a week of manually changing your thermostat to fit your lifestyle, the Learning Thermostat will begin automatically adjusting temperatures and taking opportunities when it knows you will be out of the house to turn off your climate system and save energy.

If you want to connect your smart thermostat to other smart devices in your home or even control it with your voice, a smart hub or speaker is a great option for your connected home network.

Energy Monitors

If you want to understand the inner workings of your home electricity use while simultaneously receiving suggestions for lowering your energy costs, energy monitors are an effective solution. By connecting your energy monitor to your electricity meter, you can get information about the energy use of individual appliances, real-time costs, and direct actions you can take to lower your home energy consumption.

Many energy monitors have mobile and web apps that allow you to see your energy usage from your laptop or smartphone. They can also notify you when an abnormal pattern of energy use is detected, and which appliance might be the culprit. Most importantly, a good energy monitor will provide suggestions and ideas about how to cut back on your home energy usage, helping you lower your carbon footprint while saving money on your electric bill.

Electric Vehicles and Chargers

One of the most impactful ways to reduce your carbon footprint is to drive an electric vehicle. A car that is powered by electricity produces fewer fossil fuel emissions, and will also cost you less money in the long run.

Driving electric means that you need to regularly charge your car. To make sure you’re never short on driving range, it may make sense to invest in an electric vehicle charging station, also known as an EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment). With an electric vehicle charging station installed in your home, you can recharge your EV overnight, for both a lower price and environmental impact than a conventional gas station visit in a conventional gasoline-powered car.

Solar Energy Systems

The most effective and lasting way to shrink your home’s carbon footprint is to go solar. By installing a solar energy system on your house, you can begin producing free electricity right from the sun, the most abundant and reliable renewable energy resource we have.

On the EnergySage Solar Marketplace, you can solicit quotes from qualified, pre-vetted installers and compare them side by side. Our installers offer many types of solar installation, and can work with you to customize a perfect home solar solution to meet your energy needs, while cutting down drastically on your carbon footprint.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's 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 to Convince Your Community to Switch to Solar Power

Solar Panel In Beautiful Sunset 

Thanks to improvements in solar technology, significant reductions in cost and incentive programs, going solar is a feasible goal for many communities. Convincing your community that it’s a good idea can be a challenge in itself, though. Here are a few tips to help you get your neighbors and local businesses on board.

Scale Community Solar with Institutional Buyers

Solar energy could take on many different forms in your community. Individuals can place solar panels on their rooftops to power their homes. Community solar projects involve installing a group of solar panels that generate electricity for people in the area to use. If your utility offers solar, you may even be able to easily switch without installing anything.

Larger establishments such as businesses, schools, offices and government buildings consume a lot of energy and are often leaders of the community. That’s why it’s especially important to convince them to switch. If these organizations produce more energy than they need, they could even sell some of it back to the grid for consumers to use.

Form a Coalition

Convincing your community to go solar is a big undertaking, so forming a team of people to help you will go a long way. Seek out groups that may be interested, such as environmental advocates, energy industry workers or technology enthusiasts. Create your own organization or form a committee within an already-established group.

After you’ve begun building your team, hold meetings to develop plans. Do your best to make appearances at local events, contact the local paper about what you’re doing, and place flyers around town in order to spread awareness and attract more participants.

Your organization doesn’t have to be super formal. Just create something that will enable you to build some momentum behind your call for the community to go solar.

Focus on the Benefits

When people talk about climate change, they often focus on doom-and-gloom scenarios about the damage it could cause. While this approach has its advantages, you might want to focus more on the benefits of going solar — such as savings on energy bills and energy security — especially if people in your community aren’t completely convinced about climate change.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t mention solar’s environmental attributes. People usually want to take care of the planet whether they believe a scientific consensus or not.

You could also emphasize the financial benefits of going solar, especially when working with businesses. Although installing solar panels has some upfront costs, generating your own power will save you money on your electricity bills for the entire life of the system. They usually last for around 25 years.

A 3-kilowatt (kW) solar system will generate 450 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per month. Since the average U.S. household uses about 900 kWh of electricity per month, solar can cut electricity bills by around half. Taking advantage of federal and state government tax incentives can save even more.

Money Talks

Going solar can also help businesses make more money, because people will see them as environmentally responsible and have a higher opinion of them. Environmentally conscious shoppers will be more likely to patronize a green business and even be willing to spend more money. In fact, a recent study found that almost two-thirds of consumers said they would spend extra for products and services from green companies.

You can help encourage businesses to go solar by choosing to patronize greener businesses more often than those that aren’t focused on sustainability. Rewarding businesses for things like going solar will encourage other establishments to follow suit in order to grow their customer base. Get other people to do this as well, and you have a pretty powerful movement.

Today, going solar is easier and more beneficial than ever. Convincing your community to go solar can be difficult, but if you show people and businesses the benefits it provides, you may find you have a community full of enthusiastic participants.

Photo by Karsten Wurth

Bobbi Peterson is an environmental blogger who started the blog Living Life Green. Follow Bobbi on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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.

This New Charging Technology Could Change Energy as We Know It


It’s not an understatement to say that humanity’s future as a species depends in part on how we choose to generate, store and distribute energy. The march of technology is relentless, but a host of technologies — all the way from trifling consumer electronics to massive autonomous vehicles — are basically twiddling their thumbs while they wait for literal and figurative empowerment.

Our smartphones chain us to power outlets. Our vehicles either guzzle dead dinosaurs or make do with comically short drive times thanks to primitive batteries. And while companies have been teasing us with announcements of “breakthrough” battery technologies for years, a real sea change in the realm of energy still hasn’t shown its face.

Until now. If you don’t know the name John Goodenough, you probably should — he helped invent the venerable lithium-ion battery, which is the current standard for portable power. His new project is a brand-new type of battery — and it could change energy as we know it, and possibly even sooner than we’ve dared hope.

Wait — Whats Wrong With Our Current Batteries?

Lithium-ion batteries have served us well, but the demands of our other technologies have now far outstripped the current performance of li-ion batteries. When the Facebook application on your phone drains your battery even when you’re not actively using it, you know we’ve got work to do — on both the software and the hardware sides of the equation.

So what’s the problem with li-ion batteries? Actually, the limitations are manifold. They’re relatively expensive, they charge slowly and discharge quickly, they have relatively poor energy density and, if you needed more convincing, they’re prone to blowing up when consumer tech companies cut corners. Suffice it to say, we’re overdue for a battery revolution.

Goodenough has spent the last few years at Cockrell School alongside Maria Helena Braga, a senior research fellow. Together, they believe they’ve cracked the secret to making portable batteries with far greater longevity, a greater mindfulness toward user safety and faster recharge times. The implications could be staggering.

A Brand-New Type of Energy Storage

Goodenough and Braga claim their “solid-state” battery technology has three times the energy density of current-generation li-ion batteries.

Energy density lies at the heart of every battery’s usefulness — and its limitations. An electric vehicle with a battery on board has a driving range limited almost exclusively by the energy density of that battery. In smartphones, the amount of time it takes for your Instagram habit to send you running back to a power outlet is similarly hamstrung by your battery’s “appetite” for power.

Short version? Our batteries need to pack way more “oomph” into their svelte little packages before the rest of our technologies can really reach their full potentials. But what is a “solid-state” battery? And how is it different from our current batteries?

If you bought a new laptop in the last couple of years, there’s a very good chance it came equipped with a solid-state drive (SSD) for storage. Unlike hard drives, SSDs don’t have any moving parts. They can retrieve data far more quickly than the spinning “platters” on a regular hard drive, and can survive drops and shocks far more successfully.

Solid-state batteries borrow that concept and deliver several similar advantages. Ordinary li-ion batteries get their juice from electrolytes suspended in liquid form. The lithium ions, from which the battery takes its name, move through this liquid medium from the negative terminal, or anode, to the positive terminal, or cathode. Instead, solid-state batteries use electrolytes derived from, of all things, glass. Glass removes the risk of combustion from charging a battery too quickly, which should put an end to exploding smartphones. But that’s just the beginning of the applications.

A New Frontier for Energy

New battery technology powered by solid glass electrolytes might change our world. As we’ve discussed, a great deal of human activity relies on the generation, storage and transportation of energy — and these new batteries will make all three steps of that process easier, cheaper and safer.

For starters, Goodenough’s research team claims vastly improved lifecycles for their batteries — as many as 1,200 cycles. Compare that to li-ion batteries, many of which have languished in the shallow end of 500 cycles or so. These batteries will also be far cheaper to produce, which is a great thing for applications that require manufacturing at scale, like consumer electronics and electric vehicles.

Since they replace lithium with sodium, and because sodium is easy to derive from seawater, solid-state batteries are also easier on the planet and don’t require such a massive manufacturing footprint. With humanity’s mistreatment of the planet approaching biblical proportions, this comes not a moment too soon. For applications where electric motors enter the mix, the advantage of battery power is obvious: unlike other motors, servo motors don’t require gallons of fuel or reservoirs of fluid.

Lastly, glass electrolytes enjoy higher conductivity than our current technologies, meaning they can survive and perform in a far greater range of temperatures and environments than li-ion batteries. The latter tends to start panicking about 35 seconds after you leave your phone unattended on a hot dashboard.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We’ve said it a couple times and we’ll say it again even more assertively: Unlocking the secrets to cheaper and more efficient batteries will unleash a wave of innovation the likes of which we haven’t seen in a generation. We’ve mentioned vehicles and portable electronics, but consider also the benefit of home energy storage via high-density, solid-state batteries. Pair it with a solar array on your roof, and suddenly tens of millions of Americans declaring independence from the electric grid looks a little less like Elon Musk’s fever dream and a lot more like imminent reality.

If you’re not excited by all of this yet, you definitely should be. Braga and Goodenough are working toward patenting their battery inventions and will begin more serious testing alongside auto manufacturers and others in the near future. Your next iOS or Android phone won’t sport a battery powered by glass, but take heart: We’re now measuring the wait in years, instead of decades. 

Photos by Skitterphoto

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on  Google+Facebook  and  Twitter and check out her most recent posts oProductivity TheoryRead 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.

Growing Up as an Off-Grid Child

I grew up living off-grid and without electricity, as my parents consciously did not want to be burdened with bills. We did have a phone (which we took off the hook after 5 p.m.) and a truck, which both cost money but were used for business purposes. We used kerosene lamps and candles for light and had a woodstove for heating and cooking in the winter,and a gas stove for summer cooking.

We didn’t have regular refrigeration, running water, or a laundry machine.We hauled our water from a spring,which also doubled as a cooler for our fresh vegetables and food. For bathing, we set up a solar shower with a black tank, which was gravity fed. In the winter we heated water on the stove for doing dishes and for taking baths.

Our family’s lifestyle (four kids and parents) was very simple and unhurried. We canned and dried a lot of our own food, although we did make a trip to town to do laundry and shopping every two weeks or so. Town trips were always exciting, as I remember buying a cooler-full of perishables such as cheese, ice cream, sour cream, other dairy products, and some of the more perishable vegetables. We had our own goats and chickens for fresh dairy. On town trips we’d pick up a large block of ice and, once home, store everything in an unpowered refrigerator to keep it from spoiling.

For entertainment, every person in the family was allowed to choose one hour of TV a week, which we watched on a little four-inch screen, a 12-volt DC television hooked up to our truck battery. (To this day I rarely watch television.) In place of regular TV, we were all very much into listening to the radio, including BBC broadcasts from London, on our shortwave radio, which operated on D-cell batteries.

Here Comes the Sun

When I was 14, I bought a truck-mounted camper to move into myself. It was a completely self-contained home, wired for 12-volt DC, including a fan, a CB radio, lights, and a propane stove and heater. I did build a small room where the cab of the truck would have been and installed a small woodstove there in order to use less propane for heating.To supply power for the 12-volt DC system, I charged an extra battery in our truck as we drove it around. It was a hassle to constantly hook up the heavy battery in the truck, so at some point I horse-traded for a 2-watt PV module and a copy of the last free issue of Home Power magazine. I noticed that I had to charge the battery less often once I hooked up the little PV cell. I soon became obsessed with getting my hands on a larger PV module.

In the summer when I was 15, I hustled any paid work I could get, this in the poorest county of Tennessee. I picked pimiento peppers (which paid by the pound) and suckered tobacco plants (while absorbing enough tar and nicotine to make me sick). I even got a job picking rocks out of a field, but I eventually saved up the $400 or so to buy a Kyocera 45-watt module.

So, at 15 years old I legitimately went off the grid, solar powered. I couldn’t afford a charge controller and figured I would use enough power to keep from overcharging the system, but I soon destroyed my old battery. It was an old car battery, but as I learned more, I bought a deep-cycle marine battery and a charge controller. Later I learned even that wasn’t a true deep-cycle battery, but it did work for a couple of years before it failed prematurely. So, finally, on my third try, I bought the proper batteries and they lasted for eight years. Those batteries were true deep-cycle, 6-volt DC batteries wired in series for 12-volt DC.

And the Beat Goes On

For four years my whole system consisted of one 45-watt module, one charge controller, and two 6-volt DC batteries wired with fuses between each component. This was enough to power a DC fan, a CB radio, a shortwave radio, and lights, which were repurposed halogen taillights. Eventually I wanted to watch movies, so I bought a DC to AC inverter to power a TV and VCR, but it drained my batteries too quickly. The 300-watt inverter was only 80 percent efficient, so I lost at least 20 percent of my power in the conversion process.

At the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Wisconsin, I bought a new 100- watt module, but ended up trading that for three used 50-watt ASE America modules. This meant I had to buy a bigger charge controller to handle my “new” modules, which I did. My system, slightly expanded, has operated as my primary power for 18 years. Although the system is still hooked up, it has not been getting proper maintenance or use since I moved to town a few years ago. Despite having off-grid electricity I found myself increasingly driving to town—but in retrospect, moving to town has made it so my travel is more “off the grid,” with walking and bicycling, even though my electricity no longer is.

Utilizing my off-the-grid mentality has resulted in my footprint being small and simple. I have an on-demand gas water heater, a solar-powered attic fan, minor passive-solar design, LED lighting, and a gas heater and stove. Everything except my fridge is on a plug strip so that it’s turned off when I’m not directly using it. When I travel even for a few days, I clean out and unplug the fridge so everything is off when I’m not there.

The fact is, everyone can start shifting his or her mentality towards off the-grid living by not wasting energy. My current energy usage is so low that for less than $2,000 dollars in investment, my on-grid home can become zero energy on an annual basis. By producing more energy than I use, I feel I will then be back to being a truly awesome off-gridder.

Aur Beck is the chief tech for Advanced Energy Solutions Group of Carterville, Illinois (, and is a NABCEP-certified solar PV installer. I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there. He has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur'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.