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


Into the Wood: A Day in the Life of an Off-Grid Entrepreneur

flooded 

Today's Off the Grid job was only 2.7 miles from pavement versus last Friday's off the grid job was over 6 miles from pavement and I had to ford a stream. Also last Friday I had to go the long way because Snake road was closed. Some days my life is an adventure. #GetEnergized #GoSolar

Truly a Couple of Off-Grid Customers

The GPS tells me that it'll take 14 minutes to go 5 miles and I almost make it only to find THE Road was flooded as well as washed out so I had to backtrack about 30 minutes. I made it through a majority of the road even though it was washed out in places due to a big rainstorm yesterday. But I made it through most of it. I knew that snake road was closed for the snake migration so I went to take another road but I didn't know that it was completely flooded. In the end I had to take the longest route around but made it.

One customer we put their system in 2 years ago and I was doing a check up on it.

10 year upgrade

The other customer put their system in at least 10 years ago and is now tripling their solar so they can put in air conditioning and a pool. He did a self install but he was smart enough to have me come to test and make sure the system was wired up, and hooked up correctly which it wasn’t.

ZENN

It turned out to kind of be lucky that I got lost because as I was getting turned around a guy pulled up with a truck pulling a trailer and on the trailer was as an ZENN electric car of which only about 500 of them were ever made. He told me that it cost $66,000 to make each one and they were listing them for under $17,000. This all electric car was made from scratch to be all electric with an all aluminum frame and ABS plastic body. He said it's 72 volts ( 6- 12 volt ) batteries and that it only goes about 25 miles on a charge. So basically a hopped up golf cart. All I know is it was completely unexpected to be deep in the woods and run into a guy who was just driving all the way from Chicago (about 6 hours)  where he had got this car off of Craigslist.

Before I bumped into him I was kind of cranky that I had gotten not really lost but had to completely backtrack almost 30 minutes of traveling.

I did see a wild turkey and some really nice nature as I drove through Trail of Tears State Park. I usually follow the GPS as it tells me the shortest way but it never really tells me the shortest time. Although we probably wouldn't have known that the road was washed out and the creeks were still high.

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.

Stay energized, aur

Aur Beck 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.

'Renewable Energy, It’s Not for You': A Critique of Public Utilities' Approach to Renewables

RENEW Wisconsin Conference Plenary

Governor Evers addresses the Summit. Photo by Toby Grotz

The RENEW 2019 Renewable Energy Summit was held at the Monona Terrace conference center in Madison, Wisconsin. The building is on the shores of Lake Monona and was was inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright 1955 Night Rooftop Rendering and design of a gathering space as shown in the drawing below. This futuristic vision and space was the ideal location for a conference on renewable energy.

At the Summit, a strange and distorted message emanated from some of the invited speakers. It seems that the current approach of the utilities is “Hey! We got this!” We’re building solar and wind because — why? The so called “public utilities,” a term in code meaning not public, but rather investor-owned, want to keep a centralized and controlled energy system without rooftop solar on your house so they can pay, in the case of Excel Energy, their CEO $12 million a year and the next four white men under him $2 million each a year and pay stock dividends to greedy “infestors” on Wall Street.

And, by the way, even though they don’t have the technology to do it, and have no clue what technology they need to do it, Excel’s Mark Stoering, president of Xcel Energy of Wisconsin and Michigan, announced during the RENEW conference that Xcel will be fossil free by 2050.

Utility Zero Carbon Emissions Graph

The power companies, yeah you know them: They’re the good guys now, even though they opposed emission monitoring on coal plants, the addition of precipitators to remove coal fly ash, the addition of scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, and the addition of carbon injection into flue gas to remove mercury. They fought every suggestion to make their fossil fuel plants safe*.

Not only does burning coal release mercury, lead, and arsenic, but also uranium and radioactive isotopes of other elements measured in a coal ash analysis at 4 to 10 parts million, which means they have many ways to poison you. Now that the United States has been blanketed with mercury and heavy metals from coal plants, and pregnant women are advised against eating fresh water fish in Wisconsin and other states, all of a sudden utilities champion efforts for clean energy and a reduction of carbon emissions.

Currently, the public utilities do not have a safe and cost effective method of generating energy except for wind and solar. Nuclear of course is the most dangerous of all ways to generate power. Coal plants have wreaked havoc on the environment with their toxic emissions and CO2 contributions to greenhouse gasses and natural gas power plants result in methane emissions that are 86 times more potent over 20 years than CO2.

The most egregious logic I heard during the conference, in a time when fake is true and facts don’t matter, came from the Chair of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, Ellen Novak (below left) and State Representative Mike Kuglitsch, (below right, R- Assembly District 84).

Appointed by climate change denier, capitalism is the only answer, recent election loser, Governor Scott Walker; Ms. Novak suggested several times that “government needs to get out of the way” on the path to clean, safe, reliable energy generation and distribution.

RENEW Wisconsin Conference Panel

It is striking that the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin has no technical expertise on the board, not an engineer or physicist in sight. One of the striking moments of the RENEW conference came when Governor Evers addressed the gathering. One of the most significant statements made by any candidate post-election was the Governor’s statement that “Science is back.” Let’s hope that the next appointment to the PSC is a scientist or engineer with expertise in energy and infrastructure.

Getting government out of the way was also a message repeated several times by Mr. Kuglitsch. By this time some members of the audience were squirming and agitated. Although they remained polite, most of us heard the mantra repeated several times during the day that getting government out of the way was an answer to rapid development of renewable energy. The double fake here is that government has been out of the way ever since the municipal power companies were buried by the investor owned utilities and Public Service Commissions and state and federal regulatory agencies were stuffed with industry hacks.

Cities and towns that own, operate and maintain their roads and bridges, water supply, sewer and sanitation systems also used to own, operate, and maintain electric generation and distribution.The companies that buried the municipal utilities and opposed renewable energy now want to profit from renewables and control the market because the cost has come down to the point that they can maintain their monopolies and make the enormous amounts of money on the backs of their customers that they were able to do in the era of cheap coal.

The utility industry has a talking points list that promotes the concept of a mix of sources.  This was promulgated by Ms. Nowak and Mr. Kuglitsch, who both mentioned nuclear, coal, natural gas and renewables. This mix is touted as being safe, reliable, and of reasonable cost. We know that the most dangerous, not so safe source, is nuclear. This is followed by coal which along with petroleum has resulted in dumping 200 million years of stored carbon into the atmosphere in only 200 years which will lead towards catastrophic climate changes long before the 2050 goal Xcel has set for zero carbon emission.

Avoiding catastrophic climate change will require violation of the mantra of no government involvement and requires the government to mandate that industry come up with a way to cut emission to zero by 2030 or lose their charter to do business in the State of Wisconsin.

During a breakout session on Utility Scale Solar and Wind, concern was expressed about the negative comments circulating in social media and on certain networks about renewable energy. I’ve worked in coal, gas, and nuclear power plants and for the companies that design and build them. Therein dwell the purveyors of fear (there is a war on coal), and sources of outright lies (volcanos emit more CO2 than humans and trees pollute) about renewable energy. From the C-suites on down in the utility and fossil fuel industry comes the negative information that is fed into social media and into the networks.

We can’t wait for the government or industry to get it right.  We must demand that plans be made to convert to renewable energy by 2030 or sooner. If renewable energy is for the power companies and not for you, they will maintain their monopoly while dragging their feet to lessen the impact of climate change. You can fight back. Get your own solar system. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has been at the forefront of this effort since it’s inception. Find more information here.

You can take a solar energy design classe at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association, get involved with community solar efforts, and help build a sustainable future.

Long before there were power companies and coal companies, Sitting Bull described the men who would run them saying, “They make rules the rich may break, and the poor may not. The love of possession is a disease with them.”

Sitting Bull Painting Art

Sitting Bull by artist Elliot Meadows as shown at the Viva Gallery.

References:

The Last Energy War, Harvey Wasserman, Seven Stories Press in association with Open Media, 1999.

 "SHAM? SHAME! Inside the Electric Power Industry", Jack Casazza, American Education Institute, 2001.

 Xcel Executive Compensation PDF, see page 41.

We Only Have One Chance to Get It Right: Transition to Renewable Energy, MOTHER EARTH NEWS

OSHA cites Xcel for electrical explosion at Sherco, Star Tribune.

Toby Grotz is an electrical engineer who has been involved on both sides of the energy equation: exploring for oil and gas and geothermal resources and in the utility industry working in coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. He has been a community garden advocate and organizer ever since. Recent projects include lecturing for the Food Not Lawns classes sponsored by the University of Missouri, Kansas City Communiversity. He is a member of the Sierra Club and past officer of the Kanza Group. Read all of Toby'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.

Should You Purchase a Solar-Ready Battery for Your Home? 5 Energy Storage Considerations for Homeowners

home-rooftop-solar-system

Energy storage technology has existed for quite some time, but the use of solar batteries in residential energy systems is a relatively new development. Although home energy storage prices have fallen significantly in recent years, solar batteries still have a decently hefty price tag and do not make economic sense for every homeowner. However, a solar-plus-storage system can be beneficial in some situations.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether or not solar battery storage is the right fit for you and your home.

Are you required to pay time-of-use electricity rates?

If your utility company charges time-of-use rates, this means that the amount you pay for electricity will vary depending on the time of day. During hours when electricity demand is high, typically in the evening and at night, you’ll pay more for power than you would when electricity demand is low, typically during the late morning and early afternoon.

If you are subject to time-of-use billing, a solar battery can be a beneficial investment for you because during the daytime, your solar system will be producing enough energy to both power your home and charge up your battery. Then at nighttime, you’ll be able to use the energy stored in the battery to power your home rather than having to pull from the grid at the higher time-of-use rate.

Does your utility require demand charges?

Some utilities charge customers an additional fee that’s dependent upon how much electricity they use. The fee could be determined by the amount of power used when total electricity demand is high, or it may encompass all electricity used during a month.

If you’re required to pay demand charges to your utility, installing home energy storage can be beneficial by helping you to avoid a high demand fee by pulling from the grid less often and utilizing energy stored in your solar battery instead.

Do you live in a state with net metering?

In states where true net metering exists, customers will receive a credit equal to the amount the utility charges for traditional electricity for each kilowatt-hour of energy their solar panels produce and send back to the grid.

If you have access to true net metering, a solar battery may not be worth it for you from a financial standpoint because you’ll be able to freely give and take energy from the grid at no additional cost.

Are you susceptible to frequent power outages?

For safety reasons, all standard grid-tied solar systems have an automatic shut-off switch that will turn off the system during a power outage. This means that those who have a standard solar energy system without battery backup will still lose power when the grid goes down. However, when a battery is added to the setup, the home can still run off of the energy stored up in the event of a blackout.

If you experience regular power outages and would like to continue to have power when the grid is down, or if you’re interested in the peace of mind that comes along with energy backup, a solar battery may be worth the cost.

Do you want solar storage to take you off the grid?

Many homeowners are interested in the idea of going completely off the grid and having the ability to operate totally independent of their electric utility, and some view solar batteries as the means to make it happen. However, on their own, most solar batteries on the market today do not have the capacity to store the energy necessary to keep a home running throughout the entire year.

If going 100 percent off the grid is your goal, solar batteries likely aren’t the best solution unless you have ample space available and are prepared to invest tens of thousands dollars in a large multi-battery storage setup.

Sarah Hancock educates consumers about the workings of the solar industry to help people make decisions that benefit both their own interests and the environment. Connect with her on the Best Company Solar Blog and on Twitter. Read all of Sarah’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.

Solar Panels are the New iPhone: Imagining a Distributed Energy Future

Graphic Hand Holding Cell Phone 

In 1994, only 10% of Americans had a cell phone. And yet, in 15 short years, more Americans had cell phones than landlines. While the rapid adoption of mobile phones can’t be attributed to a single factor, there is one major parallel between the transition from landlines to smart phones and what’s actively happening today in the electricity industry: the transition from a centralized system to a distributed (or decentralized) network.

Electricity and Telecommunications: Parallel Industries

The electricity industry operates in much the same way today that the telecommunications industry operated 30 years ago. In the 1990s, your telephone company likely charged you a fixed fee for monthly service plus a variable, per-minute rate for long-distance calls.

Today your electricity company bills you similarly, with a mix of fixed and variable charges based upon how much electricity you use per month and how much it costs to transmit that electricity to your house.

The parallels between the two industries don’t end there. With landlines, your phone service was physically hardwired to a centralized telecommunications system. Similarly, when you flip on a light switch or plug in your toaster oven, you are connecting directly into an electrical grid that is powered by large, centralized power plants that may be many hundreds of miles from where you live.

And just as the telecommunications industry of the 1990s experienced a major disruption from the decentralized technology of cell phones, so too is today’s electricity industry on the verge of a major disruption as the result of the distributed generation of electricity.

Transitioning to Distributed Networks

At present, the electric grid is very centralized: Large power plants are connected to electricity buyers through a web of transmission and distribution lines. These high-powered generation resources are designed to satisfy the electricity needs of hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of households and businesses in a given region. With the benefit of a connected grid of transmission and distribution lines, these large power plants do not need to be located close to customers, but rather can remain part of a centralized market.

At a high level, distributed generation (DG) — also referred to as a distributed energy resource (DER) — is any source of electricity that is on the decentralized distribution grid. Though this definition includes small-scale wind turbines, hydropower, and even fossil-fuel-powered backup generators, the most common form of distributed generation for residential applications is solar energy.

Distributed generation already plays an important role for the electricity grid. Rooftop solar panels can help defer or avoid large investments in infrastructure upgrades on the electrical system, helping all electricity customers save money. What’s more, solar panels provide a suite of environmental co-benefits beyond the monetary savings, including acting as a source of emission-free, local generation that can contribute to improvements in air quality.

However, while the transition to a distributed telecommunications network is effectively complete, the transition to a distributed energy grid is only just beginning. Solar is the most widespread of distributed energy resources, but as of 2018, less than 4% of all residential, single-family stand-alone homes in the country had installed solar.

Hand Holding Smart Phone Outside

Imagining a Distributed Energy Future

In all likelihood, a distributed generation future will still rely upon the centralized power grid. Returning to the telecommunication industry as an example, even though nine out of ten Americans own a cell phone, two-thirds of Americans have still maintained their existing landline connection.

However, the shift from solar on 4% of American rooftops to 20%, and especially up to 80% of rooftops, would require substantial changes to the way that power companies do business today. Here, too, the electricity industry can learn from the experiences of the telecommunications industry.

For instance, in the past, if you wanted to make a long-distance phone call from a friend’s house — say, to tell your family that you had arrived safely — you might have offered to pay for making a long-distance phone call on somebody else’s phone bill.

These days, there’s no need to offer to cover the cost of your long-distance phone call, let alone to even ask to use a landline. It’s easy enough to text or call from the cell phone in your pocket to provide updates at every step along your journey.

Again, the story for electricity is similar, and envisioning how this may change in the future is full of possibilities. At the moment, if you charge your cell phone at a friend’s house, you probably don’t need to ask to use an outlet or offer to pay for the electricity you’ve consumed. But say that you have an electric vehicle that you wanted to charge at your friend’s house. Would you offer to cover the incremental charge of charging your car on their next utility bill?

Community Microgrids

Forecasting what a distributed energy future could look like expands beyond the similarities with a distributed telecommunications network. For instance, as more homes and businesses invest in distributed generation, it will become possible for individual streets, neighborhoods or entire cities and towns to connect all of their resources into their own, sustainable and reliable microgrid.

While these microgrids will continue to need access to the existing electrical grid, they will also be able to place energy back onto the grid to help provide power for other communities running their own microgrids, thus creating a “virtual” power plant out of aggregated distributed resources. Instead of relying exclusively upon centralized, large power plants, the electrical grid could become much more flexible as we begin to install more distributed energy resources.

The possibilities for how distributed generation may disrupt the electricity industry are endless. Thankfully, utilities need look no farther than their telecommunication counterparts for insight into how best to transition from a centralized grid to a distributed network of resources.

Spencer Fields is Content and Research Manager at 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.


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.

What's New in Residential Solar Energy?

residential solar installer 

Solar energy is a vast energy resource that can be used for a variety of purposes, including electrical power, heating and cooling, fuel production, water heating, industrial process heat, transportation, and cooking. The cost of having a solar power system installed on your home has dropped dramatically over the last several years. As a result, more than 1 million homes are currently being powered energy from the sun.

In today’s rapidly growing solar industry, there are thousands of residential solar energy companies (some of the largest and most well-known being Sungevity, Sunrun, SolarCity, and Vivint Solar) that provide hundreds of different panel models and designs to homeowners. An increasing number of premium technology brands, such as LG and Panasonic, have entered the residential solar market, resulting in the development of a variety of new and improved solar technologies.

solar energy system on roof

Here's what you can expect to see in the near future:

Double-Sided Solar Panels

Formally known as bi-facial solar panels, double-sided solar panels will become an attractive product option in residential solar. Double-sided panels are impressive because they can harness sunlight through both surfaces of the panel. Essentially, these panels can capture light as it reflects off of the roof or ground surface below the panel.

Because the majority of roofs in the residential market are black, solar installers will typically paint a white border around the solar panel system before installation to maximize light reflection. In the case of a ground mount solar system, the light will naturally reflect off the ground, especially in snowy areas during the winter.

Frameless Solar Panels

A major factor in the critique of the look of a solar energy system on a home is the solar panel frame, which many homeowners find to be the least attractive part of a PV panel. To solve that problem, major panel manufacturers such as SolarWorld, Canadian Solar, and Trina are beginning to produce more aesthetically-pleasing frameless solar modules.

The main roadblock for frameless solar panels is the lack of suitable mounting equipment that can work without a frame. As a result, solar manufacturers are producing specialized mountings to work with the frameless panels.

blue solar panels

Clear Solar Panels

Many frameless solar panel designs are entirely enclosed in one material, typically glass. Glass solar panels use the same silicon cell technology and materials of a standard panel, but rather than being mounted on an opaque backing material, the cells are sandwiched between two glass casings.

Glass solar panels are an innovation in multiple ways because, in addition to being more visually attractive, glass panels are more durable than typical silicon cell panels, and are known to be significantly more resistant to fire hazard and less prone to erosion.

Solar Panels with Inverters

One of the biggest new innovations in the solar industry is the concept of solar panels with small inverters already in place on the back of the panels.

For solar installers, inverter installation and connection can add significant time to a typical rooftop installation. To address this issue and increase installation efficiency, inverter manufacturers are making inverters easily attachable to the back of the panels. This innovation will also reduce installation costs.

A proponent of renewable energy and green living, Sarah Hancock enjoys writing about sustainability and manages the solar blog on BestCompany.comYou can also find her work on Twitter.


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.

7 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Solar Energy System

blue solar panels 

Having a solar energy system can help you to reduce your carbon footprint and cut down your electricity bill. However, you may not be getting the most optimal results by having a solar system on its own.

Whether you’ve installed solar panels for financial or environmental reasons, the following recommendations can help you use your solar energy system more effectively and get the most out of the power it produces, which will allow you to pay off your system faster, pull less power from the grid, and potentially even create a surplus of energy to sell back to your utility.

1. Install LED lights

Older light bulbs use only a small percentage of the electricity they take in to make light while the rest of the energy is lost as heat. Modern LED bulbs, on the other hand, use almost all of the electricity they take in to make light. In fact, a good LED light bulb only needs about a tenth of the electricity as a traditional light bulb to produce the same amount of light, so they aren’t pulling as much energy from your solar system to light your home.

Additionally, because LEDs are so much more efficient, they last much longer than incandescent bulbs. This means that replacing the lights in your home with LEDs will pay off quickly.

smart thermostat

2. Purchase smart thermostats

Smart thermostats, like other smart devices, allow you to remotely control your home’s temperature via mobile or internet-connected devices. Many smart thermostats allow you to program the temperature to change based on the time of day, and some can even learn your habits and automatically create energy-efficient heating and cooling schedules based on how you typically adjust your thermostat.

Installing smart thermostats in your home will allow you to keep a close eye on how much energy from your solar power system you’re using to heat and cool your house, as well as when you’re using it, so that you can easily make adjustments to conserve energy.

3. Check windows and doors

In many homes, a significant amount of heat and air conditioning is lost through windows, doors, and roofs because these are the areas that typically have small gaps where air can escape, as well as enter from the outside. You can combat this and reduce the strain on your solar energy system by installing double- or triple-paned windows, replacing old weather stripping, and/or applying caulk. You can also insulate and save energy by adding thick drapery to windows.

4. Invest in smart plugs

Even when appliances and electronics are turned off, they can still suck quite a bit energy from your solar power system if they are plugged in. According to The New York Times, a washing machine can use 4 watts per hour when plugged in and turned off, a cable box can use 26 watts per hour when turned off and not recording, and a laptop can use 48 watts per hour when closed and charging. If you do the math, those three devices alone can drain 1,848 watts per day, more than 55,000 watts per month, and over 674,000 watts per year just by being plugged in.

If you don’t want to worry about constantly plugging and unplugging electronics and appliances, you can purchase smart power strips or smart plugs, which allow you to control and cut power to devices remotely through a mobile app.

ceiling fan

5. Use ceiling fans

According to the Department of Energy, heating and air conditioning takes up about 48 percent of a home’s energy budget on average. This means that your HVAC system can easily use up most, if not all, of the energy produced by your solar panels. While ceiling fans won’t heat or cool the air in your home, they can circulate the air and make rooms more comfortable while using significantly less solar energy.

For the most noticeable results, set your ceiling fans to rotate counterclockwise in summer, which will distribute cool air around the room, and switch the fans to rotate clockwise in winter, which will help push warm air down from the ceiling into the room.

6. Consider battery storage

The price of solar batteries has dropped significantly in recent years and is expected to continue to fall, making them increasingly attractive to homeowners. While solar battery storage is still a developing technology and may not be the best option for every solar system owner at this point in time, it can be a very beneficial option for those who frequently experience grid blackouts or are subject to time-of-use electricity rates from their utility company.

With a solar battery, your home will be able to run off of the clean solar energy stored up in the battery at night or during power outages.

7. Be conscious of energy use

When you leave a room, take care to turn out the lights. When you’re finished using an appliance or electronic, turn it off and unplug it. Simply being aware of the ways you consume electricity and making minor adjustments when you notice you’re using more than you need to is one of the best ways to make sure that the energy produced by your solar power system is being used as effectively as possible.

A proponent of renewable energy and green living, Sarah Hancock enjoys writing about sustainability and manages the solar blog on BestCompany.com. You can also find her work on Twitter.


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.

Benefits of Personal Energy Independence

ground array 

The concept of energy independence first entered the national consciousness in the early 1970’s, when the unstable nature of reliance on foreign oil was made all too obvious by a series of embargoes and price hikes at the hands of politically opposed Arab nations. President Nixon promised that the United States would be independent of foreign energy sources within 10 years, and while that benchmark came and went, the idea has remained a political talking point ever since. It has been used as justification for environmentally disastrous practices like fracking and offshore drilling, and as a scare tactic to promote hawkish foreign policy agendas.

But it hasn’t been all bad! Just as the goal of self-reliance in our energy sector has been used to give grounds for destructive solutions, it has also been used to justify investments in more renewable, homegrown energy sources that not only wean us off of foreign power, but do so in an environmentally sustainable way. And unlike oil and natural gas, which are only feasible on a large scale, solar power can bring energy independence directly to the consumer in a more practical and immediate way. This “personal energy independence” addresses the same concerns about relying on foreign nations for our power, but on a personal scale.

The most obvious concern when relying on an outside source for power is security, and the extreme weather that much of the US faces keeps this concern front-of-mind. We are made aware of the fragility of our energy every time a strong storm knocks the power out, which can be quite often depending on your location and the age of your power grid. Power outages can quickly go from irritating to lethal, with sub-zero winters, and summers where the heat index regularly tops 100 degrees. Whether your system is tied in to the grid, or completely off-grid, your power can stay on no matter how many power lines are downed.

Energy independence also brings some stability to your budget. With regular variations in energy prices and usage, it can be difficult to predict your energy costs year-to-year, or even month-to-month. If you are running a completely off-grid system, it becomes incredibly easy to predict your power bill: It’s nothing! Aside from any outstanding costs from the purchase or installation of your system, which is just a regular monthly bill, there is no need to worry about fluctuating energy costs because you have none. Even with a grid tie-in system, you can rest assured that by producing most of your own energy, your power bill will stay below a predictable level that makes any fluctuations negligible. These fluctuations will typically be in your favor anyway. Depending on size and sunlight, grid tie-in systems often wind up producing more energy than they can use or store, meaning the power winds up getting sold to the power company.

One benefit of energy independence that can’t be so easily measured is the peace of mind it brings. Energy security and stability are not only beneficial for their own sake. Having fewer things to worry about, and thus less stress, improves mental and physical health in a myriad of ways. Not to mention the joy that comes from knowing that you are doing something every day to lessen your carbon footprint and make the world a better place!

Like any bold step towards more personal freedom, taking the plunge into energy independence can seem intimidating. You probably have a lot of questions, and may not even know where to start.

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.

Stay energized,

aur

Aur Beck 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.







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