Off the Grid With Solar Power

Reader Contribution by Anneli Carter-Sundqvist
article image

Ten years ago, before I came to Deer Isle, Dennis lived here without electricity. As the Hostel started to materialize the impracticality and hazards with candles and lanterns pushed him to set up a power system. The cost of running the grid line in from the road was too steep and the poles unsightly in the rustic setting so Dennis set up a solar electric system. The system has grown some since but is still our only source of power, giving us enough electricity for light bulbs and a computer, and on sunny days; the laundry machine, the water pump for the shower and some occasional power tools. 

To live with alternative household energy, in part or in full as we are, is to me not so much a choice of energy source but a choice of energy consumption. While it’s possible to live off the grid, with solar power for example, and still generate as much electricity as a conventional household consumes, I appreciate the limitations our fairly small set up has. Those wishing to reduce their use of conventional power often consider renewable energy, but using laundry lines instead of a dryer is also a way to reduce power usage, or reconsidering the necessity of  other household appliances.

There’s a common notion throughout society that we all should do what we can to halt global warming. Applied to that notion is the idea that we should be able to do that without having to sacrifice anything; that while it’s our duty to save the environment it’s our human right to keep all the modern technology, appliances and devices we want going. Renewable energy is often seen as a way to have it all and still feel “green” and it is indeed at a glance more environment friendly than conventional power, but no power has as low footprint as the power not used. The appliances run on green energy took energy, probably conventional, to produce. They’ll take energy to deal with once they’re ready to be replaced, probably, once again, conventional. Solar panels and wind turbines takes energy to manufacture, batteries are made of recycled lead and hydro power comes with other environmental challenges.

Living off the grid with a stand alone solar power system the way we do is great to encourage a limitation for power use. I don’t ever miss having a refrigerator and or other kitchen appliances and aesthetically, I appreciate the lack of such. I’m happy to adjust to the circumstances; that there are things we can do on sunny days that we can not do on cloudy. We don’t have to consider a monthly payment to the power company and a well designed solar system is substantially more reliable than the grid. A system like ours makes it possible to live, with electricity, on land too far away from the grid to bring the lines in, land that often is cheap and secluded.

We harvested the beets last Monday, in the nick of time before the first real cold came. That was the end for the harvest season, an end that has seemed so far away for so long that I still can’t really believe we’re on the other side of it. The days are indeed getting shorter, and we enjoy the long evenings powered by the generously sunny days.

Anneli Carter – Sundqvist lives with her husband Dennis year round on a highly self sufficient, off the grid homestead. In the summer, they run the Deer Isle Hostel, providing budget accommodation, positive-impact living education and a unique experience for 100’s of travelers each year. They grow and keep a whole years supply of food without freezer or refrigerator, they provide their own building material, garden amendments, medicine and fuel using island resources and great creativity. They recently got awarded The Homesteader of the Year 2013 by Mother Earth News and the Best Budget accommodation in the Down East Magazine.

Photo by Dennis Carter