Taking the Leap to Off-Grid

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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I’ve got a friend who purchased land close to us. Like a lot of people he was curious about our solar setup and what it was like to live off the grid. Remember, my definition of living off grid is providing your own sewer, water, and power.

Many people have septic systems (sewer) and draw (water) from a well, spring or other body of water. Not many people go that third step to produce their own power. I wonder why?

I helped this friend of mine acquire a site analysis for solar exposure to see if he would be a candidate for a solar power system. His site wasn’t ideal (southern exposure all year long) but it was excellent for nine months out of the year and still pretty good those three short solar day months of November, December, and January.

He decided to bring traditional power in. At $10.00 per foot underground the total cost was over $22,000. That was just to get power to the house. Solar (in his case) would have been approximately $15,000 for a complete system installed. With public power he will have a monthly power bill. With solar he wouldn’t. Public power continues to climb in cost per watt. Solar is getting cheaper.
He would have to have a generator to help charge his batteries at times but out here everyone has a generator anyway for many reasons so the only extra cost to be compared here is the generator fuel. We all know that any kind of fuel is expensive but would it be enough to disqualify solar power as a good alternative? In his case probably not.

If you have read my other blogs you will know I live in a modern home with typical appliances. The only difference between our house and yours is the source of power –in our case the sun. Well, ok, there is another difference. Our power usage. For some reason, when you make your own power you automatically become more conservative in how much power you consume. Other than that, if you stayed in my home for a week you wouldn’t know it was being powered by the sun.

There are a lot of options out there – sun, wind, and hydro. So why aren’t more people doing it? I think it’s because it’s different than what we were brought up with. Almost all of us have had public provided power all of our lives. We were born with it being available. We can all tell the same stories about being out of power for a few days, usually because of a storm. Whether you live in the city or country we’ve all grown up with power poles and power lines on the side of the road.

Change is difficult and for some, just plain scary. I understand human nature and for the most part I was skeptical, just like many of you. That being said, there is now so much information at your public library or bookstore, Internet and even TV, that there really is no excuse not to be well informed about alternative power. Articles from scientists at NASA to the simplest online blog from people who are living with alternative energy are available to anyone who wants to take the time to read them. Educate yourself and become informed.

Ultimately it will probably be economics that will be the driving force to changing where we get our energy from. When solar, wind,  individual hydro systems, or something else entirely, become more cost effective than the more traditional means we use today then change will certainly occur. That has already happened to some extent. In the meantime some of us are pioneering the way, one watt at a time.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites goodideasforlife.com  and offgridworks.com.

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