Batteries, High Winds and Other Off-Grid Considerations

| 11/23/2011 9:18:33 AM

 By Cam Mather

I’ve been doing some consulting work lately for people who are contemplating going off the grid, so I thought I’d incorporate some of my thoughts on this along with some answers to questions we’ve recently received from our blog readers.

For most people, the decision to be on the grid or off grid is an economic one. If your property is $20,000 from the nearest utility pole, then you’re probably further ahead to go off grid. This is especially true for a remote cottage or cabin that may only be used in the summer months. In this situation, going off grid makes complete sense.

But if the electricity lines are close to your property, it’s a tough call. I love living off grid. It’s been a huge pain in the butt from time to time but I’m glad to be off-grid. Getting your electricity from someone else is just so easy compared to making it yourself. And 14 years ago when we started our little odyssey it was even more of a challenge. We’ve shared many of these challenges in our book “Little House Off The Grid: Our Family’s Journey to Self Sufficiency.” I share the problems we’ve had with most of our systems… solar, wind, batteries … you name it, and I also share our solutions.

Now that we’ve dealt with the various challenges and the system is working well, I love it! When was the last time you turned on a light switch and marveled at the miracle of it? It never ceases to amaze me that I can power our home and business with the sun and wind. It’s totally awesome.

The biggest challenge for many people who want to be off-grid will be the batteries. We started with a room full of Ni-cads that the previous owners got out of a decommissioned military bunker. They seemed to work all right for a while, but eventually they needed to be replaced. Whenever I talk to people who are on the grid and complaining about their latest electricity bill, I like to remind them that I don’t have an electricity bill, and that I’m not paying my share of the utility’s “debt retirement charge.” Then I remind them that I just spent $4,000 on batteries. They are great batteries that should last 17 to 20 years, but they still need to be maintained. They are the biggest and really the only part of my system that requires any on-going maintenance. I have 6 large 4 Volt Surrette batteries wired at 24Volts.

12/7/2011 4:34:17 PM

Hey Cam,I'm looking to go 'offgrid'... now this area has water and power close by but what I'm trying to do is prepare for the 'grid' not to work and really thumb my nose at people who think it can't work... The property is 12.25 ac with a 2 ac pond 1/2 mile from a coastal sound in NC. High wind protection is an absolute necessity. But the topography is excellent for dawn-2-dusk solar harvesting. I am going to have 3 sub300sqft cabins to be used during vacations and weekends. (I can't see paying monthly bills on something I use maybe a few days a month)... I am ok with each cabin having its own solar system. The problem I see is proper battery bank size, and security of the system while I'm not there. I have a ton of questions if you don't mind... Wonderful article and very inspirational... atleast to me.

12/6/2011 3:48:23 AM

How about replacing those batteries earlier than 17-20 years. Wish full thinking if you think they last that long. In time batteries diminish there holding capacity: 100% new and maybe 50% in ten.

11/24/2011 12:00:09 PM

Thanks for the reality check for those who've only been exposed to the Pollyanna Approach to Alternative Energy. The systems may be a PITA, but like the credit card commercial would say: "Cost of Independence: priceless." One has to take that into account when evaluating the bottom line.

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