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.
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.
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