Technological Challenges of Off-Grid Homestead Living, Part 2: Electricity

| 11/9/2015 11:45:00 AM

Read Part 1 of this series, "Resources", here.

Electricity — as a modern off-grid homesteader, I want it! Electric power for lighting, computers, radios, phones, pumps, refrigeration, fans, are appropriate and can be integrated into a homestead at relatively low cost from on-site renewable solar, wind, and/or hydro energy sources.

Why is it low cost? Four reasons: 1) the market price for renewable energy components, such as photovoltaic (PV) panels and turbines for wind and water continues to drop; 2) appliances that use electricity are available at second-hand stores; 3) house wiring supplies are obtainable at contractor prices; 4) renewable energy is free to use.

Although non-renewable fossil fuel energy sources can also be used to generate electric power, in the long run, it’s more expensive because the fuel is not free. During the construction phase of my small house, before my solar electric system was setup, I used a gas powered electric generator to run power tools and charge a battery bank to run lights and electronics; then after construction it became a backup to the solar.

Setting up the right size system required me to measure how much power I needed and then make choices about conserving energy and using alternatives to electric power because the initial cost of a renewable energy system increases with how much power you want it to produce, so finding ways to conserve energy is essential. To do this I took power measurements of my appliances by using a hand-held watt-hour meter, e.g. Kill-A-Watt, which gave me a starting point for understanding my power requirements.

My finances afforded the cost of 1,000 watts of PV panels and my homestead site offered 12 hours of sunshine per day in summer and 6 hours per day in winter; with 330 sunny days per year at my site, it works out to a potential of about 3 million watt-hours per year — a little more than half of the 5 million watt-hours that my utility bill reported that I actually used at my townhome before I went off the grid.

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