Living Well with Wind Power

A family uses wind power to live well out in the country.

Living off the grid? We love it!

Two years ago my lifelong companion Gundel purchased a small piece of property in the rolling hills of Saskatchewan. Located on the entrance of the Grassland National Park near the U.S. border, the place is famous for having the world’s
largest medicine wheel. It is truly a spiritual place. Our home, originally a church built in the late 1920s, now offers all the conveniences of a home located in any major city.

We are off the electric grid using wind power, making all our electricity from our two wind generators and 12 solar panels. As a backup we use a 12.5 kilowatt diesel generator.

Our daily power consumption is between seven and 10 kilowatt-hours (kwh) per day or about 240 kwh per month, which is less than half that of a typical American home connected to the grid. Walking through our house, you will find everything found in a typical home: refrigerator, freezer, microwave, toaster, coffee machine, dishwasher, washer, TV, VCR, stereo, computer, printer, scanner, fax, numerous lights, fans, water pumps, power tools and, most importantly, our George Foreman outdoor electric grill. The only difference is — other than the grill — we carefully selected appliances that are energy efficient, and we are careful not to run heavy loads all at one time.

Based on our previous experience with wind generators and our area’s 14-mph average wind speeds, our first choice for a renewable energy system was a wind plant. Living on the prairie with farms all around us, we also found plenty of freestanding towers. At one time, before the town was connected to the grid, hundreds of Jacob wind turbines dotted the landscape providing electricity for the farms. We made minor repairs to the towers and added a couple of gallons of paint for some color.

The combined rated output of the two wind generators is 1,900 watts (1.9 kw). Although we see less than half that amount produced in light winds, the power is potentially available 24 hours a day. The wind accounts for about three-fourths of our total energy production. In the summer, we generally completely shut off one of the two wind generators and let the solar panels kick in. By the middle of October — when the sun surrenders to the winter months and the loons begin to migrate — the birds and wind plants fly together again. In the last 1 1/2 years, we have had to run the back-up diesel generator only once, for a four-hour period in January.

When you step outside, the silence of the prairie settles in your bones; our wind turbines seldom break that sacred silence. Only when the storms blow through and the gusts peak at 90 mph do I hear the turbines scream for mercy. We check the turbines every four months; I climb up the tower, making sure every bolt is still in place and tight. Sometimes standing on the tower I feel the whispers of old friends passing by. For our new friends, we will welcome them in to sit under the glow of our lights, sip a cup of coffee and perhaps listen to a CD on the stereo — all provided by the power of the wind.

— Rolf Heckmann