Wouldn’t it be nice to not worry about paying a power bill each month? Living off the grid is a dream that many Americans have, but few of them actually work to attain it. The good news is that going off the grid is possible if you are willing to invest some time and money upfront. The pay off could be huge in the long run, not to mention the benefits of living off grid if there was a breakdown in society.
No one knows exactly how many homes in the United States rely on off-grid power, but according to USA Today, there were 180,000 families off-grid in 2006. Richard Perez from Home Power Magazine estimates that the numbers have increased 33 percent per year since then. Leaving behind public utility companies is not just a trend; it’s a smart move that many of us are working to achieve. Here is a closer look at what it would take for your household to unplug and live off-grid.
Find Another Power Source
The majority of people living off-grid use solar power, but wind power is another viable option. To convert to solar power, most people install photovoltaic solar panels to the roof or somewhere near the home. When the sunlight hits these panels, the semiconductors collect energy and force it to flow in an electrical direct current. This current goes through an inverter and it changes the direct current into alternating current, which your home is already set up to use.
Go Hybrid As a First Step
In the beginning, you might want to consider a hybrid system where you can pair solar power with your traditional power. This will inevitably reduce your power bill and it is a first step to learning the ropes of solar power. When you use a hybrid system, the energy you create is actually stored by your local utility company. If you manage to produce more energy than you use, you can sell the electricity back to the utility company (40 states currently allow this). If you need more energy than you produce, you have the grid system to fall back on.
Cut Ties and Go Totally Solar
Eventually, you will need to cut ties with the power company and fly solo with your solar power. When you make this change, you will have to install a system of batteries to store the power you create. Then this power can be converted from DC to AC as you need it. Most people store this battery system in a garage or nearby shed.
Supplementing Solar Power
When you go completely off the grid, be prepared to supplement your solar power in some creative ways if the need arises. Most commonly, homeowners need to augment solar power for winter heat or running the hot water heater. A lot of people rely on propane for this, but it can get really expensive with high fuel prices. Another option is to install a tankless water heater. This option heats water on demand, rather than keeping water stored in the system. You can also install a full solar water heater.
It’s always a good idea to have a backup generator, just in case you experience a long stretch of days when you aren’t getting good sun. You can set up your generator to automatically start running if the solar battery supply drops below a set level.
During the winter months, it takes a lot of power to heat your home. Using a fireplace or wood burning stove is the most common choice for supplementing home heat. You will also want to make sure you have airtight construction and additional foam installation to keep the warmth inside as much as possible.
If you are building a new home, you can implement solar power from the very beginning. By using strategic landscaping, dark exterior paint, and a lot of extra insulation, you can make sure a new home is completely prepared to rely on off-grid solar power.
Ultimately, solar power is a smart choice. Take it in steps, starting with a hybrid power option and then moving to full solar power when you are ready. It might take a little time to learn the ropes, but once you get used to the difference, you will be thrilled with your new off-grid lifestyle.