Living off grid is one of the biggest choices you can make to achieve self-sufficiency. So much of the modern lifestyle is dependent on power supplied invisibly through “the grid”, and it’s initially hard to imagine the impacts of living life without it. There’s a range of impacts, depending on the level of off-grid system chosen. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory provides an excellent calculator for sizing and evaluating solar systems.
- The most affordable (and low impact) systems provide only power for essential electronics. For example, a small solar panel and miniature battery bank might power your satellite modem and laptop, providing a reliable link to the Internet. For everything else–it’s just like camping.
- Most frequently, a home power system is designed to handle the crucial tasks, but not the heaviest loads. This might include: lighting, a well pump, ventilation, and refrigeration. You may still opt to use a wood or gas fired oven and furnace, and a gas-operated clothes dryer or deep freezer. Going without periodic gas delivery might mean line drying clothes.
- A “full up” off-grid system can deliver peak energy needs to an entire household. This often will rely on a supplemental generator, or a very large battery bank. With this level of system, you need never be conscious of being disconnected, as your own local grid provides all that’s needed.
Choosing a Property
When looking for a property, it is critical to consider how you can meet your power needs.
First, consider whether you do have available grid power–this makes construction, financing and a host of other tasks easier, even if you do opt to subsequently disconnect.
Second, look for property with sufficient solar irradiance, and suitable weather for solar power. Consult NREL’s solar maps for your target areas, and choose a property with clear southern exposure for maximum sunshine.
Third, consider alternatives to solar power. In mountainous country, consider the use of micro-hydro power. If a parcel of land has sufficient head (i.e. elevation change), and a year-round stream, there’s good potential for the installation of a small turbine that can produce power 24/7, without concern for bad weather. If in open country, wind power provides a good complement to solar. See energy.gov for maps of wind power potential.
Finally, make sure to get educated, and expect to continue learning. While going off grid provides a great sense of independence, it does also introduce additional responsibility. Start off on the right foot by choosing a real estate professional that has experience with off grid property, and who will be able to provide the voice of local experience.
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