Off-Grid Power Going Mainstream

Sunni's picture

I’ve been kinda-sorta following developments in wind and solar energy, but not very diligently; I don’t expect to have a need for that kind of tech anytime soon. A Reuters article from yesterday sure caught my attention, though: Pioneers show Americans how to live “off-grid” claims that prices have dropped enough that both technologies are increasingly feasible for home use. And of course, the increasing costs of energy have upped the appeal. An excerpt from the article:

[Author Nick] Rosen estimates that there are as many as 350,000 U.S. households meet their own energy needs, and growing at 30 percent a year.

"As people are losing their homes, or finding the rent or mortgage too much to pay, they are choosing the off-grid alternative because it is so much cheaper," Rosen said

While installation costs for the solar panels, wind turbines, converters and batteries needed to power up an off-grid home were prohibitively expensive a few years back, improved technology and ramped up production has driven down costs significantly.

Popular solar-powered systems are made by Sharp Corp, Kyocera Corp and silicon Valley-based Nanosolar, among others, and according to the website Low Impact Living (click on www.lowimpactliving.com/), installation costs have fallen by more than 80 percent over 20 years.

"The cost is falling all the time as there is more and more manufacturing plant coming onstream. In fact, there may even be a glut in solar panels next year which would be very good news for the consumers," said Rosen. ....

Power utilities such as Arizona Public Service, the principal subsidiary of Pinnacle West Capital Corp, is among utilities in several U.S. states that offer subsidies to consumers planning to meet their own power needs, so as to ease demand for a growing on-grid customer base.

"Not only is it getting cheaper to generate non-grid electricity, but it's getting cheap and comfortable to set up your off-grid home, and there are even bonuses from your local utility company for doing so," Rosen said. ....

The cost of building such a home is little different from that of building any other home, and with a range of energy sipping appliances such as refrigerators, hi-fis and even hairdryers now available, the forced austerity associated with off-grid living is also changing.

"You can have hot showers and a cold beer," said [off-grid developer Lonnie] Gamble. "You have no water bill, no sewer bill, no power bill and you can harvest something fresh from the greenhouse ... why would you ever do anything else?"

Two things stick out from the article—only one of which is in the bit quoted. If one is completely off the grid, why would one be in contact with “your local utility company”? Seems to me the privacy gained from them not coming on to the property, reading meters and the like, would itself be worth going off-grid. Second, “trend analyst” author Rosen is quoted as saying that he doesn’t think as many as half of all American homes will ever be off-grid, which strikes me as an amazingly short-sided attitude, particularly for one in the trend analysis biz. If that stupid OPEC lawsuit legislation continues, and if the greenies keep the USSA’s reserves out of bounds, the resulting price pinch could be enough to tip a lot more people that way. And it is possible that the grid could fail or be taken out for a large part of the country, and in some way that would require routing around that in order to regain some of the niceties of modernity. Doesn’t take much imagination to come up with such scenarios at all.

Anyway, it’s good to see such a major leg in the self-sufficiency puzzle getting more interest.

Another Option

An alternative to going completely off-grid is to go with a grid-connected solar system. It is easier to start small, and if the govgoons drag their feet on permits, you could always go Guerrilla Solar. It's a possible transitional step, anyway.

Cost is still an issue

One of the main reasons people still hook up to the electric grid is because they receive subsidies to do so. Solar, wind, etc still cannot compete with oil and coal. The main reason for this is that oil and coal receive a huge subsidy in that they do not have to pay for the pollution they cause, but that is another topic.

Unfortunately the costs of small scale energy production are still very high.

Off the grid and freedom

HI Sunni,

Here in Aus, most homes with solar panels are still grid connected because 1) they may not produce enough enough power, or consistently so, for their total energy needs, and 2) the power produced by their solar cells is fed straight back into the grid, for all to use, offsetting their total energy bill (i.e., as in an automatic rebate).

For freedom minded individuals anywhere on the planet, alternative energy would really have to be the 'holy grail' (please excuse the religious ref) - what better way to achieve freedom than by attaining energy independence?

Here is a link to a group (the Orion Project') trying to do just that:

http://www.theorionproject.org/en/

Of course, those in 'power' do not wish anyone to haver such independence - it's rather hard to dictate to those who do not rely on govt and utilities for energy...