Back in the day, living off the grid was strictly limited to survivalists and remote rural areas. Primitive living conditions with few human comforts were the norm. Today, living off the grid is much more mainstream. With the proper off-the-grid setup, it is possible to operate household appliances and even heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—eliminating the need for carbon-based fuels.
Reasons for Going off the Grid
Going off the grid is beneficial to individual households and to the greater environment. An off-the-grid setup frees households from volatile utility rates. In some areas, going off the grid can be less expensive than regular power. Some households even sell excess power back to their utility companies.
Environmental considerations represent a more altruistic motivation for going off the grid. Households that are off the grid are customarily powered by renewable energy, which translates to a reduction in the use of carbon-based fuels.
Off-the-Grid versus Grid-Tie Systems
In the strictest sense, going off the grid means being completely energy independent with no connections to the local power or utility company. By contrast, households operating with grid-tie systems produce most of their own energy but are still tied to the power company grid. This allows households to tap into the grid when solar panels or wind energy don’t produce sufficient power to meet energy needs. Grid-tie systems also allow households to sell excess power back to the power company, which is impossible with completely off-the-grid systems.
Alternative Energy Sources
In past decades, the high costs of renewable energy represented a significant barrier for going off the grid. However, prices for two of the most popular renewable energy sources, solar and wind, have dropped dramatically in recent years. Both solar and wind energy systems have become more efficient as well. In fact, solar systems can be used to power HVAC equipment.
Solar energy can be utilized in both rural and urban environments. Wind energy is more viable in rural environments; however, small turbine systems are also available for residential and commercial buildings in urban areas. Both solar and wind energy require storage for excess energy produced while systems are running. This stored energy also prevents brownouts when turbines or solar panels fail to produce enough energy. Geothermal systems are also fairly common in off-the-grid systems.
If you are going completely off the grid, it is essential to ensure that your setup will generate enough power to meet your home’s needs. As stated above, a storage system is also a necessity. In some cases, that means adding a supplemental power source such as propane or a wood-burning stove. You’ll also need to check local regulations. Some power companies prohibit homes from going completely off the grid, making a grid-tie system a necessity.