Thursday, April 13, 2017

Living Off the Grid. How viable is it?

With the whirlwind of new technology coming out practically every hour we continually rely on electricity more and more. While this might be practical if your home happens to run on the 5% renewable energy the current electricity grid is providing, this number only reached one million homes in the U.S. this year, or more appropriately put, less than one half of one percent of the US population. The continued usage of non-renewable energy sources (i.e. fossil fuels) isn’t sustainable because of their eventual depletion and harmful effects. A large amount of non-renewable energy sources damage our climate’s ability to maintain an average constant temperature by adding greenhouses gases to the atmosphere.
Fortunately, besides waiting for the electricity providers to start using more renewable sources of power production, an option to be sustainable in your home is by living off the grid. While this might conjure up images of living out in a desolate landscape with no human contact, no electricity, and only an outhouse, homes off the grid are surprisingly similar-looking to modern on-grid houses. The three main areas in your residence that will change from living off the grid will be your water supply, power production, and food.
An example of how you can live off the grid in a two story house. (Photo source: http://www.naturescapebc.ca/living-off-grid/

Living off the grid doesn’t just mean losing connections to the local power grid but also includes not relying on municipal water or other utilities you pay for while on the grid. There are a few options to supply water to your home on-site. One simple resource to harness, if you live in a wet climate, is the rain. This rainwater that hits your roof can be fed into cisterns located above or below ground. After simple inexpensive filtration this water is ready to use. When living in a dry area, off-grid homes tend to rely more on water from below the ground -- mainly well-water which is a bit more costly, but is a more reliable source of water.
Just like with water, there are many options for generating electricity depending on geographical location. An option for almost everybody in the US is photovoltaic solar power. While this depends exclusively on how much sunlight your land receives, in many places local governments are offering incentives when buying solar panels, which brings down the end price of installation. Other options for generating power include installing a small wind turbine on the roof of your house, which is the cheapest form of energy generation when living off the grid.
Solar roofs are becoming more and more common to see on top of houses because of the decrease in cost they bring to a resident’s electricity bill. (Photo source: http://www.backwoodssolar.com/off-grid-home)


To go fully off the grid you would also need to make sure you are getting your food from your own property versus the supermarket. A number of ways to do this include installing a greenhouse on your property or growing plants indoors with LEDs. Unfortunately the colder the climate in which you live, the more energy you will need to heat your food production space. In general, it is easier to live completely off the grid in a warmer climate versus in sub-freezing climates because of the relative ease of growing your food.
In the end, living off the grid is one of the largest sustainable steps you can take because of obvious reasons: it doesn’t use almost any excess energy or products off your own property. Another reality though is that switching to off the grid requires a large lifestyle change and sometimes (depending on how off the grid you want to go), a change in location. Not only would you have to replace your current electrical and water systems, but most likely you would need to change how much of each of these resources you consume. This may include unplugging appliances and electronics regularly, or using less water by taking shorter showers and possibly washing dishes by hand. The great part about off-the grid living is that there is a middle ground! Taking even a small part of your energy off grid, such as installing solar roofing, can make a huge difference in your sustainability and generally in the cost of living after the initial investment.
Author: Andrew Lazara
Editor: Shikha Dave

Sources:
  1. https://www.engadget.com/2014/07/07/how-to-disappear-completely-part-three/
  2. http://offgridsurvival.com/living/
  3. https://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-electricity/design-installation/so-you-want-go-grid
  4. https://www.homepower.com/articles/solar-electricity/design-installation/so-you-want-go-grid?v=print
  5. https://www.smartgrid.gov/the_smart_grid/renewable_energy.html
  6. http://offgridarmy.blogspot.com/p/rainwater-harvesting.html
  7. http://www.activistpost.com/2011/02/4-best-methods-for-off-grid-food.html
  8. http://www.naturescapebc.ca/living-off-grid/
  9. http://www.backwoodssolar.com/off-grid-home

This post was brought to you by the BSOS Sustainability Task Force.  For more info on the STF, see: blog.umd.edu/stf.