Living off the grid gives one a sense of independence and pride. We use our own knowledge and labor to keep our off-the-grid power system up and running. For those who haven’t yet selected an off-the-grid power system, below is a review of some different options available.
What option is best depends on a lot of variables, including location and personal preference. For example, a homestead in the sunny southwest will likely have a different power system than a homestead hidden in a mountain valley. Regardless of your location, there’s a system for you.
Solar power is a great choice for many homesteads. A solar power system can provide adequate power even when it’s not sunny all the time. Basically, a solar power system works like this: Solar panels capture energy from the sun, an inverter converts it into a form of energy that can be stored in batteries, and the batteries provide power to the homestead.
The key to a good system is battery storage. Batteries are key to the system working because they can be recharged when the sun is shining, and then power the homestead during nights and cloudy days.
Over the past few years, tremendous advances have been made in solar battery storage systems. Whereas in the past, banks of small batteries (that needed a lot of preventive maintenance) were required, today there are self-enclosed, single battery storage systems that can last 15 years with little preventive maintenance.
For most solar power systems, a back-up generator is recommended, because battery systems can store only so much energy. If it’s been cloudy for few days, and you decide to run the dishwasher, washing machine, and vacuum the floor, it won’t take long to drain the battery. Also, usually the biggest energy user on the homestead is a well pump. If it’s not sunny out so that the battery is recharging, the well pump can drain the battery. Therefore, the back-up generator can be designed to turn on and recharge the battery if the energy level sinks to a pre-defined level. This way, power’s always available, even if the solar energy stored in the battery is depleted.
All in all, a well-designed solar power system with a back-up generator is a great option on homesteads where there’s enough room for solar panels. Solar power does require an upfront investment, especially for a high-capacity storage battery, but it pays for itself in a matter of years, and costs are continually decreasing.
The term “geothermal power” has many definitions. Here, we’re referring to power generated from the heat that is stored in the cracks and fissures in the earth’s crust. Energy can be generated by drilling into these reservoirs of heat. Steam generated from the heat and nearby water in the earth is piped to the surface where it can drive turbines that convert it to electrical power.
While geothermal power is an excellent method to take advantage of the limitless heat energy stored in the earth’s crust, there are a couple of drawbacks that have to be considered.
First, while geothermal energy is present throughout the earth’s crust, it is more concentrated in some areas. Only in these concentrated areas is it feasible to use. So if you’re interested in geothermal power, you should contact a geologist to help you determine an appropriate location. Second, while geothermal power is a tried-and-true technology, most systems are designed for large-scale industrial use. There will be some design and installation expenses associated with a smaller unit suited to the homestead.
Geothermal power has the advantage that it is going 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The water that is rushing down a river or creek has a tremendous amount of kinetic energy. Hydroelectric power is generated by converting this kinetic energy into electricity. This is done by placing a Pelton wheel or other device in the water. As the water cycles the wheel, the wheel powers a turbine that generates electricity.
Like geothermal power, hydroelectric power is highly localized. Depending on the geography and surface water on your property, it may or may not be feasible. If it is feasible, however, small hydroelectric power systems are a proven technology that can generate power every hour of every day.
The drawback of hydroelectric power is that it is subject to local, state and sometimes federal regulations. Before investing any money in a system, contact your County Engineer to discuss it. The engineer should be able to discuss feasibility and outline the regulatory requirements.
There is another option if the hydroelectric power is planned as an emergency source of energy. Several hydroelectric power kits are available for purchase, sized to provide enough energy for a homestead. If you live in an area where regulations forbid hydroelectric power, you can consider a small hydroelectric power kit for an emergency, or for that time when disaster strikes and society ends as we know it. In a post-apocalyptic society, regulatory bureaucrats will be the least of your worries.
Diesel generators are designed to run for years with minimal maintenance. They are rugged, reliable, and have proved themselves countless times.
However, while diesel generators are a good power source where municipal power isn’t available (or wanted), they are only reliable in our current society. Diesel generators require a lot of fuel, oil, filters, hoses, replacement batteries, and a host of other minor supplies that are readily available in today’s society. However, if society ends as we know it, there’s no guarantee that diesel fuel will be available. And even if it is for a while, necessary spare parts like filters and hoses may not be.
Therefore, diesel generators are a great supplemental source of power for a homestead, but should not be relied upon for a long-term solution if societal collapse occurs.
Those living the off-the-grid lifestyle work hard to be as self-reliant as possible. With this penchant for hard work and independence, there is an alternative power system right for your homestead.
What is your preferred off-grid power system? Share your tips in the section below: