Monday, December 28, 2009

Going off the grid

One of our goals is to disconnect from the power grid. Using electricity from the power companies is easy and convenient. It’s readily available here at our place and is relatively inexpensive. However, the generation of electricity for the electric grid has definite environmental, health, and economic impacts on different areas of the country. My consumption of grid-tied electricity affects other people whether I realize it or not.

We’ve talked about and considered having a solar electric system for our home. It’s been a goal reserved for the future, something to pursue when we could afford it several years down the road. Putting together and installing an off-grid solar electric system usually does not make economic sense unless you don’t have electric service readily available to your home, because the time required to recoup your costs can take up to 50 years. If you’re off the beaten path, it can cost you thousands of dollars for the utility company to stretch wires to your home. In that case, it makes economic sense to spend thousands of dollars to put in a solar electric system.

Recently, we’ve moved up the date for achieving our goal of going off grid. Part of our motivation has come from some friends of ours whose children have been affected by pollution from the use of coal. Rather than make a strictly economic decision about electricity, we’re making what we consider to be a moral choice in pursuing our goal at this time. It also fits within our efforts toward greater independence from “the system.”

We’ve been making preparations to go off grid during the last few years, of course, primarily through conservation of our use of electricity. We turn off lights when they aren’t needed. We disconnect the water heater at the circuit breaker during the day, turning it on 30 minutes or so before taking a shower and then turning it off afterwards (I’ll soon be installing an on-demand propane water heater to supply hot water for showers – the only thing we currently use it for). We’ve stopped using our electric cook stove, using our wood cook stove instead (we have another small wood cook stove that I’m going to set up on the back porch to use when it gets warmer this spring/summer).

In order to disconnect from the electric grid, I’ve done a lot of research recently and have ordered solar panels, batteries, a charge controller, inverter, cables, etc. – all of the things we’ll need (if I’ve figured correctly) to set up our own solar electric system. I’m in the process of installing the system right now.

I’m putting our system together and installing it myself. I’ve learned a lot in the last two months about what’s needed for an off-grid system and how to put it together. There’s a lot more I’m sure I don’t know, but hopefully there isn’t too much critical knowledge that I don’t have yet (or that I will be ignorant of before I’ve got it all set up and going). There are a lot of online resources available and a lot of reputable companies with great knowledge selling solar supplies. I am, of course, willing to share my little bit of knowledge with others, too.

batteries in a box This is a photo of the batteries in the battery box. Currently, they are wired in two 12-volt strings (three paralleled sets of two 6 volt batteries in series) in order to put a 12 volt charger on them until the panels are up and going. Once the panels are up, the battery bank will be 24 volt (three paralleled 4-battery series). I’ll post more photos and description of the installation later.

When it’s all said and done, we’ll have 1,250 watts of solar panels charging a 24 volt battery bank with 675 amp hours capacity. We’ll have 600 watt and 3,000 watt pure sine wave inverters (the larger one for only when needed, like for running any power tools for short duration). Our refrigerator, which I’ll post about later, is a 14 cubic foot chest freezer with an external thermostat that keeps the temperature at 38 degrees while using 10 watts per hour. We’ll be using less than 1.5 kilowatt hours per day during the winter months with the option to use more during the summer.

The first, second, and third things to do when setting up an off-grid system is to conserve, conserve, conserve. We bought a Kill-A-Watt meter a few months ago which allows us to measure the electrical usage of different appliances in order to gauge how much power we actually need. There are a lot of things which use a lot of power but really are not needed (incandescent light bulbs, for instance).

More to follow. . .


small farm girl

Wow, your really doing it! Me and Hubby have thought of going off grid,but your really doing it.
Good Luck!


Wow, I look forward to your posts on this subject. I've a very small system here and will expand it to cover more of our daily needs here as money allows. Your adventure allows others to see it really can be done. Good job and keep the posts coming!


Hey Darryl, Merry (belated) Christmas and a Happy New Year! Nice to see the progress on your farm. I absolutely love the pond, it looks fantastic!

All the best to you and your family in 2010.

ON, Canada


I appreciate your comments and encouragement. I'll try to make my posts on our off-grid setup/installation as informative as possible. If anyone wants more details on any specific aspects, just let me know.

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