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Living Off the Grid

By Glenn Wilson, OTG for 16 years

In today’s climate of awareness of our personal carbon and energy footprints, much talk surrounds the increasing price of grid supplied electricity.  The negative effects of coal fired electricity are widely known so must we look for other ways to generate the energy we need. Grid connect solar systems seem to be an answer. 

Living ‘off the grid’ (OTG) is also a viable option.  Becoming self sufficient in our electricity supply is empowering and very achievable.  It will usually require a reassessment and reduction in the amount of electricity used by the household.  This too is very achievable.

Living ‘OTG’ involves the collection of energy, converting that energy to electricity, storing that electricity in a battery bank and then converting that stored DC (direct current) electricity to AC (alternating current) for use in the household.

We live in an area of abundant sunlight so solar photovoltaic panels coupled with a tracking system may be the mainstay of energy collection.  If the site is suitable, the system may be supplemented with a small, quiet wind turbine.  Some rural residents who live beside a creek or river could use the power of the water in the waterway to drive a small turbine, or a dam could be used similarly with the water downstream of the turbine then directed into an irrigation system.

Depending on capital available, a backup generator to top up the batteries when needed could be a simple petrol powered unit or one of the newer generation gas fired fuel cells now available.  If a system is large enough and has multiple energy collection inputs, backup generation may not be needed at all.

A very attractive aspect of living OTG is once the system is paid for and installed the ongoing ‘cost’ is minimal.  No quarterly account from the energy company, no meter payments, no line and infrastructure fees or charges.  An OTG system does require regular battery maintenance, ensuring the solar panels are kept clean and the tracker, if installed, is working properly.

If planning or installing an OTG electricity system it may be prudent to purchase one large enough (collection and batteries) that gives the household a decent buffer for when visitors stay or the household numbers increase, or at least design into the system the capability to add on further electricity collection and storage.