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!!!!! In these times we live in, how important is it to be off grid?

 
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Hive mind,
For those of you tuned into the roiling waves of political instability, energy depletion, impending economic collapse, ecological fragility etc. [insert your possible dooms-day scenario here]:
If you had the choice to put your resources into either going off-grid solar with battery back-up, or on-grid solar for less than half the money (just 20% of the current electric bill), what would you choose? Does it really matter if you are off grid and you live close to a major city? What, given the interesting times we live in, are the relative pros and cons of off-grid versus on-grid living?
Your kind and thoughtful words will be appreciated!
Eric
DL_32618-006.JPG
One corner of my currently on-grid project.
One corner of my currently on-grid project.
 
pollinator
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The United States Electrical Supply is in a death spiral and no one seems to notice, or care.

Grid rates are based 100% on consumption, so there is a problem. My electrical company, Central Maine Power (CMP) has ever increasing costs...labor, material costs, fuel costs, etc. YET consumers are buying appliances and such, that REDUCE their electrical consumption. Here is where the death spiral starts.

In order for CMP to survive, they get their price per KW to go up. That causes consumers to buy more appliances with better economy to reduce their electrical costs, which causes CMP rates per KW to go up again, which causes consumers to be motivated yet again to buy more electrical saving devices. That is the death spiral we are now in.

The a way out of this is to stop charging for the KW's consumed. Maine is already talking about charging a flat fee for grid hook up.

That has slowed somewhat because heat pumps have really taken off here. They save money over that of paying for oil or propane, but they still drive up the consumption of electricity...which is what CMP needed. But eventually people will grow tired of heat pumps, and try the next big home heating trend. And the death spiral will continue.

The only TRUE way out of the death spiral, is to go off grid. Staying hooked to the grid, with even a flat fee is not going to be good because no matter what, CMP is going to have X amount of costs to maintain the power, and the flat fee will just be high to cover that.

 
gardener
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I guess it depends on what electricity is used for, and what kind of collapse you are planning for.

I live in heart of the city, and I am confident that I could modify a grid tied system in case of collapse,  so grid tied is the choice for me.
I'm in a bad place for solar anyway,  too many trees and buildings, and my roof is oriented at an awkward angle.
Plus I'm poor,  with bad credit.
I'm focused on conservation, because saving energy saves money and helps the environment.

I've heard the Amish goal is to avoid becoming dependant on the "English" world.
Maybe that should be our guide.

Heat and light can be covered by burning various things.
There are a whole host of labor saving devices that use electric,  starting with laundry, but  all of which can be done hand.

Simple,safe and bright light,  refrigeration and long range communications seem like the three things that an electricity free  homestead would miss the most.

Power tools are up there, but the are at least replaceable.
 
pollinator
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When we first moved to our property, we had a 40W solar panel and an old car battery. That kind of set up doesn't get you much juice. We learned to mostly just not use electricity.  If you can do that, you'll be fine either way.
 
pollinator
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I plan to get a grid-tied system for the house and shop.  If The End Of The World As We Know It occurs, I won't be using that much electricity anyway, so a few solar panels with devices will be sufficient for awhile before I kick the bucket from starvation.

In my opinion the only truly independent strategy if TSHTF is to go full caveman, and not need electricity at all, because all those electric doo-dads will eventually fail anyway.

I don't expect TSHTF during my lifetime, personally, so I don't plan for it.
 
Eric Chrisp
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Travis Johnson, You raise some interesting issues, such as the overall fragility of our grid,  pretty much nation wide. In my area (New Mexico) I don't believe there is any talk of a flat fee. However, I think that there has been talk of charging fees to grid-tied solar owners. That's not what you were talking about was it? I'll have to look into that.


William Bronson, I appreciate your position. Yeah, I can see living like the Amish.  Though I'm not sure anyone else in my family of four can! We are homesteaders, (Chickens, turkeys and goats for milk, eggs and meat) but if there is a continuum of homesteaders from extremely mainstream (all the modern amenities and comforts) to extremely radical (Amish or otherwise primitive lifestyle) we are somewhere in the middle. Until the lights go out I'd like to have electricity. What you are saying, in a way, is that when the grid goes down, life without electricity might not be so bad, eh? So I can adapt and perhaps the additional money for batteries is not worth it.

Any other pros and cons that folks can think of?
 
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if we end up back in the dark ages depending on the reason it might not matter anyway,
what is the deal with the electric company will they pay you for excess power you produce, or charge additional fee each month just because they can. might check with you power co state and local rules or laws that might be involved.
i would think an off grid set up is kinda like a diploma once you got it it cant be taken away and you can benefit from it, just remember batteries dont last forever, and need to be replaced.

do your homework into each type of system before spending $$$$
 
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Eric Chrisp wrote:If you had the choice to put your resources into either going off-grid solar with battery back-up, or on-grid solar for less than half the money (just 20% of the current electric bill), what would you choose?



We didn't have the resources required to make that choice when we bought our place, but I'd have preferred off.  Jan is on point though.  

Eric Chrisp wrote:Does it really matter if you are off grid and you live close to a major city?



The pros and cons don't change a whole lot based on your proximity to a major city, imo.  If you're close to large groups of people and the grid goes down temporarily, you make a lot of new friends, real fast, if you still have power.  If you're close and the grid goes down more or less permanently, you make a lot of enemies if you still have power.

Eric Chrisp wrote:What, given the interesting times we live in, are the relative pros and cons of off-grid versus on-grid living?



If you start a project on the grid, you've got the flexibility to use more than you can generate, to run cheap electric tools and accomplish a lot of one-time tasks quickly.  Grid-tied tools are more plentiful, therefore easier to come by used and inexpensively.

If you start a project off grid, you're getting used to living within your means from day one, which is good.  But you're probably having to use more battery powered tools, which cost more, and you're still tied to the grid because the grid builds your replacement batteries, expansion panels, controllers, etc.

If you're in an area where the grid has to buy back your excess generating capacity for an attractive price, and you have the resources to install something that meets their standards, then maybe you want grid-tied solar to help offset the installation cost.  Don't plan on that arrangement being permanent.  A captive regulator can flip those buyback rules around and cut off that kind of cost offset pretty quickly.

So, like most things, it depends.  Going off grid is frequently framed either as referendum on the methods the grid uses to generate and distribute power, or a strategic choice about how long you expect the grid to continue to function in your area.  Things fall apart.  Eventually the grid connected to whatever you're thinking of connecting it to will permanently cease to function, but without a crystal ball, none of us can say when.  If you're building with the intention of passing something on, being grid tied may mean passing on a serious systemic weakness.  If the inheritors are aware of the weakness and you pass on the resources or skills to work around it, maybe that's good enough.

Personally I feel like we should be encouraging decentralized generation and consumption to the furthest extent possible for each use case, but the ethical dimension of any decision is always personal, so that's for you to mull over.  Knowing where the juice in your grid is coming from may be the thing that sways you away from being tied to it, even with solar.  As long as you can flip a switch in an emergency and disconnect yourself from the grid, grid-tied solar still makes strategic sense to me.  If that switch isn't automated, and your local substation eats itself, how much damage can that do to your equipment?  If your system can be killed by the grid, that's certainly a point in favor of being off-grid from day one.

Practically speaking though, as we age, our society leans heavily on electronics to keep us alive.  Who knows what kind of technology you'll feel justified in using, as time goes on?  Would you change your resource investment based on that kind of speculation?  If you answer "yes", then do you risk falling back on a grid that may or not be there to catch you, or do you build a more robust off grid system that may cost more to maintain?  Up to you, based on your understanding of the nature of the grid where you live, and your tolerance for difficult-to-quantify risks. All grids are not created equal.
 
gardener
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I'm a fan of off grid and combining that with "radical simplicity" conservation. My total system with batteries cost less than the typical grid-tied inverters I've seen, not to mention the certified installer fees and everything else. I've read that the excess production rates are starting to drop, so you get paid less than you'd be charged for the same energy use too. Combined with the mandatory disconnect whenever grid power goes down (to prevent any feedback from zapping repair techs), grid tie seems like a lot of hassle.

I'm still looking for phantom loads- was out of town several days with router/modem turned off, and fridge plugged into the solar-charged batteries, and my utility claims I still used about 650 watt hours per day... so 25-30 watts per hour. Perhaps a digital clock and a phone charger plus microwave clock?
 
pollinator
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I live in fire country. The plan is to shut down the grid during extreme fire conditions. Many, if not most people around here are just not prepared for that. They will have no water without the grid, temporary generator set-ups are not allowed. My generators are fixed and inside a garage. In my mind, being prepared is more important than on or off grid. I'm off grid and I like it. I really wanted to not be dependent on the local power company, but I know that not everyone shares that concern.
 
master steward
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Mark Brunnr wrote:I'm a fan of off grid and combining that with "radical simplicity" conservation. My total system with batteries cost less than the typical grid-tied inverters I've seen, not to mention the certified installer fees and everything else. I've read that the excess production rates are starting to drop, so you get paid less than you'd be charged for the same energy use too. Combined with the mandatory disconnect whenever grid power goes down (to prevent any feedback from zapping repair techs), grid tie seems like a lot of hassle.

I'm still looking for phantom loads- was out of town several days with router/modem turned off, and fridge plugged into the solar-charged batteries, and my utility claims I still used about 650 watt hours per day... so 25-30 watts per hour. Perhaps a digital clock and a phone charger plus microwave clock?



Hey mark.
Ive got a product called a kill a watt. It was around 20 bucks used. It is used with AC power and it tells you anything from how many amps are being drawn to how many watts are being use, It is rated for 15Amps at 120 VAC.
Duck duck go search for Kill a Watt


Referring to the original post. Where i live there is no option to live on the grid.  We are an off grid island. I have been living this way for 3 years now and love it. Having the responsibility and control over my power really changes some of my days because i know i can do certain tasks while the sun it out. It adds a bit of mystery to my day as some days it could be cloudy for a few hours and than come 2 or 3 in the afternoon the sun could come out and i can do some heavier power task like using the well pump, or doing laundry, or using the table saw, or the mitre saw, among a few other items which require there to be over 1000 watts coming in.
 
gardener & hugelmaster
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A hybrid system might be a good compromise for normal situations. In case of zombies I'd prefer completely off grid. On second thought, with or without zombies I'd prefer off grid. Any electro-mechanical system will eventually fail though. I think it's important to be capable of doing without electricity. All it takes is some basic tools & skills. Easier done out in the country rather than in a city. An important aspect of designing any photovoltaic system is to minimize the load first. For example, improving insulation & reducing air leaks is often a better investment than adding a couple extra solar panels. A RMH could remove a huge load. Etc.

Consider this ... back when the first electric company opened there were no customers. So they invented toasters & gave them away for free. Look where we are now. Things that make me go hmmmm.
 
pollinator
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How you have to prepare depends on your resources, and what trouble will come your way.

I have 3,000 Watts of solar, but that will be worthless if an EMP hits and takes out my charge controller.     Emp may be from solar ejection, or by war.

Beyond that I have built a charcoal wood gas generator and I have run my generator off wood gas.    But for this to work it will require much work to prepare the charcoal, and
work to maintain the engine.

How much electricity do we need?      Well   we know people lived without it 1700's ...    We can go back to history and learn how they lived without it.     Steam engines were used at that time and more coal.

People want to make it alone, but it is very hard to do so without a doctor, without those who have the skills that you need.     This is why community is so important.

I believe we should be able to live without, and have a plan.         I know my local food sources and water sources that are easy to get to.     So in these time is is always best to have plan B, C, and D.

Mart



 
William Bronson
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Planning for total, permanent collapse is beyond my personal abilities.
Any permanent grid failure will bring with it permanent failure of manufacturing.
Anything you can't make,  eventually won't be available.
Batteries. Insulated copper wire. Replacement panels.
If this stuff is still being made somewhere,and having it is a priority, maybe bugging out to the last bastion of industry is a better plan?
Otherwise,  the only long term plan for electricity in a totalling term collapse is to do without.
If that's what your planning for,  what not set up those systems now and learn to live with them?
If you can produce and store food,  clean water and a warm place to sle


Planning for a collapse that is partial, or temporary is within my grasp.
Planning that improves my lot even if societal collapse doesn't come in my lifetime is  why I'm here on Permies.
A good battery array costs too much compared to a working grid.
An otherwise inadequate battery array that can keep your freezer running during a collapse could be priceless, yet it won't cost what a "full sized" battery system would.
So I say grid tie,  then add battery capacity up to the "miminum".
In a collapse, short term or partial,  batteries of some sort will be more attainable than solar panels.
Even a bunch of freezers or an ice maker that only runs when the sun shines would be of incredible value during a collapse.
 
pollinator
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Eric Chrisp wrote:Does it really matter if you are off grid and you live close to a major city?



This is the important bit I think.

On or off grid, I would say more rural you can get the better.

While ideally you would be rural and off grid, the most important I feel is being away from the cities. This isn't just the issues of cities being unprepared etc... It is about how rural people tend to come together in crisis a lot better than urban and suburban folks. Rural folks have had to come to grips in their day to day living that they can't do it all alone, and have learned to form community with neighbors and/or others in the area. Even people of different social and political views will often put those conflicts aside to make sure each other survive winter, or spring melt, or dry summers.

To me, this is the key difference that will put rural folks in a better place when things go bad.

That said, even the best off grid set up is not 100% self sufficient. Most off grid folks will admit that at some point they still need to up keep things. Be it batteries going bad, or panels, or inverter going, or turbine blades needing replacement. While up keep is not every day or even every year, at some point something is going to stop working right. If you are completely reliant on have electricity then things will get bad for you. So while having off grid capabilities might be a good thing, it is also important to invest in no electric alternatives to achieve tasks. This is one of the 1st pieces of advice I give anyone going off grid, to figure out as many things you can remove the need for electricity as possible to lower the need of electric production and storage.
 
Travis Johnson
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bruce Fine wrote:iwhat is the deal with the electric company will they pay you for excess power you produce, or charge additional fee each month just because they can. might check with you power co state and local rules or laws that might be involved.




This is actually a misnomer. I do not know of any power company that actually "pays" you for your excess power. My uncle has a wind mill, and what happens is, he gets a "credit" for when he does buy power. In his case, his wind mill saves him about 50% of his power.

The credit system is both good and bad. It is good because, he is basically getting paid retail prices for his extra power. While boilers, hydro dams and what have you might be getting 10 cents a KW, he is getting 14 cents...what he has to pay for power as it is a one for one credit.

But the bad is, if you overproduce power, you just keep a running tab of kws you can get from the power company. You will never get a real check in the mail for your power.
 
Mother Tree
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I sell all my power to the grid, and buy back what I need at the same rate.  I bought the biggest array I could afford and use far, far less than I sell.  I make a sizeable chunk of my income from it, though my total income is probably far, far lower than most people's .  

I considered it better all round to export surplus power and reduce the need for production in other ways by the rest of the grid.  
 
Travis Johnson
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My fear with a flat flee electrical system is: it would be like city water. Here in Maine anyway, if you have a private well, and they put city water past your home, you are required to use the city water supply. If you still do not use it, you get a bill nonetheless for what they assume you would use. They do that because they know if a homeowner was not forced into it, the city water and sewer system would go broke. It needs 100% utilization to be effective.

My fear is, after they implement a flat fee for electricity, a homeowner could not opt out and be grid-free...they would bill you anyway. They would never allow a ton of people to suddenly go off-grid and cause the flat fee numbers to double!

Myself, I have ample non-grid power generation. I do not call it alternative power because it is just a generator powered by a diesel engine, but I can run two houses off it; such is its size. I can uncouple from the grid at any time, throw some switches and never know I was operating on my own supplied power. I also have enough fuel on hand to live like that for over a month.

I have no interest in wasting my time trying to think of doomsday scenarios. If that happened the only scenario I need is one I already have: the ability to adapt. Trying to prepare so that my life does not change, after the entire world changes, seems kind of silly. That would only make you stand out, and 99% of the people in the world would be literally gunning for you.
 
pollinator
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So many great replies!
You've really touched a nerve here. I can tell you what we did and why and you can see how it relates to your situation. We originally built the house fully off grid and grew our solar array to 960 watts and our battery storage to about 10 kW Hr. For running a home with a fridge, pump, lights, some internet and some circulator pumps it was perfect for 9 months of the year in my northern climate.  The other three months of the year involved regular charging up using a propane generator and carefully managing time of use for chores such as laundry and tool use. Panels were a lot pricier so you could get 3kW of solar for the same price now and never look back. You will be tied to a different kind of grid though one of technology, parts suppliers, and propane delivery. That system could deliver 3kW Hrs a day with no problem for 3/4 of the year. There are other issues as well. A system like that you will be using propane to cook, a propane dryer if you want one and propane for hot water. Again another grid but less prone to immediate failure.
When babies came we hooked up to the grid to replace the generator and to allow for more conveniences like a freezer, washing clothes(diapers... soon many diapers) anytime and not having to worry about starting that cranky propane monster in the yard. Consumption has grown to about 8 kW Hrs per day with the solar and grid combined. I could do a net metered array and feed back to the grid but between equipment costs, permits, insurance increases, meter swap out fees and regulation I would never see that money back. My electrical grid was close by and hook up was less then $2000 so it was an easy choice to make. I have a basic connection fee of about $25 per month and a consumption charge of about $0.11 cent per kW Hr. All told that works out to $0.22 cents (canadian) per kW Hr. At that cost the genny was a crazy idea.  I would never give up the solar component of the house though since it has become like a stand by generator that actually sees daily usage to reduce the kW Hr's I have to use from the grid as opposed to a standby generator that just sits idle and waits...
Depending on your budget there is a lot of cool gear out there. you would want to research "grid zero" options if your utility does not allow feedback or " net metered" for a grid connected array or " net metered with battery backup" for a hybrid system. My system is a bare bones manual controlled system by comparison to the new gear that is out there. I charge based on voltage of the batteries with nothing more complicated then a plug in of the inverter. I feed the solar production to the batteries and run the chosen critical loads to a separate AC panel which can be flipped over to the grid or run through the inverter... Easy as can be.
I would investigate the health of your local utility as well. If they are a rural only utility chances are they are in trouble; old infrastructure and aging plants. If they have a rural and urban mix of clients chances are they are doing better as urban clients are cheap to service and offset the rural one... Next I would investigate what it costs to hook up to your site. Finally I would investigate what their grid connection policy is for solar. If they only swap credits you are just offsetting consumption which is ok but no money changes hands, if they offer a feed in tariff then you can size for actually making a return on your investment. Each options would change the scenario...

Looking forwards to seeing how this progresses,   David
 
pollinator
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I have a friend who used to work for a power company in Wisconsin.  Several years ago she told me that when she was working for that company (would be seven years ago or so now), her boss told her that within ten years the power companies would no longer be able to guarantee reliable power to rural areas, due to the aging of the grid and lack of updating.  He thought the grid would become intermittent and unreliable, starting with the areas farthest out, and working in towards the population centers.  So, IMO, it is wise to work towards getting off the grid as much as possible.  Minimize electricity use, and provide alternative sources of power for those functions which are truly necessary.  

Keep in mind that all of the alternative sources of power (that I can think of at the moment) are also ultimately dependent on the survival of the grid.  They may outlive it for a while, but if the grid were to go down completely and permanently, eventually, so would all of the alternatives, unless you have some other source for batteries, parts, solar panels, and so on.  A stock of replacement parts might delay that outcome for a while, but it will come.

What I'm doing is prioritizing:  Necessity number one is water, so I need to have an alternate means of getting water up from our well.  Thankfully, this well isn't nearly as deep as our last one and a hand pump will easily do the job (keeping in mind that hand pumps need replacement parts eventually, too).  Should the hand pump backup ever fail us, we have a pond (water would have to be boiled) and are about a quarter of a mile from a stream (water would also have to be boiled).  Because hand pumping, or hauling, water is a lot of work (and time) compared to just turning on a spigot, you have to minimize the amount of water you need.  If you have animals, take them to the water two or three times a day, rather than carrying water to them.  And use those permaculture principles to minimize the need for watering your food crops!

Necessity number two is heat; even in this climate, several months of the year are pretty chilly to downright cold at times.  So we have, first, a non-electric propane heater, and second, a wood stove.

Necessity number three is refrigeration.  With planning, we could survive without refrigeration, as our ancestors all did.  A root cellar would provide a cool spot for some things; a spring house is even better if you have a good spot for one.

Necessity number four is lighting.  I have battery-operated lights, rechargeable batteries, and solar chargers.  But these fall in the category of things also requiring the grid to produce replacements and replacement parts/batteries eventually.  Candles are great, but there is a reason why they used to be so expensive -- in a cottage/homestead economy, the materials (whether using wax from beehives or tallow from butchering) are scarce.  So you learn to live by the sun, and do a lot of things outdoors where the light is better.

Computers and phones are really not necessities (truly they aren't!).  Communication becomes more difficult, but the gossip vine comes back into play.  Entertainment becomes home-grown again, which is a feature, not a bug.  

Necessity number five is laundry.  Doing laundry without a washer and dryer is a pain, and clothes won't get washed as often, perhaps.  But if you plan ahead and have alternative means of washing and drying clothes, it can be managed.

There's more, but I've got to do some real-world things.  Will check back here later.





 
Please enjoy this holographic presentation of our apocalyptic dilemma right after this tiny ad:
The Wheaton Eco Scale
https://permies.com/t/scale
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