Who lives off grid?
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  1. #1
    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    Default Who lives off grid?

    My DH and I want to build a cabin that is around 800 sq. ft....2 bedrooms/1 bathrm...with a sloped roof towards the south...we figure we will need a system to provide 20 kWh a day...is it possible to have a solar power settle up to provide Us with enough energy to live off grid? I'am a total green horn when it comes to this type of thing, but we figure it's worth looking into. Thanks very much! Janine

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    Super Moderator Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    Might be tough in the winter. How many cloudy days do you have every year? Are you winters gray and dreary or mostly sunny? How many hours of daylight do you get in winter? And if you live where there is much snow, how will you clear the roof if the snow gets too deep and heavy on your roof? We get enough snow on our roof that my husband bought a baby snowblower to clear it. Even a light snowfall can cover up your solar panels pretty effectively.

    I'm no expert either, but these are just questions I've had about our own situation.

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    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    Those are good points...well this past winter was very sunny...and I guess climbing the roof in the winter may be a bit scary when we are older(have to think of these things as we are not going to be in our 30's forever). Lots to consider along with the costs to start up and maintain it. Thanks for posting!

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    Super Moderator Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    If the roof has a steep pitch, that would help keep snow from collecting, but my point was that you can't walk on solar panels. At least, I assume you can't. Therefore, how would you clear the snow?

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    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    That is an excellent question...which I didn't even think of...are they hot and the snow just melts...I think it would be a good thing to question a person who owns this type of system. See this is why I'm green lol.

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    Registered User low-1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sophiasmama View Post
    That is an excellent question...which I didn't even think of...are they hot and the snow just melts...I think it would be a good thing to question a person who owns this type of system. See this is why I'm green lol.
    No, they generate no heat on their own, and it's very common for them to be covered with snow and need cleaning. Usually a broom with a lengthened handle works well.

    20 kWh per day is a fair amount. If you are serious about going completely off grid, you should try to pare that down first. Location is also very important. Just because the sun is up for 12-13 hours, doesn't mean that there is full power output. There is a term, "insolation", which refers to the actual output of a system in a given location.

    Here's a link to a short tutorial on a forum I used to be a part of. It has since turned into a nightmare of spammers, but there is some good old information there. Basic Off-Grid Solar Design

    Take a read and let me know if you need any more info. Most of the regulars went to Solar Forum - Discussion Board on Solar Panels and Solar Power Products when the spammers moved in.

    To determine if off-grid life is worth it for you, it really depends on what your goals are. If you are serious about simplicity and reducing your footprint, you can live well off-grid, you just can't expect to live the same way that most people are used to. If you want to go off-grid to save money, forget about it as the cost of panels, charge controllers, inverters, and recurring battery replacements will never be cheaper than utility if utility power is available. If you want to live somewhere that doesn't have utility available, then again, you really need to change some key aspects of lifestyle to make it work. It also makes a huge difference if you will be living there full-time, or only on the weekends and the occasional week long stint.

    Also look into wind turbines and backup generators.

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    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    Thank you so much! Kevin was talking about wind, but I have never seen it in our area...There is a person here in town that has their whole roof covered in solar panels...and it also looks like a water tank beside them...do you think it would be bad if I rung their doorbell to ask questions or is that invasion of privacy?

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    Registered User low-1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sophiasmama View Post
    Thank you so much! Kevin was talking about wind, but I have never seen it in our area...There is a person here in town that has their whole roof covered in solar panels...and it also looks like a water tank beside them...do you think it would be bad if I rung their doorbell to ask questions or is that invasion of privacy?

    I would bet any money that it's a solar thermal loop, vs solar electric. Solar thermal is way more efficient that electric. Most people use them for domestic hot water and some space heating. Do a search on solar thermal, it's an extremely efficient use of solar power.

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    Registered User Mr Fixit's Avatar
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    If you are going to live on a remote area, with no grid power available, you are either going to do without a lot of the normal creature comforts, or spend a lot of money on solar / thermal equipment.
    I personally would try to find a location where you could have an electrical service from the utility, and use the solar system through the summer months.
    Anything less than a huge solar system will never support air conditioning, or any other high current appliances.
    Also be prepared to use a wood stove, and wood heating to curb your power consumption.
    Living off the grid in a very remte location is fun to dream about, and fun to talk about, but there are many challenges that most people never even think about like:

    1. Remote location makes working ( earning Money ) very difficult.

    2. Doctors and medical services are very far away.

    3. To be self sustaining, you must have livestock, garden, and wood supply, close water supply, and it takes time to get all of that productive.

    4. Possibly no cellular or computor service available.

    5. Must have protection at all times because the police will not show up in 10 minutes even if you could call them!

    6. Invest in a short wave radio for communication.

    7. Must love the lifestyle enough to deal with going without a lot of modern creature comforts.

    8. Be able to deal with social isolation.

    9. Bottom line, having all of the creature comforts of modern society will be tremendously expensive, and once the investment has been made, you better love being off grid because you will have load of money invested.

    10. I would suggest buying a remote peice of property, build a cheap cabin, and live the life for a while before you invest in expensive support systems.

    I don't know how remote, or how far off the grid you want to go, but if you go to the full blown remote off grid lifestyle, it is a lot of hard work, 7 days a week, for as long as you live. I cannot emphasize enough how much hard work is involved.
    Every day you take care of the chickens, hoe the garden, cut wood, repair whatever is broken or just dont work, milk and feed the cow, it is more than a full time job and the older you get the harder it will be. You cant just run to Lowes and get spare parts, so your repair skills better be really good, and be able to come up with alternate or temporary repairs. It really helps to be McGyver junior.
    Just some things to think about.

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    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    Thanks for posting. No it is not remot...town is 5 miles away...and we are currently putting power onto the lot(using the RV until cabin is built). Even if a person doesn't live off grid, could it be possible to cut power bills in half by relying on solar? We won't have AC or even a dryer(trying to do without some comforts).

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    Registered User low-1's Avatar
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    If utility power is available, and your state (and utility) allows it, and subsidies are available, installing a grid-tied solar system starts to become economically feasible. This is because the grid connection takes the place of the battery bank, which is your single largest (and recurring) expense. The return-on-investment period of a grid-tied system can be between 1-5 years, depending on a number of different conditions.

    Be aware that this type of system does NOT provide power when the grid goes down, it won't provide backup power. As soon as it senses that the power is out on the grid, it will automatically shut off. To overcome this, you are back to at least a hybrid system, which includes batteries and a lot more equipment, and once again the system will not pay for itself. How much you reduce your utility bill by will depend on the size of system you install, how much power you use, and how much sun is shining.

    I hope that helps!

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    Super Moderator Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    For fun, you might want to see if you can round up a book called Wilderness adventure: The best year of our lives by Dan Looker and Ralph and Rikki Plaisted. They had themselves and their family dropped off in the wilderness, where they lived off the land for a year after building a cabin and setting up housekeeping all alone. It's been a few years since I read it and I can't recall if it was in Canada or in Alaska, but it was very remote. The family is from Minnesota though. Ralph Plaisted was part of the expedition that made the first confirmed ice crossing to the North Pole in 1968. Very interesting read, but the book may be hard to find.

    There are a lot of people here who live off the grid because of the expense (tens of thousands of dollars or more) of getting power into remote areas here. Most of them, to my knowledge, rely on propane appliances, propane lighting, and wood fuel.

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    Registered User low-1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Spirit Deer View Post
    There are a lot of people here who live off the grid because of the expense (tens of thousands of dollars or more) of getting power into remote areas here. Most of them, to my knowledge, rely on propane appliances, propane lighting, and wood fuel.
    That is one very compelling reason to go off-grid, and one that I am seriously looking at. Marginal land, without utility service, tends to be much cheaper than if utility is available.

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    Super Moderator Spirit Deer's Avatar
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    We're on the Canadian shield here, so sinking poles into solid rock or even just overly rocky land is expensive. And then there's the issue of the right of way that has to be cleared, since we're also in dense forest. Some people have cabins on islands, which brings a whole set of other issues since underwater power lines are not cheap either.

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    Registered User Sophiasmama's Avatar
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    Thanks so much...also going to ask the library to find that book for me(library sharing with other communities). This interests Us way to much to forget about it...My mom called me a hippie the other day lol...she doesn't recycle or have any green thinking at all...doesn't bother me either way...but I feel a need to try and be more responsible with the gift of nature. Also considering LP appliances(stove,fridge+deepfreeze), not sure how green that is though lol.

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