Video 3 - Solar Made Simple
Video 4 - The Missing Ingredient
A spreadsheet calculator that makes it easy to tally what your average daily power use will be off the grid.
A video tutorial on how to use the daily loads calculator.
I have enjoyed your series about going off grid. I am a part of the Sustainable Living research center in Lincoln City Oregon, on the Oregon Coast. We work to develop products and ways to help people learn to get off the grid in any type of situation, emergency or otherwise. I think your program would be a valuable resource for the people we work with as a place to refer them to get the detailed information you have. You mentioned having classes in the bootcamp style from time to time.
I am looking for how we can get interested people connected to your program the best way.
This video was great. Thanks!
I built a large (10.12kW) system in 2010 which makes more power than I need. I never wanted to be off the grid. Why would I want that? Most days my electric meter is running backward. The grid for me is a bottomless battery bank. That allowed me to save lots of money by not building a hugely expensive battery bank. The battery bank that I built is a modest one consisting of eight golf cart batteries which will take the house comfortably through the night until the sun comes up to run everything and re-charge the batteries.
Why would I want a gas stove? Are they giving the gas away now? I installed solar thermal hot water in 2012. That was a very good move. Heating your water takes energy. The sunshine is all you need.
If you live in a warm part of the world you will need air conditioning. That takes a lot of power. Just build a large solar power system and be done with it. If you need to be off grid you simply need to put more money in your battery bank. If you have a hybrid system which is still tied to the grid, you will be able to save money on the battery bank by using a smaller one like I do.
I forgot to mention that the way I calculated how much power I needed to generate, I pulled out a pile of my old power bills and averaged five years of power use. I also consulted solar insolation charts for my region and took into account which direction my arrays would be facing. Since my arrays would be facing SSE, instead of the ideal true South, I bumped up the size of the build a little.
I suppose all our desires might different as we are all unique but for me the goal was making plenty of power so I didn't have to worry about being careful all the time. Just relax and live. I have two large freezers running all the time besides the kitchen fridge / freezer. Who cares? My system supplies all I need and more. The prices are much lower now than when I built my system. Just go for it and build a beast if you intend to stay where you are for a long time and ... enjoy.
Thanks for sharing your experience and bringing up some good points for discussion. Oh, and by the way, congrats on your system!
You bring up some interesting points that I'd like address. Why worry about being energy conservative? Why not just build a bigger system?
The energy efficiency methods described in this video are not for everyone. Obviously, they are something you have not found necessary to implement in your home. So let me try and explain the rationale and who this IS for.
The reason I focus so much on being energy efficient, is summed up in one word--money.
Most of the folks I work with are trying to sever their dependence on the power company and they don't have a very large budget, so that is who this video is for and that is the type of person who will need to be most serious about energy efficiency. If you don't have a lot of money and you want the independence of an off grid system, then you are going to need to take a look at your appliances and make some strategic changes (not necessarily doing without anything, just being strategic with your choice of appliances).
You are totally correct that it is possible to build a power system large enough to power your totally electric home as-is. But I've run the numbers and I've also had countless folks contact me about the professional quotes they've received for those kinds of systems, and it isn't something that most of the folks I work with can afford. So if a very large system is within someone's budget and they don't mind spending all that money in order to avoid making a few appliance changes, then that's probably the way to go! I think it's great!
It really does boil down to money. The more money you are willing to spend, the less you will need to change about your appliances/lifestyle. And on the other side, the less money you have, the more serious you will need to be about energy efficiency.
It's a good question to ask why anyone would choose to go with a gas stove. Yes, it does use gas which has to be purchased. Yes, once your propane tank runs out, your stove won't be operational. But unless you very seldom use your stove or oven, the expense of building a system large enough to handle that huge load is quite significant, and going with propane for one's stove is a means of cutting a significant amount of cost off the power system. As mentioned in the video, if you want to have a completely independent backup for cooking, you can install a wood cook stove for times when you can't get gas. As far as the monthly cost of gas for a stove, you'll find it to be quite minimal in exchange for the amount it cuts off your power system costs. So once again, it's a money thing. If you want to spend the money to build a system large enough to power an electric stove and oven, then that is totally awesome! But this video is geared towards those who don't have that kind of money to put into a system.
And as far as the rationale for going off the grid rather than grid tie, there are a number of reasons why we and others choose that. That's not to say that a grid tie system is a bad idea for everyone. It's a matter of finding what your goals are and choosing the best option for you.
So here are some of the reasons why an off grid system is the best choice for us and many others.
1 - Most grid tie systems are non-functional during power company blackouts (i.e. you lost your power even when the sun is shining). As you know, it is possible to build a grid tie system with battery backup (as it sounds like you have done), but for most folks this adds additional expense and puts batteries back into the equation (one of the big selling points of grid tie systems is that they remove the expense and maintenance of batteries). Thus much of the advantage of going with a grid tie system is lost--unless you are dealing with a home that uses a lot of power (i.e. not very efficient). In that case, yes it would take a huge and expensive battery bank to take it completely off the grid. But if you implement the energy efficiency tips I suggest in this video, you might be surprised at how much less expensive your battery bank could be.
2 - Red tape. In many locations, there is more "red tape" involved with setting up a grid tie system than an off grid system. That red tape means more hassle for you and/or more expense in what your installer charges.
3 - With any kind of grid tie system you really are at the mercy of the power company. If they decide to change certainly policies that negative impact you, you're stuck. And in some areas, the power companies are not very friendly toward users who produce their own power.
4 - Folks in remote locations where power lines are not close, will often find an off grid system to be FAR less expensive than paying to run power into their location. Plus they get the added benefit of energy independence.
5 - Being off the grid eliminates your monthly power bill. Even with a grid tie system, most folks do not produce enough power to offset their large monthly power usage, so you still get a bill for that. And you are still paying the monthly service charges. With an off grid system, the power company bill is eliminated.
So just to recap, what you mentioned is certainly a very valid route to go for folks with a large budget who may not be as concerned with energy independence. But the type of person who will find this video series most useful is someone who has a limited budget and wants to become as independent as possible while still living a normal lifestyle.
I want to thank you so much for brining up the very good points and I hope this discussion has helped to show folks about options and what would work best for them.
Hi CaptTurbo, we live on a fixed income after I fell off a scaffold at work. I'm tired of explaining to my daughter about why our power gets turned off several times a year. Can you please send me some info on how I can get started to build an offgrid system for a reasonable price?
Thanks in advance,
Hi Jason. When I got started I really didn't know where to start. It seemed to me at the time when I was searching the net for information and suppliers that everything was coming out of California. This turned out to be wrong and it cost me plenty in shipping 44 PV panels, racking, and the inverters from CA to FL. I could have had all my components shipped into the port of Miami rather than pay trucking freight all the way across the country. Doh!
Prices were much much higher for all the components back then Jason. I chose to have a new metal roof installed before adding the solar gear to keep me from having to remove everything in ten or 15 years to redo the asphalt roof. The roof added 13K to the total costs which ended up being about 86K including a solar thermal system for the hot water. I think I could build such a system for about a third of that today. That said, if you are handy with working with electricity and trust yourself to do it all yourself you could reduce the costs dramatically even from there. It really isn't rocket science but you certainly do need to have a firm grasp on how things work. I was blessed and had money saved for the project so I paid to have the installation done for me.
As these videos show you can build a system incrementally over time. Not my style but I can see how this would be the best route for some to follow. Points to remember: I chose to do a battery based, grid tied system for the simple reason that I live in a hurricane zone. I want my system to be capable of running even when the grid is missing. I could have saved a lot of money by building a simple grid tied system without the battery bank and the hybrid inverters. Maybe 50%?
I think at this time the savings in paying for power and the costs of building the system make it a very sensible endeavor. I don't think it would be difficult to get financed with a loan when you can show that the monthly savings will cover the loan payments.
I can't know your circumstances but as you might have noticed I like to go big or go home. If things are tight for you perhaps start out with some all scale components and build as you can?
Thanks for the well thought out reply Nick. I think your video series is awesome and I see great value in it. I made many mistakes as I planned and built my system in 2010. I wish i had a great resource such as what you are teaching at that time. The component costs have come down drastically since I built my system. That is all the more reason I would tell folks to buy all the system that they can afford. It truly is a good value these days.
A tip if I might offer to the topic of cooking efficiently with electricity. I cook all my meats with smokers. If I'm running a short cook like burgers or fish, the nod goes to the Masterbuilt 30" electric smoker. I love that little smoker because it is so well insulated that the 750 watt heating element doesn't cycle on all that much once it's up to temp. I'm sure there are other brands that offer well insulated cooking boxes but I'm just sharing what I use. Larger cooks like roasts or poultry go in my stick burning smoker which only uses a little power to run the thermostat fan and re-circulation fan. These draw so little juice that it could easily be supplied by a battery source.
Anyway, I hope I wasn't being too critical. I'm thrilled with your mission and know for fact that you are helping the people who have found your presentations. I solute you.
Surprised you did not mention Propane refrigeration. Would be even better if the Einstein fridge gets perfected and marketed.
Just want to suggest for HVAC: Consider how people in your area kept warm or cool 100 years ago and determine best practices that can benefit your home. IE many homes in the south had large covered porches and utilized shade trees.
If you are starting from scratch, consider an Earth Sheltered home. It does not need to feel like a 'hole in the ground'. Summer heat would be my largest inconvenience and thus my leaning towards this.
I run a solar vacuum tube hot water system , I was wondering if i connect hot water to my dishwasher will I save power or will it damage the washer. I live in North Queensland Australia and receive quite a lot of sun.
Hi Des, my understanding is that the hotter the water is going into the dishwasher, the less power your dishwasher will use. Most of them have an electric heating element that boosts water temperature to ensure optimal performance even if the homeowner drops their hot water temperature. Those dishwashers are trying to get the water very hot, so I think it's very unlikely that you would damage anything with your hot water as long as your water pressure isn't too high.
Thanks for the info Nick, my washer only has a cold water connection and relies on a element to heat the water, my main concern is will the hot water from my solar damage the cold water solenoid valve .
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