Off-the-grid is a system and lifestyle designed to help people function without the support of remote infrastructure, such as an electrical grid. In electricity, off-grid can be stand-alone power system or mini-grids typically to provide a smaller community with electricity. Off-grid electrification is an approach to access electricity used in countries and areas with little access to electricity, due to scattered or distant population. The term off-the-grid can refer to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities. People who adopt this lifestyle are called off-gridders.
Off-the-grid homes are autonomous; they do not rely on municipal water supply, sewer, natural gas, electrical power grid, or similar utility services. A true off-grid house is able to operate completely independently of all traditional public utility services. The idea has been recently popularized by certain celebrities including Ed Begley, Jr. who stars in the Living with Ed television show on the Home & Garden Television network. Actress Daryl Hannah promotes off-grid living and constructed her home in Colorado according to those principles, as does survival expert and Dual Survival co-star Cody Lundin, who lives in a self-designed, passive solar earth house in the high-desert wilderness of Northern Arizona, collecting rainwater, composting waste, and paying nothing for utilities.
Electrical power can be generated on-site with renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, micro hydro, geothermal; with a generator or Micro combined heat and power with adequate fuel reserves. Such a system is called a stand-alone power system. In addition, it is possible to simply eliminate electric power such as in Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities.
On-site water sources can include a well, stream, or lake. Depending on the water source, this may include pumps and/or filtration. Rainwater can also be harvested. Filters can be advanced running off an energy source of boiling and storage.
On 13 April 2006, USA Today reported that there were “some 180,000 families living off-grid, a figure that has jumped 33% a year for a decade,” and cited Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power Magazine, as the source. Assuming the same rate of growth, there would be a quarter million off-grid households in the United States by late 2007. Because many Third World citizens have never had the chance to go on the grid, current estimates are that 1.7 billion people live off-grid worldwide. A wave of TV shows and articles came out after the publication of “Off the Grid, Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government and True Independence in Modern America” by Nick Rosen in 2010.
The concept of a sustainable off-grid community must take into consideration the basic needs of all who live in the community. To become truly self-sufficient, the community would need to provide all of its own electrical power, food, shelter and water. Using renewable energy, an on-site water source, sustainable agriculture and vertical farming techniques is paramount in taking a community off the grid. A recent concept design by Eric Wichman shows a multi-family community, which combines all of these technologies into one self-sufficient neighborhood. To grow the community you simply add neighborhoods using the same model as the first. A self-sustained community reduces its impact on the environment by controlling its waste and carbon footprint.
The State of California is encouraging solar and wind power generation that is connected to the electrical grid to avoid the use of toxic lead acid batteries for night time storage. Grid-tie systems are generally less expensive than off-grid systems due to the lack of additional equipment like charge controllers and the batteries. However, some systems may mitigate this difference by using old car batteries that can no longer supply enough current to start a car.
It is often done to residential buildings only occasionally occupied, such as vacation cabins, to avoid high initial costs of traditional utility connections. Other persons choose to live in houses where the cost of outside utilities is prohibitive, or such a distance away as to be impractical. In his book How to live off-grid Nick Rosen lists seven reasons for going off-grid. The top two are saving money, and reducing the carbon footprint. Others include survivalists, preparing for the collapse of the oil economy and bringing life back to the countryside.
Environmental concerns in Canadian off-grid communities
Canada has about 175 aboriginal and northern off-grid communities, defined as “a community that is neither connected to the North American electrical grid nor to the piped natural gas network; it is permanent or long-term, and the settlements have at least 10 permanent buildings.”
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada lists the following environmental concerns for these off-grid communities:
- Burning large amounts of diesel produces substantial greenhouse gas emissions. This contributes to climate change which negatively affects communities.
- Fuel must be transported long distances by airplane, truck or barge, leading to a greater risk of fuel spills.
- The transportation of fuel by trucks on winter roads impacts the environment negatively through high greenhouse gas emissions from the vehicles.
- Fuel spills may take place while the fuel is being transported and stored, posing environmental risks. Fuel tank leaks contaminate soil and groundwater …
- Generators can be noisy and disruptive, especially in quiet, remote communities.
- Emissions from diesel generators could contribute to health problems in community members. depending on the source. The market research company Infinergia has gone further by mapping national cumulative installed off-grid PV capacity on 100 countries worldwide.
In Africa, small and inexpensive pico solar electric lights and solar home systems are becoming readily available. Inexpensive solar panels, lithium ion batteries and high-efficiency LED lights make the systems affordable.
- Autonomous building
- Battery charger
- Domestic energy consumption
- Distributed generation
- Electrical grid
- Rural electrification
- Solar charge controller
- Solar Guerrilla
- Stand-alone power system
- Wide area synchronous grid
- Zero energy building
“They’ve opted out of cities and started all-new rural lives, building their own straw homes, teepees and bath tubs. Since 2010, photographer Antoine Bruy has traveled from the Pyrenees to Romania tracking down urban refuseniks.” The Guardian