How to Use Solar Power to Live Off the Grid

Technological advancements are making solar-powered living easier than ever
Staff Writer

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Sam Alkass—These days, living off the grid is no longer the sole territory of nature enthusiasts and doomsday preppers. Instead, it’s becoming an attractive alternative for those looking to get back to their roots, lessen their carbon footprint or simply release themselves from being tethered to traditional utility bills.

And even though the idea of breaking away from conventional modern living might invoke the mental image of camping in a ratty tent and foraging the landscape for food, many people are beginning to come up with ingenious ways to survive without high-tech comforts — and solar power is a key component to living comfortably when you’re off the grid.

Although it might take a bit of ingenuity and some small expenses up front, setting up your residence with solar power is one of the biggest steps you can take towards separating yourself from the grid. Read on to see if living off the grid is for you, and how you can utilize the power of the sun to help you achieve your goal.

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Why Choose to Live Off the Grid
People can be motivated to move off the grid for a number of reasons: they want to reduce their impact on the environment; they’d rather take control over their utilities themselves; they want a cost-effective solution for living that’s also a fun challenge. And with looming troubles like climate change, global warming and widespread drought, people are becoming more and more aware of how much natural resources are being used up by the population.

When it comes to electricity in particular, many of us have experienced the inconvenience of power outages during bad weather, or brownouts caused by too many households running air conditioning at the same time. This doesn’t exactly leave a lot of faith in a city’s power grid.

In response to this, some people are choosing to take matters into their own hands and create their own utility grids with solar energy. Whether it’s concern over the environment, lack of trust in big energy corporations or simply feeling exhausted about the consumerist nature of society, people who make the choice to separate themselves from the energy grid are investing in a more cost-effective lifestyle.


Photo Credit: Flickr/joncallas CC by 2.0

Where You Can Live
For some, living off the grid may not be a choice — those who live in extremely remote areas far away from a central power grid will find it necessary to set up their own utilities so they can live off the land. But many who take the plunge do tend to find their homes in nature rather than suburbia, if only because it further removes them from the temptations of convenience and consumerism.

“Ideal locations would have some woodland, an area for agriculture, enough light for solar power and a good source of water, either a well or a stream,” Mother Nature Network reporter John Platt explains. Platt goes on to report that for those who struggle with the concept of doing it all themselves, there’s always the idea of forming or joining an off-grid community, where multiple families divvy up the responsibilities.

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As mentioned earlier, the idea of living off the grid can often make one think of a sparse tent in the woods, or a log cabin lit by candles and heated with a fireplace. Although there’s nothing wrong with camping or throwing your home lifestyle back to colonial days, with the advent of so much new sustainable energy technology, it’s possible to live off the grid in a comfortable home.

In fact, in places like Australia, a number of citizens are making a positive example of off-the-grid living. And one of the main things they all have in common is that they use solar tech to help power their living spaces.

How You Can Do It
Anyone considering going off the grid should first and foremost think about why. Whether you’re choosing to live off the grid out of environmental concerns, economic reasons or political or social views, the amount of resources you’ll need could vary. (Also, try not to romanticize the idea of going off the grid – there’s a lot of work involved in being your own power plant, and many people find it difficult to cut the cord entirely.)

Secondly, you’ll need to have a good estimate of how much energy your household will use. Home Power recommends that you take a look at a year’s worth of utility bills to figure out a baseline of how much energy you use, and then sort out how much you’ll be able to pull in by using renewable energy sources. Fortunately, solar power figures largely here — it can be used for water heating and cooking as well as powering a home.

But before you start sorting out solar panel placement and sizing, it’s important to have a good idea of how much solar energy you’ll have access to. “How much you have — measured in peak sun-hours — and when you get it is crucial to successful system design,” Home Power experts caution. “Using measured data to find out your regional resource, and then a shade-analysis tool, such as the Solar Pathfinder, will give you a good idea of what a solar-electric system will do for you.”

Once you’ve figured out how much solar energy you can capture and what spots can maximize the input, you’ll be set to figure out where the panels should be installed.

Costs may vary, depending on the number of solar panels used and any installation labor that might be required. On Collective Evolution you can read about how one individual calculated the amount of electricity his Hawaiian home would need, and what type of solar panels and batteries he bought in order to outfit his house. If you’re looking for a rough estimate and a jumping-off point for costs on installing solar panels yourself, this article is a good place to start.

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Photo Credit: Flickr/cocreatr CC by SA 2.0

Lastly, be sure to do your research. Many Internet communities provide advice to people looking to use solar energy to help them get off the grid, and there are more resources available than ever before. If you have a good knowledge base behind you, then you’re likely to be confident in assessing your energy needs and choosing the best solar power options for your new lifestyle.

Live Off the Grid with Solar Energy
It may not be for everyone, but for those looking for a way of living that’s both cost effective and environmentally friendly, using solar power to go off the grid could be the start of a revolution. Given that solar energy is proving itself to be a clean and renewable solution to traditional fuel, the idea of living off the grid is becoming less of a hippie idea and more of a modern aspiration. As more people look towards sustainable energy sources to power their lives, a solar-powered home existing off the utility grid will become less of a fantasy and more of a reality.

Would you ever consider going off the grid? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Sam Alkass is a firm believer in solar power and its valuable impact on the
future of our planet. Sam helps others generate their own clean, green energy while minimizing environmental pollution. For more solar news and tips, follow him on
Facebook.

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