Last night we were out having dinner. While we waited for our order to arrive, I noted that everyone at the table, including me, was glued to their phones. Smiling, frowning, smirking, puzzled, astonished – each face showed a vast array of expressions.
Yet despite all the emotions, nobody bothered to talk to each other. We were sitting under a brightly-lit ceiling with the air-conditioner turned on to keep the air temperature cool. When our food was served – drinks made from frozen berries and mint, steaks covered with beautifully pulsed sauces and desserts whipped to perfection. We relished each bite and later we went back to our homes in our comfortable and plush cars. How easy and convenient our lives are!
But we didn’t see the fish choking on pieces of plastic or animals dying of hunger in their deforested, barren home. The fumes and garbage that killed the creatures didn’t bother us either. A long time ago, someone figured out how to start a fire. And then it went on…progress. And now we have a world fully dependent on technology that is slowly poisoning the world as we know it.
Going Off-Grid: What Does it Mean?
The term usually implies living without any dependence on public utilities – such electricity, water, power, natural gas, and sewage. Without such utilities, you plan to live an independent, ‘self-sustainable’ life through the help of systems like solar power, rainwater, water turbines, hydroponics, and recycling.
While the ideal would be a dedicated plot of land, with space to build a completely self-reliant, eco-friendly home, do keep in mind that in some places it is illegal to live off-grid. For instance, even camping on your own land and collecting rainwater may not allowed. Before you start planning, make sure you are well-versed with the legal aspects of off-grid living.
For the rest of us though, going off-grid doesn’t have to be the ‘whole hog’. Every little bit that we can do to reduce our reliance on the environmentally-demanding systems will help.
If you have been thinking about living more greenly, reducing your reliance on utilities and going somewhat off-grid, here are some of the ways you can start:
Electricity forms a large core of our typical energy demand daily and even if you could generate enough to just partially power some of your house hold appliances that would be a big help on the system. Not to mention potential cost savings and even payments once you start generating sufficient electricity and contributing back to the grid.
We are reliant on electric power for most of our routine necessities. Whether it is simply turning on the light bulb on a dark evening or blending fruits for a smoothie and drying hair early in the morning, one switch is typically the solution to our worries. Once you decide on living off-grid, cutting the electric cord will usually be the first step.
This is not to say that you completely starve yourself of electricity. No, there are ways to still use electricity, albeit in a more environmentally friendly way.
To generate your own electricity, photovoltaic solar panels are often a good beginning alternative. You will need to be able to store sufficient amount of electricity in batteries. Size the system, calculate the watts with consumption and work out how much electric power you will require. The more electricity you use, bigger and more expensive will be the system. The good news though is that most of the electric appliances can be used including air-conditioners and refrigerators with inverters.
There are two ways you can approach this, engage a professional company that will not only install the solar panels and offer a feed in system so you can generate income from the electricity you generate or do it yourself. For the latter, there are now off-the-shelves systems that let you generate electricity and power lighting and devices separate to your mains electricity using only its own batteries. These may not require professional installation but will require separate wiring.
Examples of closed system solar panel electricity generator kit are show below. The first is a lighting kit with USB charging ports to charge mobile devices.
Next, we have a complete solar panel electricity generator kit with 150W solar panel, battery, solar charge controller, inverter, cables and battery box. With this, you get a single mains output with up to 1000W power. Most kit requires you to add your own battery and you can scale the system by adding more solar panels to increase the charging capacity.
They seem quite daunting, but wind generators are great for the environment. Not only they reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, they emit the lowest greenhouse gas. They function by converting kinetic energy of the wind into electrical energy. They come in different sizes; smaller ones are ideal for auxiliary batteries while larger ones are geared towards domestic power supply.
The best part is that they work well with PV solar panels throughout the year. In summer, there is more sun than wind while in winter, it is the opposite. To make it work, you will need a consistent and strong speed of wind. Do bear in mind though that there typically will be some background noise with wind generators.
Water turbines were once widely used in industries to generate power. Micro-hydroelectric systems are now making a comeback. They convert water’s kinetic and potential energies into mechanical work. If your off-grid home is near a moving and falling water body like a large waterfall or a stream, you can use a water turbine as a power source. To generate power and create pressure, both volume and fall must be present in water. Micro-hydroelectric systems are easy to install and are capable of running a domestic system. Moreover, they complement other renewable energy systems as well.
There are some ingenious ways on creating your own hydroelectric or even wind generators from various household appliances, including old washing machine drums.
Rainwater Storage and Recycling
Rainwater harvesting and storage is increasingly becoming popular. Now that droughts have become common all over the world, harvesting rainwater can help prevent scarcity of water. Currently, it is mostly being used for irrigation purposes. However, green communities have diversified its uses.
From watering plants to drinking, there is a lot we can do with rainwater. To make sure it is devoid of any contamination, it is important to filter it with a proper filtration and purification equipment. There many options available for collecting rainwater such as a catchment surface on a roof, cisterns, rainwater tanks, and distribution systems to deliver water to gardens.
It’s easy to start collecting rain water at home. All you need is to divert your downspouts or use a rain diverter kit with overflow to fill you a rainwater tank, sometimes known as a rain barrel.
Grey water recycling
Grey water from bath, showers, and kitchens can also be redirected to a water storage system to be reused in the garden and for general purpose washing and cleaning. Water butts or water barrels added to downpipes and overflow pipes, or water storage systems added to the kitchen drainage will allow for the direct storage of grey water. To start collecting grey water, use the same rainwater tank or barrel and diverter system but be sure to mark it as grey water and limit it’s uses to none food related.
While food generation may not lie at the core of off-grid living, being able to become more self-reliant and therefore more independent with regards to food production will generally reduce the demand on the overall systems of mass food production.
Whether it’s simply a small vegetable patch with a few fruit trees, or a larger system of crop cycling, or perhaps a more purposeful moon planting system, generating your even just some of your own food does lead to a satisfying feeling of both knowing where it has come from and what exactly has gone in to producing it.
Composting for the Garden
Do you tend to throw out banana peels and egg shells? Do you find disposing your grass clippings and weed a hassle? Well, don’t and begin composting. Composting bins help to convert all the organic waste into compost that acts as organic matter for growing vegetables and plants. Well-composted material also provides nutrients to plants and assists the soil in controlling water.
Cured compost allows you to grow your own sustainable garden or a vegetable patch. If you can’t afford a composting bin, you can create the compost on your own which is a longer process. It may take you a year if the pile is properly managed. Organically grown gardens have a healthier ecosystem that deters pests at the same time.
A part of hydroculture, growing plants through hydroponics uses 20 times less water than the usual process! What’s more, you can grow the plants anywhere! There is reduced space consumption and chances of pest infestations are nil. The water is constantly recycled and is readily reused.
The key to successfully growing a lush hydroponic is not to plant and forget. During summertime, the plants will need more nutrients so don’t forget to add them. To pump water, you can rely on solar power, hydro-power, and wind turbines. Solar powered water pump for garden fountain is a good solution for a totally self sustaining system.
Be it on a small-scale or on a large, recycling is one of the most important aspects of off-grid lifestyle. How to take care of your trash when you are no longer relying on utilities? Firstly, generate as little trash as you can. Look at the packaging when you buy something. Can it be reused?
For instance, you can reuse a glass milk bottle. For food scraps, you can either feed them to animals or compost them to use in your gardens. For a more systematized recycling such as of water, there are many off-grid recycling systems charged by PV solar panels or turbines.
That’s all up to you and it does not require any energy except your own will. Whether it is a plastic straw and a styrofoam cup you use and throw every day or gallons of water you unknowingly waste during a single shower, it is a sad fact that we waste tons of resources daily.
For an off-the-grid lifestyle, it is necessary to be aware and kinder to our environment. Keep a check on your water consumption. Don’t leave the tap running while you are brushing your teeth. Don’t waste food items – buy only what you need. Reduce your use of plastic as much as you can.
Off-Grid Internet Options
If you are like me, the first thing you would be worried about is the Internet connection. Don’t worry. You don’t have to cut all the ties from the modern word. There are still many options like using a cellphone connection for basic uses, wireless hot spot, and satellites. Shop around for mobile contracts with unlimited data, video and music streaming and no hotspot limit. Some tariffs come with huge monthly hotspot quota that lets others tether with their laptops and tablets so they can check emails and browse the web.
Alternatively, you can get a mobile broadband router, a dedicated wireless modem router that creates an Internet hotspot using a dedicated mobile sim card from your carrier. There are also portable routers with built-in rechargeable battery so carry it with you when you are out travelling.
Living off-grid from scratch won’t be easy. It is not feasible to cut off your electricity and switch off sewerage system in a matter of days and move to a remote location far away from the city life. To start a ‘green’ life free of reliance on the grid and perhaps to reduce your dependence on gadgets and technology, you will have to take slow steps and be firm with your decision. With will and patience, you can accomplish your goal.
For more inspiration: read about Thomas Henry Culhane who’s lived off-grid for 20 years.