Our system is well-balanced, and our family is well-matched to it. I ran the generator only a handful of times last winter, and only when the batteries were in the 70% state of charge (SOC) range. On the weekdays, we typically use between 2 and 3 kWh. On weekend days, our use climbs to 4 or 5 kWh. However, since last winter was our first winter with the system, we were very conservative with our usage. But none of us feel like we have had to make huge sacrifices to keep our usage low. We currently have a spring-fed cistern that we use for our water supply. We may need to drill a well, which will require a different pump and more electricity. We are and will be using more energy as our comfort level with living off-grid increases. My thinking now is, use it or lose it—”it” being the solar energy available.
Did we give up any modern conveniences? Yes and no, according to how you define modern conveniences. We “gave up” everybody having a TV in each of their bedrooms. We gave up having multiple cable boxes, DVRs, and a large surround-sound system. We gave up having a huge chest freezer filled with who knows what and a large side-by-side refrigerator. We gave up having every light in the house on all the time. We gave up having all of our electrical devices plugged in and ready to go.
We currently have two energy-efficient TVs—we added a 24-inch LED TV that uses 60 W. We made the decision to use an over-the-air antenna and not get a dish, so we “gave up” 200+ channels. All of the appliances with phantom loads—TVs, gaming console, computer, and printers—are plugged into power strips that are turned off when not in use. We let the kids have limited use of the gaming console and TV (most of the time they limit themselves). We have family TV time in the evenings—when we decide to watch TV. We brought in a fiber-optic phone line to the house, since there was no cell or Internet service. The modem is powered all the time. All of our lights are energy-efficient and only one or two are on at a time most nights. Overcoming our bad energy practices has actually been a little easier than I thought it would be. We all work together to conserve electricity, which is really astonishing to me, since conservation was not even in our vocabulary a year ago.
Going off-grid has taught me many things. First was the importance of tracking the energy usage of all of your electrical appliances—clocks, chargers, everything—it all adds up. Do not depend on the sticker that gives the amperage on the back of an appliance—they are not accurate enough. Second, every dollar spent on conservation will save you more than that on the cost of your PV system. Energy efficiency in your lifestyle and appliances is a must. If you hire an installer, check references and go see at least one of their installations. Ask questions.
If you look at changing to off-grid living strictly as a financial problem, it may or may not pencil out, since the cost of electricity from the grid is usually cheaper than from an off-grid system. In our case, the costs of bringing in the grid and installing an off-grid system were about the same if considered over 10 years. It may even have been cheaper if we had gone the grid route. But being on our own and telling the electric utility to take a hike…well, that is priceless!
As we moved into our first spring off-grid, the system was really coming into its own. We have embraced living off the grid. I think our family and friends thought we were crazy to buy a home with no electricity or plumbing. But now all we hear is how lucky we are and how beautiful it is out here. We love it and would definitely do it all again.
Born in Elmira, New York, Mark McDermott has worked at Corning for 28 years. He currently serves as a development engineer there, working on optical fiber and photonic components.
Four Winds Renewable Energy • four-winds-energy.com • System design & installation