Have you dreamed of “going off the grid”—being independent of the electric utility? I’ve lived that way for more than half my life—30+ years. It’s a lifestyle full of benefits and responsibilities. But before you consider it further, let’s take a look at what it really means, and figure out if it’s the destination you want.
It’s important to clarify the terminology. When I hear people say “off-grid,” I often assume that they mean they want their home to be renewably powered with independent systems that make energy on-site. However, when I pry further—and ask if they actually want to cut the cord to the utility, the answer is usually no.
In the renewable energy (RE) industry—and in this article—when we say “off-grid,” we mean that literally. The phrase refers to systems that have no connection with the utility grid, and must make all the electricity necessary for the home, business, or application.
Going off-grid is possible and practical in many cases, and the experience of thousands of early RE pioneers and recent off-gridders confirms that. But many people who toss out the phrase have a fairly romantic idea floating in their minds. They imagine having no utility bill, and energy and life being free and easy. The reality is that most utilities supply electricity at a modest cost, and if you take on their job, you have to play all the roles that the utility plays.
Identifying your motivation for going off-grid can clarify your goals and help you understand if the reality will please you. Your specific goals may affect whether going off-grid makes the most sense, and they also may affect the type of system you design and how you live with it. Common off-grid motivations include: