Perspective from a Die-Hard Off-Gridder

Excerpted from the Gaiam Real Goods Solar Living Sourcebook

There is nothing quite so satisfying as living completely off the grid, disconnected from the conventional systems in our society that produce and deliver energy and other utilities. It's ultimate frontier of sustainable design.

Particularly in these times when we expect that oil and fossil fuels won’t be available for all that much longer, we seek solace from the utility company’s hold on us. When there is a power outage in the area and your own house is lit up in unfettered splendor, there is a tendency to gloat, which often gives way to a magnanimous yearning to teach these wondrous new technologies to your entire community.

Taking responsibility for your own power isn’t always easy, especially in the beginning. For me it is a happy ritual: every morning I walk to my barn where my power center is located, faithfully record the number of kilowatt hours my solar and hydro systems delivered the day before, check the voltage of my battery system, see if my batteries need equalizing, and occasionally check the water level. But far from drudgery, this daily ritual never ceases to be wondrous and satisfying. Living off-the-grid just doesn’t seem to get old.

After the ritual becomes automatic, you never take energy for granted again. Each light bulb left on, each “phantom load”  left plugged in and draining milliwatts, and each energy drain takes on new meaning. Do we really need that TV left on all night just in case we wake up and want to use the remote? Does the microwave really need to blink incessantly?

Monitoring becomes critical but is always fun. I have a voltmeter and an accumulating ammeter in my kitchen that is 300 feet from my energy system. I can glance in the middle of cooking a meal to see if the voltage is low, if the battery percentage of full goes below the critical 80%, or on a sunny day see if my batteries are being overcharged due to a long equalization cycle.

Feeling connected to your energy source changes everything. You are suddenly empowered to create your own destiny — and no longer beholden to the vicissitudes of the local power company. Once you’ve experienced it you’ll never go back.

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