There is no mains electricity at our farm. It’s kind of ironic as there is an electricity pylon on part of our land, which supplies power to some of our neighbours across the valley. When I first moved here I asked the electricity company for a quote to connect into this supply. I can’t remember exactly but it was something like £10k and required extra new poles to be erected around the area. After that it would then be my privilege to pay them every year for their electricity plus tax. Lucky me. So that was the best excuse ever to go it alone, off-grid.
I bought three solar panels and fitted them into my new greenhouse, providing a pretty modest total of 330 watts of power generation. Solar photovoltaic panels are much cheaper nowadays than in 2007 when I bought them. I paid over £1000 but now, for the same wattage output, it would cost you approximately £200. I also bought a charge controller and some second-hand batteries out of a tug boat (it’s great what you can find on ebay) to finish the set-up. A bit of internet research and DIY wiring and I had power. Well, 12 volt power anyway and not too much of it. Since then I’ve added a little 25w wind turbine and probably the smallest water turbine you’ll ever see (2w, yes 2w). Still, every little helps and to be honest it works and has cost me very little to run.
One day I will get some new batteries and probably add some more solar panels but it will still be, cost-wise, a fraction of connecting to that big mains pole.
Now most of you reading will know that a few hundred watts of power generation is really not much in today’s world, and you are right, it’s very little. For example, a kettle will use 2000w of energy when it is switched on and a hairdryer more like 3000w (my wife really misses unfettered access to hairdrying facilities). The only way we can live on 330 watts here is to keep our power needs extremely low. That means no fridge or freezer, no TV, no oven, no washing machine etc.. Apart from lighting (LEDs of course), charging our phones and running the internet router we really don’t use power for much else. I’ll go into how we cope without, and the alternatives we’ve come up with, in further posts. Figuring out an effective system of doing the laundry has so far been the most vexing.
Of course there are benefits to being off-grid. Imagine never having a utility bill (we have a spring so don’t pay for water either). This alone must save us hundreds every year. Also, since living here, we’ve never had to endure a power cut. When the zombies come they’ll swarm straight to our house as it will still have the lights on (and we won’t know because there’s no telly).
Overall being off-grid is slightly more challenging compared to the fully powered life we came from before but it all balances out in the end. What we miss out on (electrical gadgets and convenience) we gain elsewhere (independence, less expense, more exercise…).
Even if the electricity company offered us a free connection I don’t think we’d go for it now, well possibly just for the hairdryer (and happier wife).
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