Whether you’re planning on creating an off-grid paradise or just wish to cut your power bill, here a few ideas to demystify electrickery.
Electricity is vital for most of us. Unfortunately, it’s often so gosh darn expensive or unreliable if you live in a rural area.
It’s no fun being at the mercy of power companies who seem to revel in their monopoly, forcing us to pay tons or subjecting us to unexpected blackouts.
Fortunately, we have the option of addressing our power needs, so we’re not reliant on these companies. These are also great options for people who want to set up homes in remote locales, where standard power may be unavailable.
One of the most productive and lesser-known methods of producing the juice is micro hydroelectricity.
If you’re not familiar with this concept, try to envision a small installation set up in a nearby stream. If your property has a swift river or waterfall nearby, this is an ideal option for you.
The average design is one of the most cost-effective that’s currently widely available.
As it just requires flowing water as an energy source, it’s pollution-free and, after correct set up, has no impact on the environment. Apart from the eventual replacement of batteries, inverter, etc., there are no waste products to this design.
Hydro Power Pros
First off, hydroelectricity is very affordable.
The average micro-hydro turbine setup only costs between $1000 and $5000. That’s a fraction of what the average household will pay in power company bills annually.
A system large enough to power several homes may cost as much as $20,000. However, if this were a community development project, the cost would be spread over several families.
A system can generate from 5kWh to 100kWh.
On average, a typical home in the Midwestern USA will use 900 kWh per month. This type of electricity production can power your home easily while also creating enough for long-term storage.
Another benefit is that they’re relatively straightforward to set up. Maintenance costs are low and providing you have constant running water, you’ll also have power that can be turned on/off as needed.
In contrast to solar power, peak hydroelectric production is in the winter months when electricity demands tend to be higher.
There’s also little environmental impact. No reservoir is required, as micro-hydro functions as a so-called “run-off-river” system.
Water passes through the generator and is directed back into the stream. There will be some small impact on the local environment during construction, but this impact is minimal with small-scale systems.
Unlike the burning of fossil fuels, electricity generation with micro-hydro produces no pollution. The fuel source is simply the flow of water. Nowadays, there are also fish-friendly turbines available, so you don’t have to worry about injuring local wildlife.
These systems are also much more reliable than the local power grid.
Hydro Power Cons:
As with any good idea, this has challenges to overcome. Even if the water is on your own property, you must check with the local authorities to see if the design requires diverting the river.
The legal bit is easier if you’re completely off-grid and don’t plan on selling any of your power to the local company.
Additionally, this medium of harnessing power is site-specific. You must have enough water flow rate and drop. Also, the river cannot drop below a certain level, or you won’t have enough momentum to keep your turbine ticking.
Water flow fluctuates in most places seasonally, so you must take that into your reckoning when you first set up. If you live in a place that gets a lot of snow, consider how spring floodwaters raise the water levels.
It’s also highly recommended that you set this up as close to home as possible. Otherwise, the equipment needed to get power to your house will end up costing more than the setup itself.
On top of that, make sure to have big batteries for power storage. It’s better to have a surplus of power in case your demands increase over time. That way, you won’t have to set up an additional turbine, which has greater costs to your pocketbook and the impact on the local environment.
Another reason to have it close to hand is so you can check and inspect it regularly. It doesn’t take much to damage your little turbine. Keep an eye on your setup after heavy weather when it’s likely there’s heavy debris floating downstream.
If you live in a hot, sunny climate, then solar power is another great option. It’s also a far more popular method than the aforementioned hydropower simply because of the combination of ease and accessibility.
The technology has improved tremendously in the last 40 years, and of all the current renewable energy technologies, it enjoys the most focus via companies such as Tesla.
Unlike water power, solar panels can be put anywhere. Hydropower requires you to have a body of running water either on or adjacent to your own property.
With solar, you can slap them on the roof of your home or garage, create towers for them, or create a grid if you have a large enough parcel of land.
There are even portable panels that you can pop onto the roof of your car or drape over your backpack when you’re out hiking during the day.
Solar Power Pros:
This is a great source of reliable, sustainable energy, albeit still seasonal. These panels have a lifespan of around 25 years. If your focus is economical, it still makes a lot of sense. The savings made by not being dependent on the power grid are substantial, especially if tallied cumulatively.
It’s ideal for sunny, arid areas. If you’re in the USA and happen to live in places like Nevada, Arizona, or New Mexico, you’re basically in the best place imaginable for solar power setups.
People who live in the Mediterranean or anywhere near the equator are also in optimal locations for this off-grid power idea.
You’ll have a lot more options for solar panels than with any other alternative power options, simply because this method has been so popular for so long. There are different packages available almost everywhere on the planet, so you can find the one(s) that best suit your budget, and individual needs.
Solar Power Cons:
There are a few drawbacks, however. For one, the cost to set up a decent solar power structure is quite pricey. The average cost for an initial solar energy package installation runs between $12,000 and $25,000. That estimate doesn’t necessarily include the energy storage system.
Additionally, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, you won’t get much energy during the winter months. Since there are only a few hours of weak daylight from November through to March, you’ll probably need to have a backup energy source.
These also happen to be the months where energy is needed most.
This is also rather delicate equipment. If your area is populated by a lot of roof-going animals like raccoons and squirrels, be prepared that they’ll likely do a bit of damage to the system.
That can be by gnawing through wires or tearing panels loose to bury food for winter storage.
People have been using generators for off-grid power for a long time, and they can be handy. In fact, they’re effective options if your off-grid home is a tiny house or a yurt, and if your electrical needs are low.
Affordability, first and foremost. You can get a brand new (albeit small) portable generator for about $500. Sure, it runs on gasoline, but you don’t need much to get it going.
And if you’re only using it to charge your phone, while using candles, oil lamps, wood burners, etc. to live a really low-impact life, the annual fuel cost will be really low.
These are also portable, so it’s easier to pack up and take with you if you change locations. This makes generators great for people who live in RVs, trailers, portable tiny houses, and vans.
These things can be really loud, which is kind of counterproductive to the peace you’re likely trying to cultivate by living out in nature.
Then there’s the gasoline cost, as mentioned. And generators are best used as short-term measures rather than a dedicated off-grid power source to depend on long-term.
Weigh Your Off-Grid Power Options Well
If you’re looking for alternative means for off-grid power in the house you already live in, get an audit done so you can determine how much you use versus how much you need.
Does your house have a fireplace or wood burner that’s rarely used because you just turn on central or baseboard heating?
You can likely reduce your power needs significantly by burning wood as much as possible during the colder months. Dual-purpose your heat source by trying to get some cooking done in the hearth or on that burner as well. And hey, you can learn some new ancient cooking techniques while you’re at it.
Additionally, if you’re trying to decide on which off-grid power idea to choose, remember that having an alternative energy source AND a backup of some kind is always the best idea.
Have a generator to turn to in case your solar panels fail, or a few solar panels if the river you’re tapping for hydro power runs low for a month or two in summertime.
Be prepared, try to take all potential issues into account, and shop around so you can find what’s best for you and your family.