Is an Off-Grid Lifestyle Suitable for You?

Sea-Container-Cabin-Solar-PanelIn most circumstances, people who live off-grid don’t actually choose to be off-grid. It’s more likely that the electricity grid doesn’t connect to their property so the choices they have are to bring in power lines which can be very expensive and is the beginning of monthly electricity bills or figure out a way to remain off-grid.  And just so you know: off-grid people actually like the modern comforts of home including TV, Internet, lighting and heat.

A movement is building, whereby people are looking for 100% renewable solutions and a true independence from the grid.

With the availability of affordable solar, wind, and energy storage options, 100% renewable solutions are becoming more and more practical.

Two ways to live off-grid: With or Without Power

Living without electricity requires a reliance on traditional oil fired lamps and propane refrigeration. Both are poor performing, emit air emissions, and require constant refueling.  It is in fact more environmentally friendly, a lower cost, and a better quality of life today if you consume electricity for both lighting and refrigeration by choosing the right renewable energy system.

The key to successfully living off-grid is to reduce your power consumption.

You can build a smaller power system by conserving power and living without some power sucking appliances such as hair dryers, ovens and clothes dryers. Coupled with using energy wisely, better insulation, wood heating, LED lighting etc. you can afford to live a comfortable life off-grid. The general public has a difficult time embracing the concept of “Conservation First” in our grid connected life but in an off-grid setting, the conservation culture is much easier to adopt. It is driven mainly out of necessity given the limited power available and the raw cost of oversizing a power system for very limited use or inefficient uses of power.

Determine the right size power and energy storage system you require.

There are 2 kinds of Off-Grid Living with power:

  1. Gas fired generators
  2. Renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydro, and energy storage

Gas fired generators burn fuel so there is a variable cost associated with this form of power. There’s also the inconvenience of having to purchase the fuel, haul it home, and store it. Running a generator can be noisy although quiet generators are available on the market (such as the Honda generator every hot dog cart uses). If you believe in sustainable living, renewable energy such as solar, wind or hydro is the way to go.

Solar vs. Wind vs. Hydro

The answer to this question really depends on your surroundings. In our case, the Sea Container Cabin is situated amongst forest so there really isn’t any consistently blowing wind. We do have hydro that’s always flowing but the best spot is a bit far from the cabin so you’d have to run a long piece of wire. For us, solar made most sense. Panels continue to become more and more affordable. And we believe in supporting local manufacturers so installing Canadian Solar panels just made sense.

Why do you need Energy Storage in your off-grid power system?

There are very few ways to use renewable generation without having energy storage.  One such example is the solar direct water pump at the sea container cabin.  The solar water pump takes power directly from a set of solar panels to power a water pump deep down in the well.  When the sun shines, the water is pumped up to a water tower reservoir, which then feeds water to the washroom and kitchen using gravity, providing water supply even when the sun is not shining, and without the need to use battery power to pump the water in the cabin.  Simply put, this is one form of energy storage, called “pumped hydro” where the energy is stored as elevated water.

In order to meet the electrical needs of the Sea Container Cabin, and balance out the off-grid power system, you need to store electricity in a battery system for use when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing or the water isn’t flowing. Many types of batteries are available, including traditional lead acids and more modern lithium based technologies.

Steps to building an Off-Grid system

  1. Determining the amount of energy you require, both your peak capacity requirements, and daily utilization patterns.  It is recommended you do a bottom up energy requirement analysis, looking at every power device you intend to operate, how often it will be operated, how many consecutive days such as full time residence or just weekend retreat use etc.  This will define your power requirements.
  2. Identify the best form of off-grid energy for you – gas fired, solar, wind etc.  This will depend on your local conditions and what mother nature has to offer you. If you can deploy multiple technology types, this will provide you redundancy in energy supply, which is very attractive when available. Then you need to determine how many days of power weather conditions that you wish to be resilient for, such has how many days of poor sunlight you wish to withstand. This determines the size of the energy storage battery system you require. Many other considerations go into sizing the storage system, including allowed depth of discharge of the batteries, number of cycles before the batteries wear out, performance in cold temperatures which is an important consideration for Canada, etc.

Have a Question on Power Systems or Energy Storage Systems?

We have shared a few concepts on how you may be able to live off-grid.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many concepts and design features we have rigorously tested in our Sea Container Cabins. If you’d like more information, call us or send us a note. We’d be happy to help you successfully get off-grid and start enjoying a sustainable lifestyle.