It’s a fairly romantic idea, this notion of living off-grid. Being able to provide 100% of your own electricity is beyond empowering… it’s addicting. Our house has been ‘unplugged’ from the electric utility since 2015 and the sentiment around here is, we’re never going back!
But this empowerment is not without its drawbacks. And I can tell you from personal experience that while they are few, they are significant.
The two main disadvantages of living off-grid are infrastructure cost and support. Both of these are notable issues and should be considered with all seriousness when contemplating the move to ‘unplug’.
Initial infrastructure costs for an off-grid system can be quite significant when compared to simply connecting to the electric grid.
Depending on your local utility, hook-up for electricity can be anywhere from free (usually for homes less than 100 feet from a power pole) to $2000. Again, this will depend entirely on your individual situation.
With our new construction, the cost to connect to the electric grid was placed at $6000, due to unforeseen complications.
But even with the higher than usual $6000 hook-up fee that they would have charged, this initial cost pales in comparison to the $40,000 out of pocket cost for our home power system.
Obviously, it can be tough to pay tens of thousands for something that usually comes in at less than $2000… or even free!
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There are a host of variables in this equation that are going to differ from location to location. These include (but are not limited to) distance from existing infrastructure, what each individual utility has for plans/charges and any rebates/incentives for solar in your location.
Knowing these things before starting your off-grid endeavor will most likely save you in money and heartache.
Off-grid homes operating in what most would consider normal conditions – meaning decent square footage, electric dishwasher, microwave, A/C, multiple flushing toilets, ect. – are something of a rarity. Point of fact, at the time of this writing, I am only aware of one other home within a 2 hour drive from my own that is fully unplugged from the electric grid.
Consequently, with these types of homes being few and far between, it can be challenging to find someone with experience to do your install.
For example, when preparing for our home, I contacted seven different solar installers regarding our plans for living off-grid. Every one of these professionals expressed reservations, with some going as far as to say, ‘it can’t be done’.
We’re a long ways from 2015 and I’m happy to say that we are still getting it done!
So if you’re considering unplugging from the electric grid and want to maintain a certain lifestyle, then understand that finding a knowledgeable installer, may be a challenge.
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It’s important to understand that our system was quoted before things like the Tesla Powerwall. Today’s home-power market is notably different. And this is a good thing as larger companies such as Tesla can generally offer more in the way of specialized support – while doing faster and it at a lower cost.
There have been many times where being ‘unplugged’ from the electric grid has given us opportunity to boast. But there has also been a few occasions where being independent has made us feel alone.
This past Polar Vortex was one such occasion.
With our panels incapacitated with several inches of ice, and our generator running every few hours in an effort to keep it from freezing up, I was continuously working through options as to what could be done to keep my family safe if things stopped working.
This knowledge that any external support for our situation was essentially non-existent, ran through my head almost constantly. And for the record, the word stressful does not even come close to what the grown-ups were feeling.
Admittedly, people connected to the grid could have been just as easily affected by this extreme weather. But the knowledge that we were not a part of that group, did tend to make us feel a little more vulnerable.
As technology continues on its rapid pace forward, self-powered homes are poised to become the norm. One need only pause for a moment and review the past to understand this.
We went from pagers, which were generally reserved for people with critical vocations such as doctors, to cellphones and then to 53 percent of children having smartphones in an incredibly short amount of time.
Currently, we are witnessing the very beginning of a major shift away from the internal combustion engine to all electric vehicles – of which their energy storage technology could easily be applied to home use; as demonstrated by the Tesla Powerwall.
But while the path towards tomorrow becomes clearer every day, if you are considering a life off-grid right now, then the appropriate mindset will be required as there will definitely be difficulties ahead.
However, should you still feel that this type of life appeals to you, then know that while it is currently somewhat rare and that there will be challenges, it is still achievable.
Just remember, being able to produce 100% of your energy is beyond empowering… it’s addicting!