Living off the grid is not for sissies

Let me start with this: it's not for everyone. It's a good thing we are very adaptable; eager even, to change things in our life. Moving from a luxury environment where everything is always available in abundance, to a place where no cables or tubes are entering or exiting the property, is not for the faint-hearted.

 

To put it mildly, we needed to go on various diets, and I am not talking about food. Nearly everything has a limit now, but that is not necessarily a problem. It makes us very conscious of how we use the available resources.

Energy diet

Our current setup is very limited, the absolute minimum. We have four solar panels and a 950 Ah battery. With a fully charged battery, we have about 10000 Watt to consume. Divided by 24 hours, that's 417 W per hour. To put it into perspective, an old-school incandescent light bulb consumes 60 W. Forget about using a hair dryer, a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, an iron, using a washing machine on a warm programme, an electric heater, toaster, ... the list goes on. Unless you have tens of thousands to spend on solar panels, wind turbines and batteries of course.

 

If the sun is not shining for a few days, or it's very cloudy, much less energy is coming in, and the battery won't get to 100%. Then we need to be extra careful and think twice before switching on an appliance.

 

Our first next steps will be to add a wind turbine and double battery capacity. Otherwise, we won't make it through autumn, let alone winter. There is of course always the generator as backup, but it makes a lot of noise, it uses gasoline, and it smells.

Data diet

No Fibre Optic or even ADSL! We'll have to make it work with some variety of a wireless connection. But not all options are available where we live, so that makes it extra challenging. We are left with two: Satellite or 3G/4G.

 

Satellite works and gives pretty good down and upload speeds. For the nerds, it has about 22 Mbit down and 6 Mbit up, but it has a very high latency of at least 700ms. In layman's terms, it's good to download larger files but horrible for many small ones. It is unsuitable to stream video, so watching a movie is impossible without interruptions.

 

The second option, a 3G/4G modem, works fine. It's nothing more than a screenless mobile phone. But our coverage at the moment is not ideal, so it has to be placed outside the house with an extension cord to get an acceptable connection. Fortunately, this issue can be fixed by installing a signal booster, something we are working on right now.

 

Either way, data usage is limited. So here is where the diet part comes in. Syncing services - Dropbox, CrashPlan or iCloud to name a few - are a no go. Also streaming video or audio is costly. Looking into the data usage of apps, you learn there are some data suckers. Like Facebook for example, simply scrolling through your timeline with all videos and images, flipping through Instagram, watching series of videos on YouTube, can take up all the available bandwidth.

 

So this is the perfect time to dust off the old pickup and start playing some LP's, which is not a punishment!

Water diet

Our water supply is excellent. In fact, we're much better off than having to use water from the grid. The house is built on top of an underground river with the purest water you can get. It's pumped up some 270 metres and stored in two large deposits of 20 cubic metres each.

 

One minor downside is that we share the water pump with a few other houses in the area. There is a maintenance fee of €6 each time we want to fill up the tanks. But then again, it's a small price to pay for a massive amount of pure drinking water.

 

No shortage of water as such, but using water requires a pump to get it from the deposit to the tap. And the pump uses a lot of electricity (600 W). Of course, increasing power will make this less of a problem.

 

So that's an overview of our primary necessities. Heating and cooking is another story, on which I will elaborate later.