One of the most frequent requests I get goes something like this. “Can you put some solar panels on my roof? I want to get rid of my electric meter all together.” I think the prospect is looking at his/her bill when he/she calls.
The short answer is no. Abundant, readily available, reliable, low-cost power has turned Americans into willing killowattaholicis. We like convenience and the addiction happened naturally. The wall plug and light switch were there when we were born. If we want something, we plug it in or flip the switch. We are largely unaware of how much power we consume, and our appetite has no end. I don’t like the term “addiction” either, and I was a kilowatt pusher for 20 years. But examine our behavior. If the power goes off, we panic. We complain about the bill, but don’t change our behavior. The caller wanting to go off-grid is simply tired of paying the going rate for power and is looking for another pusher to get his fix. Here is the truth. The lowest cost power you can currently get comes through the meter. If you are unhappy with the bill, lower your consumption.
Here is the problem. The houses we’ve built consume so much power that we are locked into dependency on the utility company. Here is a list of appliances that are grid dependent; electric stove and oven, dryer, water heater, heat pump, central air conditioning (including ground source or geothermal). It is not possible to power these kinds of appliances during the winter from an off-grid system. The number of houses that have an electric meter that I’ve converted to off-grid: ZERO.
I worked for Alabama Power as an electrical engineer for 20 years. I now live off-grid and help others break their dependency on purchased power. Most of the systems I install are off-grid (stand-alone) power systems and most go into grid-connected houses. The owners simply want options. A small but growing number of people actually move off-grid. Anyone interested in owning their own power system is encouraged to visit the Alabama Solar Technology Center, my home and base of operations. You will see a renewable energy building capable of supporting a number of people with a high degree of comfort and security. It CAN be done, but it WON’T be done in the conventionally built house designed to be grid-dependent. When you tour the Solar Center, you will see how to successfully implement off-grid and you will be thrilled at the possibilities.
Here is a recent request via email with my thoughts and replies. This is an actual case.
New construction: Would like feasibility of using solar system and wind generated power to provide electricity and hot water in an off grid environment. Living quarters in new construction will be 2000 Sq Ft. I need estimate of system size needed and cost of system.
Solar – yes. Wind – no. Solar heated water – yes. Estimate the size of the required power system based on square footage? You know a square foot does not consume any power. I need to get this person to come to the Solar Center for a tour.
The nature of this inquiry is too complex to answer via email. Please call on Monday at your convenience.
House is 60×40. 60ft side faces due south with no shade. Not sure of roof angle, it’s standard trusses across the 40ft span. I suspect I will need somewhere around 800 to 1000kWh system, based on my current usage in present home.
Hum. This person does not listen. Didn’t I say this is too complex to discuss via email. And now I have an email with kWh usage of her PRESENT (grid-dependent) house.
You will have to help me with the 1000kwh thing. Where did you get that number? And per day, week, month?
Off-grid house. 1000kWh per month, based on size and design of house. I have made the size and design determinations based on an engineering background.
A well-designed air-conditioned off-grid house will require approximately 450 kWh/month during the summer and around 300 kWh/month during the winter. I need to get this person to tour the Solar Center.
Have you toured my place?
I haven’t toured your place yet. I have viewed your website. My policy is whomever has the best price for what I need, will get my business. I also like to keep my business in Alabama, if possible.
I probably don’t want this person to become a customer. She has a “policy” and already knows what she needs (but is clueless and resistant). I think she should consider a new policy: I won’t purchase an off-grid system from someone that does not live off-grid and I’m willing to pay for a functioning system.
I think you will benefit greatly from a tour of the Alabama Solar Technology Center, my home and base if operations. I’m in my 7th year off-grid, living more comfortably than ever, and I do not come near 1000kwh per month.
The tour is free whether you buy anything from me or not. I’ll prepare a budget quote when we have the tour completed and things better defined. Let me know when you can come.
Based on the square footage of my current grid-based home and its electrical consumption, nine months out of the year I use approximately 600kWh per month, or less. The other 2 – 3 months (Dec, Jan, Feb), electrical consumption is approximately 1400kWh per month. I like to maintain a consistent temperature in my home. Of course, when I move, I’ll be using propane for some appliances (stove, oven, etc.) as opposed to electricity, which is currently used. Thus, my electrical usage will be somewhat different. I’m also not opposed to Geothermal heating & cooling, but need more information before going that route.
I’ll let you know when my General Contractor has the house built. You may want to take a look at the location.
If you do not do the tour, you are never going to live off-grid. You are going to heat with propane as well because geothermal is not an off-grid option (and your “engineering background” does not know it). I’ve tried to be gentle, but I’ll make a bold effort to salvage this case.
Well, I recommend the tour before you do anything. You would then realize on your own what I’m persuaded to tell you now.
- If you are going off-grid, you can’t take your grid addictions with you.
- Thus, your previous life as a killowattaholic has no real connection to your future. Toss your kwh consumption records. They are meaningless.
- You must learn the difference in off-grid and grid dependent appliances. Geothermal belongs in the latter, as do all other forms of electric heating.
- You will be excited about the comfort, security, and simplicity of off-grid living.
- You have the cart way too far ahead of the horse. You can leave the grid out of the conversation until the house is completed. But a successful off-grid experience starts at the conception stage, not after the house is built.
I “recommend” the tour to be diplomatic. In truth, I’d rather not sell you a system unless you do the tour early in the process. There is much more you need to learn, but I’m not going to write a book. The tour will fill the deficiency and is an education you can’t afford to be without.
33 days later
My last email seems to have broken our conversation. Do I need to keep your inquiry in my active folder?
15 minutes later
No! Do not contact me again. I’ve decided to go with a company that will sell me what I want, and not preach to me about what they think I need.
This was the best outcome. I do not want someone unwilling to make the simple but necessary adjustments required of off-grid living to be my customer. I want success stories, not failures. It is sometimes difficult to see a woman get what she thinks she wants. This is not going to play well and I hate it for her and what it is going to do to the solar industry.
I know what goodbye means.