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What We Covered
Is off grid solar power an expensive trending fad? Or is it a solid solution to serious problems we face?
In this episode:
- How we (collectively) have made ourselves so dependent on electricity
- How power utilities are starting to be weaponized to enforce government policies
- Privacy implications of being on the grid
- Does going off grid have to cost a fortune?
- #1 way to make off grid solar more affordable
- Reasons why going off grid might not be right for you
- And much more
After living off the grid for almost 25 years, and teaching folks how to set up solar power for 15+ years, I’ve discovered some compelling reasons why average folks like you and me should seriously consider making our homes energy independent with off-grid solar power.
In this episode, Lisa and I (Nick) will walk you through the rationale and make the case for ditching the grid and taking control of your power. And since an off-grid solar power system is not for everyone, we’ll also look at some of the reasons that solar power may not be a good fit for you.
Come with an open mind so you can weigh the facts and make an informed decision that is right for you and yours. You might be surprised!
00:00 – Intro
01:13 – The last straw for us
04:26 – What “Off Grid” means to us
05:06 – The “Pros” of going off the grid with solar power
13:52 – The “Cons” of an off grid solar system (or why this might not be a good fit for you)
18:16 – Bonus Reason You Might Not Need Off Grid Power
21:15 – Question Of The Week: Is Solar Too Expensive?
- Power Company Controlling Thermostat: Denver, Portland, Dallas
- >150 died of hypothermia in TX grid-down event – Source
- Home’s power shut off by gov’t due to unauthorized gathering (mayor’s announcement, news source)
- Solar Power Basics video set
- Free Class: “What You Can Do Now To Start Going Off The Grid.” Register here:
Welcome to the Ready Life podcast. My name is Lisa, and I’m Nick Meissner. And thanks for joining us.
The Last Straw For Us
Almost 25 years ago, my family went completely off the grid for our power needs. And this was back before solar power was in vogue, before the term “off-grid” had. you know, taken on a life of its own to mean things along the lines of doomsday preppers and all of that. So it was back when “off-grid” just meant that you were off the power grid. You were making your own power.
Our first move was 15 minutes out of town into the country and it was to 13 acres and when we were cutting the driveway in and getting everything set up we needed to work with an engineer from the power company. to get our power poles set strategically and in the right spot and everything. And so he helped us get all that set up and we also worked with him on getting the meter set a ways away from the house, down the driveway a little ways so that we wouldn’t have meter readers wandering around the house way out in the country and that sort of thing. And we set up a gate on the driveway after we got the house built and everything. because we didn’t want unwanted traffic wandering in and all that sort of thing.
But we learned that the power company required us to have a lock of theirs on our gate. They said that if you’re gonna have a closed gate, then you have to include our lock. So we’d use their lock and then our lock and lock those two together so that either one of those locks could open the gate. That was interesting news to me. That was kind of unsettling, honestly. They had that for reasonable reasons because they needed to be able to maintain the power lines and also read your meter and stuff like that. But anyhow, a year later, after we finished the house and we’d moved in and everything, I remember one morning when we were in the house and we saw this truck drive up. It was like, oh, we must have forgotten to close the gate. So we went out. And what do you know? It was good old Otha. Driving in, looking all around. And so we went out and asked him, Otha, whatcha doing? What are you doing back here? And he said, oh, I’m checking the insulators for dry rot. dry rot. This was less than a year old and these were porcelain insulators. Last time I checked, porcelain doesn’t dry rot. Anyhow, I think he was feeding us a line. He was just a nosy person and he was used to being able to go anywhere he wanted to. Because, you know, that’s what happens with the power line. easements. They have a legal easement to go wherever those power lines run. They can go anytime they want to.
And we already knew about blackouts and how off-grid power systems could provide energy independence and things like that. But I think that this experience hammered home a new dimension that we had not thought of before. And it kind of sealed the deal for us about going off the grid. It was the last straw for us. And from that point on, we were convinced we wanted to pull the plug for good and go completely off the grid with no tether to the power company.
What “Off Grid” Means To Us
And one thing I should say is this word off-grid, when we use it, we’re not talking about outhouses and oil lamps and rustic living and things like that. It just means making your own power instead of buying it from the power company. And that’s what we do. And we’re big advocates of off-grid solar power. That’s how we live. And we love it. And we have no interest in ever going back on the grid again.
Pro #1 – Privacy
But today, we want to take a hard look at the reasons why going off the grid may not be for you and why it might be a perfect fit. Yeah, that’s right. And privacy is one good reason for why you might want to be off the grid. That’s right. Because if you have no power utility in your business, there’s no potential for a utility worker, or at least a power company worker, to be entering your property whenever they want to. And there’s no monitoring your power usage, or even controlling your smart appliances.
Did you know? There’s something happening in multiple places. This isn’t just one power company in one area where this is happening, but all over the place. Power companies are starting to have programs where they can take over your heating and air conditioning system and adjust the thermostat in your house depending upon the power consumption at the time. Yikes! That’s scary. It’s creepy. It is creepy. You turn the, you’re cold and you turn the thermostat up and… Then do do do do do down it goes again. I’ve seen numerous news reports of that. And that is, yeah, weird.
Pro #2 – Independence For Basic Necessities
Well, that makes me think of another reason why you might want to go off the grid. One reason we wanted to go off the grid was for independence. Right. Absolutely. Power, however, is not a basic necessity of life. And that’s something that we need to point out. True. You. You can live, you can survive just fine without power, right? As long as you have water, heat, and food. Those are the three basic necessities essential for human existence. And electricity is not one of them. But the trouble comes in when you are dependent upon electricity in order to get one of those basic necessities of life. Like water, maybe. Exactly. That’s the classic one that comes to my mind. And so this is something that you got to think about. You got to think deeper than just, oh, well, we could live without power. Well, think about what it would actually look like to live without power. And if you’re not sure, then go and flip your breaker off, your main breaker in the house for a few days and see what stops working. Or wait till the next power outage. Yeah, there you go. Another thing that comes to my mind is that the power grid can be fragile at times. And do you really want to be dependent upon it for your basic necessities of life?
Basic Necessity: Water
And so, you know, like you mentioned, water is a very common one. You know, if you’ve ever been through a power outage in a house with a well, then you know how that works. When I was a kid, I remember my mom going into the bathroom and plugging up the tub and filling it up full of water so that way we would at least have some water when the power went out, if there was a storm coming through or something. Right. So yeah, water is kind of a bit of a problem if you’re relying upon electricity. Right, so everybody should have a hand pump. But I don’t know about you, I’d rather have running water in the house. Me too.
Basic Necessity: Heat
Well, another basic necessity of life besides water is heat. And a vast majority of homes are dependent on electricity to some degree for heat. So you don’t have any power, you don’t have any heat. Over 150 people died of hypothermia during the 2021 Texas grid down event. 150. That was quite something when that happened. Yeah, it really was. I remember I worked with a person in the. upstate New York area. And when that buffalo storm came through, she was telling me about how the power was knocked out in some areas and there were people that froze to death because it was very cold temperatures when the power got knocked out. And you know, the trouble is that heating systems rely almost always on electricity. The only situations that might be a little different are some wood stoves, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. But even pellet stoves, not all, but most pellet stoves require some electricity. So you’d be surprised how much stuff depends on electricity. It’s crazy. It is crazy.
Basic Necessity: Food
Speaking of power outages, one of the other things I remember is not opening the fridge or the freezer while the power is out. Because as soon as you open your freezer, you’re losing all that cold. And of course, eventually all of this food storage that you’ve got saved up in your freezer, it’s all going to melt. I remember one person was frantically trying to, you know, can it or, you know, figure, dry it out or something so they didn’t lose all their freezer food when the power went out.
That’s right. And as far as cooking, you know, you’ve got microwaves, of course, use a lot of power. Electric ovens and ranges use obviously electricity, but even with gas ovens and ranges, the vast majority of gas ovens and ranges require a little bit of electricity in order to function properly. It’s just phenomenal how much stuff depends on power. So that’s the independence end of things.
Pro #3 – Remote Locations
What other reasons? Well, we actually live in a place with one very good reason. We live miles from the nearest electrical line or power line. And so if we were to try and pay for the power company to bring power to our property, that would be a little bit obscene. Tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t even know what the prices are nowadays, but 20 years ago, I was hearing of people getting quotes of $18,000 to run it a little over a mile, or $40,000 to run it a couple of miles. It’s a pretty crazy expense, and that much money would go. It’s set up a nice solar power system with that kind of money. Exactly. So that’s kind of been where we’ve come from on that. And honestly, in all honesty, even though we are miles away from the power lines, even if it was right next to us, I would still choose to be off the grid for other reasons, like independence and privacy and these kinds of things. Yes.
Pro #4 – Less Potential For Being Manipulated/Controlled
So another factor comes to mind. This is a very interesting one that I don’t know if a lot of folks have thought about it, but it’s that governments often use power to enforce regulations. That’s an interesting one, isn’t it? That is interesting. How do they do that? Well, just for instance, I’ve heard of this being done with building permits, where especially in rural, more remote areas, I’ve heard that that was like their primary means of enforcing this, that they wouldn’t let you hook up to the power company unless you had this building permit. Oh, wow. So that’s one interesting way. But another one that is very sobering actually is they’ve used power for enforcing things like COVID lockdowns. There are news articles where they actually shut down or pulled the plug on electricity for people’s houses because they were having an unauthorized gathering in their houses. Wow. They felt they had too many people in their house and it was not an authorized gathering. And so they actually, they were repeat offenders. I think they gave them some warnings or whatever, and then they pulled the plug. Wow. Yeah. That’s scary. That is especially scary when you think about the scenario that’s predicted in the Book of Revelation, where the powers that be are gonna try and manipulate the masses by restricting their ability to buy or sell. In other words, buying electricity–something that is so important for our existence with the way that we live, impacting basic necessities of life like we just talked about. Right. Wow.
Con #1 – Your Rationale Is Only Economic
So why off-grid might not be right for you? What are some of the reasons why off-grid power systems going off the grid for your electrical needs might not be a good choice? Well, you know, if your primary reason for going off the grid is just economics, that is usually not a really valid reason. There are other reasons why people do it, other reasons why we do it. And in the end, yes, you are either greatly reducing or eliminating a monthly expense, which is awesome. You’re front-loading it, you’re paying for the equipment now, and then you’re not having that monthly payment going out every month, which is really awesome. But it takes a while to recoup the expenses of that. So I just want to be upfront with you, even though I’m a big advocate for going off-grid, I want you to go into this with your eyes open.
Con #2 – You Want To Be Completely Hands-Off
So what are some other reasons why off-grid might not be a right fit for you? If you want to be completely hands-off with an off-grid system, you need to have a certain amount of involvement. Now, it’s not a ton, it’s not a lot of work. I mean, you know, how much time do I spend fiddling with our system? Very, very little. Once you get it set up and running, I think there are only three things that we do to maintain it. Maintain the batteries, and even that could be eliminated if you went with a maintenance-free battery. That’s true. That’s true. So the bulk of the work is surrounding batteries. You do kind of keep an eye on where your levels are at if you’re getting too low in the dead middle of winter and a cloudy climate, you might need to run the generator some to top the batteries off for a period of time during those dark winter months. You know, you’ve got to keep an eye on it. So if you’re not willing to do that, if you want to be completely hands-off, don’t go off the grid.
Con #3 – You Want 100% Solar Power In A Cloudy Climate
So, another reason you might not want to go off the grid is if you want to be 100% solar for 100% of the year but you live in a cloudy northern climate. Like us. Like us. That was right. We’re in an area where a lot of folks would think that it was not possible to do solar here because we have super short days. We’re at a far northern latitude. We have very short days that are almost always cloudy in the winter.
Yes. And so, that is not ideal solar conditions. And because of that, it would be cost-prohibitive to build a system large enough to be 100% solar for 100% of the year. You really, to keep it cost-effective, you really do need to supplement your solar with something else during those darkest three months of the year, something like that. And most people choose to do that with a fuel-powered generator.
Yes, you could say that is a dependency, and it is, although I will say that if you size your system carefully, you’re not going to be using much fuel, and with proper fuel storage techniques, you could be set for quite a while. But even still, if we had to go into emergency mode during those darkest three months of the year, we could get by with just our solar. We wouldn’t be able to live normally, but we could run the water pump and have a few lights in the house and things like that.
Con #4 – Only Concerned With Short-term Blackouts
So, another reason might be if the only thing you’re concerned about is an occasional short-term power outage. Because with that, if that’s the only reason why you’d want to go off the grid, it’s a lot of work just to get it set up, just to go off the grid when a simple backup generator could solve that if that was your reason why you want to go off the grid.
That’s, yeah. And in that situation, you’d want to make sure that you have plenty of fuel, use a good fuel stabilizer. We’ll talk about that in the future. And I’ve stabilized fuel for like seven years, and it worked just fine. But you’ve got to do that right, have plenty of fuel and exercise your generator regularly and maintain it regularly. But if you do that and all you’re concerned about is the short term, that’s the way to go.
Yeah, for sure. And have an electrician hook up a transfer switch properly to your house.
Bonus Reason You Might Not Need Off Grid Power
So, what’s another reason why we would not recommend going off the grid? If… Well, I wouldn’t say that this would be a reason to not go off the grid, but it would be a reason why you might not need to. And that is if your basic necessities of life, like water, heat, and food, if those, with your current setup, do not require any electricity whatsoever, if you could do without electricity and still be able to function just fine for your basic necessities of life, then in that situation, maybe going off the grid isn’t worth it to you because you could just cruise right along.
Just, what am I talking about? So let’s just take water, for instance. The only water option that I’m aware of where you could truly have running water in your house without any electricity is a gravity flow system where you have, coming from either a spring or a creek or some sort of surface water that is uphill from your house and gravity flows down to your house, no pumps involved, and that sort of thing. And you know, we’ll talk about water systems another time, but that would be the perfect situation. Most people don’t have that. It’s very few properties that have the potential for that kind of a system, but if you can, that’s awesome.
What about heat? Or you have an indoor propane heater with no electricity required because a lot of propane heaters even require some electricity. The vast majority do. Yeah, so if you have a propane heater that doesn’t require electricity, then, you know, or you heat with wood. Or a fuel oil stove. Some of those, a lot, I think, require electricity. But there are some that are non-electric. Yeah, so in that case, then, you wouldn’t need an off-grid power system to stay warm.
Right. For non-electric options for cooking, that sort of thing, most, the vast majority of your, even propane and natural gas ovens and ranges still require electricity to some extent. Even though it’s not a lot, it’s the ignition mechanism or the glow bar in the oven, and they will not work properly without electricity. It is possible, rare, but possible to find some that will. If you happen to have one like that, awesome. Or a wood cook stove could be an alternative cooking option.
Yes, well, are there any other reasons you can think of? I think that pretty much sums it up. Like I said, I’m a big advocate for it. But I want you to go into it with your eyes open so you have a good experience, and we’re gonna help you to do that. So stick with us.
Question Of The Week: Is Solar Too Expensive?
I think we’ve got our question of the week now, don’t we?
Oh yes, we do. Okay, what is it? Lynn wrote in:
“We have gotten estimates from 35,000 or 25,000 after the government rebate, up to 65,000 for installing an on-grid solar at our house. And if we want to go completely off-grid, it costs an additional 10,000 to do that, depending on the size of the system. I don’t know if there are any more government tax incentives these days, and I just don’t know if it’s worth it, or if it ever will be. We just don’t have that kind of money.”
That is such a common trend that we have for so many years seen coming in, folks getting quotes like that. I’ve heard on up to… I think $80,000. I remember one lady wrote in with an $80,000 quote. She was like, “I’ll never be able to afford a solar system.” And she’s off the grid today now, actually. Really? She does live off the grid now. I hope she didn’t go with that [$80,000] one. No, she did not. We gave her lots of tips and pointers, and she did it very economically. Well, that’s one of the things that we really enjoy doing.
But I do have a few things that I wanna say about this. Like I said, you can spend that much for sure, but you don’t have to spend that much. That is the key takeaway here. For many years, we’ve been teaching folks how to get set up with a good off-grid solar system for a reasonable price, and you can do it too. And I don’t have time on this particular episode to fill you in on all the details of how, but I’ll just whet your appetite just a little bit with the top, the number one most impactful thing that you can do to reduce the cost of an off-grid solar system, and that would be energy efficiency.
If you use less power, your system is gonna cost less. I mean, it just stands to reason. Now, what does this not mean? Well, this does not mean that you gotta throw out all of your electronics and no more kitchen appliances, and clear the bathroom out, no more electronics anywhere in the house. It does not mean that. Right, if you were to visit us, you would not even know that we’re off the grid. We live very normally. All the way down to the electric toothbrushes. You’ve got all the appliances in your kitchen, and… We’ve got an office, high tech office, and all of this stuff. We even have an infrared sauna, and all the stuff that you’re used to using, you can do off the grid.
As a general rule, it boils down to being very careful with your choice of appliances. It doesn’t mean doing without. It means choosing carefully. So like I said, we’re going to tell you about that. In the future, we’re gonna show you how you do this. More to come on that, but get this…Even though we’re living very normally, we use roughly 10 to 15% of the power that a typical American household uses. And that is our number one biggest way of winning with getting the cost of an off-grid system down.
So yes, you can do it. And I know folks are often wanting to hear numbers. I can’t say positively for sure right now what the cost would be of our system because, with all of the crazy inflation and prices skyrocketing and everything, I don’t know. But I have done a little bit of spot-checking, and I haven’t noticed massive increases so far. And ours probably cost around 15,000 or so for ours, including the generator. So that gives you an idea. Now, like I said, we have gotten very careful with our appliances and all of that, but we live normally. So there you go.
You’ve got enough to believe me when I say that it can be done. Don’t let that be the obstacle holding you back, unless you have no budget to put into it. Then in that case, like we said, that may be one of the reasons why you don’t need to go off the grid. And your super low-cost alternative to going off the grid is that you get set up so that you could live without electricity if necessary. And really that’s a good thing for anybody to do. We try and keep that in the back of our minds where even though we have a reliable source of power that is sustainable, we still are thinking about what could we do for those basic necessities to live without electricity, in case something breaks. You know, it’s man-made equipment. Anything can break. It’s reliable, quite reliable, but it can break still. So these are good things to tuck away in the back of your mind.
Yes, yes, well thank you. That was a really good question, Lynn. Yes. So we hope you will send us your questions as well. So send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we will be so thrilled to answer your questions just like we answered Lynn’s now. That’s right. Well, thanks so much for joining. We hope that you take a minute to subscribe so that you get notifications of future episodes. And we look forward to spending some time with you next time. We’ll see you then.