New neighbours moving in. Down the way about a mile or so. Nice people. Intelligent. Courteous, fun. We like ém. They needed a bit of assistance yesterday so I went. We got to talkin’ ’bout off-the-grid power. The cabin they bought is pretty bare-bones in most respects and especially electrical power. And I started by saying, “Well, there is too much to know to give it all to you now. It is a steep learning curve that I am still climbing. But, basicaly…..blah, blah, blah……” and I spoke steadily for at least ten minutes straight. And I hadn’t even touched on inverters, chargers or a myriad of other related aspects of the topic.
“Whoah! My mind is reeling. I can’t keep all that in my head. OhMyGawd! We’re going to have to come to your place and take notes!”
“Well, that is a good idea. No purpose in trying to learn it all yourself from scratch. Trouble is, as much as I have learned, it is only half of what I need to know. For instance, every battery system operates differently. Yours will likely be different than mine. Everyone has to get in synch with their batteries and, by the time they do that, they have often killed them off or crippled them and then have to get a new set”.
“What!? Batteries? They are pretty simple. No?”
“No. Operating off batteries is like raising children. Do one thing wrong and you have a dysfunctional output. And yet, sometimes with benign neglect, they go on forever.”
“Are you joking!?”
“Do you see me smiling? A lot of tragedy has been inflicted on batteries. A lot of pain. The experts say, ‘batteries never die, their owners kill ‘em.’ And they are right.”
“Wow! Didn’t know that. But don’t some people generate enough power to sell some back into the grid?”
“Nah! That’s a myth. In Canada, anyway. Maybe in Arizona or the desert somewhere. Maybe some super-rich guy in the south heavily invested in solar with many, many panels can do that. But your basic off-the-gridder is – duh – OFF the grid and couldn’t sell any back if they had it. And your basic Canadian doesn’t get enough sunshine year ’round to net out a surplus anyway. Plus Canadians don’t get the 50% subsidy Americans get and, further, we ‘Nucks pay more for everything anyway. Face it, you’ll be relying on a genset to some extent. We all do.”
“Well, they are cheap, eh? I mean I can get a nice lookin’ genset at Costco. So the genset is not gonna kill me, right?”
“Wrong. Chinese made gensets break down the most. Basically you need at least two gensets. I’ll explain all about that some time later. But budget at least $12,000 for your genset system, maybe more. And that may include second hand units!”
“My electrical system is gonna cost me $12,000!!”
“Nah. That’s just the genset part. The system in total will be triple that. Depending on a few variables, you’ll be lookin’ at $30K to do it all right. Or more. It will still be small-to-modestly sized but it would be right. Or rather, as right as any of us can do it. But then, of course, you’ll probably ruin your first set of batteries….so…it gets worse.”
“But that’s my power, right? Like, forever?”
“No. That is just the lights and computer. Maybe a movie or two? The real heavy power comes from propane. We use that in the range, fridge, freeezer, hot water and the old BBQ. You could easily put $15,000 into that system, not counting the actual use of propane.”
“You are saying that we have to budget another $45,000 over and above the price of the property?”
“Well, now, that all depends on what kind of water system the house has? Or what kind of toilet you want…..? If you have a good nearby source of water and you do it all yourself, you can likely get away with as little as $5,000 in infrastructure. Maybe up to $10,000 if you want it to be even the least bit modern and sophisticated. And, if you want two bathrooms or two sinks or outside stuff……well, the credit line is the limit.”
“Yeah. That was just the equipment list. Hiring experts to do it for you…..? You may have to double that figure. Two friends of mine in the southern Gulf islands just built their own docks. Did it for under $5,000 or so with basically salvaged materials. Another neighbour way up the way had something similar installed and it cost over $60,000. He had it done for him. Professional expertise is more expensive the further you go from where the professional lives.”
“Why do you do it?! Living Off the grid seems prohibitively expensive!”
“Well, first off – it is worth every penny. Secondly, you do it yourself as much as possible so that you know enough look after it. In other words, living this way is purposeful and the first purpose is learning. Don’t come out for the mint juleps on the deck or the happy kayaking. Come out to learn. Come out to do. Come out expecting to work and develop skills. Come out to be more independent and more real in your relationship to the earth and even the house you live in. Doing this kind of thing somehow reconnects you with the basics of life and an inner peace and contentment comes from learning to deal with what comes up.
“Or so I have heard, anyway. I am still learning.”