Going off grid completely is actually almost impossible in this day and age, and what does going off the grid really mean?
The most common thing that is called the grid is the national electricity grid in most countries. Going off grid normally relates to disconnecting from the national electricity grid. The true meaning of going off grid is to disassociate yourself with the Government, society, work, phone networks and even the internet! Going off-grid in the 21st century is very different to what the human race would have considered off grid in the last century. So much has evolved in the last 100 years- have a look at the early 1900’s and see what life was like, and even to the end of the 1990’s. Technology has changed so much in the past 30 years when compared to the first 70 years of the 20th century.
Most people think going off-grid means packing up and heading to the country to buy a block of land, as surely that is the only way to go off grid and be 100% self-reliant?
Myself, personally, have a desire to live an off grid lifestyle, and the way I like to explain it is to be as self-reliant as possible. I am going to talk about disconnecting from the grid in this article. The 3 main items I will talk about are water, electricity and sewerage.
If you want to live a self-reliant life, it is important to understand your usage. Understanding your usage will help you realise what is possible to do. In the country, water storage is easy- you buy lots of tanks, install dams, and maybe even are lucky enough to have a creek or river on the property.
Living in the city on an urban block is a very different story. Let’s start with how much water we use on a daily basis. The average usage for a household in Sydney, Australia is 270 litres, per person, per day. One person would require 1890 litres per week, which is almost 200,000 litres of water, per year, per person. To work out your storage capacity required, you are required to work out how long the driest period in your city is, or the longest period you will go without rain for. Using Sydney, Australia (Parramatta weather station) for an example we have 3 months with very little rain, so we require a storage capacity of at least 3 months of water. To find out the information for your location, find a good weather website and look at the history over the years of rainfall, per month.
For this example, I would be required to have 12 weeks of storage capacity, which would be about 50,000 litres of storage. This is one very big rain water tank, just for one person! If there were 2 people I would require doubling that, and then throwing a family in there? It seems almost impossible. We did an audit on our water usage, and we have it down to about 100 litres of water per day, per person (without garden water). Reducing your water requirements will always reduce the cost, as you do not require so much storage. The next thing to consider is your catchment area. In Australia, for every square meter of roof space, you will catch a litre of rain for every mm of rain you get. If you have a house that has a 200sqm roof space, you will catch 200 litres of water with every mm of rain. By doing this math on my property, I worked out we could harvest about 200,000 litres of water, per year. That would be enough water for a family of 4, with 100 litres of water per day, per person. Now, the trick is to harvest and store the water for later use. We selected 3 x 10,000 litre water tanks, which will give us about 9 months of independence of water usage before we require to access town water.
That to me is a great compromise- to use the space for 30,000 litres of water and also still have a backyard. My point here, is to install the largest possible tank for your situation, and use the free resource that will otherwise literally go down the drain, before you access town water. And for those of you who think rainwater is not safe, remember it did fall from the sky once upon a time and lives in a dam, full of animals with dirt, algae and a whole range of other crazy things, before it is filled with chemicals and delivered through pipes that in some cases are over 100 years old.
The next thing to talk about is electricity, and it’s a very similar process, workout your load and reduce it. My own personal example, we had an average energy bill of 28khw per day, which is the average in our suburb and we spent time learning how to reduce it down to 5kwh per day. We got it down to 12kwh per day without spending any money. By doing this, it allowed us to install a smaller renewable energy system that went above and beyond our needs. The Solar system we installed is a very different system to your normal grid connect system, it is a semi-standalone system that works just like my water solution. We have solar panels and were lucky enough to install a wind turbine and batteries. The key to making this system affordable and work, is installing a AMBS switch. It works like this- on sunny days we generate solar energy and store it in the batteries, on rainy windy days we generate energy from the wind and store it in the batteries. If we don’t get enough production or our batteries run out, the AMBS switch puts everything back to the energy grid, so the batteries are charged from the grid. This is a very rare occasion, having the grid available allowed us to install a system that didn’t require weeks of battery storage. Again, we are using the free resources available to us before we use the grid. Imagine if every home in the city worked like this! We would use very little energy from the grid, and it would require so much maintenance and upgrading to handle the current load.
The next item I would like to discuss is our sewerage- it is illegal in most countries around the world to disconnect from the sewage in an urban environment. The reason being is when the system is full, where does it go? On a farm you just have a septic system, if there is overflow it just goes down the paddock. Our sewage systems in the city can have a similar system in that you install your treatment plant (some of them are quite small- depending on your usage you can get systems that are about a meter square which you can bury in the backyard underground), and what happens is most of your sewage is treated on your property. Very little ends up in our oceans or water ways. Only excess or over flow would go into the current system- if you have sized your system correctly to your usage, that would only be when you have guests over for a period of time.
If you can see my point, going off-grid in the city is just about reducing your load on the current grid and only using it as a backup. We would have a very different impact on the environment if this was the way our cities operated, and in reality it would cost under $40,000 per household to do this- which in the big picture of the government, energy companies, and everyone involved, would have a far less cost for all of us if this was done. I am talking about if we added up all the money that was spent from our taxes on the current grid systems, and that money was distributed to doing things like this, we would reduce the cost of living in our cities and our impact on the environment. It’s crazy to think that we would rather waste our resources on doing things the current way, than waste something that we as humans made up (money). In this day and age, money is just a bunch of numbers on a screen- which means nothing to the earth.
If there is one thing you take out of this, it is to reduce your load on the environment. It will always save you money, if that is the reason you want to live more sustainably.