Is the off-grid era arriving?

Nick Rosen is a London-based award winning documentary maker, journalist, and broadcaster and editor of off-grid.net. In April, he highlighted US investment bank Morgan Stanley’s announcement in its report Clean Tech, Utilities and Autos, that the off-grid era has arrived: falling prices for renewable energy equipment and rising prices for energy supplied by power companies are fundamentally altering the business model of the electricity industry. Tesla Motors are now committed to increasing battery production, bringing down the cost of energy storage capacity by over 50%. Up to £500 per year of our energy bills is paying for the maintenance of the power grid and Morgan Stanley calculates that Tesla’s batteries will cost an off-grid household £350 per year, rendering the utilities’ business model obsolete.

Off grid with straw bales in the UK

strawbale off the grid house

This straw bale double-wide mobile home, built by Richard and Carol Atkinson of East Yorkshire in the UK, uses solar, wind and solar hot water, in addition to a host of green building materials. And, because straw is plentiful and locally available in the UK, it produced just a fraction of the carbon footprint of an average UK home, 50 tons of carbon dioxide, during construction.

Going “off-grid” is becoming increasingly popular in the United States for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint and avoid reliance on fossil fuels

Some homeowners are partly off-grid, supplying their own electricity and ditching their phone line – others live completely off-grid by digging wells or using a cistern system to collect water and a septic tank for sewage. In 2006, Home Power magazine estimated that more than 180,000 homes were supplying their own power. Another 27,000 homes use solar and wind energy to offset their grid-connected life .

According to the EPA, roughly 15% of homes in the United States – more than 17 million homes in the United States – get their water from private wells. Some opt to harvest rain with a cistern – above or under ground. Water from gutters is channelled into the cistern and pumped back as needed.

Nick Rosen advises the government’s housing czars and energy strategists to support two or three experimental off-grid communities:

off the grid cover“At a relatively low cost they could quickly create thousands of homes in rural areas plagued by unemployment and depopulation. These communities would have a lower carbon footprint than the average, and I believe that the houses would be cheaper to produce partly because they would not need the grid brought to their door. Also the rooms would be significantly smaller than in the typical home, since off-grid designs incorporate the understanding that heating and maintenance costs are lower in smaller buildings. Living off-grid is labour intensive and that in itself would generate some jobs. Food production and the turning of waste into energy would create some more. And I think that many off-grid communities in future will be filled with teleworkers since wireless 4G internet will be available at relatively low cost, without the need for any infrastructure other than a phone mast. Wireless routers consume no more power than a lightbulb”. He ends:

“We need lawyers, architects, local authorities and house builders to help make this vision into a self-sufficient reality”.

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