Off-grid, sustainability and self-sufficiency

The more I read about off-grid life in regards to being prepared for the worst times, the more I am confused. Is it that Poland is so poor that I simply can’t understand the idea, or am I biased for some other reason?

If you’re not familiar with the term, off-grid simply means your house or apartment doesn’t get power from the grid. It’s self-sufficient in terms of power, but might need some external energy inputs, like firewood for central heating or propane for cooking stove.

Large off-grid power source will be enough to provide all the power you need in your daily tasks. Not only for your lights, but also for the computer, water pump, washing mashine and ironing. Even during the darkest, coldest winter days.

Let’s be honest. Such a large system is probably going to be pretty expensive. If you want to rely only on solar panels and wind turbines, you would have to store a lot of energy. If you have a creek running through your land and can install a water turbine or water wheel, then the amount of power produced is stable during the day. Might change between seasons (less water in cold, dry season), but would provide a constant (but probably small) power supply. In this case you would need less energy stored, and for shorter periods of time.

But also I must admit, that having this kind of off-grid setup will get you through most tough times, unless you need more energy for doing things you don’t do on a daily basis (say, use your food dehydrator much more often, to store your produce).

But also, it will provide you much more energy than you think you need. And a lot more than you really need. What’s the difference?

For example, solar system that would be 100% self-sufficient needs to be scaled in a way that in winter days it provides enough power. So in summer, when there’s much more solar power available, it would produce energy that is going to be wasted.

But you don’t really need all the power you use daily. Do you really believe you need enough power for your large desktop computer, so you can check Facebook every 2 minutes? Do you really need all those incadescent lightbulbs in the house? Do you really need central air conditioning, supplying cool air to the rooms you never use?

Of course you don’t need it all.

In my opinion, it’s better to scale your off-grid system so that it provides enough power for all the equipment you need — energy efficient lights, water pump, ventillation, air conditioning in the rooms you spend most time in, washing mashine and refrigerator/freezer.

But it is also wise to connect to the grid. Your system from time to time will produce more energy you need, and you could sell it off to the grid. You could also take power from the grid if you needed it. Why store your power in the batteries that deteriorate when you use them, if you could store it in the grid?

When tough times come, you would simply reduce your energy usage. You would lose some comfort on the way, though.

Oh, and it’s not really off-grid if you have a diesel generator, or even one that runs on natural gas you get from gas distribution network. To be really self-sufficient, you would need to get all your energy input from your own sources, like your own coppice.

Krzysztof Lis

M.Sc. in mechanical engineering. Interested in alternative energy sources, biofuels, and preparedness.

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