Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bit by Bit

I have a confession.  Sometimes we forget that we are off-grid.  We leave a light on here and a printer on there.  We stand with the fridge door open and leave the tumbler (for cleaning brass) on all night.  And then the days shorten and the skies become cloudy, hampering our ability to produce electricity and charge batteries.  At first, we don't notice but go on living the electrical high life.  Then, suddenly, seemingly without warning, we are thrust into utter darkness.  Our batteries are exhausted and we are rudely awakened to the fact that we are, indeed, an off-grid family.

Over the years, our electrical usage has increased bit by bit.  When we first wired our "shouse" to generator power we were thrilled with one fluorescent light fixture.  Of course a second light followed the first and soon our home was flooded with light.  What a wonder!

After adding a few solar panels, we thought we had it made.  We bought a computer and hooked up a printer.  We would turn it on for special occasions but were careful never to leave it on for long.  A television, dvd player and electric tea kettle followed.  Soon, a microwave found a home in our kitchen, as did a Bosch mixer, a grain grinder and a blender.

Eventually, we put in a large solar array and were quite positive that we would never be able to use as much power as we generated.  We started behaving like normal people, having every room in the house lit, leaving the computer on all day and watching movies whenever we wanted to.

But alas, it was not to last.  We found, that although we do make a lot power (at least in the summertime), we have become complacent with our conservation.  We now use more power than we make.  To make matters worse, our battery bank is aging and no longer has the capacity to store the power that we do make.  Rolling blackouts have now become our new reality.

There is a silver lining in our situation.  We are being reminded that we off the grid.  We are reevaluating our priorities and bringing our electrical usage back into line with the amount of electricity we can realistically produce and store.  We are turning off lights, shutting down the computer and not watching movies.  

It is amazing how things creep up on you.  We have found that we really have to be disciplined in all areas of our lives.  If we make more power, we will use more power.  If we make more money, we will spend more money.  Bad habits begin in little, easily excused ways, but little by little, they take over our lives and eventually thrust us into darkness.

And so, we will once again use only the power that we can make.  We will tighten our belts and remember that we are "off-the-grid".


  1. It's very easy to forget, and find yourself in a bind. Great post :-)

  2. Thanks for the post. A good reminder to everyone, even on grid families.

    If folks get in the good habit of not wasting power, and turning off things they aren't using, it'll be much easier for them to make the transition to 'off grid'.

  3. As we have found, all things in moderation :) That also helps one appreciate what one has instead of taking (using) it for granted.

    Nothing to beat being off grid!

  4. Well written Enola; very good points to remember - conservation and living within one's means is always a good thing. In the future (for others) there may be no other option, so get used to it now!

  5. How long do your batteries typically last? Two jobs ago, I've seen lead-acid batteries that still were useable crowding 30 years old (car batteries have short lives because of heat and vibration), and nickel iron batteries crowding 50 years old. When I go off grid, I'm going with the nickel-iron. You get less out of them than lead acid, but they last much longer(they're expensive, though). At my last job, part of it involved taking care of two 325 KW backup generators. The 24 volt battery pack that started them was 16 years old, and passed the load test(I got a scar from the load tester-it gets hot *fast*) every 6 months just fine.
    I suppose being off grid is a great way to be reminded everything comes from somewhere..

  6. It never stops amazing me how easily we can become used to what we have. Reminding ourselves we can do with less is always put back into check. Nice post!

  7. I'm in the process of converting my suburban home to on/off grid. I got all of the electrical work done installing the Outback inverter, two charge controllers, 60 lithium ion 3.2 volt 200 ah battery cells, and the system control box hours after the rain started for hurricane Sandy. When the power failed, we were the only ones on the street with power - the only reason I knew power was out was that I forgot to switch one circuit (TV room) to the battery protected panel and the kids complained when the TV went dark. Still have more work to do on the power generation side (have solar modules but waiting on racking and tigo optimizers to show up; have a biomass gasifier working and the 48 volt alternators but am still waiting on some of the parts for the genset) but I'll have that done by Thanksgiving. It has been a lot of work but it is really nice knowing that I have my own grid and will be able to power it indefinitely once everything is hooked up and debugged.

  8. This post can transfer to other daily life applications also. My mom always says "What you allow in moderation, your children will do in excess". Kind of like the power, use a little then pretty soon you are using a lot without realizing it. So many of us can and should cut back on "usage" of stuff in our lives that is not pleasing or necessary to our spiritual growth.

  9. i agree with TC...give an inch, take a mile. we are not "off grid", but let me tell you i watch those meters closely and budget them as carefully as i do with my checkbook. some folks will call me a cheapskate, but so be it. everything that we have that has had to be replaced due to wear and tear is paid for in cash with what we saved by being frugal and responsible.

  10. Off topic I know, but I really like the current wallpaper and background images, so warm any cozy.