Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Prepared to Fail
Living an off-grid life makes us highly connected to our electrical power. While the majority of Americans have little understanding of what it takes to deliver electricity to their light switches and outlets, we get our hands dirty with the process every day. Literally.
One of the benefits of living off-grid is never taking electricity for granted. Our electrical power system was built one step at a time. At first, we had no power of any kind. We learned to love the silence, to rise with the sun and to sleep with the night. With no electricity to complicate the perfect rhythm of nature, we embraced life's simplicity and wholesomeness. Ours was a life in perfect tune with creation.
But, life is never static. We longed for what most people take for granted. Running water, flushing toilets and electric lighting. Although our life was simple, it was hard. Hauling water, lighting lamps and heating water on the cookstove takes time and energy. Washing clothes by hand may be somewhat therapeutic, but it is a whole, heck of a lot of work!
And so, Sir Knight began plotting our course out of the 19th Century into the 21st. He began by wiring our "shouse" for electricity. Once the wiring was done, my husband started our generator, flipped the breaker, and brought light to our previously dark existence. Oh the joys and wonder of electricity! While the generator ran, I was able to enjoy an almost normal lifestyle. I washed laundry in our washing machine, filled the tub to bathe little people filled our pressure tank with water. I flushed the toilet, listened to music and danced and sang my way through my housework. However, after hours of listening to the hum of the generator, it was sweet relief to shut it down.
No longer satisfied with electricity only when the generator ran, we knew we needed batteries to furnish our electrical needs when the generator was off. Batteries added a whole new dimension to our off-grid life. More than just a matter of securing batteries, we needed inverters, cables, charge controllers and a battery charger. Buying a used inverter/charger off Craigslist, Sir Knight bought cable and spent a weekend bringing us ever closer to independence.
Of course, once we had batteries, we were convinced that we needed another method of charging. While our generator had it's place, we wanted a less expensive, more independent method of charging our battery bank. A wind turbine was our first "alternative energy" investment. Although not thrilled with it's output, the wind turbine sold us on the economic benefits of alternative energy. Soon, we were constructing a large solar array in our front yard. With the addition of solar panels, we had to buy a larger charge controller, larger breakers, a huge DC disconnect and yet more cables.
With our fully integrated off-grid system, it sounds like we have it made - right? Well, the truth of the matter is that, like any electrical system, our alternative energy system is fragile. If any component in our system fails, the whole system goes down. We are always on "Red Alert" when it comes to electrical power. If the generator dies and it is the dead of winter, we are done. If a cell goes bad in our battery bank, we are done. If an inverter dies, we are done. If our charge controller goes out, we are done. And it is never a matter of "if" a component goes out, it is a matter of "when". No alternative energy system is fool-proof. Every component is capable of failure. And they will always fail at the worst possible time.
These failures have been good for us. We have had generators (to numerous to count) fail. Even our backup has failed! We have had batteries die, inverters give up the ghost and charge controllers fail right out of the box. Basically, every aspect of our alternative energy system has, at one point or another, failed. Why has this been good? Because we have learned how to make do, how to take nothing for granted, how to always have another way to do just about everything. We have never had the opportunity to get lax in our preparedness efforts. While for most people, an off-grid scenario is something they plan and prepare for, we live it every day.
One of the most valuable lessons we have learned while living off-grid is how to respond to "emergencies" quickly and efficiently. We have learned to trouble-shoot, make do and find another way. These are skills that our children will take with them throughout life, regardless of their circumstances.
Living off-grid has taught us that there will be failures, there will be challenges and there will be hardships. But, we are connected to life in a way that few will ever know. Our failures, challenges and hardships have been good for us. They have strengthen our faith, honed our intellect and prepared us for the bumpy road of life.
Our off-grid life has taught us that part of being prepared is being prepared to fail - and that's O.K!