It’s been a while since I last blogged here. Not for lack of stuff to blog about; this is a topic that will just get louder and more active as time goes on. But I’ve been busy serving clients.
In my early communal days, I can honestly say that I lived almost completely off-grid for a couple years. This was living an ambitiously autonomous intentional community called The Farm (which still exists, coming up on its 37th anniversary), when we settled on a large piece of property in Tennessee, lived in school buses, tents and a few simple houses, lit our homes with kerosene lamps, had our water delivered by a horse-drawn wagon, and had no utilities provided by an external agency except for the propane company, which would fill our communal tank at the head of the roads. We did have TVA power to the one house that existed on the property when we bought it. A couple years after we arrived, we did allow TVA to run power into the farm, for a few service drops to run our motor pool, our laundromat, our flour mill, clinic and food processing plants. Today – to my knowledge – all of the homes on the Farm have TVA power.
The Farm never dedicated itself to remaining off the grid, even once photovoltaics and wind generation reached the consumer level. We could have been a pioneering effort of sufficient size to serve as a model, but, well, frankly we were too broke to buy the hardware. We did power some remote CB radio installations with PV in Guatemala in 1978, and named our little tech company Solar Electronics, but we did not become the poster community for energy independence. Meanwhile, as prices for renewable energy sources have come down, more individual homesteaders have been able to realize off-gridiness in their lifetimes, proving that it can be done if you can afford the investment, and that one can live what has become accepted as the standard of American living – with satellite TV, computers, good lighting and appliances.
Still, a bunch of scattered individual homes living off-grid does not a community make. Eventually, we would hope to see neighborhoods sharing energy sources, then villages, then towns, counties and cities. For now, one of the closest examples I’ve seen to an off-grid community is the one described in this Reurters article distributed on Climate Ark.
With energy prices going through the roof, an alternative lifestyle powered by solar panels and wind turbines has suddenly become more appealing to some. For architect Todd Bogatay, it has been reality for years.
When he bought this breezy patch of scrub-covered mountaintop with views to Mexico more than two decades ago, he was one of only a few Americans with an interest in wind- and solar-powered homes.
Now, Bogatay is surrounded by 15 neighbors who, like him, live off the electricity grid, with power from solar panels and wind turbines that he either built or helped to install.
Of course, living off the grid does not mean that grid-based electricity wasn’t used to produce many of the products you use and consume, including the solar cells and windmills that power your household. But it does mean that you are no longer dependent on whatever primary sources are used for generating grid power. Add to that, you can live where the local power company has not run lines. And some power companies even provide incentives for citizens to go off-grid, relieving them of the responsibilty and unrecoverable costs of running new remote lines and providing power.
Now – as the article describes – there are even deliberately off-grid subdivision developers.
One clear sign that the off-grid lifestyle is moving more mainstream is that developers and other organizations starting to look at off-grid alternatives, drawn by both environmental arguments and simply the bottom line.
Lonnie Gamble, a developer behind an off-grid subdivision in rural Iowa called Abundance Ecovillage, offers plots at $40,000 that include free wind and solar power from shared systems, as well as water from a rainwater collection system, waste recycling and access to shared amenities including a farm.
The cost of building such a home is little different from that of building any other home, and with a range of energy sipping appliances such as refrigerators, hi-fis and even hairdryers now available, the forced austerity associated with off-grid living is also changing.
“You can have hot showers and a cold beer,” said Gamble. “You have no water bill, no sewer bill, no power bill and you can harvest something fresh from the greenhouse … why would you ever do anything else?”