The No-nonsense Guide to Off-grid Living
It’s a choice for some, a necessity for others, but how practical is it really to live off-grid in the UK while still maintaining a high standard of living?
We all have our own ideas of what off-grid living looks like. Some of those ideas will be more accurate than others. So, what’s the real story? How practical and how expensive is it to live off-grid?
Most importantly, what standard of lifestyle can you expect while you’re doing it?
Off-grid living is when you live in a property without connection to mains gas and electricity. Some situations will also not have mains water or sewage but we concentrate mainly on the energy aspect.
Some properties live miles from the grid so have to manage for themselves. More of us are moving from the city to secluded or quiet areas, perhaps without mains connections.
Even in the 21st century, there are places in the UK without a connection to gas and electricity. Sometimes it’s impractical and sometimes it’s just too expensive. The alternative? Living off grid.
Some will take off-grid living as a lifestyle and grow their own food, create a self-sufficient smallholding and purify their own water. Others will live the same kind of life as everyone else, but just use alternative energy sources.
Wherever on the off-grid spectrum you sit, this guide will have some practical ideas that can help.
Off-grid energy options
You have four main options to generate your own domestic energy. You can use solar, wind, hydroelectric or a hybrid system that combines solar and wind. Typically, these energy sources will be connected to a battery bank that will store the energy until required.
Each solution has its pros and cons and can work better in some situations than others.
Solar power is clean, silent and unobtrusive once installed. They require zero maintenance and can use otherwise dead space on a roof. You can also use ground mounted solar panels if you have sufficient garden space.
The downside of solar is the weather, the need for a south facing roof and only 5 hours of daylight per day to generate your energy.
Wind power is a viable alternative if solar energy isn’t practical. Domestic wind turbines are now smaller and quieter than ever. As long as you have sufficient wind passing close to your property, they can deliver clean energy day or night.
The downside of wind turbines is obviously the requirement for wind but also planning issues and finding somewhere to put it that isn’t in the way or in view.
Hydroelectric power, or microhydro, as it’s also known is also a viable option if you live somewhere with running water. If you live by a stream or have converted an old mill, microhydro is definitely an option. It’s clean and can produce energy night and day regardless of the conditions.
The downside of hydroelectric is that very few off-grid projects live somewhere that can take advantage of it.
Hybrid power systems use a combination of solar and wind to generate energy through a wider range of weather conditions. It covers three situations, winter days where it’s dull but breezy, overnight and days when there is no wind.
The downside of hybrid systems is that they are more complex to install.
Our Most Popular Off-grid Solar Kits for Homes
What about when there is no wind or sun?
Not everyone likes the idea of depending on the British weather for their energy as it’s too unpredictable. While solar panels don’t need direct sunlight and wind turbines can generate modest power with just a gentle breeze, our islands are not known for being cooperative when it comes to weather.
That’s where a backup generator comes in.
Many solar, wind or hybrid systems can be specified with a backup generator. It can be configured to start automatically if battery storage gets low or left to be manually started.
Either way, an efficient generator can supply enough energy to recharge your batteries until the renewable source can begin producing it again.
Why not use a generator full time?
If a generator can deliver usable energy regardless of the weather, why not use one to power your home all the time?
The main reason is cost. Petrol and diesel generators require a steady stream of fuel to keep them running. They can also be noisy and will require regular maintenance. They are ideal as a backup because you shouldn’t need to use them often, but are not cost effective enough to be used full time.
What about generating heat?
So far, we have talked about generating energy for an off-grid home, but what about keeping the place warm? Winters can get very cold so electricity is only half the challenge.
Like with generating energy for your off-grid home, you have a couple of options for generating heat.
Ground source heat pump
Ground source heat pumps, or geothermal systems, can either be drilled down into the earth or laid in the ground horizontally. Both dig down far enough for the earth to get warmer and use water-filled pipes that soak up that heat and bring it into the home.
The water is pumped around the property and sent back to the ground to soak up more heat. It’s a very efficient system that works incredibly well. It does require a lot of drilling or enough garden to dig down and lay a maze of pipes though.
Thermal batteries and passive heating
If you’re planning a new build or conversion, thermal batteries are an option for heating your home. They use mass such as concrete walls or floors to collect the sun’s warmth during the day to release it slowly over time.
They take a couple of years to get up to temperature and won’t work in every situation but they can be a very effective way to passively heat a home. Alongside superior insulation, thermal batteries can provide a constant temperature all year round.
Wood burning stove
Wood burning stoves are a low tech answer to heating problems. They can work in all kinds of off-grid homes but work best in smaller properties. They are easy to install, require very little maintenance and can generate significant amounts of heat.
As long as you have a reliable source of fuel, a wood burning stove can provide enough heat to keep you warm whatever the weather is like outside.
Off-grid living options
As you can see, living off-grid does not necessarily mean living like you were in the 18th century. It is entirely possible to have a high standard of living while enjoying all the trappings of modern life. All without being connected to the mains.
As long as you choose the right solution for the situation and seek expert help when planning your renewable system, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy energy independence for the rest of your days.
If you need expert help, call Sunstore on 01903 21 31 41 to discuss your needs or complete the form for a fast, free quotation.
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