Living Off the Grid

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff
American Indian History Month

What does it really mean to live off the grid?

by Jennie Wood

More and more families are choosing off the grid living.

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As of 2013, current estimates are that 1.7 billion people in the world live off the grid. According to Home Power Magazine, at least 180,000 families are living off the grid in the United States. But what exactly does it mean to live off the grid?

The term off the grid is defined as not requiring utilities like electricity, water, sewer, natural gas, heat, and other services. To truly live off the grid means a house operates independently, without the assistance of any public utility services. To achieve this, electricity needs to be on-site and powered by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar or geothermal. Generators and fuel reserves are needed. Another option is to simply do without electricity. Mennonite communities do this as well as some Native American reservations like the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico. However, doing without water is not an option. Those living off the grid must have a water source such as a nearby lake, stream, well or rainwater. Filtration is used for some water sources.

Reasons for Going Off the Grid

Many websites and books have discussed reasons for living off the grid. The two reasons mentioned most often are financial, because if done right it saves money on utilities, and to lessen the impact one has on the environment.

However, in some cases, off grid living can be more costly and do damage to the environment. Living off the grid requires equipment and supplies like generators, charge controllers and fuel that are not needed for those living on the grid. Living off the grid requires upkeep and restocking of needed supplies. If one is relying on solar power, it requires that one live in certain regions of the world.

Environmental Concerns

In 2005, California introduced the California Solar Initiative Program to promote the use of solar and wind power generation instead of people using batteries. Many batteries being used to run generators contain toxic lead acid so the state introduced the initiative to encourage the use of solar or wind power electricity instead.

In 2012, the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Canada published an official list of environmental concerns for their off the grid communities. On the list were these warnings: Using diesel generators produces greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to climate change and health problems for people in the community; transportation of diesel fuel to rural areas increases the risk of fuel spills and leaks, which contaminates soil and water; transportation of fuel by trucks creates greenhouse gas emissions. Canada currently has 175 off-grid communities that have been around for at least five years and have at least ten permanent buildings.

Off grid living can also be found in Africa. For example, solar-powered electric systems have been installed in Kenyan villages, a process started in 2010. LED lights and solar panels make this source of electricity more affordable, perhaps the biggest plus to off the grid living in countries devastated by poverty. As public utilities become more expensive and resources become scarcer, off the grid living, if done right, is becoming a more viable option for people all over the world.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development of Canada, Home Power Magazine


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