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Going off grid sounds exciting.
Many people approach it with a sense of  adventure as if they were living in a camper van,  trailer or small cabin.  The high tech aspect consist of  adding a small  solar photo voltaic  panel to power  a set of LED lights and maybe a laptop computer.
I have seen people express  the sentiment that going off grid was a way to get away from  other people, society and the evils of modern technology.
Many people seem to equate  going off grid with freedom.  But freedom from what?
My wife grew up on a homestead that is  off grid.  Still is for that matter.  She had five uncles  one of which still resides on the homestead but the rest could not wait to escape  from the drudgery and hard work  involved  with living off grid,  and go live  and work closer to  a community of other people and coincidentally connected to the grid.
Community starts with  two or more people joining together to achieve some common goal that is too difficult for one person to accomplish.  However  if that community  grows so large  that members  do not know each  other ( or care) we begin to see  problems  develop.  The problems of big cities  and urban blight  has its origins  in this trend.
“Off grid” suggest there is something inherently wrong about  a grid. In fact  even the definition of “off-grid” seems to vary according  to who you speak to.  Some  people would argue that  doing without a connection to the municipal electrical grid is not enough. They argue you must be totally self sufficient and disconnected from water,  sewer, natural gas,  as well as  electricity  in order to qualify  as being “off grid”. But  does that make sense?
Doing so  negates all the benefits  of communal efforts and benefits.  At one time I lived in a place where  a group of houses were provided with clean, safe, water from  a private  source.   One person had an artesian well on his property and  started supplying his neighbors because their shallow wells  had bad water  which was further contaminated  by run off from the multiple septic tile beds  because each person had his own  septic system.  Oh yeah, everyone was totally independent and off grid.
Eventually  a municipal  sewage system was built and a municipal water system  replaced the old private system.  Everyone agreed this was a good thing.  But it was now a grid.  Same thing  with electricity.  Instead of every house having their own  noisy generator spewing out  noxious fumes;  a  river had been  dammed for a sawmill and a grain mill so it made sense to also install a turbine to make electricity . It provided enough electricity  to power many homes.
Electricity  was favoured because it was  less dangerous  that kerosene lanterns and easier to install than piped natural gas.
So what went wrong?  Today people want to disconnect from these communal benefits and go it alone.
They want to go off-grid.  Go live like a hermit in a pokey little van or trailer?
So what are the benefits of going off grid?
To begin with. it does allow  placing a  a real house residence  in geographical area  well beyond  the present reach of the utility grid.
So much of today’s business consist of  data management  it could be done anywhere. It does not require cramming people into  cubicles  inside a  high rise bee hive made of steel and concrete. Modern cellular phone systems and satellite  communications  means people around the globe can stay in touch.
Telecommuting has become possible as a way of life . With skilled  and  well trained people even high tech cottage  industries are possible.  For five years my wife assembled  electronic controllers used in production equipment  that  in turn  was used to produce high quality  aerospace  equipment for  satellites and aircraft.   I worked in a design office  that literally spanned a continent. We stayed in touch with FTP file exchanges, MSN  instant messengers, and  skype.
The real benefit of the off-grid movement lie in the fact it teaches self reliance and  a greater awareness for the need to conserve  natural resources. It cuts down on waste because the people who waste resources suffer the consequences of their own folly.
A side benefit is the fact people can live in less crowded  conditions. All the evidence  points to overcrowding as being among the principle  causes of most of our society’s ills.
Among electrical utility  companies a technical term is often used. Its called “islanding” and refers to what happens when a generator source is  cut off from the larger grid.  Its like an island and only an limited number  of  end users can be services  from this generating source. If this isolated  power source happens to be  a very large capacity generator  much of its potential is wasted.  For example  if  Niagara Falls  was cut off  and only those homes within 10 miles radius could be serviced; that would be a waste.  With a larger grid,  homes several hundred miles away can  be powered from the generators located at the falls.
With off-grid  every home becomes an island.  That is not exactly  efficient. A few hundred miles away  from my location there is a tiny village with  a respectably tall water fall.  An enterprising  individual resurrected  the old  saw mill dam  and installed an electric generator. He is  now able to supply all the homes in the area  plus sell back some surplus energy to the big utility.
This is one of those situations that is neither fish nor fowl. The person started out  just wanting to provide his own electricity but discovered he could generate  enough surplus to supply other people. So he  made his own grid and eventually  interconnected  to the larger  grid.
Engineers  call this taking advantage  of the economies of scale.  To  double the useable output does not cost twice as much.
Natural gas is now used in most homes  because it burns cleaner and has fewer green house gas emissions and the combustion  exhaust contains  fewer noxious  substances compared to coal and  oil. Unfortunately  the pipe distribution system is controlled by giant corporations intent only on increasing the profit margin for their stock holders.
The unfortunate consequence is that some of those households that are able;  now switch to using wood as a heating fuel.  Even in small towns of 5,000 or 10,000 a concentration of wood burning  heating  appliances can  degrade the air quality  under the right wheather conditons.   Here is an example where getting off the gas distribution grid  is not so beneficial. Hower the driving force is the pursuit of ever increasing profits that is the root cause not the fact  a  pipeline network is able  to supply end users  far removed from the source of that  natural gas.
Going off grid has its benefits  but  sometimes staying on grid also has benefits. Before  deciding to go off-grid  all relevant factors should be considered.

Going off grid sounds exciting.
Many people approach it with a sense of  adventure as if they were going camping, living in a camper van,  trailer or small cabin.  The high tech aspect consist of  adding a small  solar photo voltaic  panel to power  a set of LED lights and maybe a laptop computer.
I have seen people express  the sentiment that going off grid was a way to get away from  people, society and the evils of modern technology. Many people seem to equate  going off grid with freedom.  But freedom from what?

My wife grew up on a homestead that is  off grid.  Still is for that matter.  She had five uncles  one of which still resides on the homestead but the rest could not wait to escape  from the drudgery and hard work  involved  with living off grid,  and go live  and work closer to  a community of other people and coincidentally connected to the grid.

Community starts with  two or more people joiNing together to achieve some common goal that is too difficult for one person to accomplish.  However  if that community  grows so large  that members  do not know each  other ( or care) we begin to see  problems  develop.  The problems of big cities  and urban blight  has its origins  in this trend.   “off grid” suggest there is something inherently wrong about  a grid. In fact  even the definition of “off-grid” seems to vary according  to who you speak to.  Some  people would argue that  doing without a connection to the municipal electrical grid is not enough. They argue you must be totally self sufficient and disconnected from water,  sewer, natural gas,  as well as  electricity  in order to qualify  as being “off grid”. But  does that make sense?

Doing so  negates all the benefits  of communal efforts and benefits.  At one time I lived in a place where  a group of houses were provided with clean, safe, water from  a private  source.   One person had an artesian well on his property and  started supplying his neighbors because their shallow wells  had bad water  which was further contaminated  by run off from the multiple septic tile beds  because each person had his own  septic system.  Oh yeah, everyone was totally independent and off grid.

Eventually  a municipal  sewage system was built and a municipal water system  replaced the old private system.  Everyone agreed this was a good thing.  But it was now a grid.  Same thing  with electricity.  Instead of every house having their own  noisy generator spewing out  noxious fumes;  a  river had been  dammed for a sawmill and a grain mill so it made sense to also install a turbine to make electricity . It provided enough electricity  to power many homes.

Electricity  was favoured because it was  less dangerous  that kerosene lanterns and easier to install than piped natural gas.

So what went wrong?  Today people want to disconnect from these communal benefits and go it alone.
They want to go off-grid.  Go live like a hermit in a pokey little van or trailer?

So what are the benefits of going off grid?
To begit with it does allow  placing a  a real house residence  in geographical area  well beyond  the present reach of the utility grid.
So much of today’s business consist of  data management  it could be done anywhere. It does not require cramming people into  cubicles  inside a  high rise bee hive made of steel and concrete. Modern cellular phone systems and satellite  communications  means people around the globe can stay in touch.
Telecommuting has become possible as a way of life . With skilled  and  well trained people even high tech cottage  industries are possible.  For five years my wife assembled  electronic controllers used in production equipment  that  in turn  was used to produce high quality  aerospace  equipment for  satellites and aircraft.   I worked in a design office  that literally spanned a continent. We stayed in touch with FTP file exchanges, MSN  instant messengers, and  skype.

The real benefit of the off-grid movement lie in the fact it teaches self reliance and  a greater awareness for the need to conserve  natural resources. It cuts down on waste because the people who waste resources suffer the consequences of their own folly.
A side benefit is the fact peoPle can live in less crowded  conditions. All the evidence  points to over crowding as being among the principle  causes of most of our society’s ills.

Among electrical utility  companies a technical term is often used. Its called “islanding” and refers to what happens when a generator source is  cut off from the larger grid.  Its like an island and only an limited number  of  end users can be services  from this generating source. If this isolated  power source happesn to be  a very large capacity generator  much of its potential is wasted.  For example  if  Niagara Falls  was cut off  and only those homes within 10 miles radius could be serviced; that would be a waste.  With a larger grid,  homes several hundred miles away can  be powered from the generators located at the falls.
With off-grid  every home becomes an island.  That is not exactly  efficient. A few hundred miles away  from my location there is a tiny village with  a respectably tall water fall.  An enterprising  individual resurrected  the old  saw mill dam  and installed an electric generator. He is  now able to supply all the homes in the area  plus sell back some surplus energy to the big utility.
This is one of those situations that is neither fish nor fowl. The person started out  just wanting to provide his own electricity but discoverred he could generate  enough surplus to supply other people. So he  made his own grid and eventually  interconnected  to the larger  grid.
Engineers  call this taking advantage  of the economies of scale.  To  double the useable output does not cost twice as much.

Natural gas is now used in most homes  because it burns cleaner and has fewer green house gas emissions and the combustion  exhaust contains  fewer noxious  substances compared to coal and  oil. Unfortunately  the pipe distribution system is controlled by giant corporations intent only on increasing the profit margin for their stock holders.
The unfortunate consequence is that some of those households that are able;  now switch to using wood as a heating fuel.  Even in small towns of 5,000 or 10,000 a concentration of wood burning  heating  appliances can  degrade the air quality  under the right wheather conditons.   Here is an example where getting off the gas distribution grid  is not so beneficial. Hower the driving force is the pursuit of ever increasing profits that is the root cause not the fact  a  pipeline network is able  to supply end users  far removed from the source of that  natural gas.

Going off grid has its benefits  but  sometimes staying on grid also has benefits. Before  deciding to go off-grid  all relevant factors should be considered.

Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site

2 Responses to “Data management and other off grid technologies”

  1. Tod

    Finally some articulate and intelligent discussion! My compliments; the author touched on a key area for debate. Are we off-loading community for perceived but not real benefits? Or, is technology and changes in “community” driving a new and real trend? The author starts into the topic of community services becoming corporate for profit entities and is that the problem and municipalities are “corporations” even if not for profit. For example in California we have water districts which go almost unregulated. They are pseudo-profit with elected board of directors and monopoly powers. $12,000 for a water meter in some of these districts and you have no other option. If water is a human right – how can it cost $12,000 from a non-profit municipality? How does a $12,000 water meter build community? I am interested in those with thoughtful consideration to share their “motivations” outside of just saving a nickel on why this off-grid trend is real or just perceived.

    Reply
  2. Terry LaGrone

    Very interesting and reflective of my situation. I am off-grid for the simple number of $20.00 per foot for the grid. Multiplied by 6,000 feet to the grid, that would cost $120,000.00. My complete recreational cabin system is less than $2000.00 and includes cell-phone antenna & amplifier so I can keep my day job and still be out here. I have several neighbors, each with their own island in this 20 square mile area of off-grid suburbia.

    Our only connection with the grid is the road. Here is where the principles of cooperation and community reveal themselves. The state maintains the road to a certain point; the borough maintains the next segment, neighbor 1 maintains his segment, neighbor 2 maintains his segment, etc. If one of the participants doesn’t do his share, it is up to another to fill in or else pull out the snowshoes and sled to get in.

    20 miles North by NorthWest of Anchorage, Alaska.

    Reply

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