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Home Forums General Discussion Help! Wanting to go green on a budget

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    I’m a graduate college student who is tired of paying high rent. I thought about buying a trailer and moving out to the country, but I don’t really know if I can afford to live off the grid. The only systems I’ve seen are very expensive, about 20-30K. Generating my own electricity is something I’ve always been interested in, though, but it would have to be practical. Are there any off-grid methods I might want to consider, other than simply going without electricity?

    Are there any bio-diesel powered generators, solar power systems, wind power systems, bike powered systems, etc. that are affordable and could help me start living comfortably off the grid?


    First of all where you live is significant in so many ways. I live in an area that is totally powered by hydro-electric energy so going green is already way ahead of someplace powered by coal fired generators. /when I have work its from home so no commuting costs. We drive into town once a month for supplies so fuel expenditure of 3 gallons is not a huge carbon footprint.

    I got a kill-a-watt meter to measure my eletricity consumption. This helped me figure out what devices used the least amount of energy. It was not a surprise to learn counter top appliances often use half as much power to cook the same amount of food as the traditional stove/oven. A friend who lives 100% solar paid attention and is now making careful use of some appliances which his solar panels can support.

    Going without electricity is not necessary. Energy conservation is.

    Consider that the $20K – $30k systems are fully designed and installed as turn key systems. Somebody studied hard to learn all that and it involves skilled labor to set up. So you either invest some sweat equity or pay from your salary. Either way equipment has to be purchased and assembled. Reducing your energy needs is the best way to save money because you then only need a snall system. one of my off grid friends discovered linux uses about 30% less power than the same computer running windows because of how it executes code. Depending on what you are doing that could be a big power saving.

    Although you can learn something from forums like this, be careful. Take note of the warning at the bottom of the forum. Too many people know just enough to be dangerous to themselves and anyone following their advice without fully understanding all that is required to be safe. Despite 30 years experience and lots of classroom time I am still learning.

    Example. How do you wire up a grid tie solar panel? Solution hint, do it wrong and you could electrocute yourself.

    I am as guilty as the next person when I give advice and assume the reader knows all the necessary safety precautions that I take for granted. However it would need a book to prep the reader with all the possible safety and hand skills necessary.

    I lived in an RV for five years. It can be done relatively cheaply. We live in a mobile on less than $10K annually. but you have to be handy to do that.



    Well, I don’t really want to attempt anything really complicated–or dangerous! I was wondering if I could perhaps just create a simple system that runs off of eco-friendly generators powered by sun, wind, water, etc. Couldn’t I skip the wiring if I used batteries that were charged with power generated from these sources? Sorry, I’m a real novice, as you can probably tell. I don’t really know how a lot of these systems work. I would appreciate a brief walk-through and explanation so that I’ll have a better idea of why I can’t simply attach a solar panel to a large battery. (the panels themselves are very expensive, anyway.)


    Affordable off grid living.. Well, it can be done from what I understand but you may need the virtue of patience. You may also need lots of free time, meaning your career can’t get in the way. DIY most of what you need. Owner build. Planning is very important. Study and research is important. Investing in tools is important. It would probably be best to start on grid and work your way off grid.

    I have a few articles that may help in decision making.



    kgreen Even a battery can be hazardous and this is likely wher you could make a mistake. No you cannot just hook a solar panel to a battery. like Caverdude suggest, learn patience, study and get familiar with how to DIY.

    Any diesel engine can be converted to run on biodiesel. Gasoline engines can be converted to run on organic sourced methane, hence is green and renewable. Lots of YouTube video on this subject. Search for methane digesters to get the most hits.

    Eco friendly generators that run on wind, water, sun, etc. require a suitable location. First step, understand how much power you really need. Seek alternative that are within your budget and are practical. Getting a wood stove if you reside in the middle of a treeless plain is not practical or cheap. Solar in a cloudy place is not practical. We just had 3 weeks of nearly constant cloudy weather. No one can afford that much battery reserve. Sorry to say you are just at the beginning of the learning curve. this forum format is too limiting to explain it all.It would take a book not a few paragraphs. There are plenty of websites with good information. Many are referenced in posts in this forum. Keep reading and it will all fit together.



    I guess I do have a lot to learn, because on grid seems pretty difficult to set up. I watched a few instructional videos on setting up off grid solar power, but the way it was presented didn’t make it look difficult at all; it looked like the homeowner simply connected a solar panel to some special batteries with some wires. The video said that the kit would have more details, though. It looked like something that could be accomplished over a weekend. Apparently, though, this is not the case.

    Okay. I also found out my current rate of energy consumption might be a bit high, possibly around 76,000 whs per day. Let’s start small. How might I lower my daily energy consumption? `


    <grin> Did you really expect a sales presentation to tell you the truth and the whole truth before you put up your money?

    To be fair I have seen kit instructions that did provide excellent guidance. BUT, experience with the tools required is also just as crucial. For example stripping a wire to terminate it is supposedly simple. Trouble is most DIY often buy the crappy plier style most often available in consumer retail stores. If you suggest to them that buying the $40 professional die cutter style is better, they look at you as if you are nuts. I still have all the tools I purchased 30 years ago and use them on a regular basis.

    Some of the instruction sets are translations from some other language and clearly not written by an experienced professional used to handling tools.

    I once worked for a major manufacturer providing equipment to this market. All of the user manuals were written by the marketing department. The reason being their staff was paid lower than people in the engineering department and their staff was mostly girls who had majored in english which is why they got hired into the marketing department.

    When I worked as a service tech I often got calls from DIY people who had botched a job but did not realize why or how it was malfunctioning. Things like poor crimps and termination tops the list of defects found th be a cause for malfunctiono.

    Some of the crimp lugs sold in consumer stores are reallly bad quality but not so a person lacking experience would notice. You can buy all sort of wire from the cheapest to something that cost $1/ foot. Only knowledge plus some experience would tell you when the more expensive wires is actually cheaper in the long run.

    Hooking a solar panel direct to a battery. You need fuses, possibly diodes and definitely a regulator. Even selecting a regulator will require some knowledge. Is the one in the kit truly the best available or does it happen to be a model that gives the seller the fattest profit margin?

    Rememer that a kit is selling convenience. It offers one stop shopping so the buyer does not have to expend time and effort to collect the best suited equipment for his application by going to half a dozen suppliers. Kits do provide important but small items for mounting. Industrial wholesalers sell them in bags of 100 250 and 1000 but not half a dozen or so. The kit provider buys the bag of 1000 then divides it up in many kits. Its convenient but you usually pay for that.

    Many DIY installations looks like a rats nest of wiring all over the place.

    Is that truly safe? Only training and experience will tell you. Yes you can learn by reading but it takes time to find these good books then reading them and understanding the subject.

    I’m not trying to discourage you just pointing you in the right direction.

    I once helped a student who did not appreciate the distinction between an insulated washer and a plain washer. Visually they looked identical. However when he connected the battery the plain washer became a short circuit that burnt out the wire harness in his car. A new harness cost the equivalent of a months wages. Took us three weeks to disassemble and repair the burnt harness. He had already quit his job to go back for the next semester. He simply did not have the money to afford a quick repair of the damage he cause from lacking a tiny bit of knowledge.



    you wrote: I also found out my current rate of energy consumption might be a bit high, possibly around 76,000 whs per day. Let’s start small. How might I lower my daily energy consumption?


    Wow!! that does sound high. Where was this measured and might there be more than one tenant taking power through this metering point.

    There is an excellent product called Kill-a-Watt that can measure power consumption of individual appliances using 120V from a plug in outlet. cost $20

    If you are dealing with a house service having 120/240 and want to measuer power consumption of hard wired things like furnaqce dryer stoves etc. then you need a product called TED 5000. It will track 240V loads as well as 120V loads. Find it with google. Cost is around $200 depending on shipping costs.

    Best I ever managed was 18,000 watt hours per day with electric cooking and electric heat.

    Use these tools to find out what uses the most power then figure out which one you can reduce or eliminate.

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