The Ozark Co-op, an off-grid living community, is a microcosm for what future living will be more like. As renewable energy sources become more abundant and sophisticated, we will see more and more homes providing energy on their own. The Co-op encourages all members to quickly set up a fully renewable energy system for their homestead. To keep our communities disconnected from any outside power grids, the first step is to provide your own power which may need to be conventional sources like propane or diesel. Propane is good for longer fuel storage, but it is not endlessly renewable or easily gathered. This blog will quickly go through some basic overviews for what to look for in making a self-sufficient homestead.
Establish your needs.
This is the first step for everything in life. Having a good plan will keep you in order and keep you from wasting time and energy. When setting up your own power grid you need to know the large consuming devices that you will be using. You need to look for the energy required to run your devices and appliances for an average year. Electricity is measured in units that are called watts (W). The amount of energy a device consumes while operating at maximum capacity for 1 hour, is how watts are usually measured. Volts (V) are the force it takes to push the energy through the wires. Amps (A) is the rate of energy or how much energy that a device draws for 1 hour at maximum operation.
To make your plan of what you need, look to the labels of your devices or appliances to see how much power they require. Remember that the measurements given are the energy used for one hour at maximum operation. Unless you have a fuel driven generator or are able to generate massive amounts of constant energy, you will need to have battery systems to store power for use. In many battery systems you want to have enough storage to cover double of your normal usage to maintain long battery life and capacity. You want to keep your batteries half full at minimum.
Devices and appliances will consume energy differently depending on the voltage of the power source compared to the voltage for the device. In America, most buildings and homes run from ranges of 110V -120V AC(Alternating Current) and 220V to 240V AC. Many solar set ups run on 12V DC(Direct Current) systems. When using different voltage or currents from power supply to device, you need to use an inverter of some type to use the device, which may result in wasted energy and more costly set up. Ideally you want to have matching power sources and devices to make the best of the energy you gather, but an inverter may be the only solution.
When you find out how much energy all your devices need for an hour and you add them up together, you will know how much energy you need to provide and store for your lifestyle. Take the amount of energy for one hour and use that to figure out an average yearly need for energy. Factor the changes in needs for each season, or large projects like construction. What happens often is that it’s easier and cheaper to change lifestyles than it is to provide enough energy for what is normally consumed in the average American household.
In many cases, you can eliminate some of the needs by changing lifestyle habits which usually have more benefits than just low energy consumption. Below are some of the top consuming devices and habits to eliminate the need for them. We won’t go into too much detail on these systems because each can be very complex and take time to understand and apply for your system. For all your energy gathering, storing, consumption, and alternatives, you should always consult an expert. Electricity can be dangerous if not used properly which may result in electrocution, death, or fires. Members of The Ozark Co-op will receive free consultations and help in setting up their power systems.
Electric heating for your home or water is a very large energy consumer which usually rule these types of appliances out when you are using solar, wind, orother renewable energy systems. There are many different alternatives for heating that are cheaper than storing and gathering enough energy. Wood stoves, pellet stoves, propane stoves, body acclimation, and geothermal heating are all good options. Using black water containers for hot water is a way to use the suns heat without any other set-up. The cleanest and most renewable sources are body acclamation (allowing yourself to adapt to cooler or hotter temperatures) and geothermal heating. Geothermal heating uses a series of pipes that go underground and back into your home to bring the temperature closer to the average underground temperature of 55 degrees. The air can be moved by a simple low energy consuming fan, or even using the sun to warm certain areas of pipe painted black to create a convection current within your pipe systems. Another form of geothermal heating is simply building your home fully or partially underground to keep a more suitable temperature.
A recent study was performed asking people who have lived over 85 what they believed to be the greatest invention of their time and the most common answer was air conditioning. Air-conditioning consumes a high rate of energy. There are systems that run at all different voltage and amp usage so take the time to research what you want. While AC requires less energy than electric heating, it still is a very large energy consumer and should be used wisely in an off-grid situation.
Alternatives to AC systems are body acclimation (sweat it out), ice storing, and passive cooling systems. Body Acclimation should always counter for some of your energy consumption. Allowing your body to acclimate to a few degrees hotter is an easy solution for less energy requirements. Humans are warm blooded and self-regulate temperature based off the needs of the environment. Allowing yourself to stay in a warmer environment at all times, will allow your body to acclimate. Passive cooling systems use a series of pipes like the geothermal heating and are usually the same pipe systems. The average underground temperature is between 55 and 60 degrees depending on depth and location. Like geothermal heating, building your home partially or fully underground will keep your home cooler.
Water Pumps –
Water is a necessity. You can find numerous solar powered water systems that are efficient and require minimum maintenance. These systems are ideally the easiest way to go if you require electricity to gather water. Even as reliable as these systems are, it is always good to have a backup system that uses no electricity to gather your water. If you are using a well, set up a hand pump, or cycle pump to pull water to the surface. If you are close to a water flow such as a stream, creek, or a water collection source that is higher in elevation than your source, you can use a gravity flow system. Use large pipes, such as 2-6” diameter, to move the bulk of the water, and decrease pipe size down to 3/8-3/4” at the outflows. If your water source is not high enough to do a gravity flow system you can make a pump that uses no electricity such as a ram pump. Ram pumps are very simple and work well for filling water storage containers that are higher than your water intake.
Using electrical cooking appliances can drain your power storage very quickly so alternatives should be sought out. The easiest alternative is changing your diet to require less cooking. Eating more raw foods can also be a health benefit. Using wood sources are also effective renewable sources for areas that have a lot of timber. Propane is an efficient system but not easily gathered on a personal level. If you alter some of your diet and use wood sources for cooking you can eliminate the need for electric cooking. If you still desire to use electrical cooking devices, just calculate the watts used by the appliance and use it wisely.
The purpose of refrigeration is to keep your food and drinks stored for longer. You many not want to eliminate the use of refrigeration completely, but you should seriously consider lessening your need for it. Meats can be smoked, salted, canned, dehydrated, and other ways to preserve it. Eggs hatched from your own chickens can last for months unrefrigerated with a thin coat of olive oil on them. You can also dig cellars to keep your food preserved. If your area gets below freezing for a while, you can even cut and store ice in cellars to create an energy free cooler.
Power Tools –
Tools can account for more energy usage than most other appliances. If you use a lot of power tools and construction equipment, providing your own energy can be difficult. Good expendable sources for extreme power using devices are propane and diesel. Modern diesel generators are getting cleaner and more efficient, but they are still not an endless and renewable source on a personal level. There are small battery-operated tools that can be charged over time from your battery systems but still use a lot of energy. For these types of tools, many will decide to use expendable power such as diesel generators. There are many primitive construction techniques and tools that require no electricity, but they often take much longer and most will forego their use.
Vacuums/hair dryers and more –
Modern comforts like vacuums and hair dryers are commonly used but are not necessary. Avoiding materials that require a vacuum such as carpet will get rid of the necessity. Appliances such as a hair dryers are a sacrifice of energy that maybe decided on. Whatever lifestyle comforts you choose to have, just calculate the amount needed and make sure you have enough storage for your lifestyle.
When you are generating your own power grid, you may realize that you have more or less than you need. This is the point where a strong community can work together. Sharing energy grids is encouraged for members and as each Co-op Property is developed, communities may decide on community power sources and storage banks to be constructed. Creating an off-grid lifestyle is easier when you have a community to do it with. Contact the Ozark Co-op if you have any questions about becoming a member of the Ozark Co-op. Our Brandenburg property still has plots available.