California – the off-grid center

Humboldt student dorm pedal generator

One Sunday a few weeks ago Linda Parkinson in Humboldt County, California did what few homeowners in this storm-battered region could: She turned on the television, reports the San Francisco Chronicle in a breathless article about the rise of off-grid living all across America.

While most residents were reeling from power outages left by devastating rains, Parkinson had electricity provider to spare. She cooked a feast for a dozen people, took hot showers and threw video-game parties for her 15-year-old son’s classmates.

For 24 years, Parkinson, 49, has lived completely off the electric grid, drawing energy exclusively from solar, propane and other renewable fuels on-site power sources.

She isn’t alone. There are some 180,000 American homeowners live off-grid, according to Richard Perez, publisher of Home Power magazine,. Approximately a quarter live in California, and each year the national number grows 33 percent, according to the publisher’s database of known off-gridders and estimates of those unreported.

“California is the hotbed of off-grid systems,” he said.

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Everybody in California is jumping on the off-grid life it seems. At Humboldt University, a few miles from Parkinson’s home, the students have set up a completely off-grid dorm, powered a few hours a day by their own physical effort, turning a half dozen cycle dynamos.

Parkinson maintains that the movement is no longer a hippie fad; it’s increasingly mainstream and propelled by Americans’ desire to eliminate electric bills, keep homes juiced during blackouts, minimize U.S. dependence on fossil fuel and, for activists, send a gesture of defiance to the power companies.

“It’s about self-sufficiency,” she said, relaxing on the couch in her secluded home. “Living off the grid doesn’t mean being disconnected. If anything, I’ve had an advantage. The power goes out a lot around here,” and she still manages to crank household appliances.

In the wireless era, Parkinson said, technology both frees us up and plugs us in, and the off-grid choice is not a retreat from technology but an application of it.

Over the past few months, the off-grid movement has burst into pop-culture awareness: Several online groups have formed with tips on industrial refrigeration, lighting and rainwater distillation; there’s a series of new off-grid design books; and the U.S. Department of Energy hosted in October its second design competition for off-grid architects.

A recent study by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a lobbying organization based in Washington, D.C., found that an increase in America’s alternative-energy investment, after 15 years, would create almost 150,000 jobs, increase wages nearly $7 billion, reduce carbon-dioxide emissions roughly 30 percent and save close to $30 billion in electric and gas bills.

The technology that frees a homeowner from PG&E bills includes rooftop panels that absorb sunlight and convert it to electricity, which is then stored in batteries and Energy Saving Light Bulbs; spinning wind turbines that generate electricity; and gravity-based plumbing that sends creek water and rainwater through pipes funneled into an irrigation pond.

2 Responses

  1. Hello,

    I live in Lower Lake, CA. My business partner, Bill Barrows, lives in Hidden Valley Lake, CA. I invented a water saving device. Bill has developed it. We are just now entering the manufacturing stage. The water saved can be directed to many uses. One way in an RV, is to direct it back into the water tank. The saved water can be directed in many other ways in an RV as well.

    We anticipate that, over time, we will be able to create a fair number of jobs here in Lake County. We would like to show you our device in a working setting. Bill has it installed in his home. Tuesday March 27th 5:00 pm, we will have our current employees join us in a discussion / demonstration of what we need to do to put together an efficient fast assembly line to enable us to meet the demands of high volume sales.

    This will be a good opportunity for you to learn about what I think is the newest manufacturing business in Lake County … AND it will be a good opportunity to help us find good employees.

    We will be very happy to have you join us for this meeting.

    To Bill Barrows’ House:

    From Lower Lake, go South on 29, past the Spruce Grove Rd turn which is about 1 mi South of L.L. Turn left on Spruce Grove Rd, about 8 miles further South, and go to top of the first hill. Turn right into the visitor lane of the guard shack. Give your name to the guard and identify yourself as a member of the meeting at Bill Barrows’ house. Drive straight on Deer Hill Rd and take the next left onto Greenridge Rd. Turn left again, in about 100 yds, onto Glenwood Rd. Bill’s house is the third house on the left – 18701.

    Bill Barrows: 707- 987-0460


    Joanna Wolf

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