Must simplicity be minimalist?

minimal enough for you?

To date most efforts at living the simple life,  off the grid seem to be an exercise in minimalism — doing without  amenities most people take for granted.

No wonder the off-grid movement has trouble attracting adherents. The biggest appeal seems to be to those who want a simple life away from the restrictions imposed by living in communities.

Freedom is the keynote in many of the articles and books dealing with going off-grid.

Unfortunately this is only a dream for many. A dream they will never be able to realize. Sometimes it is simply a question of differing values by each partner and more often it becomes a question of economics.

A good friend of mine would love to do what I have done, but says he must live within a 15 minutes drive of a hospital given his medical condition.

Several of my friends are now living single because their wives preferred the convenience and perceived glamor of big city life to the tranquil solitude found in the outback. Oh well different strokes for different folks.

However living off-grid need not be a life of deprivation and doing without amenities. My wife’s uncle lives off-grid of necessity rather than choice. He lives on the family homestead but because the power utility company wanted too much money to run a power line several miles out to his place, he opted to stay off the grid. Mind you, he has a big screen TV and satellite recievers ,a jacussi tub in the huge bathroom and the kitchen has every imaginable convenience appliance.

When you visit his house you would not be able to tell this is not a typical suburban home near the city.

His brother runs a fishing resort that is also off-grid. Until a couple of years ago they relied on a radio telephone for talking to the outside world. Cell phone and satellite TV and internet acess only became a reality a couple of years ago.

Although the fishing camp cabins are somewhat rustic their own home looks like a typical town house.

All it takes is money and that is really the stumbling block to going off-grid. It cost more compared to living near the grid and being connected, when you have to provide your own water, sanitation, heat, and light, not to mention still get food from somewhere.

I repeatedly hear that it cost less to live off-grid compared to living on the grid. That is only true if you chose to do without. Living in the rural outback does mean you are not tempted by as many things. Its been months since I last had a pizza. However my wife loves to cook and experiment so that is not a real hardship. The only movies I see are played on my 13” TV and DVD player. We pick up DVDs when we go into town once a month. Going for a fast food treat is not an option since the nearest fast food outlet is 65 kilometers away. That does save money.

In a town you take services like water, sewer, and snow plowing of the streets for granted. Out in the country you must provide it yourself and it usually costs more.

Drilling a well can cost as much as $100 per foot of depth. Shallow wells often get contaminated by surface water percolating down and you need to install water treatment equipment to compensate.

Sanitation can become expensive if you install a code compliant septic system. Even the composting toilets are not exactly cheap compared to the $200 you pay for just a toilet and piping to connect to the municipal sewer. If you live in snow country you need a snow blower or plow if you intend to clear more than a few feet of path away from the house.

This is not intended as a diatribe against trying to go off-grid but a call for more realistic goals and recognition that if we want to appeal to a larger segment of the population than we have so far managed to get interested. Going off-grid in comfort takes planning and some innovative thinking.

It means having more than just one tiny light for evening use. Kerosene and Coleman type lanterns give a nice ambience but they do rely on refined petroleum fuels. Candles also give a romantic glow but really doesn’t work as a good reading light.

Except when you are building new or just purchasing a property it is financially dificult to amortize the considerable cost of a large solar installation with a mortgage over 25 – 30 years.

If you are located outside the sun belt it will take more panel area than the marketing hype would lead you to expect . Higher latitudes means a longer path through light absorbing atmosphere.

Where I live at latitude 54 far from a coast where ocean current moderate the climate it gets extremely cold.

I’m told a solar panel will only deliver 50% of the rated output compared to the industry rating which is based on solar insolation at a test site in southern latitudes and up high in the desert at an elevation several thousand feet above sea level. Which would explain why so few solar installations up here meet expectations. Furthermore, in winter we barely get 8 hours od daylight never mind usable sunlight hours. If we are lucky, a clear sunny winter day gives us 4 usable sunlight hours. The first two and last two hours do not give a usable output from the solar panel even if you use a sophisticated MPPT controller.

The reality is you can expect to need supplemental power generation and this usually means some kind of engine driven generator. The trick is to find a generator system that gives you the most bang for the buck. It goes beyond just getting a fuel efficient genset or using CCF light bulbs.

It involves scheduling tasks to make the best use of available energy sources.

Deep well submerged pumps tend to need lots of power. Especially when starting up. I have seen surges of 7 kilowatts at start but only 2.5 watts once its running. That suggest you design a system that does not require the pressure pump to start every time you open a tap. Pumping water into a resevoir or cistern once every few days means less demand from your well pump.

You may have to run the genset in order to get enough power to start and run the pump so plan on doing it while charging the battery bank.

Most households will have an average electrical load of less than 2 kilowatts. Some may be less than 1 kilowatts. Inverters and batteries are at the moment the most practical and readily available method of storing up energy for later use.

I realize this sounds extravagant to minimalists accustomed to daily use of only 40 watt hours or less. But this is precisely why the movement has not caught on as well as you might expect. The average person want’s to be able to live almost normally. They would like to be able to watch a movie in the evening. There must be accomodations for allowing one person to work /play in one area and have a second area for use by another person. In a family setting the children need to have their own space complete with reading lights etc. Several of my friends home school their children but this requires either a phone line or a sat link for the internet. That also takes electrical power.

If children are not accomodated in an off-grid arrangement it really puts a strain on the living arrangement. Infants and toddlers seem to generate more laundry with attendant greater water use.

Many of the existing off-grid stories I have seen deal with retired couples or young people, either single or just starting out before children arrive. This is fine but a good off-grid home needs to accomodate a growing family so electrical power needs to accomodate this has to be part of the overall plan.

My wife grew up in an off-grid home, but few people today are willing to put up with such conditions. These are the people we need to convince to switch to off-grid living.

28 Responses

  1. I luv my AGM batteries, got em from a marine electric store for $50 bucks a piece . 4 are lifeline 12 volt AGMs ( 95 amphrs) 4 are 6 volt lifeline AGMs ( 265 amphrs) and 2 of them are RV 12 volt LARGE AGMS ( 385 amphrs) Ive been planning for 3 years now and buying things only when I get a great deal. Wretha said something that has been my number one concern” going for 4 or more days without being able to charge them.” My answer is to my own question is, use less electricity.

  2. Nick
    I am not sure where you are going with this.
    Regardless of the size of your battery be it 20 amp hours or 1000 amp hours something called sulfation takes place as a result of discharging the battery. The only solution is frequent recharge.
    When you discharge a battery lead sulfate forms naturally as a result. If you leave it the sulfate hardens. and this takes as little as a few days. So leaving a battery partially discharged for a week does create a problem A problem which can only be fixed by recharging.
    I know someone going off-grid with only one 20 amp hour battery pack to run the laptop. Your advice to use less electricity is not very helpfu to such a person.

  3. Wretha telling me to go buy a book is not especially helpful. In the first place I have no credit cards so purchasing anything online is impossible. Secondly it would take a long time to reach me if I was able to order it.
    I once tried to have something shipped FedEx to me. It took a month and the first shipment went astray being delivered to a place 300 miles away. It was a warranty replacement part and fortunately the store paid the shipping charges.

  4. I am using a Linux machine and many graphics or links do not appear clearly. When I opened the pdf document detailing how to make the thermostat I saw a note near the bottom saying the parts ordering has to be done using MS Explorer. Something not possible with a Linux machine.
    Second point . The rechargable AAA batteries are charged from a 240v circuit. I saw no indication the controller could be configured for 120V use. The step down transformer would produce half as much voltage and that would not be enough to charge the battery. However my question is why not use a solar charger? Many of the LED garden ornaments uses one or two tiny li MH batteries and a built in charger PV array.

  5. Elnav, you can get a thermostat controller on Amazon, just do a search for “freezer temperature controller”, so it’s not necessary to build your own. I thought one of those links showed that.

    As far as LaMar is concerned, he is too much of a gent to say this, so I’ll say it, he wrote a great book all about how to build a cabin like his and all about the things that go into making it very livable and sustainable, the price is right for it too… I did a review of this book, just look at the tag cloud on this site, look for “book review”, you’ll find it there. He is the real deal, and is really living the off-grid life. :)

  6. Great post lamar! this is exactly what I was getting at with my comment about living off-grid not having to be minimalist. Right now going off grid seem to be as much a political statement as simply a lifestyle shift. Globally speaking we have an energy crunch because most of the technology is reliant on petroleum to create the energy we use. Technically speaking electricity is the big common denominator because electricity can be converted into other forms of energy or do work for us.
    Lamar I had posted a question on your own house thread about your composting toilet. Could you perhaps back track and answer it there so as to maintain the thread continuity. Thanks.
    Wretha posted a thread dealing with a question from a reader. One item from her post deals with batteries and is thus relevant to this thread. She has two separate battery banks because they bought two separate sets of solar panels kits and batteries. It makes a certain amount of sense to do so. However a good argument can also be made for combining the two sets during the discharge period at night when there is no sun available for charging. A simple battery switch can be used to combine or separate the two groups. This allows the two banks to share the load. The benefit is that you avoid deeper discharge of one bank while the other bank may sit almost idle because you are not using the devices connected to that bank.

  7. I have been off-grid over 15 years and I get a lot of questions from people that think living off-grid means going without common comforts and would be too hard of a life for them.

    I would like to dispel the myth that living off-grid requires giving up all the stuff you have on grid- it just ain’t so!

    I live in a house- not an rv, van, hut, or tree. I designed and built my cabin and it is very comfortable at about 400 sqft. It has all the rooms most homes have. I have a living area, dining area, kitchen and bathroom downstairs and a large bedroom and office upstairs.

    I have power but my power comes from a small 470 watt solar and 125 watt wind system. That power runs my water pump, lights, two HD flat screen tvs, stereo, dvd, game system, laptop and misc. gadgets just like most people have.

    I use propane for my furnace, fridge, stove, and OD water heater and have all the major appliances including a microwave and washing machine which I run off a small generator.

    I have my own water supply from a free flowing well I drilled myself and I harvest rain water and recycle gray water for my garden.

    About the only thing I use that may seem different than grid living would be my solar composting toilet which has to be emptied once a week into an outside composter.

    What are the benefits of living off-grid ?

    I own two small businesses and work just like most people but because I have no house payments and no utility bills I get to keep more of the money I make and I do not need much money so I can work when I want as I want.

    I can also have a garden and raise animals to reduce my food costs and eat healthier fresh foods instead of the toxic food sold in stores.

    I also have the freedom and time to enjoy my life and without the stress of bills I can spend time learning and being creative. After going off-grid I wrote two books and over 100 songs that I never would have finished before.

    So, being off-grid does not mean roughing it and going without and if you do it like I did it will mean no house payments, no utility bills, more money in your pocket, more time for yourself, and freedom to enjoy life.

    Living off-grid also does not have to be expensive. My cabin cost less that $2000 to build. My solar and wind system was under $3000. My property under $1000 so for about $6000 I have created a sustainable life.


  8. hmm, interesting about the pulse – the pulstech offers are either too low in amos or comparativbely expensive though their world version charger at $ 750 looks workable enough –
    however I do believe i can cope momentarily… not going to work up lots of sulphatization the way the batteries are treated. i am thinking about maybe talking to them like some gardeners talk to plants :)

    and no, not all the chargers have pulse charging of course (or rather, a desulphatization algorithm), in fact probably most dont (just like solar chargers dont all have mppt) but i would just never consider the ones that dont.

  9. Longchamp I am going to skip the political / sociological stuff for now since it really belongs elsewhere as a separate thread and focus on your first reply on batteries. You talk about one 200 amp hour battery. The kind of systems I usually work with uses at least four and more often ten of them. It is not unusual for me to have to worry about how many tons of batteries is involved because we need to know where on the boat it will fit and how much it will affect the trim or balance.
    In such systems a charge rate of 100 amps is not always enough. 200 or more is better.
    Granted it is larger scale but the principles are the same. I had one customers with 2000 amp hours of chinese GEL batteries but the system would not perform properly because the discharge / recharge rate of the GEL was not quick enough . When we exchanged them for AGM as originally specified the system worked as intended.
    Your comments about all chargers now having pulse technology is not entirely correct. I have found that European equipment such as Mastervolt and Victron that have pulse charging included are talking about a very different kind of pulse than what I was talking about. At least this is what I found by delving into the technical papers produced by the manufacturers. Victron’s pulse charging seem to refer to a cyclical raising and lowering of the float voltage over a period of minutes but the Pulsetech device is continually oscillating at a frequency in the megahertz range and the voltage peak is around 24V for a 12V battery. Different approach to solving the same problem.

  10. seems i (btw i am using lowerkey only because i am a famous
    typoist artist and on a netbook –
    my beloved asus eeeps, (2gb ram, 160 gb hd, can do 3d
    and all sorts of stuff, play “paradise” and so on) but
    has kind of a shrunken keyboard – 24 watts max !) –

    okay, so it seems i forgot to go a bit backwards to the original thread which is about getting more of the norman-normals
    closer to the preppers or even the off-gridders =
    meaning make it less technical, make it smooothy-smooth.

    if any of you is following the discussions between, only as an
    example, wretha, elnav and me, then you will see we are dedicated people. we are a lot like rational fundamentalists,
    like it or not. we arent evil and tryinmg to hurt,
    we are trying to salvage.
    we arent either blank nor fein…

    we talk about detailed stuff most people do not even have
    a concept about, which means we are sort of elitist,
    the forerunners of a new civilization (if we luck out) –
    think about that for awhile.
    is it not that you feel *somehow* superior to those buggers
    in the valley who simply dont grab whats going on ?
    and rightly so.
    convincing them would be GREAT
    but is it gonna happen ?
    wretha, do you think so ?

    i mean, this is real – the club of rome protocols were published
    almost 40 years ago, and i immediately understood then –
    though there was no immediate way to actually react
    or at least not for me – i was 20 odd years old then.
    other stuff on your mind, at that age…

    now things have changed a bit – but kyoto or whatever,
    nothing really changes, majority mentality is set
    to mec+rciless consumerism which mean deathof the species
    in the (long ? short ? medium !) run.
    the christian-capitalist (naw – i am *certainly* not a commie)
    digmata look medieval since at leats a 100 years
    and MUST be overhauled,
    our democratic systems (which we all are blessed to live in
    for sure, us elitist first-worlders), growth-oriented as they are,
    mus be stopped cause growth can from now on
    only be associated with funghi (and i am not talking pizza).

    so the question of how we get the majority “over” is really an important one, so guys and gals – honest question –
    do you really want those fools in, do you want to share ?
    some knowledge, maybe.
    i actually only want the good ones in
    (no, i am not going to define “good”, that is not for me,
    at least not now :)

    but – or so i think – otherwise,
    everybody just must fend for themselves,
    guns and swords a-ready for the interregnum.

    care for drug addicts ? very funny.
    care for africans ? you answer that.

    like it or not, we are all part of evolutiopn
    and it is time we started to adapt –
    life is hard and then you die, and we cant afford
    any more ****ed-up brats
    to replace ourselves.

    cheers and over for today…

  11. hi elnav,
    solar batteries are not meant for rapid charge/discharge of course
    as a rule – the agms are more made for a general use rather than a purely solar setup, and as such are more rough stuff-compatible,
    here they are considered to be of the “starter” battery type,
    usually for use on yachts – they seems to have similar capacities
    but are somewhat more expensive, at least here.
    and i betcha theres ome drawbacks to them, too…
    but i dont know enough about agms yet, actually.

    what you read about the 48 hrs recharge is not something
    that ever happens to anybody, they mean a completely empty battery… but seriously, how would i manage to get my battery completely empty anyway ?
    ah – sure, a car battery – of course, happened to me too…
    leaving the lights on overnight – now simple 12v lights can
    achieve such a strange result – but i dont have that
    kind of a simple setup, could never happen.

    now the gels of course have to be treated a bit more conservatively – though we have a slight misunderstanding what with the battery discharging – they say if i almost completely discharge them all the time (however my inverter will cut out at 10.5 volts of course) i still have about 800 full cycles or so, but if i stay at a civilized 10 percent i actually get years more out of them, up to 1500 cycles –
    this is what i am going for, i want these batteries in my grave,
    and in a prime functional state !

    since i only planned to use abt. 50 watts for maybe eight hrs a day
    (plus of course the sunshine hrs when the batteries are already reloaded when i get up in summer), the 260 amp-hrs seemed
    ample hours… to recharge that, it takes less than 1 hr or of sunshine on a normal day (with just 16 or so amps coming from the panels over the mppt), at “deep discharge” (in my book, that is when i get the batteries down to 12.10 volts or a little less) recharging may take 2 hrs. now that is nice, in summer…

    however this winter turned portugese “mediterranean” into a british sort of clime, and so i am using the generator from time to time to keep to my admittedly extremely cautious routine –
    because there are days when the solar charging really gets
    to be a nuisance, loading from 11am to 4pm and never fully charging the batteries…

    now if i was mr superpanel and had 500 amps available for charging, that would be a bit too much for the gels – or rather,
    i could then buy more batteries – these two should take 30 amps charging very nicely, 10-20 percent of their amp/hrs max –
    i just dont have the panels to even try that yet.

    what you shouldnt forget to shout out every day is is that one OF COURSE needs an intelligent charger for gels (you mentioned the pulsetech, well you will fortunately find that integrated in most good chargers now), different clever chargers for current coming from the solar and from the generator – or one who does both, but those cost a little more than my setup is worth at the moment.
    anyways, such a charger will charge at 14.4 volts till the battery is nearly full, then go slow and do the rest with maybe 13.6 and only 1,5 amps till the battery is completely loaded.
    i have two cheap but intelligent chargers which i run from the generator, i could only get 8 amp types but at least i have
    one for each battery, an individual treatment
    which they will surely love.
    so i cant use the full generator output and take 3 hrs to generator-recharge the batteries but of course as long
    as the bugger is running i run all other sorts of items like
    the 800 w pump at the well etc.

    the guy who sold me the solar stuff said “i know people who are using these batteries since almost a dozen years and they are still okay” and of course i have to do better than that :)
    he also told me about his customers who use their batteries in
    campers and phone him a year later, complaining about dead
    (but usually non-gel) batteries – they had been parking them below
    motorway bridges all winter… sure, the panels were on the roof,
    so they wanted replacements for free.
    he wanted to sell me different batteries though (the tall wet sort,
    they use in hospitals and the likes, they last longer where it gets real hot) but i kkep them at the only place here that stays at 25 C max in summer, and anyway i chose these because they are compact and i can still carry them, each costs about 300 bucks and weighs in at 40 kgs.

    what about a bet that my batteries last longer than yours ?
    loser has to buy the winner a 200 amp-hr battery –
    betting results will be made public ten years from now :)
    truth is probably if you treat your batteries the way i treat mine,
    we ll never find out…

  12. good stuff elnav, will try ssomething like that myself this summer –
    instead of the inneffective plastic car freezer box
    (we only used it when the sun was shining)
    btw you wrote in one of your posts you did something
    because there was a 32 C-degree heat wave,
    were you horsing around ?
    38 C is normal here in summer, heatwaves start at about 41 :)
    and we all know it is getting even better, ha-ha…

  13. Longchamp
    I think being technical is just fine especially when it comes to batteries. Considering just how crucial they are to off-grid living. Two things I noted in your writeup. The discharge current is fairly modest and the recharge time is 48 hours. This may be fine for telecommunications applications but where inverters are concerned the load current can be much higher. It is not clear if this distinction is important or not.
    Regarding the electrolyte. Are you aware that the gelling agent is actually silica, a totally inert and non conductive substance? In order to have the same sulphuric acid content the volume of electrolyte has to be much greater than a battery which has no additives to the electrolyte.
    both AGM and Gel uses micro porous seperators.
    The very slow recharge time can be more than a nuisance at times. If for example you end up discharging the battery deeply you may need to recharge from a generator as fast as possible.
    Gel batteries can build up sulfation just as much as any other battery type does. AGM can handle greater currents both discharge and recharge, a characteristic that is often useful. Sonnenschein is somewhat different compared to North American Gel battery construction like the Concorde lifeline. But if the manufacturer is saying you must not discharge below 15% then you end up needing to buy a lot more battery to meet your need of amp hour use per 24 hour period. That can become quite expensive. I know of many people who routinely discharge their deep cycle batteries to 50% DoD and get 8 years from the battery bank.

  14. The post made it this time. The only thing that surprises me is the fact this information is presented as If it was new. Cruising sailors have been doing exactly the same thing for at least 20 years that I know of. One of my students bought an older boatin 1986 and one of the upgrades he did was to install a top loading fridge. Another friend built (in 1992) from scratch a combination freezer / fridge using the same principle. He insulated the foot well space on his boat then installed a ‘cold dam’ partition in the box. Only one side of the box was fitted with chiller plates. as cold air filled up the one box it froze everything. Because cold air sinks relative to warm air the first compartment fill up with the coldest air muc like a double sink fills with water. When the level reaches the dividing partition, the cold air spills over into the other compartment but is no longer so cold.
    Result, the second compartment became a fridge instead of a freezer sa was the first compartment. He kept ice cream hard in the freezer compartment but milk did not freeze in the other compartment.
    sailors will use 4″ or 6″ of insulation depending on whether or not they intend to cruise down in the tropics or say north of latitude 45.
    I’m surprised that Aussie guy had to build his own controller. Usually you can modify existing controllers to do the same thing if you are a bit handy.

  15. I’ve tried to leave a couple of comments to answer Elnav about the chest freezer conversion, the comments are not appearing, it’s not even appearing in the dashboard, don’t know why, Elnav, if you are seeing this and can see the other replies I created, pick one and approve it, delete the other, and delete this message too.


  16. Lo and Behold –
    have to be a bit technical one last time, looked at pulsetech and they have the best battery checkers, but not what i need for solar charging, then looked at sonnenschein and found this – now i never believe all i read ( i use two sonnenschein gel blocks, which i can just “schlepp” to the car just in case – theres a lot of gypsies i portugal and we already lost two generators and a chainsaw to them when we were absent and still too trusting) – what do you think about this, copied sraight from their pdf :
    Gel-batteries are proof against deep-discharge (acc. to DIN 43 539, part 5).
    That means the battery is connected to a load resistor equivalent to a discharge current of at least 2 * I20 and kept in this state for 30 days. After having disconnected the load and re-charged over 48 hours the battery a capacity of at least 75% has to be achieved.
    Gel-batteries withstand deep discharges much better than AGM-batteries due to
    – surplus of electrolyte and
    – micro-porous separator used.
    Table 7: Comparison,- relative amounts of electrolyte
    in cells (7a) and monoblocs (7b)
    Of course, vented cells or monoblocs have always the highest amount of electrolyte.
    The comparison Gel vs. AGM states
    1.5 to 1.7-times more electrolyte in Gel-cells and
    1.4 to 1.8-times more electrolyte in Gel-blocs.”

  17. hi elnav, yeps i did wrirte i am located in p0rtugal i think :)

    i got the sonnenschein batteries cause if you buy *any* sort
    of technical stuff it should be either yank, jap, swiss or german –
    and the yank stuff is a bit hard to get as you never know what
    the customs guys wiull say… so, my panels are kyocera and the
    inverter is swiss, the generator honda, made in europe.
    if it wasnt for the customs i woulkd buy all my stuff in the us,
    save myself 40 percent or more, and that is not even taking into account the changeover of the dollar to the california peso –
    but i do believe this is exactly what customs will hit me for,
    and more. or am i just paranoid ? any british esperiences
    on that front would really interest me…

    generally, apart from ni-cd (the first batteries
    they used in the mobiles) i dont know any battery that really
    likes to be discharged more than one third, not even the li-ions,
    so why do it – really no need, and i am a bit fanatic abt. keeping those buggers going for ten years at least – this is also why i bought the 24 watt max netbook for browsing and mail – i only later discovered how well one can do 3d stuff an graphics on it, now i use it all the time. i forgot to mention that i also exchanged the”energy-saving” lamps for led lamps by now (all made by osram, they cost 15 eurobucks apiece but sell well here), not quite as bright and soft but the human eye is very adaptible in darkness.
    all in all, this is really rather comfortable. tv is so ridiculous that
    i really dont miss it – and i wouldnt even mind if civilization broke down, (coz i dont care at all…) but i would hate if there was no more
    internet !

    okay, now with all the technical things we should really mind that the article was about getting comfort-prone averagers into the
    offgrid preparedness state of mind (i didnt put that quite the way
    it was meant because the state of mind is what they are lacking)
    i do agree that, given some progress in tech, most pople neednt
    change their lifestyle a lot, but then why should they change at all ?

    my opinion is that humans who never encountered some sort of
    hardship or discomfort or disappointment (not just arriving late
    to the movies or, shite, cooke is out – have to drink pepsi) arent usually worth talking to – so take away their feathers,
    let them feel how it is to sit on wood. scare them some, neednt
    be serious but has to feel real. it works !

    As Wretha so deftly put it, two thirds (my guess) of them are tv zombies anyway – hell, it would be simple to construct a low-energy setup for a zombie – maybe the future looks brighter than we think :)

    so what about, just in case, we tried to convince *only* rather intelligent poeople to join whatever movement or conspiracy we have going here (just think, the offgrid conspiracy, a major thriller
    now showing nearby at pirate bay), the sort that can help us keep
    the internet working just in case civilization breaks down and we
    finally have a real chance to build a new one ?

  18. Longchamp
    I’m curious what brand of Gel battery you have and who your battery supplier is. The charge rate and discharge numbers you mentioned is very conservative. My own experience with the4m is much better and the usage somewhat more aggressive. Charge rate can be 20% – 25% and depth of discharge can be 75% without significant reduction of life cycle count.
    Having said that, next time around consider buying AGM.
    Your use of the term Dry Fit makes me think you are located in Europe and possibly using SAFT batteries.

  19. Convincing self indulgent people to change their ways is definitely going to be a tough job. It is not going to happen until they feel hardship because of their lifestyle. When their luxury condo or house has no running water or heat they will definitely be envious of those who heat with wood and who can still have running water.
    I deal with upscale clients in my work. Anyone who can afford to spend half a million $$$ or more on a yacht as a second home or sometimes third home really isn’t hurting. Since money is tight for u\ourselves; we have been cutting back from three meals a day to two smaller meals. But is that really a hardship? NO! Inconvenient yes; but not yet a hardship.
    I constantly remind myself of a saying I heard a long time ago.
    ” I complained of having no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”.
    then I count my own blessings.
    I was born in post war Europe and still remember the shortages. Most North Americans simply haven’t any idea of what real hardship is like.
    This is why only a small percentage of the population have shifted mental gears to a conserver society instead of an extravagant consumer society. The article Living Free which deals with how much stuff you can get for free is right on target. We have furnished two homes pretty much for free that way. I learned from my parents about salvage and recycling. This is probably why I can innovate and make many of the things needed for off-grid living. The ‘coffee table’ we have was carved out using a chainsaw, (not me) but it shows some artistic skill and looks nice.

  20. How will you convert the chest freezer into a Fridge?
    More insulation? Cruising sailors who spend lots of time in the tropics often add insulation up to 6″ thick which makes it stay cool longer and the compressor does not cycle as often. We also convert old but good shells to run with new Danfoss compressors that use about half as much power as the regular models. When a fridge gets built into an RV or boat it becomes a major expense and involves major cabinetry work to fit a new size fridge. much better to replace the guts and keep a shell. Somewhat similar to dropping a new engine into an old car.

  21. Elnav, you have some great advice, and I thank you for it. :)

    Yeah, the politicians do want us to ignore them, but the powers that be are the ones who don’t want to leave us alone, it would seem that one of the scariest things to them is someone who is living “outside the central economy”, someone who is independent and is less reliant on them. But all of that just sounds paranoid, LOL, honestly though, when I said leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone, I was mostly referring to people in general, though that does include politicians and TPTB.

    Yes, I would like to have more solar panels and batteries, enough to really last me 3-4 days without sun, we are close to that now with our current setup, I am going to be adding a refrigerator to the setup in the near future, and that will use up more juice. I have a chest freezer that I am going to convert into a fridge with an external thermostat, these are much more efficient. I just have to crunch some numbers to find out how much more we need solar wise, or how much of something else I’ll have to not use as much for now.

    I’ll check out Pulsetech, thanks for letting me know about it, I believe I’ve been to their site before.

  22. I love what you have written, and couldn’t agree more. Although (siting other comments) it is true that as a whole (society) we are wasteful, I believe that far more people would be drawn to implementing sustainable practices if it didn’t require quite so much sacrifice of comfort . . . or money. If we could provide more “comfort” at a lower cost, more people would get on board and the world would be the better for it.
    Living in lavish comfort is not in itself irresponsible, it is only so when it is wasteful of what is not overly abundant. Would it be deemed wasteful and selfish for someone to take long hot showers if they lived on an isolated island with a geothermal source of hot water that was flowing above ground anyway? It is all relative!
    I posted an article here last year called “Best Kept Secret” and it raised the question of why we are not looking closer at solar thermal storage (using summer heat in winter), since more energy is spent on heat than to power our homes. If we gave more attention and dollars to some of the simpler solutions, rather than throwing so much money at high cost – low return technologies like PV, then more people could live off-grid, without having to sacrifice their comfort.
    It is unrealistic to expect to “convert” the masses overnight (without a disastor), and for those that want to sit back and complain about how selfish and irresponsible others are, without trying to find solutions to make the world a better place in a more plausible way . . . well that does us little good at all.
    We have to accept the way most people are, and find effective ways to reach them too, by offering more comfort at a lower cost. We will all win.
    Spend our research dollars to find ways to live more responsibly, without sacrificing comfort, at affordable costs . . . and we will win almost everyone over!

  23. elnav,
    what you write about batteries is very important indeed
    and of course good batteries are even worth buying when you dont have solar panels at all – they will still let you have electricity for 2/3ds of the time without having the generator running.

    now i have two gels with 260 amp-hrs together, and 265 watts
    of solar with an mppt 20 amps charger (meaning at top dun
    i only get 17 amps from that charger) – i also have two chargers,
    one for each battery which i use once a month even in summer,
    to give each battery its individual charge –
    onre charger for several batteries are always a risky thing.

    the chargers are a bit underdimensioned but then again the battery chaps dont allow any charge over 15 percent (abt 15 amps for a 130 amp-hr battery) for gels anyway.

    what i do is make sure my batteries never get discharged below 12 volts (and that is extreme, 12.30 is normal while the fully charged battery will have 13.3 to 13.5 volts) and they get reloaded the day after, if need be with the generator – this is simply necessary
    and frequent in winter.
    of course all the chargers (mppt solar or generator-driven)
    now have pulse charging to easen up the sulphatization,
    and with the generator powered chargers you can initialize
    a desuphatization run rather than a normal charge.

    In other words, handling your batteries in a way that spells
    being EASY on them, you may have them for ten years…
    they guarantee you about 1200 full cycles if you only empty them by less than 10 percent.

    hereabouts the adequate panels (roughly, panel watt max output should eaual battery amp-hrs though that is a summer days dream) still cost three times what a battery costs –
    and I am talking dryfit here of course.

  24. Wretha, I delved into the archives and found a post by you wherin you answered the question of what would you do different if you had the money. One answer in particular jumped out at me because so many people also express the same wish. The desire is to have more battery capacity so you can go many days or even weeks without needing any sort of solar or generating source going.
    In my opinion this is a fallacy. Its a recipe for premature battery failure needing replacement of very expensive batteries.
    The process of discharging a lead acid battery creates lead sulfate. Freshly formed lead sulfate is easily reversed with charging but after 24 hours this lead sulfate begins to harden and becomes progressively harder to reverse. Think mud. The day after a rain even with sun shu\ining the mud can be easily washed away a week later and it requires a strong hose spray and two weeks later not even a pressur washer can easily wash it away. The time line is different but the effect is the same.
    Slowly discharging a huge battery means the lead sulfate formed during the first day of discharging is now many days old. If you discharge a battery then leave it sitting for a month and you will discover the charger has more difficulty recharging that battery. In some cases it simply will not accept a charge. Sometimes you can still salvage the situation with a powerful shop charger driven by a generator or utility power, But if you are off-grid this could be problematic. My advice is to have a battery bank that will sustain you for two whole days before recharging is required and to install a charging source with capacity to deliver a charging current equal to 25% of the amp hour capacity.
    If you only have a 100 amp hour battery, you need a charging source of 25 -30 amps. If your battery bank is 400 amp hours you need a 100 amp charging source. any less will not reverse all the lead sulfate during each cycle.
    I know Richard Perez of home Power magazine has published articles on this subject. I am therefore surprised this information is not more widely known among off-grid people. We have had the identical problem in cruising boats and many world travellers complain their huge and very expensive battery bank failed after only a year or two. Turns out they hate the sound of any engine, even a generator so they try to get by with a small solar panel of inadequate charging capacity.
    Well the result is predictable. Back in 2000 I first became aware of some military equipment designed to overcome this problem. A Texas company called Pulsetech was given permission to market their product to the general public instead of just the US Army. By now there are any number of copycat products on the market. The original patent issued in 1987 has expired.
    The product has now been available for over a decade, why are more people not using it? I heard home Power magazine even did a feature article way back when.

  25. I have heard TV described as the opiate of the masses. Your description of the zombie like behaviour of your acquaintances pretty much says it all. In case you haven’t noticed politicians have for a long time adopted your credo “Don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you” In other words keep electing them and ignore it when they dip into your pocket; things will be fine. Part of the struggle off-grid people face is the hostility of the establishment to anyone daring to step outside the little box. Since there is no law against it, all they can do is harass you with petty regulations, code restrictions, and what have you. You are fortunate if you have few code restrictions where you live.
    In this area if you buy a parcel of land with intentions of building a home look out for all kinds of regulations; but if you just say the parcel of land is going to be a hunting camp, oh well that is different and the problems go away. Leaving a trailer there as a base to stay in is okay, but tell them it’s a home and you can’t do this or do that and you require a permit for this and that.

  26. Minimalist is in the eye of the beholder, it’s all in the mindset of the individual or the couple. We were incredibly lucky, either that or we just chose well, my hubby and I both had the dream to want to live a more simple life so living off-grid was perfect for us. We both grew up in the typical American household, with all the amenities, electricity, sewer, running water, TV, 2 cars and such… now we live 100% off-grid in a cabin that we built ourselves, we chose an area that is conducive to living off-grid, good solar potential, mild(ish) climate, few code restrictions…

    We generate all of our electricity, we don’t watch TV, but we do have an internet connection (wireless) and we use the computer for most of our (electronic) entertainment, we watch just about any movie out there, watch TV shows (many TV networks stream their shows now), it’s amazing to me to go to someone’s house and see them watching TV all day long, commercials and all, they are like zombies staring at that box, they would say that they don’t have “time” to do all the stuff we do, well it’s no wonder, if they would shut off their TV, suddenly they would have lots of time. :)

    I’m not trying to judge anyone here, just pointing out the obvious, people can use whatever excuse they want to not make the changes necessary to living off-grid, or even living a more simple life. I have found that with most people, they will do what they really want to do, and if that’s living off-grid, or any thing else, then that’s exactly what they will do, or work towards doing, nothing will stop them.

    I agree that living off-grid with children would be more difficult, both physically and socially, but again, it’s quite possible to do, if that’s what you really want to do. My hubby and I are both empty nesters, it does make it much easier all the way around, no doubt about it. I do wish though that I had been able to raise my son in this environment, I think things would have been much better for him, I’m sure that my hubby would have similar feelings about his kids.

    I don’t know what the future holds for everyone in general, if life will continue as normal/usual, or if things will break down and force people to have to make hard choices about what they are willing to give up to live, for my hubby and myself, we are content to live with what most of society would consider “less”, so whatever the world has to throw at us will make little difference to us, it will have much less of an impact on our day to day lives, I truly wish everyone well in whatever they want to do, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what we are doing and how we are living. Don’t mess with us, we won’t mess with you, this is our mindset. :)

  27. you are right, you are wrong…
    absolutely right about the solar, somewhat wrong
    about the people – mental prisoner(s) of democratic culture
    which were all weened on of course.
    this immediately becomes plausible if you use the scientific
    term “primates” instead of people.

    what do we need to get them more interested
    fending for themselves ? something very inexpensive :
    *worse problems*, which are soon to arrive prez de chez vous.
    more hardship – less marshmallows which decadently and self-centeredly spoil up the globe.

    me, i now live offgrid in portugal since a year and
    only pay cash – i owe nothing – my 3 computers
    wont work with the solar for long –
    but one of them, this one, is now a netbook = 15 watts.

    dsl line is there (router is another 4 watts) –
    so i have entertainment and money-earning capacity.
    this winter is being hard on the solar, have o use
    the generator to reload the batteries twice a week,
    4 hrs. each time – costs me 200 euros a year, so what ?

    of course i have car in the yard, which is rarely used.
    i have 40 olives, 55 vines, 20 fruit trees and a well –
    okay, continental europe is too densely populated,
    you can always find emergency help 20 miles away max.
    i go 800 miles a month to visit friends or relatives
    for a week monthly, i admit that…
    living and diving costs me about 4000 euro in all a year,
    that works for one or two persons anytime –
    once you laid out 30 k forthe land and house,
    10 k for furnituere etc, and repqirs, another 10 k
    for car, solar and computers.
    no jacuzzi but a big bathtub and simple pool.

    if i earnestly need a hospital – not impossible (portuguese are good neighbours too even if you only see one of them every two weeks)
    but i also got enough drugs. if i get cancer, i will just use my self-made oleander liqour :)

    you see, preparedness is a state of mind, and human life,
    with 7+billion, shoudnt be a holy cow anymore –
    luxuries can be cut by half – i lived in cities, paid for bull,
    and was bored half of the time…

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