Last Sunday’s episode of The Simpsons showed the cartoon family going off the grid after Homer (who, lest we forget, works in a Nuclear power plant) becomes fed up with high power bills. With total disloyalty he buys a wind turbine to power the family home and unplugs from the grid.
Their excitement fades when The Simpsons realize the juice only flows when the wind blows.
Not to be deterred, or go crawling back to the power company, Homer boldly proclaims, “The Simpsons are living intermittently!”
He was suckered into going about it all in the wrong way, but Homer’s instincts were perfectly correct. Peak oil and Asian growth are sending energy prices spiralling. Jobs are being exported. Going off the grid is the sensible solution to lower your energy bills. But Homer forgot two things – first the key to off-grid happiness is reducing your energy consumption.
Switch to 12 volt appliances as far as possible – that way you don’t waste power converting it from 12 volt (produced by solar panels) to the normal voltage. Put a timer on your fridge so it switches off part of the day (your food won’t spoil). OR adapt your chest freezer so its a fridge. Keep lights off in empty rooms, don’t keep stuff on standby, use low energy appliances where possible (avoid giant plasma screens) – watch TV together – its something to talk about and better than having two or more energy hungry screens on the go.
Second, you cannot rely on just one energy source when you are off-grid. You need to mix wind AND solar, or solar AND heat-pumps (they suck the heat out of the ground under your house and blow it into the building).
The Simpsons and its Oregon-born creator Matt Groening have long parodied American life, and no doubt, with Sweeps coming up Homer and Co. will be back on the grid by the next episode. But the fact that going off-grid is a big enough topic to make it to Sunday night television could be a good sign for the planet. At the very least, it will have given off-gridders a laugh (not that they were watching in any numbers).