Power pundits, government agencies, ivory tower gray beards, and oil companies have told us for years that home and off-grid solar and wind energy sources are the “Power of the Future.” Well, I’m telling you that solar is the power of today. For thousands of us, home and cabin solar energy has powered many, many yesterdays.
No one is closer to the forefront of power technology than those who make their own electricity. Those lucky few have discovered intangible reasons, and immeasurable, advantages of solar power use in all its forms. Home solar power systems must make the most effective and appropriate use of what nature offers. Energy agencies and utilities are constantly conducting megabuck experiments to decide what is possible. Meanwhile, people are living on their own home power they have installed themselves from kits, and doing it with small budgets.
Home solar energy producers are learning more, faster, than anyone else ever has because they are living with renewable power systems on a daily basis. To carry out this on a budget, we have married new power technologies with efficient and appropriate power use. We are not inventing new things, but we are successfully combining many technologies and ideas for the very first time.
Here are some of the freedoms of living with what nature freely provides. Some of these freedoms are for the users of the system alone, and some are for the entire world.
Home solar means freedom to live where we want on and off-grid without the power company taking a significant amount of our monthly household dollars. The best deals in American real estate are beyond the commercial power grid. Country land, beyond the power lines, costs far less than property with commercial electric access. These properties cost less because everyone agrees that no utility access is a major disadvantage.
Home off-grid power users have turned this common misconception to their advantage. Using custom designed small solar energy sources has allowed us to live on pristine, inexpensive, and remote land. We simply make our electricity on site. We use natural power sources like sunlight, flowing water, and wind.
A off-grid solar energy system for an efficient household of four people costs less than two thousand feet of new power line. For this reason alone, many of us decided to make our own electric power. In most areas of the U.S., utilities charge between $5.00 and $15.00 per foot for newly installed power service. Our local utility is charging $5.35 per running foot for new lines. This adds up to a $225,000 initial line installation cost and a minimum $50 monthly electric bill. It’s easy to see why we choose to use solar power it saved us $215,000 the day we installed it. Our solar system continues to save us money every day because it has no operating expenses.
America’s electric power utilities are not interested in extending their already extensive and overburdened distribution network for small, remote groups. The best way to understand this situation is to examine what it costs the utilities to operate. Look at where power companies spend their money. Nationwide, the utilities spend about 45% on power transmission and power line maintenance, about 24% on actually generating the power (this includes building the power plants), and about 30% on everything else. They are not into extending power lines for small–time consumers because it costs the utility more than it earns.
So, the best land sits undisturbed and unwanted because it lacks access to commercial electricity. For home power users, this land is the stuff dreams are meticulously made of. Most of this land is pristine never before inhabited by Western Man. If it had been inhabited before, it would have electricity, right? As long as Americans don’t realize that they can live wherever they want, then there are fantastic deals to be had in rural land. So, making our own electricity gives us freedom to live in places thought to be uninhabitable. Making our own electricity gives us easy access to pristine rural property at rock bottom prices.
Freedom of reliable electric power renewable energy systems, particularly those which use solar, produce the most reliable electric power ever known. Home solar and cabin off-grid solar systems have the longest life of any electric power source ever developed. They require no maintenance. They have no moving parts to wear out. They require no lubrication or adjustment. All they need to produce electricity is sunshine. The useful lifetime of currently made solar modules are on the order of scores of years, and may well extend to over one hundred years.
Home solar is power we can give to our children. While wind and hydro powered sources are not as reliable as solar, they are much more reliable than electric power shipped to a site by wires. As the web of utility lines crossed the nation, the transmission system has become more complex and vulnerable to overloads, human errors, and weather. To appreciate the fragility of the grid, consider the 1965 blackout that plunged the entire eastern seaboard of the U.S. into darkness and what is happening in Japan.
The utility grid’s size, interconnection, and complexity makes it vulnerable to brownouts and blackouts. As the size of any system grows, the laws of chance and physics render it less reliable. The tiny renewable energy system is simple and not connected to anything but itself.
Distributed, small home solar systems are inherently more reliable than one big system. The batteries used in renewable energy systems have a finite lifetime of between ten and fifty years. Batteries are the weakest link in these systems. However, during their effective lifetime, they deliver extremely reliable power storage. This is why batteries are used for interruptible power at utility substations, hospitals, police, airports, computer installations, military bases, telephone companies, railways, and telecommunications solar installations. All of these essential services cannot tolerate even momentary loss of electric power. Home solar power users also get this degree of reliability.
Home solar means freedom of economic self-sufficiency In almost all renewable energy systems, all the power is produced and consumed on site. These systems are isolated universes of electricity, each a discrete energy entity. The power output of the system goes to only one place, the people using the system. These are the very same folks that own and maintain the system. We have our own power company. While it may be a very small custom power company, it’s all ours. We bought it and now we have it all to ourselves.
This home power company uses natural energy sources, so it has no fuel costs as the nuclear, oil, or coal power plants employed by the utilities. The home power system is truly self–sufficient because we have paid for our electricity in advance when we installed the solar system. After the solar system is installed, it produces power without demanding monthly bills from us.
All we have to do is buy the system. After that, we are free of ongoing power bills. Utility rates continually increase. Our income may be diminished by fortune, job changes, health, age, and/or inflation, but all these financial setbacks do not effect our already installed solar system. We got it together once, did it, and now it’s ours.
Solar and wind energy systems offer financial security by giving us a fixed cost for our electricity. The system provides additional security because we pay for the system up front. We buy the power company once, at a fixed cost, instead of renting it by the month at continuously increasing rates. The economic freedom of a renewable energy system is roughly equivalent to growing your own food versus buying it from the supermarket.
Home solar means freedom of a clean environment. Electricity produced from renewable energy sources has the lowest environment damage of any type of power. Solar produce no pollution basking quietly in the sunshine. Wind machines don’t foul the atmosphere, or the water or the earth around them. Microhydro systems don’t require damming their water sources, but merely borrow some of the water and then return it, unharmed, to its stream.
Renewable energy sources are environmentally sound because they use what Nature is already offering us. Home solar energy works with the environment without stressing our ecosystem to the point of collapse and death. Coal fired power plants belch tons of sulfur dioxide into our atmosphere yearly. This sulfur dioxide eventually falls back to earth as the acid rain that is killing our lakes and forests. Oil fired power plants produce tons of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide. All these emissions contribute to the Greenhouse Effect creating the climate change that is turning our planet into a desert. Nuclear power plants produce tons of highly radioactive waste. No one even has a clue of how to dispose safely of radioactive waste. If the tragedy in Japan is not a gut check for Nuclear power, then I do not know what is.
Compared to the pollution produced by conventional power products, renewable energy offer us a planet that is livable and sustainable. This is possibly the greatest benefit of solar, wind and microhydro power. They are something we can live with, whereas other energy sources ask us to flirt with planet–wide destruction.
Home solar means freedom from war and other political nastiness. Regardless of what one may think of the recent wars in the middle east, we can all agree that oil fueled this suffering. Without oil money, the Middle Eastern countries and their bully–boys would have been herding goats, not terrorizing their neighbors. Using nonrenewable power sources places tremendous economic, political, and military power in the hands of the few who own the oil and the coal.
Historically speaking, this type of concentrated wealth and political power has always brought out the worst in us. The power and wealth of renewable energy are freely and equally offered to each of us. No one holds a monopoly on sunshine, or blowing wind, or water freely flowing. These power sources cannot be owned and are naturally and democratically given to all of us. Nature gives us more energy than we can possibly use. Solar, wind and thermal sources are a way of graciously accepting this gift.
Home freedom means many more freedoms than I have listed here. Every home power user can add a few more to this list. This is why we are making our own power from solar. This is what we have learned. One of the strangest things we have learned is that freedom is synergistic. Many specific freedoms add to a big freedom that is greater than sum of its parts. I encourage you to add a new freedom to your life, and thereby to all our lives.
Source Used With Permission, Richard Perez Home Power Magazine. This article about home and off-grid solar was written over a decade ago. It was relevant then, and it it even more relevant now.