If and when the SHTF — or if you simply want to live off the grid — you’ll need a long-term survival/self-sufficiency plan. What this means is that, if you want to lead an existence that’s not too radically different or primitive compared to the standard of living most of us are used to presently, you’ll need a reliable way to generate electricity.
You may not be able to realistically produce enough power to run all of your current appliances at full blast simultaneously — especially your central air conditioner or your home theater/entertainment system with the 300 watt stereo system — but it’s certainly possible to keep the lights on and cover your basic electrical needs.
Yes, it’s possible to generate all the electricity you’ll reasonably require year round, but it’s not necessarily as simple as some armchair preppers make it sound. The bottom line is, no one method of generating electricity on a small scale is completely reliable in all situations, so the best approach is to develop a system that can be adapted to varying conditions.
For instance, solar power is a very useful technology — and one which is becoming cheaper and more efficient all the time, even despite its obvious limitations. And advances in battery tech are making it possible to store electricity for longer periods, which means that solar panels can be the cornerstone of your home power plant, especially if you live in a region where the sun shines most of the year.
But unless you live in a place like Arizona, for instance (and even then), solar panels still probably won’t be sufficient for providing enough consistent power throughout all seasons and situations. And even with a fairly serious battery bank (which still requires a sizable investment) and very sunny conditions, solar power is simply not 100 percent reliable for most people’s needs.
However, a combination of wind and solar power can begin to approach the levels of power an average home would need. One of the great things about wind turbines is the fact that they can produce electricity when conditions are not conducive for solar power, e.g. long winter nights when the wind is typically blowing hard.
But wind power, of course, has its limitations, too. There are very few places on Earth where the wind is totally consistent, and you probably wouldn’t want to live in those places to begin with. And unfortunately, wind turbines have a habit of breaking down and needing repairs. That’s why many people who have managed to successfully live off the grid recommend having more than one wind turbine as well as a good solar panel setup.
Even then — if you want to be able to rely on generating your own electricity in any conditions — you’ll need other backup/emergency generating options. A gas- or diesel-powered generator is ideal for this purpose, and there’s also the option of making a bicycle-powered generator system when all else fails.
Detailed plans for setting up your own personal “power plant” for off-the-grid living or survival purposes are beyond the scope of this article. My main goal in writing this is simply to let you know that it is indeed possible to create all the electricity you will ever need to be virtually self-sufficient, but also that no one power-generating source will be adequate to provide power reliably in all conditions. You’ll need a combination of technologies to have dependable electricity year round.
Developing your own power-generating system will require some research and a certain amount of financial investment, but it’s not an outrageously expensive proposition and you don’t need to be an electrical engineer to pull it off. There are many useful online resources to help you get started, and I’ve listed a few below to point you in the right direction.
However, it’s not all unicorns and rainbows in the world of renewable energy and off-the-grid living.
I’ll leave you with the words of Bob Ritzman, who has written a very concise and informative article entitled “Living Off the Grid: How to Generate Your Own Electricity,” which is posted on TodaysHomeowner.com. The piece illustrates some of the difficulties involved, but also proves that it can be done.
Ritzman lists some of the fairly sobering lessons he has learned about renewable energy:
1. You can’t count on it when you need it. You need a battery bank, and you should have a back up generator available, too.
2. It’s expensive. While the energy is free, the equipment is not, making the cost of power higher than utility prices.
3. When it fails, the carbon footprint of non-renewable backup generation is larger than that of a utility company.
This doesn’t mean I’m against renewable energy, just that given our current technology, living off the grid is not as simple and cost efficient as many people may think.