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How do people in very isolated rural areas get electricity?

  1. Aug 5, 2008 #1
    People in very isolated rural areas don't need a line connected to a utility company or outside power source to get water or gas. I know that they can get water from a well. I know that they can buy giant tanks to hold propane or any gas that they use to power their appliances and have the gas delivered to them. However, I'm baffled by how people in very isolated rural areas (say, no city with more than one thousand people in it within twenty miles) get electricity. I mean, it would probably cost over a million dollars to get the utility company to build 20 miles over power lines to service one house. So how do people in such isolated rural areas get electricity? Or do people in such isolated rural areas not usually have electricity? Do they have gas lighting and run all of their appliances off of gas.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2008 #2


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    I think you would be surprised at the actual extent of the rural electric grid beyond the criteria you have in mind.

    Here is an image of the rural electric areas nationwide. These would be areas served by members of the rural electric association and does not include the larger metropolitan utilities which you can see in the voids serves the more populous states.

    While it is true that laying the lines into remote areas poses some economical disincentives, I'd say it seems to me based on my travels about that there are pretty much electric lines on roads where there are people living in concentrations much smaller than 1000. If there was a map of actual service links to the grid, I think it would reveal a pretty thorough coverage east of the Mississippi and undoubtedly some holes in some of the western areas, but not likely affecting that many people. But that is just my impression.

    As far as power generation there are always small gasoline or diesel powered units if connection costs were to outweigh usage. Here's one that shows fuel usage:
    http://www.backuppowersystems.com/diesel.html [Broken]
    .5 gal/H at 50% load on a 12KW generator. At $4/gal that comes to $2/6KWH or about $.30/KWH

    There are propane units too that advertise fuel consumption (at 50% load) 1.4 gal/H with propane costs in Nebraska for instance above $2 and likely closer to $2.50 to $3 by now:

    At $2.50 that 1.4 gal looks to come to $3.50/6.5KWH (half the 13KW of the rated unit) or $.53/KWH.

    The units cost several thousand and they need fuel tanks too of course.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  4. Aug 5, 2008 #3


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    Yes, as LP points out, if you're talking extremely isolated, then they use diesel generators.
  5. Aug 5, 2008 #4
    Maybe so...

    Do you think that there are separate power lines going to the majority of people who don't live within 20 miles of a town with a population of a thousand?
  6. Aug 5, 2008 #5


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    At some point, everyone gets their own power line. In some cases, yes, they can be miles long. I'm not sure there are many people out there who fit your criteria, though. If the US is about 3000x2000 mi and you figure half the country has the population density of one family per 400 sq mi, that would only be 7,500 families.
  7. Aug 5, 2008 #6


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    Any dwelling that is not powered by a diesel generator (or one of the extremely rare alternate sources such as wind, thermal or solar) is - yes - on the grid.

    Are you suspecting there's a different answer out there that no one's telling the rest of us about?
  8. Aug 5, 2008 #7


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    The question is not how far you live from a population center of 1000, but rather how far the closest neighbor with electricity from the grid may be isn't it?
  9. Aug 5, 2008 #8

    D H

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  10. Aug 6, 2008 #9
    People tend to accumulate where A) water is available, B) there are roads, C) there is electricity, D) some way to make money.

    Are there power lines to such communites because there are people there, or are people there because there are power lines running through?
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2008
  11. Aug 6, 2008 #10


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    Your premise notwithstanding, I'd have to say in rural areas it is more the former than the latter. The broader distribution of farms and ranches are legacy issues tied more directly to ownership of land and its availability and for the most part predates any thoughts of power grids.

    The power grids have grown organically like roots to embrace the nurturing revenue from supplying efficient power to agricultural populations. I'd say it's the land comes first, then the access to power lines.
  12. Aug 6, 2008 #11


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    The days of homesteading are long over. Now here in the west were there is a lot of undeveloped area it is "owed" by either the US Forest service or BLM. Private land is usually around the towns and cities, or around the edges of the government land. You certainly can find land which does not have power. More common is land with out public water or sewer. In fact in this area (and the entire state AFAIK, sewer and water is available ONLY in major incorporated towns). MANY people are on wells and septic systems.

    If you are unfamiliar with country living I would recommend that you rent someones summer cabin for a few months in the off season. This can usually be done at a very reasonable rate, and you may find that even a few weeks well fill your desire for rustic living. To commit a large sum of money to a long term stay in rustic conditions would be foolishness of the first order.
  13. Aug 11, 2008 #12
    I live in Panama (central America) and outside of the city, the country is very rural, so mostly on very distant places, where the grid lines can't get due to the jungles or monetary facts, the companies take advantages of the rivers and build small hydroelectricity, of not more than a few hundreds kiloWatts, which is pretty enough to satisfy small communities.
  14. Oct 2, 2008 #13
    I live in a "rural" area. I live in a town of about 256 people and we are 16 miles from the nearest city of about 9,000 people. We have no problem at all getting electricity. There is a coal burning power plant and a hydroelectic dam that are close to me. Just because people live in the country doesn't mean they can't get access to technology. There are powerlines that run all over the country side that carries power to homes. These power lines lead to basically "amplifiers" to power the areas they serve, but there "amplifiers" get their power from an original power plant. You would also be suprised how far city water is carried out as well.
  15. Oct 2, 2008 #14


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  16. Nov 1, 2008 #15
    I dont think so they will know about Diesel generator. Cause where I was living, in that village people were using donkey or horse or male cow to drag water from well.

    now they are using electric moter from last some year. but in some rural area people still using this technique as they dont know about diesel machine or they cant afford it.

    Raj Mehta
    Diesel Generators
  17. Nov 23, 2008 #16
    I'm in the north of Scotland and around 35 miles from the nearest town of more than 100 people, yet I have fully functioning electricity, water, phonelines and broadband. Basic utilities have a very large coverage. I am assuming that it is basically the same in America.
  18. Jan 12, 2009 #17
    Various government entitites that regulate utilities require them to provide service to nearly all areas. AT&T companies, for example, in the past were required to serve extremely remote areas.....such service was supported via a "universal service charge" applicable to all customers...it may no longer exist.

    Local communities and orprivate companies can also set up their own power or telephone companies and in the past many have. There used to be thousands of tiny rural telephone companies all over the country. Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and even little Cuttyhunk Islands, all off the coast of Massachussetts, now have power via undersea cables...and both landline and cell phone services....in the past they had their own diesel power generating stations...
  19. Jan 12, 2009 #18


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    Usually there are either goverment grants (carrot) or requirement (stick) to force connection to otherwise uneconomic customers, especially when the utility company is either officially or effectively a monopoly.
    This can distort the market a bit, I lived in a village of 5000 people, 3 miles from the Cambridge science park and 1 mile from the headquarters of the country's 2 biggest telecoms companies. But we couldn't get DSL because both of them wanted a grant to serve this 'rural area'.
  20. Jan 12, 2009 #19

    By the way, I'm in Cambridge right now and still can't get decent broadband at home. My Virgin Media DSL package ostensibly offers 8Mb/s download but it's rare for me to see more than 40Kb/s during peak hours.

    I know everything in Cambridge moves slowly, but this is ridiculous.
  21. Jan 19, 2009 #20


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    In the 70's and 80's I lived a few years in the southwest part of Virginia, US, which is quite rural. It is also hilly or mountainous according to how you define it. There were still valleys at that time that were not yet on the electric grid. People lived in them, most without electricity though some had generators.

    But some darned remote valleys DID have electricity, with the poles and lines snaking over mountains and across ravines in the weirdest ways imaginable. Tribute to human ingenuity, I guess, but I wouldn't have wanted the job of building those lines.
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