Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Off the Grid Energy

  1. Mar 3, 2009 #1
    By now we have heard of all of these fascinating new technologies "just around the corner" that will "remove our energy dependence on corporate and foreign resources." In nearly every cable news interview, researchers claim that this new technology is "only five to ten years away." As a nation, we've been fed this five to ten year wait interval for more than 50 years and it is increasingly apparent that politicians, corporations, and governments give us a time to wait as a pacifier when they know very well that most likely, nothing's going to happen. Well, I'm sick of sitting around waiting for miraculous breakthroughs. My house is paid off and I don't have kids to worry about. Tell me what's available right now (I don't care how new the technology is) to power my house independently. What are the options available to me and what subsidies are available (if any). Thanks. I look forward to discussing this will all of you soon. :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 3, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Depending on your latitude, solar panels would probably be the best bet at the moment. The main problem isn't really the power generation, the solar panel and inverter technology has definitely improved a lot over the years, the problem is energy storage if you really want to go entirely off grid. To have a fully independent system with sufficient energy storage for true off grid operation is very unlikely to be as cost effective as just using the grid. Plus you will have to spend time and money maintaining your installation.

    Yes it's true that the media love to beat up these stories, but there have genuinely been large improvements in many of these technologies over recent years (solar panels in particular are like to become much more cost effective in the next few years due to recent advances in thin film designs). But still a reliable large scale energy grid has lots of advantages and I guess that why it’s still they still predominate. Personally I'm quite happy paying 12 cents a kW-hour to the supply company and not needing to have any generator, inverter and storage equipment to buy or maintain.
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2009
  4. Mar 3, 2009 #3


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    If you reduce your usage enough you can live off-grid with solar/wind or a combination in most rural areas.
    Reduced usage can mean anything from no merely giant automatic washing machine down to electricity only for lights depending how much power you can produce / the site / how much land you have.

    If you are in a city it's probably cheaper to buy power from the grid, perhaps with some direct solar water heating if you are in the south west. But if you are in a rural area where the alternative is a diesel generator then the technology is already there to do it better/cheaper.
  5. Mar 3, 2009 #4
    I live in a residential suburban area outside of Buffalo, New York where energy costs skyrocket. The electric and gas companies love to play with our bills.
  6. Mar 3, 2009 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    You can probably do solar water heating even in Buffalo, although since it freezes you want a vacuum tube system, not just a bunch of glass panels on your roof.

    Wind is probably out in a residential neighbourhood - to work well the turbines need to be high and clear. The noise and tower height would probably mean zoning problems.
    Solar is unlikely to pay back unless you go into real eco-mode, 12V lighting, no big appliances etc. But if the panels get cheaper and you power company has a buy back scheme it might be worthwhile soon.

    Your best ROI on power bills in that climate is probably double glazing and a lot of wall/roof insulation.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook