Fuel prices are a big factor when living off the grid. Mostly because living OTG means reduced income, lots of engines and further distances to go. Ergo, fuel is a larger factor than you might first imagine.
Ironically, we actually use less fuel OTG than we did in the city by quite a large percentage but it is also used in different ways and so a direct comparison of consumption is difficult to make. Especially when you don’t make a conscious exercise of it.
Still, over the years it has been made fairly clear – we use less oil living out here than we do in the city. I estimate 40% less.
A mile traveled in a small boat takes the equivalent in fuel of 10 miles in a car. So, on the face of it, boat commuting is over-consumptive. On the other hand, most of us travel relatively short distances by boat and then get into cars so the comparison falls down a bit. When we shop, we buy BIG and for weeks at a time. Our SUV runneth over, so to speak. And so our frequency of car-driving is pretty low. Twice a month on average. We average about 5,000 kms a year. So that is pretty indicative of less consumption.
But we also have gensets. And we use ’em. And our appliances run off propane and we use them, too. So up goes the needle. A ball-park average is that, all-in, everything included, driving and appliances, gensets and boats, we average about $250.00 a month for energy (oil) costs with not much variation with the seasons.
When Sal and I lived in the city, we ran two cars and my son and daughter each had cars intermittently. Our house power consumption was about $250 a month and the vehicles easily doubled that. I would say that we likely averaged $600 a month one way or another in power consumption and that might be as high as $750.00 today if we were all still there doing the same things. But that is not a fair comparison either – then we were working and now we are not.
I mention all this because I am in the process of tripling my solar panel array. I will – eventually – get more free energy. Not ‘free’ so much as ‘free’ from now on. All the cost in this kind of energy consumption is up-front. Well, except for batteries, of course. Those suckers revisit their cost on your wallet like a seasonal flu. Anyway, I will have more power and my monthly costs won’t appreciably rise. You’d think that would be a good thing…………………….and it is………..kinda.
Don’t forget, my appliances and engines run off oil. To really benefit from the solar array, I would have to shift to electric propulsion and/or electrical appliances. That shift would be a huge expense. So, I won’t do it quickly. Maybe an electrical freezer or fridge to start. A microwave?
See where this is going? We may not consume less oil, we may just consume more energy.
“So, how would you do it differently again, Dave?”
“Firstly, go big, go really big, right from the get-go. Make an OTG system that works in balance right from the start. The Piecemeal plan is more costly in the long run and results in inefficiencies. And that is hard for people to commit to – I know that. I didn’t do it that way and that is why I know where my mistakes were.
Solar is the most efficient for most people. If you have a strong-flowing stream for micro-hydro, that is the best way to go but most people don’t have a stream and will use solar. Wind turbines are just not cost effective nor are they are as predictable a source of energy. We’ll have about 2000 watts of panels working for us soon and, for our needs, that is about right. We use as little as we can and yet we’ll easily be able to use the extra power. The goal is to be able to use it where oil was being used before. That will be more difficult. Had I started with more electrical appliances and, of course, more panels, it would be an easier transition. We are likely to get more ‘electrified’ as the years go by and the current infrastructure breaks down.
“Dave, why tell us this?”
Well, a reader is contemplating going off the grid. That’s all. But off-grid or on, it really doesn’t matter. Getting some power from your own solar panels is a good thing for everyone. Even if you live downtown Vancouver.