Living Off the Grid: How to Generate Your Own Electricity
Taking the Alternative Energy Plunge
When my wife and I moved to Montana last year, we found a comfortable home on several acres with a view of the mountains. There was only one hitch – the house was off the grid. In fact, everyone in the subdivision generated their own power, including the bed and breakfast nearby.
That doesn’t mean it was primitive. The house had solar panels, a wind turbine, a battery bank and inverter, a generator, and a full range of appliances including washer and dryer, refrigerator, stove, satellite TV, propane furnace, and even a dishwasher. Since I had operated a cogeneration power plant before coming to Montana, I wasn’t too concerned about generating my own electric power, so we bought the house.
If saving money is your goal, you need to crunch some numbers and do some research. If saving the environment is your goal, then the investment is worth it.
Alternative Energy Cost
Since then, I’ve learned the second lesson of renewable energy: while the energy may be free, it still costs more than electricity from a utility company. This may not be obvious, so let me explain. The following are the approximate prices for the equipment we have now, materials only – installation is extra:
Solar array 1 kW $6,000
Dual-axis tracker $6,250
Wind generator w/50 ft tower 1 kW $3,700
Inverter/charger 4 kW $3,000
Batteries (1 day reserve) $8,000
If you assume that we receive eight hours of sun and eight hours of wind per day (a generous assumption), we would produce 487 kW-hours of electric energy per month from renewable sources. This is almost half the 920 kW-hours per month that was used by the average American home in 2006.
Assuming the equipment has a 20-year lifespan, it will produce 116,880 kW-hours of energy during that time, and my prorated cost for the equipment will be $0.23 per kW-hour. That’s more than twice the average cost of the same amount of energy from the local utility company.
Thats some hefty investing. BUT if its done right and quality equipment and parts are used then over time much money can be saved.