There's only so much I can do about the grid in general. However, what am I to do about my relationship to it?
Twenty years ago I installed the first version of my solar electric system. At the time, I knew I wasn't going to be able to quite cut the cord from the grid. I'm surprised that all these years later I'm still connected.
Several things have held me back. The number one problem is winter. A month without sun can test anyone's faith in solar. There's a voltage meter in my kitchen that's connected to the battery bank. If the voltage drops lower than I like, I throw a switch and charge the batteries from the grid. In the winter that switch gets thrown way too much. At least my batteries have a full charge in case of a grid outage.
Here's what's running on the grid: The oil furnace. It never ran right on my old style modified sine wave inverter. It uses a fair amount of electricity (oil gun, blower motors, etc.) during a time when solar production is quite low. The answering machine. It's a constant low draw that's best not put on the inverter. I was given a big air compressor that requires 240 volts and my alternate energy system only puts out 120. Only use it a handful of times per year, but it's handy when I do. Some hot water heating -long story best handled in a post of its own. Some part of my laundry gets done on-grid. Some refrigeration. In the winter, when temperatures drop below zero, either the diesel truck or car gets their block heater plugged in. Otherwise the diesels just won't turn over.
The easiest thing in the world would be to replace the grid with a backup generator. That could happen, but only if I had the right generator at the right price. Right now it's possible to charge the household battery bank from my truck -'94 Ford F250 7.3 liter turbodiesel. The truck is wired up with a 2000 watt inverter. Since the truck has been converted to burn waste vegetable oil, it's cheap to run. It's possible to charge the house that way, and I'd probably do it in an emergency. For day to day use, however, it's seems like keeping a dragon chained to light your campfire.
For half the year, it'd be very easy to get by without the grid. The other half, we'd have to conserve, have another way of generating power, or some combination of the two.
As for the things that currently are exclusively on the grid, they could be handled. The oil furnace could be replaced with a propane heater that doesn't use electricity. If mounted in the basement, the plumbing wouldn't freeze if we weren't around to feed the woodstoves. The answering machine could be replaced with either a DC version, or a message service. The 240 volt air compressor could be traded for a 120 volt machine. Laundry could be done only on sunny days. We could downgrade to a smaller fridge. Wouldn't hurt to throw another solar panel or two on the array.
I've given some thought to adding a windmill. It's often windy when the sun doesn't shine. The price of windmills has come down. There are some problems with my location. The house is on the side of a good sized hill. Large hemlocks surround the place. A tower high enough to clear the turbulence caused by the hill and trees would cost a small fortune.
For about 7 years we temporarily solved the winter problem. We drained the plumbing, shut the house down, and traveled all winter. That works. I tied a canoe to the car and drove south until it stopped looking funny. Last winter, family obligations kept me north, and may do so again this winter.
In spite of the problems of doing so, I'm getting more and more tempted to pull the plug. The utility charges $35/month just for being hooked up. Imagine getting a $37 electric bill. That's $35 for the meter fee and just $2 for actual usage. It's over $400/year before I use a single watt. Nice system they have there.
Next summer I think I'll kill the main breaker and see how many months we can go without the grid. Who knows, maybe I'll have figured out something by fall.
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