60 Minutes did a report on how the Bahamas are upgrading their electrical grid to better handle the increasingly violent and increasingly frequent hurricanes hitting their low-lying islands. I was very concerned about Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands installing solar panels, because of my concern about whether the solar panel installations would survive the brutal hurricanes that roll through that region fairly often. Well, hurricane Fiona just provided a data point – and the legacy electrical grid failed spectacularly, while the solar installations seem to have weathered the storm fairly well. I have to admit that I’m a bit surprised. I’ll wait for more information as the years go by, but this is good news for the hurricane-plagued Caribbean region. The non-profit organization Casa Pueblo says that their solar PV installation is helping the residents of Puerto Rico today, as usual, even after a hurricane. Here’s a link to a tiktok video talking about how solar panels are being installed, albeit slowly, in one town in Puerto Rico, and how the businesses who got solar panels installed by a foundation (presumably at no charge to them? Not sure) are charging themselves for the energy produced and re-investing that money into the community, to help residents. That’s good solar news all around! Solar panels are a superior choice even in regions with frequent severe weather. 🙂
I saw a pretty interesting youtube video about a system (hardware and software) being sold in Bangladesh which links multiple solar PV systems together to form a mini-grid for off-grid people. And here’s a link to an article that explains the details of SolShare’s system. According to the youtube video almost 20 million in Bangladesh use solar power now, and Bangladesh has one of the largest number of solar PV systems in the world; I haven’t verified if that’s actually true or not, so don’t quote me. A company named SolShare has developed a piece of hardware and associated software to allow customers to form Peer-to-peer microgrid systems. One of the crucial services provided by SolShare’s system is the ability of people who are sharing electricity with their neighbors to be able to accurately charge their neighbors for electricity that leaves the solar PV owner’s system. It seems like a great idea, and theoretically should work well in Bangladesh – but is there any instance where this would work well in the United States? For this to work, you’d have to have a lot of people who are off-grid living quite close to other people living off-grid. I don’t think that’s common now, but maybe eco-villages might have an interest in this type of technology? Peer-to-peer sharing of energy between households is pretty far off in the United States, but this is an interesting concept.
I was pretty impressed by something my brother did last fall, and it was a light bulb moment for me. He was checking out some rural land that he intends to buy and decided to live in the falling-down house on that land for several weeks but the utilities were turned off. He has done so much camping that living off the grid for several weeks was no problem. When he was indoors he spent most of his time in one room and used a small propane powered heater for heat, for light he used his battery-powered light from a tool set that he already owned, and the radio from that tool set also had a micro USB port he could use to charge his cell phone and his iPad, as well as play the radio. He also had a small battery bank that he used for some charging. He had a propane powered cook stove to cook his food, he hauled in jugs of water, and used a lot of non-perishable food except for some things in a super-efficient cooler that only needed fresh ice every couple of days. He was able to go to a neighbors house twice a week to recharge the batteries he needed for the light and radio/charger. He was able to drive to a convenience Mart some miles away to get fresh ice and food. I think the propane tank he used lasted for quite a few days, and he was using the sort of small propane tank that’s easily available and often used for BBQ grills. He was comfortable and well fed as he checked out that property, and I think that’s a pretty good example of how you, too, can be comfortable in a grid-down or utilities-off situation. This presumes that you can get someplace to charge your batteries, so doesn’t apply to all situations, but I thought it was a good concept.
This applies more to a temporary grid-down situation than to having your utilities shut off, but you really can be off-grid in a basic way and still be comfortable. You would want to either have a smaller room (maybe 10′ x 10′) where you could close all your doors or be able to put plastic up in any doorways that didn’t have a door in them, in order to be heating a smaller space, which requires a lot less energy/fuel (in other words, less propane). If you are without grid power in a standard american house and the temperatures outside are near or below zero you may have to winterize the rest of your house – drain the water lines, put anti-freeze in your toilet tank and bowl, drain the water line going to your refrigerator. That would be more necessary in an extended power outage – if the temperatures in the house get to below freezing any sitting water is likely to expand and break things. If you had hot water heat, you’d need to drain that system too.
If you’re living just-off-grid (you don’t have utilities but places accessible to you still have utilities) your best bet for showers is to go elsewhere – a gym membership is often quite inexpensive, and would include all the hot water showers you would like. Laundry can be done elsewhere.
If you’re trying to live off-grid in the summer heat a fan is your best bet since air conditioning takes so much power.
If you were going to be just-off-grid for an extended time, I would highly recommend either buying or building a solar oven. There are lots of examples of solar ovens that you can build yourself on youtube.com – though if you can buy one you’ll probably really appreciate the power and convenience of a professionally made oven.
And yes, there’s always the waste disposal issue – as in, human waste. If this is a very short term situation, a trash bag in a trash can can be utilized. For longer term comfort, a 5 gallon bucket, a toilet seat and sawdust are probably your best bet. People do compost human waste, but you need to learn how to do it properly or you will have a stinky health hazard to deal with. There’s lots of info on this around the web.
I recommend this device! I bought a Kaito brand device, KA340, for about $34 from my usual online retail overlord (smile.amazon.com) and it has a surprising number of features for the low cost. One issue is that, so far, low cost has meant low amount of power generated and stored. The paperwork included with this device claims it has about 8.5 watts of power storage built in, but I haven’t been able to verify how much energy this device will store IRL. The paperwork claims that it’s enough for 14 – 16 hours of light, presumably on a full charge. If you are able to put it in full sun on a clear sunny day and charge it using the built in .5 (yes, that’s one half) watt solar PV panel, with about 5.5 “peak sun hours” (not the same as daylight hours) in the summer (in Saint Louis, MO USA), you’d only be able to pick up about 2.75 watts of energy per day….so maybe you’d have to charge it for 3 days to fill the tiny batteries??? How in the world do they get away with such tiny PV panels and battery packs, you ask? If you charge it all day, in good sun, that’s still enough for several hours of light, which most people will accept. It probably takes about 5 watts to charge a cell phone, so if you want light AND cell phone charging you are going to spend a very long time using the hand crank as an energy input. Beware – there’s no indication that this is waterproof – keep it in a sealed ziploc bag if there’s any chance it could get wet – rained on, spilled on, etc. Please check out this review – this guy does a pretty good job of describing the features.