Do you dream of finally cutting the chord with your power company and living in peace and harmony with nature? Going off the grid – that is, living without an electrical, water, or sewage connection – is not for the faint of heart, but it is possible. More and more people in California are showing interest in an off-grid lifestyle for a variety of reasons.
How does one actually live off the grid, and how can solar panels in California play a role in that transition? More importantly, is it possible to still live a comfortable and fulfilling life without a convenient hookup to the public grid?
In this article, we’ll take a quick look at how California residents can generate and store their own power, collect water, and even take care of bathroom necessities in a fully sustainable and self-sufficient way.
Why Pull the Plug in the First Place?
We live in a world of abundant convenience. Turn on a tap at the kitchen sink and water magically flows out. Flip on a light switch, and light instantly brightens a room. Modern conveniences are so… well, convenient. Why would anyone want to unplug from the systems that bring these resources to our home without thought or effort?
There are a variety of reasons why more and more people are interested in going off the grid. Some of the most popular are:
Climate change is here, and unless we humans drastically change our tune and our activities, we are in for bigger and badder natural disasters and the humanitarian suffering they cause. One of the most powerful drivers in the off-grid movement is a commitment to living a more sustainable lifestyle that relies on natural resources (like the sun) rather than fossil fuels to create energy. Many off-gridders are hyper-focused on lowering their carbon footprint and also embrace a low consumerism lifestyle.
While dropping the monthly energy bill and water bill isn’t usually the primary reason people decide to go off the grid, it can be a nice side benefit. It may also fit with a larger ambition to live a big life on a small budget, which may prompt California residents to change where and how they live.
No Existing Hookups
California has some of the highest housing costs in the entire country, which can make it difficult for anyone on a fixed budget or without a snazzy job to find a comfortable home. In response, some Californians are moving out of the big (and expensive) cities and buying up land in rural areas of the state. Others are bunking down in tiny homes or even living in RVs, converted warehouse containers, or other non-traditional homes. These adventurous housing options often don’t include existing hookups.
Desire for Self-Sufficiency
Whether spurred on by religious, political, or personal beliefs, some people simply desire to live a completely self-sufficient life without the assistance of any government operated systems. These folks want to know that in the event of a widespread disaster, they have the means to keep on, keepin’ on. (Hint: If the zombie apocalypse ever happens, these are good people to know!)
If one or more of these reasons hits at the heart of why you want to go off the grid, your next step is to learn what it will take to put this lifestyle into play. Here are the primary pieces you need:
Going off the grid doesn’t mean you have to revert back to the middle ages, writing with ink and quill over a flickering candle at night or keeping a herd of cattle in the yard, because refrigeration is no longer available to you. In fact, technology has come so far that you can actually power your entire home using the energy of the sun.
All you need are solar panels in California. In a nutshell, solar panels use the energy of the sun (in the form of photons) to generate electricity. This electricity is converted into the alternating current needed to power your appliances and charge your electronics. Ideally, your solar panel system should be able to power your refrigerator, heat your water, charge your cell phone, and keep your computer alive so you can blog all about your awesome new grid-less lifestyle.
In reality, things can be a little more difficult. You’ll need to work with an experienced solar team to calculate your average energy usage and then to determine the correct size for your solar panel system. Since you won’t have a connection to the public utility grid to act as a safety net, it may be a good idea to get a system slightly bigger than what you need. This could come in handy during the winter months when peak sunlight hours are in short supply or during stretches of cloudy weather.
Of course, living a life powered by solar panels means you’ll face one major challenge. What happens when the source of all your energy – the sun – checks out for the night? For that, you’ll need a solar storage battery.
Solar Storage Batteries
If you still want your refrigerator to work and your lights to turn on even when the moon is up, you’re going to need to store some of your excess energy from the daytime so that you can use it during the night. You are in luck. In just the past few years, solar batteries like Tesla Powerwall have become increasingly efficient even while their price has dramatically dropped.
Some companies are experimenting with lead acid and saltwater batteries, but lithium-ion batteries are still the most popular and widely used solar batteries available on the market. Before making your solar battery purchase, it’s a good idea to consult with a solar installation company that can help you understand the different battery brands on the market and work with you to decide how many batteries you will need to adequately power your home.
When comparing different solar batteries, you’ll want to look at factors like the battery’s overall capacity (how much electricity it can store), as well as its power (how much electricity it can provide over a given time). Most off-grid households will need to purchase multiple batteries, which can be “stacked” to increase power storage.
Powering your home with a combination of solar panels and solar batteries can provide you with all the energy your home needs to operate most of the time, but it is always a good idea to keep a gas-powered generator handy just in case you accidentally use more power than your panels can generate. You may also find that you need to make small adaptations to your life, like vacuuming during the sunny afternoon when your panels are generating plenty of power and holding off on doing the laundry at night when your battery stores are low.
Power is a big concern for those who can’t rely on the public energy grid, but what about the need for life-giving water? If you don’t have a water hookup, are you doomed to bottled water and sponge baths for the rest of your days?
If you’ve lived in California for any time, then you already know that water is a precious and fickle resource. It can also be expensive. If you want to live completely off the grid, that means losing your access to limitless water as well.
Not to worry. The sky occasionally opens up and gives you loads of water, all for free. You just have to be savvy enough to catch it as efficiently as possible. Off-gridders use a variety of methods to “harvest” rainwater. The easiest and most cost-effective solution is to purchase a rain barrel and place it under your gutter downspout. Your roof will funnel the rainwater to the gutters, which will then send that H2O into the barrel.
The capacity of a rain barrel is limited, and in parched California, you don’t want to lose even a drop of rainwater to overspill. To increase your rain harvesting ability, you may want to consider purchasing a “dry” water harvesting system, which means investing in a larger water storage unit that can collect more water from each rainfall. For ultimate water harvesting, a “wet” system entails connecting multiple downspouts to pipes that are buried underground. These pipes fill a large tank that can be placed away from the home. The “wet” system is the most efficient, but also the most expensive to install.
Collecting rainwater is only step one in the rain harvesting system. You’ll also need to install a pressure tank, pressure pump, and filters and then hook the system up to the piping within your house. The filtering system is a must if you intend to use the water for potable purposes, including drinking, showering, and giving water to your pets. As long as you have enough water, this system will allow you to run your sink, take showers, and even flush your toilet.
One of the biggest challenges of depending on the sky for your water is that the rain isn’t always very accommodating. This is especially true in Central and Southern California where long droughts are becoming the norm thanks to climate change. If you live in these areas of California, be ready to cut back your water usage to the bare minimum. You may also want to look into installing a “greywater” system that utilizes “used” or “grey” water from the sink and shower for non-potable uses, like washing clothes and watering the lawn.
Even this may not be enough, and you should be prepared to purchase water to refill your water storage system during the long, dry months of summer.
To Flush or Not to Flush? Composting Toilets
Going off the grid can be an extremely rewarding lifestyle, but it also requires some sacrifices. One big question to answer is how to get rid of number one and number two if you don’t have a sewage hookup to take care of that unpleasant chore. Depending on your situation, you may be blessed with a waste storage system that can be emptied by a hired waste removal service. If not, then a remaining option is the composting toilet.
Several different models of composting toilets exist, but they all use the natural processes of evaporation and decomposition to recycle waste. Most incorporate the same methods of a garden composter, relying on oxygen, moisture, heat, and aerobic bacteria to turn your organic matter into fertilizing soil. We wouldn’t suggest putting the results on your vegetable garden, but if done right, you should be able to give the local trees some nice new fertilizer.
Your Off-the-Grid Journey Starts with Solar Panels in California
We never said that going off the grid would be easy, but it can be incredibly rewarding, especially if you care deeply about living a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. One of the first big steps to take is to reach out to a local solar installation company to discuss your energy needs.
At Semper Solaris, we offer both solar system installation and solar battery installation. We can help you determine how much energy you need and recommend solar panels in California and solar battery system to meet your needs and keep you powered. With locations throughout California, we have local experts ready to help you get rid of your energy bills forever.
Contact us today to schedule a no-cost, no-pressure solar consultation.