Dear Lifehacker, Is it more difficult to live an ‘off the grid’ lifestyle in Australia?
Off-Grid photo by Shutterstock.com
You might be happy to hear that Australia actually has a number of healthy off-grid communities. Thanks to the extreme remoteness of many of the communities in inland Australia, off-grid living is essential for around 2 per cent of our population. In areas of Western Australia and island communities off Tasmania, entire communities live off the grid, forming mini-grids that are powered by a combination of solar, wind and diesel generators. Unfortunately the latter is often required to bear the brunt of the load, especially when renewable energy sources are unreliable — and the high price of diesel and liquid fuels is what makes off-grid living more expensive, and generally not suitable for non-rural dwellings.
Urban Off-Grid Living
Urban off-grid living isn’t impossible, of course, but it could be uncomfortable. A US team calling themselves the “Sustainable Joes” conducted an experiment back in 2013 when they disconnected their London, Ontario apartment from the grid for four months to live a ‘zero impact’ lifestyle. Even with the help of a couple of solar panels and a small battery and inverter package, they still had to forgo a fridge and stove, only generating enough power from their solar panels to charge their phones and run a blender to make smoothies. Both photovoltaic technology and battery storage are getting cheaper and more efficient with each passing year, however, and it’s possible that urban off-grid living will become feasible in the years to come. Larger urban and suburban properties would have the ability to generate more solar electricity than a small apartment, of course, yet it’s still unlikely that it could generate quite enough to power the entire house.
Rural Off-Grid Living
For many people in extremely remote areas, off-grid living is already a reality. Others in less remote rural areas who are still connected or city-dwellers who are considering a ‘tree change’ may be tempted to leave the grid themselves, however. Gifted with a wealth of space when compared to urban areas, investment in on-site generation could easily make rural off-grid dwellings self-sufficient even with today’s technology. Investments both in wind and solar power could feasibly provide enough energy for a rural property to support itself, although as with most contemporary off-grid settlements, a diesel or fuel-based generator is usually required as backup in case of bad weather or insufficient generation from renewable sources.
Sustainable On-Grid Alternatives
Unfortunately, it’s still far more expensive with today’s technology to move off-grid than to stay on, and even houses with solar panels installed can benefit from a grid connection with the ability to sell excess energy back to the grid. Smart energy services like Reposit Power will even set up an entire system for you, enabling you to make the most from your excess energy as they sell it back to the grid at times of high demand — and thus at a higher price.
If, like a lot of people looking into off-grid living, you’re disillusioned with your current power supplier, you could supplement your generated electricity with a connection to a power company like Powershop — who are doing things a little differently. Instead of selling energy with locked-in plans and contracts, Powershop sells ‘powerpacks’ in their online shop. You can buy your electricity whenever you want, even buying excess when it’s cheap and hoarding it for coming months — much in the same way as prepaid mobile phone credit works. You can even buy ‘GreenPower’ packs, and help encourage national investment in renewables. So unless the environmental benefits of living sustainably outweigh the financial cost in your eyes, you’re better to stay connected until we see greater improvement in home renewable energy generation.
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