Not having to buy electricity from 'The Man' has always been an enticing thought; to live free with clean, self-generated energy. Off-grid living harks at getting back in touch with nature, being fully aware and respectful of your surroundings. Coupled with a shortage of housing, energy bills and global temperatures all on the rise, it's no wonder people are setting forth to self-sufficiency.
As of 2013 an estimated 1.7 billion of us were living off-grid, and this number was expected to increase as people became more ecologically conscious and as the world population rose. When considering all these issues the off-grid option seems like the perfect solution, both ethically and financially, but whatever your reasons there are several options to achieving a happy off-grid existence.
A common misconception of off-grid living is the fear of compromising modern technology and comfort for the clean eco-conscience; this is absolutely untrue. Logically, off-grid homes are designed to be the most efficient structures; never wasting any heat, water or power, ergo are pretty accommodating. Plus the current innovations in renewable energy technology, such as micro-hydroelectric wheels and higher yield solar panels, also ensure an off-grid abode can function with all manner of gadgetry, including 4G internet. The fact is that anyone can have an off-grid life as lavish or basic as they desire, it just depends on budget.
What are your options?
Once you've procured some land, whether it's through an agreement with a friendly landowner or straight-up buy your own (these days it's about £11,000 an acre), you can start planning.
If constructing an off-grid domicile from scratch it'd be good to know the basics of ecology in order to minimise the impact on your surroundings. A good grasp of carpentry or construction wouldn't go amiss either, though there are YouTube tutorials for everything nowadays. By carefully sourcing and upcycling materials you could potentially build a home for free, only having to fork out for your renewable supply. This could cost roughly somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000.
However, if you're not much of a builder don't worry; a rising industry of prefabricated off-grid homes has also made it more feasible to make the switch. For example many start-up businesses have begun supplying conventional Mongolian yurt materials and even set it all up for you. In addition to the yurt you would again be paying for renewable systems, so this more comfortable option would be between £15,000 and £30,000.
Another instance is the creation of EcoCapsules; a small UFO looking pod capable of sustaining 2 people indefinitely. With 600W solar panels, a 750W wind turbine, rain collection system and a 10kW battery backup all built in it's the optimal design for off-grid living, and its high transportability means you can even hit the road with it too! However, this is the most efficient and convenient option, using the latest renewable tech, so currently costs around £70,000.
There are also companies that specialise in selling and installing whole off-grid power systems, making it easier still.
So what's stopping you?
Although these innovations have made it easier to achieve, some places have tried to put a stop to this way of life, particularly in the USA. In Washington D.C structurally sound off-grid homes were actually deemed unfit for occupation if they weren't connected to water utilities, or on regulation foundations.
The state of Florida chartered that all homes must be on the water and electric grid, and an entire community was persecuted in Texas as a result of similar state regulations.
Colorado also attempted the shutting down of a sustainable community but did eventually back down.
In spite of these few reported cases municipal codes such as these will actively prevent people from progressing towards sustainability in the future, on our own terms at least. Hopefully it won't kick-start other places enforcing this rather oppressive legislation.
Despite the red tape, there are still many places around the world where you could start your sustainable life, and some even encourage you to do so. In India for example the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy provide off-grid subsidies to help you achieve self-sufficiency.
Although it takes a lot of planning and commitment, being quite a labour of love, the overall cost of off-grid life is still cheaper than a conventional home today, so it's probable we'll see a lot more of this in the future as we move away from fossil fuel dependence.
If eco construction is a topic that you would like to get involved in, find out more about Frontier's Zambia Eco Construction Project!
By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern
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