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Off-the-grid or Grid-tied? Experiences from a new built house in rural area of Minnesota (US)

A year ago, Mike Larsen and Linda Nelson left their urban Minneapolis home and moved to the prairie in southeast Minnesota to live in a way more connected to the land. In this story, Mike writes about how they came to the decision to build their off-the-grid home.


Off-grid or not off-grid—that is the question. Indeed, that was a huge question. On paper, our house was turning out to be “green, sustainable, earth-hugged, solar powered, masonry heated, humanure composting, rainwater harvesting”.

Grid-tied versus Off-the-grid
There are definitely upsides to a grid-tied home—and we almost went that direction. By storing excess electricity on the grid, a grid-tied system would directly connect us to our neighbors and community. We’d become one of their electricity suppliers, potentially (and perhaps sneakily) reducing their reliance on fossil-fuel generated power. We’d also earn income by selling power to the electric company, hopefully offsetting the cost of power we purchased from the grid when the sun isn’t shining. And lower total cost means less hours employed means more time on the Land.
But for many reasons, we decided to go off the grid. Our first (and most valuable) step in going off-grid was touring four homes. By generously opening their off-grid homes to us, these pioneers gave us our first big “Aha!” There are as many good ways to go off-grid as there are good reasons to do it. And beyond all the good reasons for a grid-tied system, we discovered what draws some to off-grid. We knew about independence and self-reliance. 

Powered by the Sun
When we hired Curt Shellum of Solar Connection, we knew (because he was so forthcoming) we were buying his grid-tie skills and hoping that he’d close the gap to off-grid. And he did: He installed 12 ground-mount photovoltaic panels producing 2.9kW max, 16 batteries designed to store 4 days of typical electricity usage, 1 invertor for charging batteries (from solar panels or generator), inverting battery DC to usable AC and displaying performance (red means I better start the generator) and 1 generator (powered by our tractor’s PTO).
And the results never cease to amaze me. Since coming on line, our off-grid system has powered the remainder of the construction project: 3 inch drills, miter saw and attached vacuum, and fans blowing all night to dry the sheetrock mud. And now that we’ve moved into our home, the system has done all we need powering lights, 5 pumps, 2 fridges, freezer, computer, and phone. I was so relieved when I heard the roaring whir of the Vita-mix blender as it turned frozen strawberries into summer-tasting smoothies. Only once in 4 months, fearing the battery charge level would drop below the 50% spec. limit, did I start the backup generator. 

The Off-grid Journey
I need to make a confession about our brief grid-tie experience. The moment we started exploring grid-tie, we started designing our house differently, to suck more juice. Bigger fridge? Why not? The grid is always there. The moment we went back to the off-grid, the big fridge disappeared. So did any light that is not LED. Off-grid drove a behavior change for us that grid-tie never induced. And I liked the change.
Unlike the steady, always-as-much-as-we-want grid-tied system, off-grid follows the cycle of abundance and scarcity. This cycle connects me to the Land because it’s how I’m coming to per-ceive the Land: life, death and life-renewed. Lately, as I watch the dance of the wind-whipped grass, I’ve even thought of adding a small wind turbine. Yes, it will help keep the batteries full. Better yet, perhaps I’ll learn to feel more thrilled as the wind stings my face. Who knows what we’ll do? Off-grid isn’t a destination. Off-grid is a journey.


Source and complete article: http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/blog/post/2012/06/building-a-little-solar-powered-house-on-the-prairie-off-the-grid-or-grid-tied?cmpid=rss