Introduction to Off-Grid Power

Modern society is addicted to electrical power. Every day we use a wide variety of electrical and electronic devices, from the smartphones we all carry around with us to the refrigerators that keep our food from spoiling.

But the electrical grid that supplies our power is old and extremely fragile. We see this in that it doesn’t take anything more serious than a major storm to cause power lines to break, plunging people into darkness. But storms aren’t the only thing that threatens our electrical grid. There are much more serious risks out there, some of which could take the entire grid down, leaving us without power for months or even longer.

While electrical power isn’t technically a major survival priority, it does help us with a number of things which are. Heating and cooling, refrigeration, food preparation light in our homes, medical uses and communications all depend on electricity. Without it, we have to fall back on more primitive methods. Due to this, many preppers view the ability to generate at least some electricity as an important part of their preps.

While having enough electrical generating capability to power your home requires a major investment, in an emergency situation, you could get by with much less. Of course, the more you can produce, the more of your current electronics you could use. But even having enough to power your refrigerator would be a major game changer in your survival strategy.

So, the question is, how can you produce your own electricity?

While there are a number of different means of doing this there really are only a few that are practical. Let’s look at those.

Gasoline or Diesel Generator

The easiest solution for producing your own electrical power is to buy a portable gas generator. Generators can be purchased for as little as $100, providing enough power to run your refrigerator, power some lights and even charge your cell phone. But while purchasing a generator is relatively inexpensive, buying enough fuel to keep it going isn’t. if you are going to end up in a situation where you need to run it for more than a few days, the cost is really going to mount up; that’s if you can find fuel to buy.

Hydroelectric

The most efficient renewable energy source is hydroelectric. Environmentalists who brag about countries which are producing nearly all their electrical power via “green, renewable means” are actually talking about countries that have the capability of producing over 90% of their electrical energy needs via hydroelectric dams.

Hydroelectric is the only renewable electrical power generating system which is actually reliable. Wind and solar power depend on nature providing them with wind or sunlight. For this reason, neither produces power all the time. But since hydroelectric power plants are built in conjunction with dams, the produce electric power 24/7.

You can produce your own hydroelectric power, without a dam, using a water wheel, geared up and connected to a generator. Of course, this requires owning property which borders a river or stream to power the plant. Without that, you can’t do it.

Solar Panels

Solar power has become the number one go-to solution for off-grid power. Mostly that’s because solar panels are relatively easy to buy, set up and use. While they only produce power when there is sunlight, they are designed in such a way as to provide power even when the sky is rather overcast.

The limitation of solar panels is that they really don’t produce a lot of power. Don’t let the listings, which say that a particular panel produces 80 or 100 watts fool you. That really isn’t much power. It’s even less when you consider that the rating is based on a 12 or 18 volt output and you’re probably going to have to invert that up to 120 volts to use it. When that happens, a 100 watt output is more like 10 watts.

Nevertheless, with enough solar panels you can produce quite a bit of electricity. Just don’t think you can get by with one or two. Plan on buying 20 or 30 over time; adding to your collection as you have the money to do so.

You can save about half the cost by building your own solar panels. Solar cells, the main component of the panels, are available on eBay, as well as other sources. While the process of building them is slow and tedious, the money saved makes that effort worthwhile.

Wind Turbine

Wind turbines can’t work in all places, because they need a steady 10 MPH wind to produce electricity. So a lot depends on how much wind you have where you live. But for those who have enough wind, a wind turbine is a great way of producing electricity. Dollar for dollar, you’ll get more power out of a wind turbine, than you will from solar panels. They also work at night, when solar panels are unable to produce electrical power.

Like solar panels, you can build your own wind turbines. Any DC motor will work as a generator. Adding blades, mounted on a hub, allow it to produce electricity when the wind is blowing. Just mount it in the wind, with a tail to keep it pointing the right way.

Which Should You Use?

Your best bet is not to rely on only one source of electrical power. If the area you live in provides you with ample wind and sun, use a combination. That way, if weather conditions keep one from working, you can still be producing electricity from the other. I personally use both, with solar panels and a wind turbine that I have built myself. While my system isn’t as large as I’d like yet, I have enough power to help my family make it through a blackout.

Don’t Forget a Battery Backup

Any off-grid power system needs a battery backup. Wind turbines and solar panels are designed to produce 14 to 20 volts, direct current. This allows them to charge 12 volt lead-acid batteries. Similar to car batteries, these are designed for deep cycling (using enough power to reduce the charge to 50%). Normal car batteries become damaged by deep cycling, while these are designed to handle deep cycling without damage.

You will probably need several batteries, not just one. As with the solar panels, you might want to start out with one and add additional batteries as you can afford to. The more you have, the more power you can draw, during times when your solar panels and wind turbine aren’t producing enough power.

The solar panels and wind generator are connected to the batteries through a Solar Charge Controller. This is basically a battery charger that is designed for an 18 volt DC input, rather than the 120 volt AC input that a normal car battery charger receives. To use the power stored in the batteries, a voltage inverter is used to bump the 12 volts DC up to 120 volts AC.

Actually, you’re better off using the 12 volt power from the batteries, without having to invert it up, when you can. This means having devices which will run off of 12 volt DC power, such as those which are designed to work in campers and for plugging into your car’s cigarette lighter.

I’ve strung 12 volt LED lights in my home, running off my battery backup system. These are the same types of lights that are used in recreational vehicles. While they don’t provide as much light as my normal home lighting, they do provide enough for emergency purposes. So, if I have to run my home off of my off-grid power, I can use these lights, reducing my total power consumption.

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