Off Grid Living off the grid in Australia

We are often asked how to live off the grid in Australia. Living off the grid is not as hard as it looks. It requires some thought, maybe a rethink on old habits and not being allowed to be misled by misconceptions. These are some musings by our Managing Director. A bit of a rant really, but it is practical.


If you want to live off the grid The Solarman can help, but we leave that till the end.

What is an Off Grid or a Mini Grid System

Off grid is where you do not take any power from the grid or the electricity network. It literally means you cut the umbilical cord of the grid connected to your house and you no longer rely on that energy to come into your house.


It can be a pretty gutsy call and why has it changed in the past year or so.


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1. Firstly awareness. There is no doubt Elon Musk of Tesla is a top marketer. His announcement of the Tesla Powerwall hit the headlines and created the thought of living off the grid. The Tesla battery is the Apple concept of a battery. It is sleek, delivers good performance and is good looking. It is the latest technology when it comes to off grid systems and it delivers as stated in the brochure. More on batteries later and how it helps to live off the grid.


2. Secondly Technology Improvements. We lie in a fast-moving technology change mode. Every day new ideas come out of the news and things that make life easier for us. Living off the grid now is easier than ever before due to the advancement made in materials, connections, management systems and the whole package that is required to live off the grid. These improvements shall continue, not only in battery storage but also in solar panels, wind turbines and other sources of power.


3. Thirdly price. The cost of living off the grid has always been determined by the economics. The price of solar, the price of batteries per cycle have fallen dramatically over the past years. Barring some major breakthrough in technology these price falls are starting to wane and not likely to have the exponential price falls they have in the past.


4. Fourthly is consumption and the environment. Living off the grid requires a mind-set which people are now more ready to grasp. Reducing power bills by using LED lights, turning the switch off, considering how much water we boil when we only need one cup of hot water all add up to the reduction of consumption, the focus has moved away from the supply side and individuals are willing to consider this as part of the action they take to live off the grid. Are the sacrifices big? In fact, they need to be nothing, just think about how the energy is used until it becomes habit.


These four items are not the end of it but when one says I am going to live off the grid in Australia or wherever they certainly are major factors.

Bluntly it is not rocket science. In the simplest of terms, you build your own power station, you store the excess energy you do not use and when the energy is not available you take it from the storage.


Living off the grid means you then consider how you consume that energy; it is real, it is yours, you have invested in setting up your own power station, your own mini-grid. Just like we consider how we spend our money, you then start to think about how you spend or use your energy.


So, you look at your consumption side. The costliest consideration is the hot water system. Solar hot water is the go-to alternative; however, you can also use a normal electric hot water system and up the solar to feed the system, it can be a cheaper alternative. You can use instant gas, you can go with cold showers but living off the grid in Australia is about getting the same as if you were on the grid. Then look at your other items, old fridges, poor insulation on the fridge doors, where is energy wasted, where can we turn things on (pool filter) when only the solar/supply is working so we do not draw from the storage.


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Living off the grid means considering these things. LED lights are obvious, turn the switch off is the other, it is not hard. Boil the kettle for the right amount of water, do not fill it up and then use 10% of it, energy is wasted.

Now here is the rub, there are a lot of theories on this whole matter. The policy ranges from "just in case, just in case" through to "how much can I get away with."


We have given later an actual example. However, if you wish to live off the grid there are many considerations and a lot of it comes down to your willingness to change habits or just be aware of your mini grid limitations.


Not hard really.


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A few options are as follows:

  • Remain connected on grid for when there is a glitz of some sort.
  • Up the storage to a level that is way beyond worst scenario.
  • Up the storage but have available a generator that can be started manually to 'top up'
  • Go lighter on storage but have an automatic generator that 'tops-up' when needed.

Which one? Up to you. Small generators are quiet (Honda, Yamaha) and will not disturb the neighbours while being reasonable to buy.


Batteries become exponentially cheaper as you go up in size (similar fixed cost to install)


Solar panels become exponentially cheaper as you install more of them.


Consumption side are things to consider individually. (For instance, recent client had 4 old fridges, replaced them with 2 new ones, electricity consumption dropped near on 44%)


So, there is a balance, let me tell you about our client the Shedaholic, Gurragawee in Northern NSW.


This property has two sections and has installed two mini grids.


Both are driven by solar and storage is Gel lead acid (Customer choice), two lots of 20kWH.


Top up is by either a small Honda 2kVA or an 8kVA electric start on wheels petrol generator. This one was purchased so the Shedaholic (Kate) could easily start same and is portable. Both are easily started and plugged in on a 15amp extension cord. Simple.


In the sheds all lights are LED, Hot water is Gas Instant, Gas stove and cook top, hot water kettle gas, sometimes electric. Reasonable farm workshop with small welders and compressors, usual computers, TV's and the norm. No swimming pool as the property is on a creek (Lucky buggers).


Total installed solar is 20kW in three lots and they may add say 2-4 kW and have plenty of room for it and more if needed. Batteries, they chose Gel Lead Acid due to price, quality and availability of other alternatives (at the time, 2016) in the volume the Shedaholic wanted.


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Gurragawee's received a number of quotes which were quite outstanding in their diversity. Total commercial cost was just under $55,000 after rebates. However, one quote was as high as A$200k for the whole system and another was over $130k. In these cases, the 'best European panels and inverters' shared with the best Austrian batteries were combined with "our excellent service and unique know how". Importantly it included 2 (two) 10kW stand-alone diesel generators one for each grid for the time in the year when it might not get any sunlight and you might have to turn it one for an hour or two, on each mini-grid.


Frankly they are correct if you read the manuals. But they also assumed that sometime in the future Shedaholic might add air conditioners or an electric gig-a-me-thing and you better have this "just in case just in case, just in case… maybe".


So, as you decide to live off the grid, you have a decision to make. The one end is, you can put in place for every contingency, a quantity of energy that is fail-safe-energy or you can take the opposite end and put in just enough, trial, change habits and then add as you see fit. The Shedaholic put in above what was thought to be needed and all ok so far.


Of course, you can always be slightly above this and see what happens. This is your decision if you want to live off grid in Australia.


This is what living off the grid is about, choices about how you use your mini-grid and spend your energy from your power station.

A lot of people will not agree with Shedaholic Kate. However, there is sense in her methodology. Rather than burning a motza of capital, she estimated her use, installed to that, acted to that and it has worked out.


Yes, she has had to charge the batteries when one of her hillbilly cousins hooked in the caravan and turned every living thing on. Yes, she has had to start the generator recently when it rained for 3 weeks, but that was for about 8 hours in total. Does that justify having a 2x 10kW monsters sitting there, lurking vulture like ready to go just in case. Not according to the Shedaholic.


But a note of caution. There are no air conditioners, does not need them; no electric heaters uses wood fired for heat, plenty of bad trees; and no electric stove or hot water systems, electric kettles used sparingly. But these were Shedaholic's decision and her plan of how she lives off the grid. Has she gone without, no.


If you want them, then you up the ante and certainly there are improved battery solutions now more readily available even in that short time.

Okay now we come to the sell bit.


Frankly really think about this. If you are suburban and just want to have some battery and cut your bill, fill your boots, plenty of solutions and options, only limited by your cheque book. But be aware we will not oversell you, our job is to give you want you want as economically as we can. Trust us, we will not oversell you just as we did not oversell with the Shedaholic.


If you seriously want to go


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entirely off grid in the burbs then we need to consider your roof area, the appliances you have, what is it you need and if it is possible. It is always possible, just what you are willing to give up or stretch or maybe not, only one way to find out is ask. We can ascertain a lot from you power bill, as we said it is not rocket science.


If you are out in the country it is relatively easy, if room is not the problem you can have as much solar and storage as you want. Again, a system can be designed to meet expectations, have a level of contingency and fail safe. You do not have to spend millions and ALWAYS consider your consumption side.

We are product agnostic. Yes, we will sell you the Eco Whisper turbine and maybe the VoltLogic if required and suitable. If not we find the best for the budget and needs. The best does not come from a country it comes from the manufacturer that offers the best service when it goes wrong. If it goes wrong you want if fixed NOW, not is some week's time. We look for reliable local supply chains first, we match and give you options.


The important thing is the install and we only use the registered, insured and certified installers.

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