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Ditch The Electricity, Kids: It May Soon Be Feasible To Live Off-Grid

Photo courtesy of Paulission Miura via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

You know what’s great? Light. So great, that God allegedly created it first. But God didn’t have to pay electric bills, and soon enough, you may not have to either.

Most people live “on the grid” “in the box” kind of lives, but there are a brave few who have thrown caution to the wind, unplugged their homes, forsaken public utilities (electricity, water, sewer, gas, etc), and become completely self sufficient.

This type of lifestyle is referred to as “off-grid” or “off-the-grid” (OTG; not to be confused with OG, original gangster, unless you want it to be.) The grid, of course, refers to connection to a national electrical grid — but for some, OTG is a philosophy of complete self-sustainability and cost- efficiency as well.

Who is doing it, and why?

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Right now, it’s estimated that there are about 1.7 billion people living off-grid worldwide. This includes some people in third-world countries who have never gotten the chance to get on it.

But by the Guardian’s estimates, in America alone as many as 2 million people were living off-grid as of 2014.

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For many, the decision to move off-grid is an ideological one. Nomads, hermits, and apocalypse survivalists may live off the grid, as well as eco-friendly tiny house owners or permaculture enthusiasts.

But others actually do so, increasingly, as a matter of financial convenience. As electricity prices rise and sustainable energy prices fall, off-grid living is becoming more and more feasible.

About 75 percent of fossil energy taken out of the ground to generate electricity never reaches the end user, and when it does, is wasted further by low-efficiency devices. Off-grid living aims to waste not, want not.

What’s it cost?

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Make no mistake — living off-grid is feasible, yes, but it is still hard work with a price tag attached. It requires sacrifice, energy, and yes, money, just to create a self-sufficient home, as installing and operating substitutes for public utilities is no small feat.

It’s estimated that the total cost of going off the grid is in the ballpark of $69,000, but that once you do it, it pays off. You’ll save $35,000 on power alone: 40 years worth of electricity.

According to the Guardian, off-grid living is on the verge of mainstream, especially after the release of Tesla batteries which decrease the cost of energy storage by 50 percent. The batteries will likely be cost-competitive with the power grid in many US states.

But despite some hype and rising popularity, the lifestyle is considered still eco-fringe. And we musn’t forget that while it’s trendy for some to make the switch, others have no choice.

The future of off-grid life

Dropping prices in solar and energy storage are creating an environment where it will soon be competitive with grid life. One can also keep a regular household and the forgo the grid. In Germany and Australia, it’s speculated to happen within the decade.

What may also happen is that small off-grid communities are created with the help of government and institutions, thusly creating jobs and reducing carbon footprints. This may or may not include localized generation systems fueled by sustainable sources and distributed through microgrids.

Some experts estimate that within the next two decades, breakthrough in solar and battery production could put greater power into the hands of the consumer, making utility companies obsolete.

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Jennifer Markert