Living off the Grid: Not Just for the Amish Anymore

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Renewables and energy storage keep the lights on in this off-grid home

Whether you’re reading this on your computer or mobile device, you needed electricity from the grid to power at least one device in the process. Those electrons come from far-flung power plants, across miles of transmission lines, and out of a plug in your wall. This process may seem like just another part of life, but it’s not the only option.

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Some people have taken matters into their own hands, and haven’t paid a power bill in years. energyNOW! correspondent Patty Kim met some of the estimated 180,000 families across North America using clean energy technology to become self-sufficient and enjoy all the comforts of modern life, off the grid. You can watch the full video below:

Living “off the grid” may conjure images of counter-culture hippies or the old-fashioned ways of the Amish, but a growing number of people generate their own electricity and live in the lap of luxury without ever paying a utility bill. They’re called “off-gridders” and they look just like you and me.

Bill Kemp, an energy consultant and author of “The Renewable Energy Handbook,” decided to go off-grid when he found out running power lines to his new home outside Ottawa, Canada would cost a small fortune. Instead, Bill and his wife Lorraine decided to invest in renewables and energy storage. “A lot of people thought we were just plain crazy,” said Kemp.

Twenty years later, the Kemps are showing those doubters how off-grid living is done. Solar panels on their home and barn combine with two large rotating solar arrays to produce over 2,000 watts of energy, and a small wind turbine chips in 1,500 additional watts. On cloudy and windless days, a backup half-biodiesel, half-diesel generator can provide power.

All this renewable energy constantly charges a bank of batteries in their basement, storing excess electrons and keeping the lights on well after sundown. Maintenance is easy – all that’s required is distilled water for the batteries a few times a year. “It would be pretty tough to lose power here,” said Kemp. But the total cost for their system is no small change: $40,000 dollars.

But the Kemps aren’t the only ones finding success off the grid. Central Oregon is home to a thriving off-grid community of 300 homes. The Three Rivers Recreational Area is a gated community made up of million-dollar mansions, trailers, a fire hall, and even a yurt (traditional Mongolian home). “There’s nothing we do not have here,” said Elaine Budden, a Three Rivers resident. “Wireless Internet, washer/dryer, refrigeration – we have everything.”

Three Rivers was born of necessity, nearly 50 years ago. The 4,000-acre community was founded as a campground with individual lots for sale – but back then being off the grid wasn’t a choice. “There was no power here,” said Lorne Stills, a son of the community’s founders. “We had propane lights that put out about as much light as a cigarette lighter.”

But the community grew and was flourishing by the late 1970’s. Most homes and public buildings have their own solar systems, and wind turbines help meet power demand when the sun isn’t shining. Even though Three Rivers is 25 miles from the nearest Starbucks or supermarket, residents are happy. “The peace and quiet, the stars at night, the wildlife, we thought, ‘you know, we can make this work,” said Budden.

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