Travels in the Off-Grid…
17. Partial off-grid a solution
WHAT DOES IT MEAN to go off-grid today? That’s becoming increasingly difficult to answer. What was once the attitude and technologies, even a way of life, of people living on the social fringe has now seeped into mainstream society where it has established and grown. Suburban people living everyday lives now come home to houses powered by photovoltaic panels and a house battery. They finish the day with a shower the water of which has been heated by the sun. They water their gardens from rainwater stored in a water tank. Some now commute in the electric vehicles recharged from the same solar panels that powers their houses and reduce their power bills by selling solar energy to the grid. A part of their dinner might have come straight from their home garden, the eggs from their chooks.
The tools, technologies and attitudes of off-grid living had their modern genesis during the 1970s although farmers and others living isolated rural lives had used them for decades before that. Then, they were the innovation of a youthful, socially adventurous social fringe. The oil crisis of 1973, when the Arab states of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries turned off the oil supply pipeline to the West in retaliation for its support of Israel during the war of the same year, stimulated interest in what we today call renewable energy and stimulated the institutional research that lay behind today’s renewable and off-grid systems.
There is still some way to go in making the off-grid technologies more efficient and effective and in recycling their waste products like expired photovoltaic panels, wind turbine blades and electric vehicle batteries. Progress has been made. The last few years have shown us how electric vehicle batteries can be redeployed to other systems and how wind turbine blades can be recycled. We can expect more.
Some adopt the off-grid as a route out of a world troubled with the uncertainties of global heating, of cities and city lifestyles accelerated to the point of stress by a runaway neoliberal economic system, of a contagious coronavirus and in search of a saner, slower and less-uncertain way of life over which they have greater control. Some adopt it to elude society and its institutions in general, especially in the US where it is government many seek escape from.
Is off-grid a viable way of life? For a small number, however partial off-gridding has greater potential for more people, for those living urban lives who preserve food, generate power from PV systems and have solar water heating and energy-efficient homes.
Off-grid living blends the past with the present… the old with the new… the hand-made with the machine-made. Technologically and in the tools we use it’s a sort-of hybrid life. We separate from some of the grids of modern life but remain connected to others. We live with our contradictions.