These come from a discussion on BLH about living “off-grid.” I am astonished, frankly, at the level of sheer stupidity that occurs over there. Not because there are people who are curious and who ask questions, but at the level of Nicole’s total stupidity and/or complete dishonesty.
Really, she knows better.
Dave and I have some experience dealing with solar panels. We lived fulltime in an RV (actually two of them, two different times) for several years. We had a solar panel system installed on one of them and did a lot of what RVers call “boondocking.” That’s parking in a place with no utility hookups. We spent an entire summer in Alaska in that rig and never plugged in once.
Solar panel technology has improved since then, but the basics remain the same. And while costs are down some, they aren’t down all that much.
While it is theoretically possible to run an air conditioning unit with solar panels, it’s not practical and it would be extremely expensive.
This is Ryan. Ryan is standing next to his tiny house, that he built himself. Ryan has way more on the ball than the Nauglers, and that is putting it mildly.
Ryan runs an AC unit in his tiny house. See the size? It’s 150 square feet plus the loft. For one person. One. One person’s body heat.
Ryan spent about $10,000 for the parts to put together his solar panel system.
Read that again. $10K.
And his description of using that solar panel system to run his tiny little air conditioner is enlightening. We’re talking about very minimal usage here.
Living in our solar-equipped RV, we became very conscious of how much electricity we were using. Our regulator was located with its face in the interior of the RV (in the kitchen area) so we could see how full the batteries were all the time. And we checked. A lot. Especially after we had a bit of experience with suddenly realizing that the batteries were all discharged and having to turn on the generator.
Our system consisted of three large panels mounted on our roof and three marine batteries. The entire affair, installed, cost us maybe $1500, maybe a bit more.
It would not run our AC, to put it mildly. It wouldn’t run our microwave. RV refrigerators run on gas when off-grid, with the exception of the indicator lights. We used a portable catalytic heater (gas) for heat, so never used the on-board heating system (which sucks juice because of the fan).
Essentially, we were using the solar system to power on-board lighting, various indicator lights, the water pump, the television, very small overhead fans (short term use only) and the occasional small electric appliance.
Most of the time, at sundown, we’d have our batteries powered to the max, especially on sunny days. We could watch a movie after dark. One movie. No more. We were very careful about lights, and RV lights are tiny things in the first place. I did discover that on a sunny day, I could use my sewing machine all day long without ever reducing the battery storage.
The Naugler’s solar system is something similar to what we had. It won’t do much more than run a few lights for a short while and charge their all-important smartphones. On the night of the Blessed Little Excursion, it was just after dark and the Blessed Little Generator was running full on. Right after dark, to run some Blessed Little Lights.
Dave and I moved out of the RV and bought our place here in Kentucky in the spring of 2008. We did it in part because we began to get very nervous as the real estate market began to collapse. This was before the stock market crash in the fall of that year. We owned several houses at the time and were trying to sell two of them and it was brutal. Nobody knew what was going to happen, of course. There were several reasons why we moved here and the economy was only one of them, but it was a factor.
And we’ve always been interested in using the least amount of energy possible when it comes to fossil fuels. I know perfectly well that if I use less, my little contribution will do exactly nothing to affect the long-term world usage, but what we were really concerned about was our own aging. We don’t want to get to be in our mid-eighties and suddenly be faced with radical lifestyle changes regarding fuel without a clue how to deal with them.
So we moved here to our little farm. We have 20 acres, with a large pasture all fenced. Our house is well insulated and energy efficient. We’ve been here for 8 years. We turned off the AC when we arrived here and didn’t turn it on again until the end of last summer.
We know how to live without air conditioning, in humid Kentucky, when it’s 100 degrees for several days in a row. We can handle it if we have to. It’s a skill we have learned.
Now it’s learned, and now we know, and now we have everything needed to do it, so we don’t have to do that anymore, so we have air conditioning again. It’s worth every single penny.
Another thing we did was disconnect our hot water heater entirely. This came about as an experiment. When we bought our wood cook stove, it came with a reservoir that sits at the back and heats water. Initially, we thought we’d never use it much, but we played with it and realized that during the winter, we have a free source of hot water.
Here’s my wood stove. The firebox is on the left. The oven is to the right. It’s a full-sized oven, actually bigger than the one in my gas range. That’s one of my canners on it (I was canning something when the photo was taken). The water reservoir is the black rectangular thing in the back.
I wish somebody had explained to me how useful and wonderful these wood stoves are many years ago. They last forever if cared for, and cost about the same as a good plain Jane wood stove, but in addition to heating our entire house (we do not use our heat pump in winter), I also cook and bake on it in winter and we heat our hot water as well. Of course, we had the ideal hearth in place already to put it.
Anyway, we looked that reservoir and decided that it would be neat if we could figure out a way to use that hot water for more than just washing dishes. So I bought a few of these.
In summer, we put them out on the back deck and they heat up nicely. In winter, we fill them using the wood stove reservoir. Dave installed a heavy hook in the shower and it works great.
As a result of all this and some other energy-reducing measures, for several years, our electric bill was around $30/month. It’s higher now, even without the a/c, but that’s not because our KWH usage has increased. It’s because the price per KWH has increased. And we are seriously considering reconnecting our hot water heater, or perhaps replacing it with a more efficient unit. We get older every year and we already know how to do this if we have to.
Let’s go back to Ryan’s $10,000 for his solar panel setup. Without our air conditioning, our electric bill currently is about $50 month. Investing $10K in a solar panel setup, for us, is just ridiculous. At fifty dollars a month, we could pay our electric bill for almost 17 years before we’d spend that much, longer if you factor in the interest we can earn on that $10K.
Yes, our bills are likely going to be higher over time. But Ryan’s solar panels and battery bank are going to require replacement (batteries, especially) and maintenance. Furthermore, Ryan has to fiddle with this stuff all the time. I know. We’ve lived with it. It means replacing all your current electric appliances (running a conventional refrigerator off solar panels is not practical, nor is running a freezer and we have two of each.)
And Dave and I are old and getting older. It would be a stupid decision. Electricity is cheap.
If you live in a place where getting electricity is either impossible or horrendously expensive, it might a whole different story. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Neither I nor Nicole live in a place like that.
So, now that I have established my credibility, let’s go back to the list on Nicole’s FB page.
hot showers, air conditioning, dishwasher, washing machine, “laundry appliances”, indoor plumbing
Going down that list, one by one.
Hot showers: doable without any solar panels. Lots of ways to do it, but the simplest is the little portable solar shower I showed above. I have about five of them. You don’t want to heat water with solar panels.
Air conditioning: not practical and very, very expensive.
Dishwasher: for pity’s sake, people. Wash the dishes. I haven’t had a dishwasher for many years. It’s really okay and I have a whole cabinet I get to use. I can’t even imagine somebody talking about going off-grid but demanding a dishwasher.
Washing machine: depending on the model, that would be doable. The hot water to go in it (like the hot water for a dishwasher) becomes problematic, though. Heating hot water with solar panels is just ridiculous. Nobody does it. You can build a solar hot water heater (not the same thing as solar panels at all), but we’ve never done that.
“Laundry appliances:” The expression implies dryer. A clothes dryer is out of the question on a solar panel setup. I don’t have one and haven’t had one in many years. In summer, I hang clothes outside. In winter, I do too if possible, but if not possible, I put them on racks in front of the wood stove. I even had a clothesline affair that Dave built for me using PVC pipe that hooked onto the back of our RV.
And the answer Nicole gives twice is:
You can have all of that off grid. You just need the solar panels to sustain it.
No, you can’t. Unless you have unlimited cash and don’t mind throwing it away. And she makes it sound like it’s all so easy. Just buy some solar panels.
When in discussions like this, Nicole always acts like she’s the authority. She has all the answers. Always. Nobody can tell her anything, and anyone who tries is immediately slammed and/or banned. Yet when she’s criticized, suddenly they are just “beginners” and they “make mistakes.” Which is it?
They live in a garden shed and run a generator to light it at night. Their place looks like it is in Bangladesh, not the United States. Standing in the weeds up to their chests and with trash strewn everywhere, they remind me of the movie Deliverance. Their Blessed Little Solar Panel setup was donated to them, as was almost everything else they have. They have spent three years on that land floundering around, and in her own words, “spinning their wheels.” Only they don’t even have any wheels to spin. They spend most of their days at their totally on-grid business place. They are the last people on earth to be trying to tell other people how to do this.