Living Off-Grid: 3 Years in the Life of a New Pioneer

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In Post-Depression America, the US government invested heavily in getting rural America On-Grid by authorizing and funding the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), plus helping about 700 rural power coops sting their customer's wires through the Rural Electification Program, after which, the Federal government remains fiduciary "noteholder". Forty years following the glowing success of those efforts, in what we might call the "UnGilding Era" of TreeHugging, going Off-Grid became a symbolic act of rebellion for counterculture members wanting to disconnect from high-consumption society. Nearly another 40 years have passed since those legendary, rebellious "disconnects" took place, and new and more powerful grid-reshaping forces are underway.


Young Americans are steadily abandoning ancestral land, especially in the Great Plains, leaving their coop-built electrical grids behind as they dissemble to the cities, looking for jobs and new lives not attached to the land.

Simultaneously, wind farm project success, where wind intensity is the absolute best, hangs on the prospects for updating those same rural electrical grids, so they can channel renewable electricity to the cities, now so rapidly filling with the new migrants.

Until the late 1990's, cable TV/broadband and cellular network accessibility were rate-limiters for the number of people willing to go beyond the suburban fringe. New pioneers were limited by communication options in other words. Recently, however, affordable cellular coverage is expanding to larger swaths of the "boondocks", and satellite Internet access has become more cost effective almost everywhere. Marrying these technologies to distributed power sources or even to an "Off-Grid" lifestyle, opens the door to a new crop of pioneers.

The last decade has seen new options for "distributed power introduction": essentially the use of neighborhood-scale clean power generators, often of combined heat and power (CHP) capability. Options include technologies such as micro-turbines, high density energy storage devices, natural gas powered fuel cells, and BI-SPV or Building Integrated-Solar Photovoltaic power. Deployment of these has gotten slick, as the technologies develop an aesthetic of their own. These are a far cry from the bolt-on, often quite unpleasing look of the original Off-Grid pioneers. Yet as always, it is the pioneer, the so called "early adopter" who gives us a glimpse of what another 40 years could bring.

Want to flip through the family photo album of a new generation of TreeHugger-Pioneer? Here's a look at a new millennium pioneer in off-grid living.

Psuedo-Off-Grid living seems also to be of interest for the a subgroup of wealthy homeowners who, feeling threatened by the risk of power interruption from tropical storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, or California-style brownouts, are plunking down serious cash to integrate "off-grid" technology into expansive estates and vacation homes. Look past the income differences and you'll see the pioneering instincts shared by homesteader and landed elite. And their expenditures both help sustain the service industries that will underpin tomorrow's renewable energy systems that serve the in-betweens. TreeHuggers all.

by: John Laumer

See also: ::Is Living Off-Grid Right for You?