Plugging in to the Wind and Sun

Go off the grid without losing power


| July 28, 2005


Letting go of electric appliances and other modern conveniences is a form of environmental asceticism that most people aren't willing to undertake. But unlike those in the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, not everyone who moves off the grid has to do away with all, or even any, modern accoutrements. Contemporary back-to-the-landers aren't retreating from modernity; they're bringing it with them, constructing homes and retreats equipped with solar panels and wind turbines that provide plenty of power year-round.

Writing in E Magazine, Jim Motavalli highlights the success stories of a handful of families who live electrified lives off the grid. After five years that included hand-cranking a wringer for laundry and cooking by flashlight, the Lillys installed solar panels and wind turbines to bring electricity to their West Virginia farm. Jim and Mindy Phypers don't have to do without a refrigerator, stereo, computer, or even a microwave, let alone lights and hot water. The couple, who live in sun-drenched Tucson, Arizona, get their power from twelve solar panels, a wind turbine, and solar heating tubes that put hot water in the taps.

For those who would follow in the Lillys' and Phyperses' footsteps, organizations in the US and Canada are springing up to help. Grist's Umbra Fisk provides a trove of such resources for people looking to install micro-wind turbines on their property. She recommends visiting the National Wind Technology Center's online Clean Power Estimator, which helps determine the viability of wind power in a specific area. The Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the United States also gives information that can be helpful in deciding whether to turn to wind as an alternative power source. The Solar Living Institute, a nonprofit spin-off of Real Goods, a northern California green-living company, has the goods on renewable energy and green building design and demonstrates them in action at the organization's Solar Living Center in Hopland, California.

Several companies sell products that help consumers convert their households to alternative power sources. Among them is John Schaeffer's aforementioned Real Goods, founded in 1978 to meet the needs of participants in the original back-to-the-land movement. The company now sells solar panels, micro-wind turbines, batteries, and environmentally friendly appliances. According to Motavalli, many back-to-the-landers rely on Lehman's, a Kidron, Ohio-based company that sells nonelectric appliances and other necessities for an off-the-grid lifestyle.



Go there >> Unplugging: Living Off the Grid

Go there too >> Easy, Breezy, Beautiful: On Micro Wind














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