Off-Grid Electricity — Part 1

It’s clear that our ancestors understood how to live off-grid. In fact, it was less than 100 years ago that an executive order created the Rural Electrification Administration in the US. It’s purpose was to encourage electrification of rural areas. There was concern with the government “encouraging” a change in the electrification through guidelines and subsidized loans but it worked. Today, most rural areas have electricity.

But, most doesn’t mean all. For example, there may be electricity “near by” but the cost of your last mile connection may be more than constructing your own off-grid system. This happened to me in Nicaragua about 12 years ago. The cost of running power lines to my property was $27,000. I spent less than $15,000 and became grid-independent with no monthly electricity bills. The good news is that, today, the cost of off-grid equipment is much less expensive than 12 years ago.

A Tiny System

If you have a cabin in the mountains and just want a system to run electric lights and charge your cellular phone you can do this for very little money. Bright LED lights only drawing 8-12 watts. Let’s assume six hours with two lights on. That would be 120 watt hours. Charging a cell phone from dead to fully charged might amount to 30 watt hours. That gives you a total of 150 watt hours. You could easily supply this with small battery and an inverter. Then you need a way to charge it. If you assume 6 hours of full sun per day you would only need a 25 watt solar panel. You would also need a charge controller so that the battery is not overcharged.

Rather than buying all the pieces and connecting them together, here is an alternative. This unit, made by VATID, has a 650 watt hour Lithium Iron Phosphate battery, built-in light, 600 watt inverter for 120VAC, input for a solar panel, 12 volt DC outputs, USB outputs and an input for a charger (included) to charge it off the AC line. It also has a display showing battery status and estimated run time remaining.  It weighs less than 10 kg and cost about $250.

You can get flexible 50 watt flexible and very light-weight solar panels for less than $50. So, for around $300 you have a complete system that you can store when not in use or carry out with you.

Note that this system is but one example. I picked it as the best compromise for me of power vs. weight. Here are some other examples:

This unit has about twice the output but weighs more than my “under 10 kg” goal.

Here is a smaller unit. It is only capable of 300 watts output. This would probably be sufficient to run some lights and a laptop but not tools such as an electric drill.


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