Depending on which level of off-grid living you choose, discovering the best renewable energy source for your homestead can be of the utmost importance.
There are many reasons people choose to be off-grid. The most obvious is the saving of money on monthly power bills.
Without a doubt, deciding on which renewable energy source that’s best for you is a big decision.
Living off-grid has its own benefits and rewards.
The first thing to understand is setting up your system will require an upfront cost.
However, but many off-grid power systems quickly pay for themselves.
We want to help you discover which renewable energy source is right for your homestead by looking at how location affects the choice of power and the importance of considering the year-round availability of the source or sources you choose.
Renewable Energy Variables
There are a few variables which will contribute to your choice of the best renewable energy source for your homestead, such as location and even plain ole personal preference.
For example, if your homestead has good southern exposure, a solar system may be the right choice. An area with constant wind exposure might best be suited for a wind turbine.
When thinking of off-grid power sources, many people think of wood power first. This means they have to know what the best trees for firewood are in their area.
However, for many off-grid homesteaders, there are other power needs which cannot be met with wood.
We’ll cover power options and hopefully, help you discover the best renewable energy source for your homestead.
The right system will save you money on rising electrical costs or save you from having to deal with a total grid meltdown. There are many things contributing to the rising concern over the aging power grid.
Solar power is an option for those who have good southern exposure on their homestead. The workings of a solar system are fairly straightforward.
For example, a simple explanation of solar power is this.
Solar panels capture energy from the sun. An inverter then converts the energy, and the energy is stored in a battery bank.
The batteries provide the power for your energy needs. Any excess energy is diverted away from the batteries until needed.
Wind Power For Renewable Energy
Wind turbines need…you guessed it! A fair amount of wind.
To make an accurate determination of the possibility of using wind power on your homestead, you’ll need to take wind measurements at the location you’re considering placing the wind turbine.
Some people suggest taking readings for an entire year so you can have an accurate look at year-round wind power availability on your homestead.
The AWEA suggests a wind turbine owner should have an average wind speed of 10 MPH to be able to use wind power successfully.
Hydroelectric Renewable Energy
A basic explanation of hydroelectric power is converting kinetic energy into electricity. You can divert the incoming stream into a pipe and taper down the size of the pipe over a distance. This increases water pressure.
As the water exits the pipe, it would hit a Pelton wheel or other devices. As the water turns the wheel, the wheel powers a turbine which generates electricity. The electricity is used directly and/or stored in batteries.
Depending on your property and access to running water, it may or may not be something you want to explore. Small hydroelectric power systems are in use in many applications today. These systems can generate power every hour of every day where water flows and the system remains functional regardless of rain or shine.
There are several hydroelectric power kits available for purchase on the web.
Diesel Generators for Power
Diesel generators are rugged, reliable, and need very little maintenance.
Although they’re a great way to supplement your renewable energy source, they’re not designed to be a primary source of energy.
Diesel generators require fuel, oil, filters, hoses, replacement batteries, and a host of other minor supplies which are readily available at your local store. A diesel engine can run on different kinds of fuels. A little research on the web may surprise you at the ways people have found to run diesel engines.
Geothermal Renewable Energy
Geothermal power is generated from heat which is stored in cracks in the earth’s crust. Electricity is produced by drilling into the earth and utilizing the steam power stored there.
Steam generated from the heat is piped to the surface where it drives turbines which convert the energy to electricity to meet your power needs.
There are a couple of drawbacks to consider.
You must live in an area where geothermal power is an option. Only in geothermal areas is it even feasible to consider.
If you’re interested in geothermal power, you should contact a geologist to see if you are in a good location. Geothermal power is primarily designed and used as a large-scale industrial solution, not as a residential solution. This means there will be extra design and installation expenses for a small homestead application.
One advantage of geothermal power is it’s not affected by environmental issues which affect other alternative power sources. It runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Batteries are the Backbone of Every System
Because batteries are the backbone of most every off-grid power system, they will also be the biggest expense. They store power for use during the night or on days when there isn’t enough power to run your homestead.
Batteries have come a long way in the last few years and some now require little to no maintenance to continue working for up to 20 years.
Many of the first off-grid homesteaders used car batteries to store energy. Unfortunately, they didn’t last more than a year because they weren’t designed to endure this kind of use.
Deep Cycle, Lead, Acid Batteries
Then came deep cycle, lead, acid batteries which charge deep and provide a steady current for a longer period. The characteristics of the acid battery’s deep-cycle storage cells made them perfect for the off-grid homesteader.
- They require monthly maintenance.
- Water needs to be periodically added to the solution to account for attrition.
- Lead-acid batteries are inexpensive, don’t weigh a ton, and produce quality energy on demand.
- Multiple batteries can be arranged in sequence and in parallel sets to store energy to meet your needs.
This type of battery includes golf cart batteries, which are mass produced and have one of the lowest upfront costs.
A set of four 6-volt, 225-Amp batteries hooked in sequence will produce 4 Kilowatt hours of energy. If you need more, you can set up a three-string limit for a total of 16 Kilowatt hours of power. These batteries can last up to 5 years with good maintenance as they are extremely dependable.
L16 batteries were originally made for use in floor scrubbers.
- Their lifespan is longer than golf cart batteries, coming in at around 8 years.
- They’re twice as heavy, weighing around 120 pounds.
- They’re also twice as expensive and might not be worth the initial expense.
This brings us to industrial batteries. The price of these puts most of us off.
- Start at around $2000 and go as high as $10,000 depending on your setup.
- They weigh over 300 lbs each.
- A benefit of industrial batteries is they can produce a whopping 2,500 Amps of power per cell and have a 20-year possible lifespan. In the long run, they can save time and money if you are good at keeping up with the regular required maintenance.
Other Battery Options
Sealed lead-acid batteries, use gel electrolytes to make what many consider a better battery. They have two major weaknesses. They are extremely sensitive to charge levels. This means overcharging can easily damage them. Kind of like a person with their feelings always on their sleeves – I mean really sensitive!
Then there is the price. They come in at about twice the cost of industrial batteries, but they only last half as long. Making this battery possibly worthless on the off-grid homestead.
Maybe it would be an option if you have a seasonal home. Seasonal homes only need energy now and then and these batteries may work since they don’t require continued maintenance.
AGM (absorbed glass mat) batteries require no maintenance, produce no gases which must be properly vented, and take up less space than most other batteries.
Additionally, they won’t have terminal corrosion problems and can be charged to lower charge rates. There are some situations where AGM batteries are not suitable. These include:
- Areas with poor ventilation
- Places which are prone to vibrations or shock
- Remote sites where maintenance would be difficult to perform
- Temperatures of -40 F or lower
- Areas where you need a totally sealed battery for safety or environmental reasons (I think this is necessary everywhere)
Tesla’s New Powerwall
This is a new battery offering from Tesla. The possibilities of what they are offering to those seeking to be off-grid are astounding! The company website states:
“Current generation home batteries are bulky, expensive to install and expensive to maintain. In contrast, Powerwall’s lithium ion battery inherits Tesla’s proven automotive battery technology to power your home safely and economically. Completely automated, it installs easily and requires no maintenance.”
Every homesteader must determine what is the best renewable energy source for their homestead. The factors which determine this are property location, weather, and of course money to invest in your energy freedom.
Ultimately, every small step adds up. With all the options available, you can decide which one or any combination of these will be the best renewable energy source for your homestead. You’ll be saving money and produce the peace of mind which supplying your own power needs brings.
What is the best renewable energy source for you and your family?
Do you use renewable energy on your homestead? Please share your experience with us.