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Off the grid, on with life

Moving to a remote location and going “off the grid” doesn’t have to mean abandoning the comforts of home, says Phil. Here are some of his tips for living off solar power, as he and his wife Cheryl have done on their remote homestead in the New Mexico highlands.

Know your energy use:

Use instruments to measure how much power you use at different times of day, and what uses the most power. Most people underestimate their use, Phil says. Hint: Small, always-on things add up.

Have a backup plan:

There will be cloudy stretches when solar power dips (although even in clouds some power is generated.) A backup generator can get you through until the clouds break.

Create a “power budget:

From your records, map out what you expect to use in a given day. Also look for ways to cut back – turning off lights, buying more efficient appliances.

Size your solar:

In sunny climes, you can have as much power as your budget for solar panels will allow. Match it to your budget with a little surplus, and install batteries to save excess sun-power to use at night.

Use power-hungry appliances during daylight:

Simple timing makes a difference. Run the dishwasher and laundry during the day. Wait to use heating elements like coffee pots and electric skillets until the sun is up.