Living off the grid brings a dangerous reality.
Whether I finally end up converting a school bus into a camper / RV, or building a shipping container home in the deep countryside, the chances are that I will need to generate my own electricity. Luckily, these days this isn’t as difficult as you might think. However, modern living uses a hell of a lot of electricity, especially in America. We may be looking at an electricity usage of 30 kWh, (kilowatt-hours), every day. However, with a little bit of arithmetic, (math), you can calculate your own likely electricity consumption, and your generating systems should be installed with that usage in mind.
There are three main ways to generate your very own off-the-grid power:
- A generator powered by an internal combustion engine. Generators come in a huge variety of sizes, capacities, and prices, but a 6 kW (kilowatt), generator might set you back £1,500, ($1,800). Other than capacity, the choice boils down to petrol, (gasoline), or diesel power. Generally speaking diesel is better, (but may be noisier). With a little work you can also run generators on gas, (propane, methane, natural gas), wood alcohol, (methanol), and paraffin, (kerosene). With some work, diesel generators will run on cooking oil.
- Solar Power. Stick some solar panels on the roof, or in the yard, and you have electricity while the sun is shining. Typically, solar power systems for a camper / RV, (and perhaps a shipping container home), produce 12 volt electricity, which is then used to charge a big battery, from which power is taken when anything electrical is switched on. To step up 12 volt direct current to 110, or 230 volt alternating current you need an inverter. These come in a huge variety of capacities and prices. You can buy them at Home Depot. Larger scale solar power systems, such as may be required by a decent sized shipping container home, usually need specialist installation. You will probably need to find an appropriate contractor.
- Wind Power. Wind power for a school bus camper / RV /motorhome would be very small scale and probably part of a 12 volt system. A wind turbine for a container home would be bigger, but in the scheme of things, still very small scale. A free standing wind turbine on a mast may need various regulatory permissions before you erect the thing. Most likely you will also be digging holes and trenches, so I hope you can use a mini-digger, (tiny backhoe).
Typically, the ‘belt and braces’ type of guy, (that’s me), would install both wind and solar power systems for his Camper / RV / Motorhome, or shipping container tiny home, perhaps with a diesel generator as back-up for both.
If you haven’t realised from the above, then off-the-grid electricity comes in two flavours;
- 12 volt DC, (direct current). This is the same as you get from an ordinary car battery. 12 volt DC systems can be installed by anyone competent in DIY.
- 120 volt (USA), 230 volt (Europe), and 240 volt (UK), alternating current. This is what you get from the sockets in your home, and is often known as mains electricity. Working with AC systems is normally not a DIY job, and at some point you will most likely need to employ a fully qualified electrical contractor.
So, you are generating your own electricity. That’s only half the story. Your camper / RV / motor home, and / or your container home will have to be wired to make use of all that lovely power. Basic wiring is well within the scope of a person very competent in DIY, and 12 volt DC lighting is dead easy. Mains electricity 110 volt and 230 volt AC is more complicated and you would do well to have your circuitry checked over by a properly qualified contractor before you use it.
Of course, these days you can actually buy a fully kitted out container home, complete with connections for all services, so all the wiring would be done for you. That sort of misses the point, doesn’t it? Amazon will sell you everything else you need to generate your own electricity.
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