Though living off-the-grid is tempting it probably isn’t as ecological as you may think it is. Electricity is an infrastructure that is best provided through collaborative systems instead of independent ones. It is unfortunate that so much of it is generated with an unnecessarily high ecological price – which is good enough reason to want to do it better on your own.
Being off the grid isn’t necessarily a smart financial choice either (at the present) because a completely independent system is still so expensive that it may never really repay itself (taking into consideration your level of consumption and price of grid electricity). Living off-the-grid is morally better but necessarily financially better.
Step 1: On The Grid
There are enough challenges and expenses when building a new house. Getting off-the-grid doesn’t need to be a top priority. If you are building a home and can connect to the grid then consider starting connected to the grid. You can design your home so that eventually it may be completely off-the-grid but you don’t need to implement it right away. You can designate places for photovoltaic panels, for wires, for batteries, converters, etc. but you don’t have to install them right from the start.
If, like us, you are building your own home then you will need a reliable source of electricity during construction. If you don’t have a grid-connection then you may need to bring a generator on site instead.
Step2: Self Generated
The next step, when you are ready for it is to start generating your own electricity. You should start with the natural resource that is most available to you. In the area of Cluj the leading sources are probably sun and water (if you’ve got running water on your property with enough altitude difference to generate the needed flow). If you are living in the mountains you may also have wind power available to you, yet it seems that commercial wind-powered generators are prohibitively expensive. In addition to the generating source (such as solar panels) you will need converters to convert and regulate your source current into 120v so it is compatible with all of your existing appliances.
It’s comfortable to do this while still connected to the grid because your self-generated electricity is backed- by the grid electricity (though you will need a grid-tie system to connect to the grid). If, for example, you rely on solar power then on cloudy days you still have all the power you need from the grid. If you generate more electricity then you consume then there is a good chance that your electric company will buy it from you. So in the end you may still be benefiting from grid-electricity but your bill will be zero or the electric company may pay you.
An efficient electric generating system and a low consumption home can generate a monthly revenue for you – so you may want to consider staying in this configuration and not going off the grid.
Step3: Off The Grid
To go completely off the grid you need to add to your electrical system a battery array. Batteries store energy when it is generated and make it available when it isn’t. If, for example, you rely on solar power then you will need batteries to supply you with electricity during the night when your solar panels are not providing you with electricity. Good batteries (that will work for 20 years) are initially very expensive to install. You may need additional converters to integrate them into your system and you need to be careful and monitor their use when your sources are not generating electricity (more on that in a separate post).
When you go off the grid you are completely on your own so regardless of any expenses (and potential losses) involved in doing so, make sure you are ready to be on your own (for example, in our house we are planning heating and hot-water systems that can operate at least basically when there is a power-out).
One reply on “3 Steps to Electricity Independence in Romania”
I’ll be the first…:)
50 times 48 metres deep
The biggest seasonal borehole thermal energy storage system in Europe is being built in Braedstrup, Denmark. The aim is to store the energy collected in a gigantic solar thermal energy system in an array of borehole heat exchangers over the winter, thereby significantly increasing the solar component of the local district heating network.
borehole heat exchanger, Denmark
Denmark is considered the El Dorado of district heating. Well over 90% of the people living in Copenhagen are connected to the local district heating network, and a central heat supply is run-of-the-mill in many smaller municipalities. The proportion of private households using district heating in the whole of Denmark is an impressive 50%. Less well known is the fact that Denmark is also home to some of the largest solar thermal energy installations in Europe, which also supply district heat to entire municipalities.
About 1,200 houses as well as public buildings and industrial establishments are currently connected to the district heating network in Braedstrup. The hot water demand in summer is completely covered by an existing, 8,000 m² solar energy plant. In terms of the total annual energy demand for heating and hot water, this however only corresponds to a solar contribution of about 10%.
The problem is well known and basically the same as for photovoltaic systems: The sun is the largest source of energy available to mankind – but the energy output of the sun simply isn’t constant over the course of a year. While an excess of thermal energy and sunlight readily is available in summer, the figures are on the low side in winter. To counteract this imbalance, research to develop efficient long-term storage systems has been conducted for many years. Such systems should store the excess energy and make it accessible for use in winter.
borehole heat exchanger, Denmark
How the storage system works
The already existing solar field in Braedstrup will be extended significantly in order to be able to cover a larger proportion of the required heat with solar energy. To make this energy available for use in winter, a seasonal borehole thermal energy storage system with 50 borehole heat exchangers made of PE-Xa will be constructed. This system stores the excess thermal energy at a depth of approximately 48 metres.
The way the storage system works is not very complicated: In summer, water heated up to 85 °C by the solar energy system, circulates in the borehole heat exchangers. The adjacent terrain is heated up in the process, creating a gigantic thermal energy store. In winter, when the thermal energy is required for the town’s district heating supply system, the heat is transferred back to the circulating water and extracted via a heat pump.
Gigantic insulated water storage systems or ground water storage reservoirs are an alternative to borehole thermal energy storage systems for seasonal storage of thermal energy. Projects in Germany or Canada have however demonstrated that borehole thermal energy storage systems are the most economic choice when geological conditions are suitable.
The solar collector area will be extended to 18,000 m² in the first extension phase of the project. The combination with the borehole thermal energy storage system makes it possible to increase the solar contribution to about 20%. But that’s not all: Extension of the solar collector surface area to a total of 60,000 m² and installation of 300–400 borehole heat exchangers for thermal energy storage, is planned for the final extension phase of the project. This is expected to result in a solar contribution to the total annual energy demand of 60%.