Living off-the-grid requires a holistic knowledge of everything that the property consumes and produces, an ecosystem that, essentially or preferably, should be a closed cycle to ensure the technical feasibility and economic viability of the construction itself.
The balance can never be negative. In other words, if the property consumes more than it produces, there is no possibility of paying for the excess, as we are used to in cities.
At the same time, if something is left over, it means it was underutilized and resources were wasted. Without the urban infrastructure that provides us with daily facilities, a self-sufficient house or community must be able to provide all the means for living locally.
Although electricity may come to mind at first as the most important utility, water supply is extremely important factor for an off-grid living property. To secure an efficient water supply, it is necessary to identify one of the three most common sources of water: a nearby body of water (a water stream or the source of a river), a well, or collected rainwater.
Water from artesian wells or rainwater harvesting systems should preferably go through an intelligent filtering system before being used for consumption. However, to appropriately pump water from an underground cistern, electrical energy is indispensable.
Another concern in off-grid construction is related to waste management. Organic solid waste can be composted and recyclable solids must be sent to the appropriate destinations. Without urban collection to gather and distance us from our garbage, occupants will face the enormous amount of waste produced in a building.
Waste management is crucial, especially to prevent the pollution of the water sources that are used to supply water in off-grid properties. In relation to sewage, there are some options for satisfactory treatment. The most common choice for sewage treatment in places where there is no network is the septic tank.
The operation is simple: sewage enters the pit, where solid waste will settle, a crust will form on the surface and wastewater will remain between the layers, flowing to a sink. Bacteria that live inside the septic tank digest the organic fraction, helping to remove solids and remove most of the odor.
Wastewater slowly leaks out into a bed of gravel and soil below. Despite being able to carry out this primary treatment, the septic tank’s efficiency is low and limited, and it can pollute the soil and generate distinctive and often unpleasant odors. Also, it may require periodic emptying, which can be complex in remote areas.
There is also the possibility of reprocessing/recycling the sewage by separating the gray waters from the black ones. Gray waters refer to the effluent that comes from washing machines, showers, and bathroom sinks; the black water is that from toilets. Through a physical, chemical, or biological process, which removes most of the impurities in greywater, the effluent can be reused for non-potable uses, such as irrigation and for toilets.
To deal with black waters in off-grid properties, we can use biodigesters including acetic acid-forming bacteria (acetogens) and methane-forming archaea (methanogens). These organisms promote a number of chemical processes in converting the biomass to biogas. Obviously, each of the solutions proposed must be designed according to the needs and requirements of each project and accompanied by the recommendations of experienced professionals.
Living off-grid is a lifestyle choice for some, but an economical necessity for many. Even in advanced western economies the grid does not reach everywhere – and getting it extended to reach your dream property can be a surprisingly expensive proposition.
So how can you live a grid-connected lifestyle without the grid? Many property owners have done this by installing diesel generators to supply their needs.
These either run 24/7 or are turned off overnight. These overnight periods can either be without power, or small loads such as central heating boilers and fridges can be run from a battery-supplied inverter.
These systems work well, but there is a cost. Diesel is a variable cost. Long generator running hours also mean frequent servicing and replacement.
Any off-grid system will require careful selection. The power supplies are finite – unlike the grid! When considering the capacity of the system you will need to be realistic about your power consumption – including peak power. Under sizing, the system will result in power outages and/or extended generator running time.
The upfront costs of a larger system need to be balanced against the ongoing fuel costs. The Off-Grid systems proposed by ARENCOS are designed to optimize generator usage – cutting fuel consumption and wear and tear. We can also integrate renewable energy into the system to further drive down your fuel costs.
We achieve these savings by using state-of-the-art inverter charger units that regulate the loads applied to the generator to keep it loaded but not overloaded.
Of course, the first priority is to be as efficient as possible in your use of energy. Modern ‘A’ rated appliances, low energy lighting and good insulation will all reduce your demands.
The figures and illustrations within this document are all based on 15 kWh of energy usage a day (the average Greek domestic usage according to our research is approximately 4800 kWh – 13.15 kWh per day). Modern, sustainable residential properties, can use less than half of this amount.
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