5 Factors Driving People Off-grid in the U.S. and How Solar-Powered Air Conditioning Helps
They may have different reasons, but something that a good chunk of U.S. liberals, conservatives, and libertarians all agree on is that severing the ties with utilities now makes sense. Once an avenue for hermits or non-conformist hippie tribes, five primary forces are now making off-grid living a logical choice for a wider swath of society.
1. COST DOWN FOR GOING OFF-GRID. The cost of going off-grid is now way, way down. Solar panels are now smaller and more efficient. And, importantly, their cost is down over 80% since 2010. And lithium-ion batteries, once out of the question for off-grid energy storage, have decreased in cost by 89% since 2010. Internet-based monitoring software now makes controlling off-grid systems easier. And, high-speed and inexpensive Internet has come to the most remote areas with conduits like 5G and satellite providers, also allowing you to be everywhere when you live in the middle of nowhere.
2. COST UP FOR STAYING ON GRID. Utility rates are way up. American, on average, will see $.144/kWh energy rates this summer, up 3.9% over last year, even as utility purchases (in part due to solar) are down (eia.gov). And, it's much worse in some places, like New England, where natural gas plants provide much of the electricity. Rates are up 16.4% there. Once you're off-grid, inflation, the price of natural gas, executive pay increases approved by local PUCs, etc. are not your problem anymore.
3. EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS AFFECTING THE GRID. We as a nation are not in agreement with what's causing climate change, but the change itself is well documented. Temperatures have been increasing, and climate disasters are increasing from weather extremes, leading to billion-dollar disasters and lost lives. About 1 in 10 homes were impacted by natural disasters in 2021 (CoreLogic). Some of this impact comes in the form of public safety power shutoffs to prevent fires actually caused by old or faulty utility equipment (such as those caused by PG&E for the Camp Fire and Dixie Fire). All good and well to be conservative to prevent loss of property and life, but surveys show that a majority of people like to have their utilities available all of the time, not just most of the time. By going off-grid, users control their power. The same can't be said for those who've gone solar with net metering via their local utility. The real fear of electrocution due to back feeding makes it illegal to run grid-tied systems when the rest of the grid is down. With no grid connection, off-grid homes keep humming along regardless of external conditions. And solar-powered air conditioners (like Airspool) don't even need batteries to run during the day. A nice fit for the day after a hurricane when the grid's down and it's back to 85 degrees and sunny.
4. FAVORABLE INCENTIVES. The I.R.S. still has favorable incentives for folks to become more environmentally friendly. There's still a 26% investment tax credit on solar installations, meaning that for every dollar you spend on solar, you get a $.26 discount directly off the amount of taxes you owe. And, qualified heat pumps have an additional tax incentive up to $300/unit.
5. DEMAND UP. The electrification of the world is increasing. In the 1990s, electric cooling (air conditioning, that is) and heating have led to an increase in residential consumption to 1.5 trillion kWh, up 67% since 1992. Even as air conditioning becomes much more efficient, we're all about comfort everywhere these days (air-conditioned garage? You bet!) And, now come the electric cars, which offer huge savings vs. running on gasoline (especially when that gasoline is over $5/gallon), but still require around 400 kWh/month. At $.14/kWh from grid energy, that adds another $50+/month to the electric utility bill. Those who go off-grid will avoid this charge. DC chargers will continue to evolve to charge electric cars directly from DC solar without storage. And in addition to solar-powered air conditioners with their DC motors, other DC appliances are coming. Perfect for off-griders to lower the transaction cost of cutting the utility cord.
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