Opinion piece by David Clarke. For more information see ramblingsdc.net
There are some selfish reasons to leave the electricity grid, and a very good altruistic reason to stay connected.
Recently there has been much speculation about the option of going off-grid; that is, installing (usually) solar PV power and batteries and disconnecting from the electricity supply network, the grid.
This article will not look at the economics. It will look into what the outcome is going to be to you, should you go off-grid and it will look into what effect that will have on the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The article is necessarily speculative. It is airing ideas more than providing facts and it applies to a country such as Australia, where most of the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels.
Why leave the power grid?
People are reducing their power consumption while the cost of maintaining the grid remains the same. So the income received by the power companies goes down and they increase their charges to compensate. As the price goes up, people reduce their consumption more; the power companies respond by jacking their prices up again. As the price of power goes up and the price of generating and storing electricity at home falls some people say enough is enough and decide to go off-grid. So consumption from the grid falls even more. It continues… This has been called the death spiral of the power grid.
What will it mean to you, personally?
If you go off-grid you will avoid the rising price of electricity and save the connection fee. Apart from the cost of going off-grid – which is high, but coming down all the time – the main disadvantage is that if you do not use exactly as much electricity as you generate (not necessarily at the time you generate it) the remainder will go to waste. You will not be able to sell it and no one else will be able to use it. If it did go into the grid it would displace an equal amount of ‘dirty’ fossil fuel-generated electricity.
How would you feel about it if a decision you made for selfish reasons adversely affected the nation’s greenhouse gas production rates?
An important point to note is that your solar panels will generate about twice as much power in December as they will in June, but your power consumption pattern might be quite different.
Most people who go off-grid will be relying on solar PV. It is likely that they will want more electricity than they are generating in the winter (short, dull, days) and they will probably generate far more than they need in summer (long, sunny days). To a small extent this can be counteracted by placing the solar panels at a steep angle; this means less electricity is generated in summer and in total for the whole year, but when the winter’s sun does shine the panels are facing it and winter generation is maximised.
What effect will the move off-grid have on the nation’s greenhouse emissions?
Those who go off-grid will no longer be able to feed renewable electricity into the grid; this electricity, had it gone into the grid, would have displaced some fossil-fuel generated electricity. They will probably have to use a fossil-fuel (petrol or diesel) powered generator to give them power when their PV (or wind or hydro) is not providing enough. Both effects will increase the nation’s greenhouse emissions compared to what they would have been if these people stayed on-grid.
If you care about climate change and ocean acidification, don’t go off-grid.
You can have independence without going off-grid
You can install solar PV (or a wind generator) and batteries and have them as a backup should the grid fail without disconnecting from the grid. It’s the best of both worlds; independence and your excess power displaces dirty fossil fuel generated power. Ask a reputable solar power installer about it.
You can, and should, drop the big three electricity suppliers
There are alternatives to the unethical big three: Energy Australia, AGL and Origin.
This article was adapted from a Net page: ramblingsdc.net/OffGrid. See that for more detail.