In 2006 I moved into the desert, away from all the city’s amenities. I sponged off the infrastructure of some friends while building my own little cabin in the boondocks.
Since I’m no professional builder and had no money, the project took years. At first my plan was very simple, just a private little shack with an outhouse. But the longer it took the more elaborate the project became. Running water became available, which made an actual flush toilet possible, which meant that in addition to buying and trenching a whole bunch of pipe I had to dig and build a septic system. It added months to the project, but hey! Indoor plumbing! What’s not to love?
See, when you pare things down to necessities you find that the most basic modern conveniences, while not strictly necessary for life, are each such improvements that they almost may as well be. Would you live without running water if you didn’t have to? Me neither. How about electricity?
You don’t realize how much electricity makes possible until you go without it. Lights at night, sure. But how about connectivity? Communications? Entertainment? Power tools? Do you even have a way to charge a cellphone battery? If not, you’d better be careful not to need emergency help.
Moving away from the grid doesn’t mean you have to join the Cult of Ludd. And it’s very satisfying to produce something for yourself that we all grew up thinking could only come from a giant utility company. I’m typing this in my cabin in the desert, several miles from the nearest power pole. I’m using a laptop computer, and will transmit the document over a modem to a satellite. Hey, I’m pushing sixty and I have to say That’s Just Cool.
So my original plan to go without electricity didn’t last long. But how to do it? Solar electric systems are impossibly expensive by my (completely broke) standards. Plus, I didn’t know anything about how to install one. If the Solar Power Fairy had dropped all the crated parts into my yard one night, I’d still have been stuck for how to put it together. And the Fairy doesn’t seem to make housecalls around here.
So this is a story of learning curves, and luck, and finding out (sometimes painfully) what I’m willing to do without and what I’m not. If you have any ideas about off-grid living in your own future, you might be able to profit from my experiences and mistakes.
You see, my little cabin has gone through two completely separate solar electric systems. The first one I made entirely with scrounged and cast-off parts; just whatever I found lying around. It cost virtually nothing. It was quite a learning experience, but it didn’t work very well. I built the second system on the same philosophy (keep it cheap) but not so extreme. It has run for almost a year without a hitch as of this writing, and I’ve been very happy with it.
In this 40-page booklet I’m going to show you both systems, and a few other things besides. It contains:
The book is brief, only 40 pages. It is not, repeat not, a technical manual. It will not walk you through all the steps for specing and installing a solar power system. It’s just the illustrated story, written in my usual manner, of how a crazy old guy with no money or knowledge tried to build his own off-grid solar power system, and finally succeeded.
I found your eBook to be a breath of fresh air in sharing your experiences of venturing into the subject. You explained many of the basics you either ferreted out of the information flood waters, friends and acquaintances who have real life — if not foraging based — experiences in developing systems and/or trail and error. In accurately descriptive words, you separated the wheat from the chaff in basic explanatory terms and cleared away a lot of the hype, promises and marketing present in more advanced works (which claimed to be “basic.”)
After reading your book, and experimenting with some basic components, I can now understand not only the knowledge I actually need, but can understand many of the sections about components — chargers, panel size and compatibility, battery requirements, etc. – to where I’m designing a system I have confidence in.
I found your book to be the best primer on the market and do thank you for it!
Joel, GREAT ebook! Worth every penny and written as though you were in the room speaking to me in person. Almost offered you a glass of lemonade. Ill spread the word about the book. Very down to earth, not technical and great ideas where to get stuff (the RV inverter is a brilliant idea) . I am plotting and planning my secret lair.. A great name for your shack. Keep up the good work. Write a few mre books while you’re at it.
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