Have you ever wondered what it would take to go completely off the municipal grid? In this post we will be giving you the ultimate guide to getting both your water and electricity supply completely off the grid.
Furthermore, we will be taking a comprehensive look at the products you will need; the systems that will be have to be put in place; the different ways of going off the grid and even the different stages of going off the grid.
We would love to include price estimates of going off the grid, but unfortunately because houses differ in sizes as well as the amount of electricity and water that gets used in each household, it is just not practical. However, if you would like to have an exact quote for getting your house off the grid please click here to book a consultation.
Now let's get into this ultimate guide to getting off the grid:
What does it mean to be off the grid?
To be off the grid means that you are utilising any means other than the municipal supply to supply your house with water and electricity. This can be done through using solar panels for electricity and perhaps a borehole system for water. And thereby, legally avoiding any municipal water and lights accounts.
How do I get off the grid?
This is the big question that often seems to deter people from attempting the go off-grid. In all honesty, though it is actually quite simple in principle. Let's first look at what you need electricity wise:
Solar panels: These panels have been designed to convert heat from the sun to into electricity. The majority of these panels are made from polycrystalline which is extremely apt at soaking up the sun's heat making it possible for the panels to generate heat even during low levels of sunlight.
Inverters and Batteries: The electricity generated by the solar panels is than fed into an inverter. This device is used to convert the DC feed from the solar panels into an AC feed for household use. i.e. it "inverts" DC into AC and back again. Other solar systems make use of batteries to store the power from the solar panels to be used when the consumer wishes to go off the grid. These batteries are usually lithium-ion batteries.
Control Panel: You will need a professionally build electrical control panel to control when you would like to switch from municipal to solar power and back again. You will also need this control panel to supply power from your inverters and batteries into your house.
Other options for off-grid electricity: If you wanted to follow a different route for off-grid electricity you could choose to have a fuel-powered generator installed. This is, however, quite noisy generally and you would always have to refuel the generator. That is why the majority of our customers decide to go the solar route.
Now let's take a look at how you could go off-grid in terms of your water supply:
Borehole Water: The most common way of getting water off the grid is to have your property's underground water table surveyed and then having a borehole drilled down into that water table. A borehole pump is then installed into your borehole which then pumps water from the water table either directly to your household plumbing or water storage tanks. It is important to note that if you already installed a solar electrical system, you will have to use a specialised solar borehole pump. Click here to learn more about solar borehole pumps or Click here to learn about all your borehole options
Water storage tanks: These come in different shapes and sizes but they all serve the same purpose - to keep your borehole water clean and away from the sun's evaporative powers.
Rain-water harvesting: This is the second most popular way of building up a water supply without the support of the municipal grid. Rain-water harvesting is a process of catching and storing rain-water in storage tanks. The water is harvested by attaching a series of pipe to your roof's gutters. The rain-water in the gutters is then transported straight to the water storage tanks. Some people will then pump this water straight to their garden irrigation system. Another option is to pump this water through a series of water filters and then into the house to use for both drinking and general household use. For a full guide on how rain-water harvesting works please check out one of previous posts here.
Solar Geysers: This is where off-grid water and electricity is combined to give you warm water. The solar geyser uses a series of solar heated tubes through which water is constantly cycled. Once the cycled water is hot enough it is then stored in a geyser to keep it warm for use. If the water cools down before it is used it will simply go through the same heating cycle.
We now know exactly what we will need so let me just in a few short words explain exactly how a house that is completely off the grid would function:
The off-grid House, here is how it all comes together
A series of solar panels will supply electricity to a system of inverters and batteries which in turn supply electricity to the house, and other necessary ancillaries. From here power will be supplied to the borehole pump to pump the water into storage tanks. Next the water will be pumped from the tanks by means of a booster pump. The booster pump will pump the water through a series of filters and then into the house's mainline. Through this system the house now has both water and electricity completely without the help of the municipal grid. And thus, we say this house is living off-the-grid. For more info on how these systems work please click here.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of going off the grid:
It would be so easy to say that there are no disadvantages because in essence you are getting free water and lights, right? Sadly, it's not that easy. So let's take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of getting off the grid as well as living off the grid.
No more municipal water and lights bills
No more unexpected black-outs
Consistent water pressure
Your water is always clean
You are completely self-reliant
Alternative energy systems are extremely efficient and reliable when installed correctly
Initial installation costs are very high
Low-sunlight could result in a lower yield in electricity which means you could run out if there isn't enough stored in your batteries.
If you only use solar geysers you could find yourself with luke-warm water on an overcast day.
Borehole water can be quite dirty sometimes which could result in frequent borehole pump replacements. As well as frequent filter replacements to ensure your water stays clean.
Water storage tanks and their accompanying pump and pipe setups can be quite unsightly.
As you can see it has its ups and downs but if you can live with some general maintenance and the initial cost, there really are very few down sides to living off the grid.
Different approaches to going off-grid:
It is important to note that there are several ways of achieving the end goal of being totally off the grid. Firstly, you could go the quickest but also the most costly way of just doing it all in one go. In other words, not following a phased approach of a little bit at a time as money allows. For example, installing solar panels an inverters first and then later on adding batteries and the rest of the infrastructure.
Secondly, you have the people who decide to get their water off the grid first. Here, just as with electricity, some people go full out and install the whole system in one shot or there are other who prefer to build the puzzle piece-by-piece. So a phased approach would look something like, installing a borehole pump first but then using the water only to water your garden. Thereafter, you might install water storage tanks and then even further on perhaps the filters and have it connected to your house.
In the long run, it will probably work out cheaper to have the whole off-grid system installed in one go. But, it is a massive initial expense and that is why most people prefer to do it in segments.
Who can help me take my house off the grid?
There are several companies in SA that can help you on your journey towards living off the grid, but there are very few companies who specialise in both off-grid water and electricity. Watertech, on the other hand, specialises in off-grid water and electricity solutions meaning that we are your one stop company to get you off the grid.
We have specialised in borehole pumps, rain-water harvesting, and sub-soil drainage for over 35-years now. And we have been installing and repairing solar or PV systems for over 5 years now. We have extensive experience in all Water technologies and therefore our technicians have also been highly trained in electric engineering.
If you ever have any questions about these off-grid systems please feel free to visit our website here. Or call us on 083 284 0491.