Over the last few weeks I have spoken to quite a few people who are currently living off-grid or are building their house now and want to live without a connection to the electrical utility grid. So I thought I would write about a few options for lighting an off-grid home.
I think the first most important thing to consider is LED technology (Light Emitting Diodes). In general you can get equivalent light from LED bulbs that use about 10% of the energy used by traditional incandescent bulbs. They are about 50% more energy efficient than the newer, CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. So, from an energy use perspective, they are great — but still more expensive than the alternatives. As more and more people change over to LED, they will become more affordable for everyone.
The term ‘Daylighting’ refers to the practice of adding windows or skylights to a building to allow more natural day light into the room. Needless to say this is not a new idea, but with a renewed emphasis on saving energy and saving money, it has been getting a lot more attention and discussion.
If you can turn off or dim your electric lights because you get enough sunlight through windows or skylights, it can be a significant savings.
I serve on the Enfield Energy Committee where we are trying to find ways for our town to reduce our energy consumption.
One of our projects is to evaluate all the streetlights in town and see if we can reduce the number and save on our town’s electric bill. We currently pay $25,000 for lighting streets in Enfield, and believe we could save $15,000 by removing many of them.
I volunteered to start getting the GPS locations of the 200 streetlights and map them on google so we can present this information to towns people.
LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. This is a lighting technology that we have seen for decades as little circles of light usually representing that a device is on… or, if the light is blinking maybe it means there is a problem or error. Green, red and yellow were the common colors and the easiest to manufacture. As soon as the first big manufacturer started using them in products the costs came down quickly and they caught on. They can be really inexpensive when you make them in large quantities (as is true with many products).
More recently manufacturers started working with other colors (like blue, which was hard to make at first); and then more products could use them, which drove the quantities up and the prices down even further.
Panels on a Barn
Over the last few weeks I’ve had a chance to discuss a number of interesting uses for small solar panels. The most obvious places to use solar energy are where you can get unobstructed sun and you are far enough away from your home or other building that you can’t easily plug into the 110V AC. People have been using solar panels for these purposes for decades.
The difference today is that the panels are getting less expensive and that many more people are choosing to use a renewable energy source when they realize that they can choose.
Direct replacement CFL
My town, Enfield, NH wants to provide residents with information on compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at the next town meeting. They would like to demonstrate the energy usage of various CFLs compared to incandescent bulbs in an effort to encourage saving money and saving energy.
They are creating a display board with a Kill-A-Watt meter to show you exactly how much power an incandescent and a CFL bulb use to provide the same brightness. I’ll have one of these in my store as well since it becomes very clear that you use a lot less energy with a CFL than traditional incandescent bulbs.