Energy Independence


If you are going to be energy independent, you need a way to produce your own energy, and also a way to store the energy  produced so that it can be used in times of peak demand. For example, if you install a solar system on your home, your solar system
will produce the most power during the daylight hours, but you will tend to use the most power at night. That’s when you turn the lights on, cook most meals, and run electronic appliances such as televisions, stereo systems, and home computers. There are two ways to do this. You can have what’s called an on-grid system, taking advantage of net metering, or you can have an off-grid system that actually stores the power in a home storage battery for use when demand exceeds production.

Net Metering

Net metering refers to the option offered by many utilities of remaining connected to the power grid, but having the meter run in two directions instead of one. During times when energy production exceeds energy use, the excess power is “sold” to the utility giving you a credit, watt for watt, that covers power drawn from the utility during times when energy use exceeds your energy production. Essentially, if you have a solar system, during the day when it’s producing energy your electric meter runs backwards. At night, when you are using most of your energy and your solar system isn’t producing anything, your electric meter runs forward. At the end of the month, you are obligated to pay only for the “net” energy consumed: the amount you have bought from the utility minus the amount you have sold to the utility. If this is a positive number, you owe the utility for the excess electricity you have used. If it’s negative, the utility owes you a payment (usually at a steep discount; you won’t make a lot of money by selling the utility electricity, but you stand to SAVE a lot of money this way compared to buying everything from the utility).

Net metering has a number of advantages in terms of convenience and stability. You don’t have to invest in, make room for, or keep running properly a storage battery system as you do with an off-grid system. It’s easy to set up, since presumably you already have an electric meter installed and all that’s necessary is to hook up your home energy system to the grid and communicate with the electric utility to arrange for net metering. All of the most difficult technical aspects of maintaining a home energy system are handled by the energy utility essentially at zero cost to you. It costs less, since the system you install need not be as complete and you save the costs of the uninstalled components.

The disadvantage of net metering is that it leaves you still partially dependent on the energy grid and the energy utility. It’s not complete energy independence. If the utility were to decide one day no longer to allow net metering, you would be in a bind, having an energy production system that was essentially useless for your purposes. You would also remain vulnerable to energy blackouts, brownouts, and shortages over which you have no control.

Off-Grid Systems (Full Independence)

An off-grid system has the same energy production system as a net-metering system, but adds storage batteries and regulators to allow you to use energy at times when it’s not being produced. This can add substantially to the cost of your home energy system as well as the ongoing costs of maintenance. It’s the only option, obviously, for homes that have no convenient access to an electricity grid, and it’s also the only option that achieves complete and true energy independence.

Energy independence is the state of being able to produce all of the energy that one uses, and so being “independent” of any external source for energy. We speak of “energy independence” at the national level as meaning that the nation produces all of the energy it consumes and does not have to import any energy. There’s another meaning of “energy independence” that operates at the individual level, though, and that’s what we’re primarily concerned with here.

Being Energy Independent At Home

In order for a home to be “energy independent,” it’s necessary that it produce all of the energy that it uses. Obviously, that means it must produce energy. Most commonly, this is done through a home renewable or “green” energy system: a rooftop solar array, home wind power system, or biofuel maker and diesel-burning generator system. In addition to being able to produce power, it helps to make the home as energy-efficient as possible so as to reduce the amount of energy needed.

Why Bother?

Why be energy independent? There are several reasons. First and most obviously, it can save money. Although a home energy  system requires an initial expense to purchase and install, it reduces energy costs thereafter almost to zero (although maintenance
on the home energy system means that it isn’t actually dropped to zero). Over time, this can represent a considerable net savings. Also, to be dependent on any other person or company or organization is to be vulnerable. If you are dependent on the electric utility for the energy that powers your home, lights the nights, cooks your meals, keeps it a comfortable temperature, then the utility may be able to raise the electric rates, leaving you with no alternative but to pay what they are demanding. The same condition can leave you vulnerable to power outages over which you have no control.

Finally, being energy independent is desirable for environmental reasons. If you produce all of your own energy, you know that it’s being produced with sustainable, renewable energy technology, and that your home is not contributing greenhouse gases or other pollutants to the problems of global warming and other environmental dangers, nor are you consuming scarce and non-renewable energy resources.

For all of these reasons, energy independence is highly desirable.