Alternate Energy and You – Five Keys to Being Self Sufficient

I was reading just the day about a guy who had converted his truck to run on woodgas. His top speed was 90mph, and he used scrap lumber for his fuel source. Wouldn’t that be cool to be able to do that too?

This man focused on one of the five parts of any self-sufficient alternative energy equation, and found an excellent way to make it happen. I tell anyone that asks me how I was able to live entirely off the grid with my wife and 8 kids for 4 years in a 5,000 sq ft house, to focus on these five things. In fact, ANYONE that wants to live entirely off the grid, and focus on being self-sufficient in this energy driven world, has to address all five areas sooner or later.

1. Electricity
2. Water, Food, Sewer
3. Heating, Cooling
4. Cooking, Refrigeration
5. Transportation

Don’t worry about tackling all five at once. Just pick one, focus on it, see how much money it saves you or how successful you are, then move on to the next one, even if all you’re interested in doing is lowering your energy costs by somehow implementing alternate energy.

Taking each one of these in turn, let’s briefly discuss these five keys for a moment.

1. The off-grid or residential power generation Electricity Equation has two parts to it as well: Generation and Conservation. Somewhere in there, you have to find a happy medium between the two. It’s pointless to generate huge power, then waste it needlessly without conservation.

With that said, the primary components of any efficient alternate energy or off-grid electrical Generation site are: the source, a charge controller and/or diverter, energy storage (usually batteries), and an inverter (to convert stored power to AC house current). Traditionally, the source can be solar, hydroelectric, or wind. Nontraditional sources, including several that are under development both here and elsewhere, include fuel cells, TEG’s (thermo-electric generators), gravity converters, ground batteries, ionospheric taps, and more (several of which can even be installed in city apartments).

2. Water, food, and sewer can be handled in several ways. Water filtration is pretty standard, as is rain collection in some areas. Many people have gardens, or know someone who does that they can trade with. Sewer can be everything from septic tanks or camping porta-potties, to self-composting units (a good option) or full water reclamation systems.

3. Heating and cooling can be done pretty simply. Most people use either solar for heat, or some sort of wood burning stove. Cooling is a bit tougher, but swamp coolers are pretty efficient, as are heat pumps with a ground loop for their external heat dump (cooling source). Of course you’ll also want to use good passive solar design for your home as well if you can. There are other options available as well, but these are the most common ones.

4. Cooking can also be accomplished by using wood, but many people prefer LP (Liquid Propane) or natural gas (that you can generate yourself as well). A number of people are also experimenting with using hydrogen and woodgas. As for refrigeration, an ice chest in a stream is good, as is a hole in the ground in the shadows somewhere. And of course, the old fashioned way to do it was to build an underground cellar somewhere, then stock it with ice during the winter, bury it with sawdust before spring, then dig out bits of ice for ice chest refrigeration, on an as needed basis.

5. As for transportation, get a bike. The exercise will do you good. J Barring that, go with a hybrid or a diesel (and convert to vegetable oil). Or if you’re ambitious enough, build an alcohol still or a woodgas unit (like the guy mentioned above). At a minimum, get a booklet called “26 Tips to Getting up to 50% Better Gas Mileage” online. If you put the info in it to use, it will dramatically improve your vehicle’s efficiency, thus saving you money here too.

Whether it’s just to save yourself some money, or to go completely off the grid with full energy independence, there are many ways to do it. So research it. And if you don’t know something, or something you read or hear does not make sense, don’t be afraid to ask. You won’t know how much you can save unless you try it.

Tim Benedict at is both a writer and garage inventor, and has posted some of his research and how he lived off grid for 4 years, in an ebook called Energy Independence in the New Millenium; An Introduction to Alternate Energy at