With the ever-rising price of electricity and gas for home heating and lighting more people are at least considering going off-grid and generating their own electricity. How feasible would it be for you?
There are plenty of alternatives to gas central heating, though none of them are as convenient and most will cost you more. Coal and oil fired boilers are available, but that does not really count as going off-grid. Wood-pellet stoves may be green but it is hardly self-sufficiency and they are not cheap either.
A wood-fired boiler using your own timber is the only real alternative, and that requires you to live in the country with access to a large supply of hardwood trees. A wood burning stove or boiler consumes vast amounts of fuel in a season. You will need storage space for three to five cubic metres of stacked logs to see you through the heating season. Pine logs are useless in terms of the heat generated and you need to have your next winter’s supply of hard wood cut and ready to dry out by spring.
Insulating your home to the maximum is the only way to make a wood-burning heating system viable. This will reduce the amount of heat that you need to produce.
There are ways to generate your own electricity. Photo-voltaic cells being the most obvious one, but small wind-turbines are also feasible. You could run your heating from your own electricity of course, but you had better have your insulation sorted out first.
Photovoltaic (PV) cells on your roof and South-facing walls will convert sunlight into electricity. It does not even need to be direct sunlight; they work on a cloudy day, but do produce more electricity in bright sunlight. The main problem with PV cells is that they produce electricity during the day and you need it at night for lighting.
You can export your surplus day-time electricity to the National Grid and import electricity at night when you need it. This is not the same as going off-grid, but it is the most feasible solution for most people.
There are two other ways you can use your surplus daytime electricity; you can feed it into storage heaters designed for the Economy 7 tariff, or you can use it to charge batteries and then run your home electrical system from the batteries.
You could combine these options, too by using your daytime surplus to charge up your storage heaters and then export any surplus to the grid.
Batteries are expensive and require maintenance so this option is less popular and best avoided.
You will need a large number of photovoltaic cells and will need planning permission to mount them on your home, but this is unlikely to be a problem in most areas.
Domestic wind turbines are another off-grid electricity option. They do have the advantage of generating more electricity in the winter and at night when you actually need it, but they are expensive to set up.
For maximum efficiency your wind turbine needs to be sited as high as possible, which means a steel tower set in concrete. This is not a DIY job because of the forces that are involved and will cost you between five and twenty thousand pounds to have built.
Turbines are also noisy and require maintenance because of their moving blades and gears. They are great as a secondary source to back up your PV cells, but are only really an option if you are a rural resident with no neighbours to raise objections to your planning permission application.
Going off-grid is a dream for most of us, but you can reduce your dependence on your supplier by installing photo-voltaic cells on your roof.