Taking Charge: Living Off-Grid
[ASSURAS] Welcome back. If you're not watching "energyNOW!" on a mobile device, you've got the TV or computer on, right? Maybe the A/C is cranked up in your home as well to keep you cool. Maybe you've got something else plugged in and running. As we've been saying, all those devices pull power from the grid, for the most part, but there are some people who shun utility companies and produce their own power. "energyNOW!"'s Patty Kim discovered some unlikely places where people are taking charge and living "off the grid."
[TEXT ON SCREEN] takingCHARGE
[KIM] When you're as plugged-in as this... you'd think the electricity bill would go through the roof. But this homeowner never pays an electric bill, ever.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Ontario, Canada
[KIM] That's because Bill Kemp has his very own power supply -- a system of solar panels that keeps his home, located just outside Ottawa, Canada, running just like yours and mine.
It's called living "off the grid." Yep, that means Bill Kemp doesn't rely on electricity from any utility company to power his home. He's completely independent. Now, when you hear the words "off-gridder," what's the first thing that comes to mind?
I'm betting you didn't picture this.
I got to be honest, I honestly thought -- I pictured a guy out in the woods, kind of like that, frying a raccoon over a Bunsen burner.
Bill, an energy consultant and best-selling author of "The Renewable Energy Handbook," and his wife Lorraine, are one of an estimated 180,000 families living in off-grid homes in North America today.
So this is going to be my first taste of a solar-brewed cup of cappuccino.
Bill's journey began on the grid. He and Lorraine wanted to move, but they found out it would cost a small fortune to bring electric lines in, so they decided instead to invest that money into building a new home, off the grid.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Bill Kemp. LIVES OFF THE GRID
[KEMP] Well, a lot of people thought that we were just plain crazy. Lorraine was very supportive. Her question was, "Can I still run my hairdryer?" I said, "Absolutely, I guarantee that."
[KIM] That was 20 years ago and they've never looked back. Two large rotating solar arrays track the Sun every 90 seconds, each array generating over 1,000 watts of energy, enough to run a large appliance.
How do you go from the Sun, billions of miles away, how does that thing run your hairdryer in the morning?
[KEMP] Okay, well, it's really very simple. The sunlight comes in and hits these photovoltaic panels. These are like great big integrated circuits on steroids.
[KIM] The sunlight charges a bank of batteries in Bill's basement, feeds into an inverter, a device that converts the energy into normal household power, then flows through the home.
[KEMP] And then into your electrical devices -- the hairdryer.
[KIM] Long after the Sun goes down, the charged batteries keep the lights on, and anything else Bill needs, well into the night. On a cloudy day, a 1,500-watt wind turbine picks up the slack. And in case of Armageddon or a spell of gray skies and no wind, a backup half-biodiesel, half-diesel generator kicks in to charge up the batteries.
[KEMP] It would be pretty tough to lose power here.
[KIM] Oh, and did I mention this living off the grid is pretty low-maintenance? All Bill has to do is pour distilled water into the batteries about two to three times a year.
My uncle gets a colonoscopy more often than you check your batteries, okay?
Bill's nearest neighbors are about a half a mile away, and a heck of a lot farther if you're looking for a fellow off-gridder, but here in central Oregon, believe it or not, there's an entire community that's off the grid.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] Culver, OR
[KIM] This is the Three Rivers Recreational Area, a one-of-a-kind gated community made up of about 300 off-grid homes, everything from million-dollar mansions to trailers. A solar-run fire hall. Heck, there's even a solar-powered yurt, a traditional Mongolian house.
[TEXT ON SCREEN] To see more of this solar powered yurt go to energynow.com
[KIM] This is bigger than my apartment in D.C., and I would say maybe a little nicer.
So, Delores, do you ever just look around here and just go, "Oh, my gosh, my husband and I started this whole thing"?
[DOLORES STILLS, CO-FOUNDER. THREE RIVERS] Yeah, sometimes, yeah, I do. Sometimes I'm proud, and sometimes I think, "Oh, what a monster!"
[KIM] Delores Stills and her late husband, Doug, pioneered this community. They purchased the nearly 4,000 acres of land in the late 1960s, made it into a campground with individual lots for sale. Back then, being off the grid wasn't a choice.
[LORNE STILLS, MARINA MANAGER, THREE RIVERS] There was no power here. We had propane lights that put out about as much light as a cigarette lighter.
[KIM] This is the original cabin built by Lorne's father. Lorne and his mom now live on the grid in a nearby town. They haven't laid eyes on this cabin for 20 years, until now.
[LORRAINE STILLS] Oh, my goodness!
[LORNE STILLS] Holy cow.
[LORRAINE STILLS] This is different.
[KIM] It was here Lorne's father tinkered with 12-volt lights and experimented with wind power. By the late 1970s, this off-grid community was flourishing, but for real-estate agent Elaine Budden, it wasn't exactly love at first sight.
[BUDDEN] I mean, I'm hardly city-slick, but it was like, holy smoke!
[KIM] Eventually, Elaine came around.
[BUDDEN] The peace and quiet, the stars at night, the wildlife -- it got to the point where we thought, you know, we could make this work.
[KIM] She and her husband David moved into the area 17 years ago. They settled into a prefab home they'd expanded, connected it to water, and wired it to a modest 800-watt solar system.
[BUDDEN] There's nothing we do not have here. Wireless Internet, washer/dryer, refrigeration -- we have everything.
[KIM] But if you can't live without your soy no-foam latte, then this lifestyle might not be your cup of tea. You are 25 miles from the nearest Starbucks or supermarket and you can't order in pizza. For Elaine and her fellow off-gridders in Canada...
[MAN] Here you go, babe.
[KIM] It's a small price to pay for a life unplugged. In other words, the good life. In Ontario, Canada, Patty Kim, "energyNOW!"
[ASSURAS] Bill and Lorraine Kemp say their getting off the grid had its upfront cost -- about $40,000 worth. For other homeowners, the cost really depends on how much electricity you think you need to live comfortably.
Living “off the grid” may conjure images of counter-culture hippies or the old-fashioned ways of the Amish, but there’s a growing movement of people who generate their own electricity and live in the lap of luxury without ever paying a utility bill.
Correspondent Patty Kim meets some of the estimated 180,000 families across North America using clean energy technology to become self-sufficient and enjoy all the comforts of modern life, off the grid.
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