Twenty years ago we got tired of waiting for someone else to do something about alternative energy and we went solar. We live a long way from the grid and in a climate that has lots of sunny days so it was an easy choice for us. The consequences of that choice have been many.
The first consequence was that we had to be aware of our energy inputs and outputs. Power was no longer just available at the toss of a switch. We had to put the panels up on the roof, connect them to batteries, charge the batteries, convert the 24 volt power into 240 volts with the help of an inverter and THEN we could flip the switches and get lights, tv and the other mod cons.
The second consequence was that we had to keep an eye on things and make sure the batteries had enough liquid in them so that we didn’t wreck our batteries. We couldn’t just take our power for granted. If the sun went away behind clouds for a few days, we had to have a back up generator for power. Yes, this uses petrol but overall most of our power was coming from the sun. The other alternative was to use less power during cloudy days. We learned to plan our activities around the sun. We wash clothes and vacuum when the sun is out, or if its cloudy and we have to run the generator anyway, then we boost the load by doing lots of energy-using chores while the batteries are being charged.
Our kids are much more energy aware than most kids and that is certainly a consequence of going alternative. Not only did they learn to always turn off lights, they also learned to turn off the tv or the microwave or the toaster at the wall. They even learned to check the light on the inverter at night to make sure that everything was off. If the inverter light was on, it meant something was drawing power somewhere.
Another consequence was that we learned to live without some kinds of appliances. We don’t have a dryer for instance. We hang our clothes out in the sun and wind. It saves power. We don’t iron clothes very often at all and try to buy clothing that will not need ironing in the first place. We built our house to be passively solar heated in winter and cooled in summer so that we could use less energy for heating and cooling. We sweep instead of vacuum as much as possible. Our clocks run on AA batteries. Our kitchen is mostly gas, including the fridge. And we don’t buy an excess of electric gadgetry, so one of the consequences of using alternative energy is that we spend less money on that sort of thing.
One of the most pleasant consequences of having alternative energy is that we still have power when the grid goes down and everybody else is in the dark and wondering when the power will come back on. If the power goes off in our place, it is our fault and we are in the position to fix it. We are not dependent on a power company to put it back on.
I think having alternative power has also made us more active and more in tune with diurnal cycles. We get up early and spend a lot of time outdoors. We go to bed early and don’t use a lot of power at night. We read books and play board and card games instead of running power-hungry appliances. On the other hand, we didn’t have to give up modern conveniences. We do have TV, music, internet, computers and all the rest. We just think about the energy we are using a lot more than people on the grid and alter our use patterns to maximise our returns from the panels.
The best consequence for us is the lack of a monthly power bill from the electricity company. Yes, we had to spend money up front. Yes, we still have that back up generator. But on sunny days we are making more power than we can use. We are more self sufficient than most. We are not contributing as much greenhouse gas emissions as people on the coal-burning grid. And those are very positive consequences indeed.