In today’s world, more and more people are choosing to live off the grid, disconnecting from the traditional power grid and living in a more self-sufficient manner. We had the pleasure of interviewing Alex, who spent three years living off the grid.
Alex shared with us the many benefits of this lifestyle, including a deeper connection with nature, reduced environmental impact, and a sense of freedom and autonomy. He also highlighted some of the challenges, such as the initial investment and ongoing maintenance required for off-grid systems.
Despite these challenges, Alex emphasised that living off the grid has been a truly rewarding experience for him. Learning many valuable skills such as sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, and water conservation.
Read the full interview below.
How long did you live off-grid for?
All in, I spent three years living entirely off-grid. Having moved to the Canary Islands five years ago, we quickly realised that the opportunity of a sun powered life is possible and had been looking for the chance to try it out.
What made you decide to live off-grid?
It was both a head and heart decision. I don’t claim to be fully eco-focussed in my lifestyle. Although I totally embrace a sense of fairness in what we take and give, my partner and I previously did no more than the basic recycling and offsetting when it came to our footprint. However, moving to a fairly remote island off the coast of north Africa brought some world truths home quite quickly. Lanzarote relies on imports for nearly everything, including power, water and basic building materials. Unless you live in a tourist resort, your home is going to have a notable new impact on land that has remained untouched long before people knew of this place. You’re going to be constructing new links to the grid, new drainage and new water treatment. Basically, if you want to live in the hills (and why wouldn’t you), you’re creating permanent change. A third of our island is national park and we wanted to be there without causing damage. So, it was really a question of legacy, impact and necessity. We found a place, we decided on day one not to change it, nor the land around it and thus lived with solar panels, a water well (fed from the farm arable supply), mobile wifi and portable gas. No new lines. No new pipes. Nothing dug in.
What systems did you use for plumbing, electricity and the internet?
The water came from the small supply that fed the vines on the land. It was a slow trickle that’s also shared with a neighbouring farmer who uses it to grow onions and potatoes. We stored it as they always have here, in an underground stone vessel (an aljibe). Enough for around a week of human use if it stopped flowing, which it often did. This was fed into the house through standard garden hoses and available to wash with (untreated) or cook with (boiled). Six solar panels on the roof of the structure provided more energy than our humble rack of batteries could store. The hours of sunlight are not the issue here, more the cost of storing it. A decent OutBack Power inverter/charger controlled everything giving us plentiful power in the day for anything you could imagine (apart from heating or cooling) and at night enough to run a television and lights. An additional portable solar panel was bought just to enjoy the laptop on the mountain behind the house, because- why not! Our home was built into the slope, with the majority entirely underground. An existing structure that had been used for animals for decades. It became an easy home keeping cool in summer and warm enough in winter. Much of the exposed wall was lava rock, a great insulator. The only entirely above ground room was wooden and contained my working space and a coffee machine plus two 4G sim card routers on different networks (for maximum uptime). That wifi brought around 11meg, great for email, watching TV and work calls but not really strong enough for conference video. For that, occasionally I would drive down to the nearest village cafe.
Was there anything you didn’t run on these systems?
No, there was nothing else permanently connected to the land. We did use bottles of gas for cooking and a shower, which is common here as there is no piped supply. Those are exchanged in town and usually last two months heating a shower and making evening meals. A solar water heater would have been a sensible addition but funds didn’t allow. We bought a “backup” fuel generator from Amazon one year as my work had gotten more intense (more need for late night computer work) but having used it only once, we sold it to a nearby restaurant. It just didn’t feel right. If you’re going to generate power from petrol, you may as well think about moving to town. Which we did, eventually!
What was the hardest challenge in switching from the power grid to off-grid?
Nights are tough in our climate. There were times when bedrooms (despite being underground) would creep up to 30c and it would have been wonderful to turn the aircon on. You simply cannot do that on a reasonably sized solar budget. Fans helped. After the first hot summer, we learned that a coat of white paint to the small area of exposed ceiling dropped that temp by several degrees. We also had to get used to warning friends and family when they visited. On our set-up, microwaving at night was a no-go really and it was better to not use an electric kettle. Both can be done but we wanted to make sure fridges, freezers and comms never cut out. People got used to it. And I enjoyed the gadgets- Japan makes some great weird and wonderful camping stoves!
What were the positives of living off-grid?
Zero costs. Excluding some systems we put in that weren’t here, we literally had zero bills for those three years. Even gas was negligible and optionally used. You get very used to cold showering in the hot sun when there’s nobody around for miles. We stayed connected to the internet, we enjoyed Netflix, we ate perfectly well. Oftentimes, when power would be cut in the nearby town (the whole island has a fairly basic infrastructure), we’d still be glowing. And I know it’s cliche but lying on the sofa by candlelight at night with no sound, just the wind, no buzzing stuff, it’s just beautiful. Of course you don’t need candles, LED lights draw nothing, but being “off-grid” you get to lean in to that vibe, once in a while. We ended up buying all sorts of solar toys, just for the magic.
What should someone definitely invest in when moving to off-grid?
Power storage. Lots of it. And you’re going to replace it every few years. Off-grid isn’t necessarily cheap. Eventually we relocated for an entirely different reason but had we stayed, we’d expect to be buying new batteries every few years and we’d probably have added wind power for nights. The only other thing to invest in is self-education. We were ripped off many times by local “experts”. Do your research, read reviews and buy online. Second hand comes with high risks that you just wouldn’t know until you wire it all up. Oh and a decent remote monitor— our systems were underground, right at the back of the complex. It would be so good to know the TV will go off before it actually does when you’re getting comfy for the night!
Was there anything you missed about living off-grid when you stopped?
Almost everything. I love my current home but I felt connected to a place in a totally different way when the building and land became our absolute nest. Solar life felt like it could go on forever. One day I’ll return to it, possibly when the other issues of remote living get easier- laws, security, 5G, water treatment and transport. I miss it every day.
If you were to go back to living off-grid, what would you do differently?
I’d treat the house or structure as part of the system. Insulate properly, decorate accordingly, cool more naturally through architecture. One day I’ll try again. We left one solar light there. A small panel on the side of the volcano, hidden by a palm. A light that will never go out.