'Secrets' To Becoming More Independent

Independent Power - Off The Grid Computing Part 2

Limiting Power Consumption

Wasting power is always expensive, and since we're dedicated to becoming more independent and self reliant, the less power we use the better we like it. The idea is not to move back into caves and shun technology, but to enjoy the benefits more efficiently where possible.

After I have my generator system, my batteries and inverter, I start adding solar panels and (depending on my local weather) a wind machine. I will be collecting power. The point of independence comes when my consumption is less than my collection. There are four ways to do this.

  • Buy a lot more equipment to collect power (Hard to do all at once)
  • Run the generator more often (Not a bad option at least to start with)
  • Reduce my lifestyle (unacceptable)
  • Buy equipment that uses less power but gives me the same benefit. (My point, exactly.)

Manufacturers of computers, monitors, etc. have moved in the direction of greater energy efficiency for years. You'll see the "Energy Star Compliant" message on a wide array of computer gear. However, there has been a number of developments lately that are really great for off the grid computing.

Notebook Computers

Portable computing has come a long way, and new laptops have more features installed on them than most home computers. So using a notebook is no longer a second class method of computing. Notebooks these days allow running a second monitors so if you rely on two monitors, like I do, then you're in business. Larger displays have resulted in more room for the keyboard, so there's very little you can say against them. But there are some major advantages:

  • Battery life is critical, so power consumption is minimal
  • Because they run on batteries, they are their own UPS
  • A lower cost modified sine wave inverter works great in this case

LCD Displays

In addition to being easier on the eyes, LCD monitors use a lot less power than the old CRT monitors. Be sure to look at power consumption specifications on LCD monitors, because they do vary. I've seen 19" LCD monitors that use only 35 Watts! Fantastic!

How Much Power Do You Save?

Computers are on many hours a day, especially if your profession requires it. So the power saving add up quickly. My computer here is on 12 hours a day, typically. Every 100 watts of power I save results in a savings of 1200 watts in a day. Let's take a look at the power savings.

Power Consumption Comparison
Item Old Watts New Watts
Computer 165 70
19" monitor 150 35
17" monitor 125 n/a
Power Usage 440 105
Daily Power Savings xxxx 4020

4,000 watts of power savings means that I don't have to collect and store 160 Amp hours of power in my 24 volt solar power system. I can get by with 1,000 watts fewer solar panels. (we have about a 4hr average sunlight here). At $1/watt that means I can save $1,000 in solar panels, not to mention the battery savings!

On bad weather days, the generator can run a lot less, which save the generator and reduces fuels costs.

By using ideas like this you can achieve energy independence much quicker. It's not the instantaneous energy use that's the real issue here, but the length of time the appliance is on and operating.

A toaster uses far more power that your computer, but it's on only for seconds at a time. Yes, you need to be able to provide enough power for those large loads, but it's power usage over time that is the biggest obstacle to energy independence. The cost of energy independence is directly related to power consumption. The less power you need the easier it is to get where you want to be.

Whether you live off the grid or not, saving energy is a good thing. It pays to save, especially if you don't lose anything in the process.

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