The Initiative for Green Habitats represents a long term commitment towards providing solutions for the creation of Sustainable Built Environments. This blog attempts to provide an insight to our views, commentaries on our work, ideas that we are working on, and provoke thought where there are more questions than answers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Going 'off-the-grid'!

What a wonderful thought. The very idea that we wont rely on those unsustainable networks! Those of us in the sustainability profession, would love to prescribe this to our listeners and clients, but what does it take to go 'off-the-grid'?
On the face of it, relieving your habitation (or, any such built environment) of central electricity and water supplies. As an extension this also means no connections to central sewerage connections.
Extending this to it's penultimate and true definition, it would mean a complete independence from anything supplied from beyond the borders of the 'off-the-grid' destination in question. So, such an establishment would be able to generate it's own power, secure it's own water requirements, manage it's own waste (including other solid waste), grow it's own food and even provide for all the necessary activities for sustainable living. This may also include livelihood skills in the form of a craft, farming, a service, that would give the the rewards to maintain the 'off-the-grid' establishment.
Is it expensive to live off-the-grid? If the we merely were to move location, without changing our lifestyles, then yes. If we consume as much power as we do today, then the size of energy need goes up and so does the capacity of any captive generation. The same applies to our consumption of other resources like water and food, and similarly can be extended to the waste that we generate. Shifting from a want based to need based living is crucial to occupy a minimal footprint, one that can be catered for and sustained. What should be aim for while going off-the-grid?
  • Consume minimal power and water, (which involves consumption changes due to lifestyles).
  • Use technology pragmatically and look for simple solutions- go low tech as against high tech as the cost of replacement may be higher or may make you reach beyond the local region. It is important to tap into look skills as much as it is important to use local resources.
  • Look for appropriate solutions- for example, use biomass for heating if it is abundant and you can do it without polluting, solar thermal for all heating, use,hydro where you have the potential and most importantly, size these technologies appropiately.
  • Harvest maximum water and manage it responsibly,
  • Eat what you can grow, and
  • Generate minimal waste, so that it's management is not harder than what it ought to be.
To some of us these may seem romantic notions, to others impossible to achieve. The truth is that we are so engrained in our urban lifestyles that any such shift results in symptoms from mind strains to serious struggles to adjust to this 'off-the-grid' existence. Ever wonder, why it is so easy for a farmer to live in those conditions, while the very thought of abandoning all things that are processed or packaged seems like a nightmare? The answer is the decades, if not generations of this urban conditioning. just a century ago, most of us would have been considered as leading more or less sustainable lifestyles. In a relatively short time, we have become dependents and slaves to our wants.
Giving up the former lifestyle is akin to a de-addiction process... but the results are just as rewarding... a non-toxic lifestyle. It seems that any 'off-the-grid' sustainable proposition should be much more than mere infrastructural and technological solutions, and should also extend to include other aids like life-transitioning skills, opportunities to identify and improve on independent skill-sets and activities towards enabling individuals to adapt. Such initiatives could include integration with local communities and intra-community involvement. In time, such off-the-grid communities would be able to create their own identities and become true symbiotic entities... far removed from their gluttonous urban counterparts.
What a wonderful thought... again.

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