New book documents motivations for living off-the-grid

As cleantech technologies evolve, more Americans are exploring the idea of becoming unplugged from centralized electricity, water and sewage services.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Just finished reading a provocative book about the philosophy of living "off the grid," in other words, in a home that isn't attached to central, utility-managed electricity, water or sewage. The book, called ""=""> was written by a British expert in this topic, Nick Rosen.

Rosen has been writing about this topic for quite a while, and his journey to the United States to interview people who had made the "off the grid" lifestyle choice was motivated, in part, by his own challenges doing the same in the United Kingdom. Turns out the government doesn't make it easy to do so in either place, for a variety of different reasons mostly related to bureaucratic, not intentional obstacles. This is a loaded issue. One has only to read about the political battle going on in Florida's No Name Key for a taste of the vitriol and passion that off-the-gridders can engender. The fight there comes down to three words: real estate values.

Of course, there are those in developed countries that don't choose the off-the-grid lifestyle. Rosen alludes to the fact that the ongoing recession has forced some people in the United States off the grid, because they can no longer afford to live on it. The point being that the off-the-grid lifestyle isn't just for those you would notice at a block party as being politically radical (and I'm talking at either end of the spectrum, far left or far right).

As a greentech journalist, I felt it was important for me to read "Off the Grid" because I believe the trend toward distributed energy sources, those that aren't necessarily controlled by a municipal or commercial utility company, is very real. As people install solar panels and personal wind turbines, what's to keep them on the grid—other than the very real issue that these renewable sources don't usually meet all of their electricity consumption needs. Here's Rosen's assessment of the influence:

"Politicians like to deal in big numbers, and truthfully the number of off-the-gridders is not yet very impressive, although it has swelled recently. By 2007, there were approximately 300,000 off-the-grid households in the United States. I estimate that by 2010 there will be 520,000 homes and up to 1 million people living off the grid either legally or unofficially. (It's hard to say illegally, as living off the grid is not a breach of criminal law."

Not a big number, surely. But consider the rural communities that could benefit from taking things into their own hands, such as this town I recently wrote about in British Columbia, and I think you'll agree that the off-the-grid influence is definitely worth watching.

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