I’d like to relate my experience with installing and operating the Tesla Solar and Powerwall 2 system.
Being able to be off-grid is a goal that most folks prepping aspire to achieve. There are many ways to accomplish this depending on your individual budget, location and needs. Take a moment and think about modern life. Modern life runs on electricity. All the things like your household appliances, lights, HVAC plus your fridge, water heater, and the chest freezer in the garage. The outdoor security lights plus your infrared camera systems and your security alarm system.
What about your driveway notifier like the Dakota Alert system, or similar so you know something (A deer or a people) at 3 AM just started down the driveway or up from the rear fence line gate? I have an input to the television in the bedroom that if the alert goes off, I can flip on the television screen and see the outdoor wired night vision camera feeds 24/7 from my bed and they are set up overlapping to see all the approaches possible. Saves me having to get out of bed for another deer moseying through, and not have to grab the rifle and nighttime “bump in the night” go kit to check it out. (Yeah, I only went to visit the deer in the dark a few times before coming up with a better plan). I would have to get up and go at 3 AM if I want to see who is there without electricity. How about charging and running all your electronics day today. Even things like charging your ham/GMRS/FRS radios, tactical lights, and Eneloop batteries. Electricity is a force multiplier if you have it and if you don’t can really make life a lot more work and a bigger challenge for sure.
There is an old joke I heard as a kid on the farm about snow and ice storms that goes something like “What would people do when the power goes away”, and the young child answers: “We can watch television by candlelight.” Just think about all the things electricity allows us to have and do. Some folks and groups like the Amish go “old school and traditional” and for long-term that can make a lot of sense, plus help inform and inspire our choices too.
Let’s say you have a homestead and several acres of land under production for animal feed and pantry dry goods crops. You have a barn and animals and small homestead livestock. Let’s imagine that you have your own water well or perhaps even a couple of them on your place. Perhaps you live at the edge of a small town in a semi-rural farming community. Perhaps you were able to choose a location or happen to live near a water source like a natural lake or river that is within walking distance, but you don’t own shoreline access. Do you really want to try and go to the local watering hole to get water daily, and all the difficulties and risk that entails? I hope you can see where I am going with this and the biggest reason to get an off-grid energy system up and operating is water security.
Water is one of the most important things we all need as humans to survive. In some environments like the desert you can dehydrate in a day and the general rule for survivalist in the rule of 3’s is 3 days without water. That is humans, but what about your animals and plants, your crops, flocks, and herds? What is your true water needs to keep the homestead functioning and how does that change seasonally?
Let’s say you have a couple deep water wells. One is used for your barn, pasture stock tanks and garden as well as for small crop irrigation as needed. The other is used for your house needs. Both the wells are modern with 220V submersible pumps and put out a reasonable volume of over 20 gallons per minute from the underground aquifer that they are drilled and cased into. You have a sweet modern homestead set up or you have your own small house and water well but not a large homestead. Suddenly one of our worst fears is realized. The power grid goes down and may not come back up for a very long time. You know you have a generator in the garage that was bought at Home Depot and it will run a couple hours a day and burn about 20-25 gallons of gas/week and it will get you through possibly a few weeks of being able to keep the freezer cold and being able to speed shower and fill water containers for washing and cooking and of course drinking.
What happens if the Genset goes down or when the fuel runs out? Is there a spare because “2 is 1 and 1 is none”? Perhaps you acquired an older well pump jack and windmill for the barn water well so you can at least head out to the barn and get water for the house to camp at home. I have been on a bunch of farms and homesteads and other than the Amish I see very few windmill pumpjacks and cisterns anymore. Some out in the fields for a stock tank but not many other places. Not many folks I know even keep a spare pump on the shelf for their water well as it is with the grid up. It is a lot of work to pull and replace a well pump but not really complicated.
Our situation here in Northern California, on our semi-rural acreage in the Sierra Nevada mountains, led us to consider a stand-alone solar system and a large set of battery banks with a whole house inverter. Last year our local power company began something they call PSSOs (Power Safety Shut Offs) in our area when the wind blows, and the ground is even a little bit dry to prevent wildfires. After the Paradise, California fires this began in earnest. The first time they shut off our power was for five days. They turned it back on for three days and shut it off for two more days.
My Existing Power Production
I had on hand a small camping generator and my MPC (Mobile Power Cart). It consists of 2 6V high capacity golf cart batteries (480 AH) and a large inverter and a couple of heavy-duty extension cords on a cart I can roll into the living room to power lights and plug in the fridge, my handicapped son’s electric hospital type bed and bi-pap for sleeping. I have a couple 100W Renogy Solar panels and a charge controller to sit out in the yard and charge during daylight. I could run the freezer but not the water well and the pressurized / pumped septic system on our property. Water was not a problem for us as the property has both district metered water, and we have a high-output water well that I had all new equipment installed down the hole three years ago when we bought this place, and it works wonderfully for us. I switched the water supply valves manually to district water so we could easily camp at home. We have a propane fireplace that does not require AC to operate so we were set pretty well for at least a couple weeks. But no one likes showering in cold water and I wondered how long the septic system would go before backing up due to the pressurized septic leach system.
I knew I had an electric sump pump I could put into the equipment side of the septic tank and just push off the tank liquid to the surface worst case but that is not legal and would be more smelly than anyone would like. But I could keep my septic tank operating without the macerating pump and computerized controller that it has. Luckily it had enough room in the equipment tank to go the five days before filling up. I then got thinking about earthquakes because we do live in California and of possible broken water mains from the district.
To Install any whole house or whole property electric system is going to take some money. Modern living does and doing what we do here, where we live a hybrid life of small family homestead with many like-minded neighbors around us. Both my wife and I have modern careers though my wife was just able to retire recently from a .gov career. So, we decided to take further action and searched for what might serve us best and we could afford.
Our solution for now, was to call/online order the Tesla Energy Systems and see what they could offer. I knew they provided solar and they were on the second generation of something called the Powerwall system. A stand-alone or grid inter-tie combo system that uses the latest tech in batteries and there are no large battery banks to ventilate and maintain with distilled water. We sent them our three months of electric utility bills for the highest months usage (AC and irrigation in the summer months) and they designed a system for our specific needs. No, it is not cheap. However, there is a return on investment (ROI) calculation if you go with the grid inter-tie system. This means it will pay for itself versus what would have been the utility bill you will now not be paying.
There are tax credits both federal and state to consider as well. They designed a hybrid 13.6 KW solar system of 36 roof-mounted panels, with three Powerwall 2 units, a smart inverter. So we now have a battery backup and grid-feeding system. The three Powerwalls combined store 40.5 KWH of energy. For us and our power usage it cost less/month than our current electric utility bill and had an 8-year ROI. Also, it will allow us to operate completely off-grid indefinitely. The thing takes the house off-grid daily during high power rate usage and feeds the grid after topping off the Powerwalls.
I was impressed with the entire Tesla experience. The panels are low profile to the roof and the 3 Powerwall 2 units along with the inverter and control box (between the power meter and the breaker box). They were installed in about five hours by their team. No kidding: On the roof at 07:15 AM and out by 12:30 PM and all ready for the country inspector for the complete system. There is a Tesla app that allows you to monitor the system and what is happening, but it really is a hands-off system. When power goes out, we don’t even know until we leave our place and see the neighbors are without power.
Will it survive a high-altitude EMP attck? I don’t know. And from what I understand, as with all EMP, it will depend on many specifics of the event, like where is the burst and how the propagation flows and lots of details. I have never been able to get a solar or battery company to answer that question. I do know I can throw the switch at the power meter and my house runs normally without even a blink of a light and unless I get crazy with usage can continue for years.
I understand that this system would not pencil out financially for some people but for us, we are reducing our annual cost almost $1,000/year out of pocket and are now off-grid. The math worked for us and our situation. The system comes with a 10-year all-included warranty and 20 years on the solar panels. Since our ROI is less than that it made sense as well for risking possible repairs if any ever are needed. I can only speak to my experience and so far, it is a good one, and if it is an option for you, it is worth considering in keeping your personal grid up.
Stay powered up out there! It may help you survive and for sure it can be that force multiplier in your modern survival endeavors. I love primitive skills training and remote wilderness camping, but if things go haywire it will be much better to have electricity for your retreat or home than to not. Blessings!