Learning to live on solar and with a back up generator has brought a deep awareness to energy use and consumption. We are far more aware of how much power appliances pull, how long to shower, the importance of closing even an off the grid fridge door quickly, and find that an outside clothes line is more than a 3 seasons a year necessity.
It is more work to live this way, and at the same time, there is a deeper appreciation of our ancestry and where our planet is heading if we all don’t make some very needed changes! The challenges are more than doubled when one considers the power it takes to run a ranch: extra water demands on the running of a pump, a greenhouse with fans, and especially, the necessary workshop for welding equipment and other heavy duty tools. Although we have built a black smith shop, we are yet to put it into use. There is strong talk amongst the men folk at the ranch that bringing in outside power will be needed for the future of the ranch, and perhaps, selling back the power could be a good exchange on sunny days.
In the house, we forgo many small kitchen appliances and find we do just fine without them, plus they are not healthy parts of a good kitchen anyway. For example, you will not find a microwave at the ranch! The natural health consultant (woman) of the house serves great tea, and there is no better place for warming up the leftovers than right over the wood stove.
There are 24 solar panels and 24, 2 volt deep cycle batteries that hold the charge of the solar panels and can also be charged by the generator. In total, it is a 5K system and currently meets most of our needs quite nicely. The generator runs off propane, and that part is not nearly a good green investment! In the summer, we have managed to go without it for up to 6 weeks; however, in the winter, we have to run it nearly every morning for 1 to 2 hours and more later in the day if it snows heavily or is overcast. Although wind looks appealing, we have worked with excellent consultants to find that unless you live directly on the great lakes of Michigan, it will not repay for itself on the inland parts of Michigan to use wind; solar is preferred!
Update: In 2016, we found it necessary to add power to meet the needs of the growing ranch. We are still able to make full use of the solar and even feed excess power back to the grid. The generator is only used for grid power outages. It was a tough decision for Bessheen, as living off the grid was a major accomplishment. Yet, it was often hard to meet the energy needs of a growing herd of animals, and the generator ran too often in 2014 and 2015. "I am glad we did it now, and I am not living in the battery room, constantly balancing battery percentages and hours of daylight remaining." It was a worthwhile challenge, and we did accomplish over 4 years of solar living while running a hobby farm. We still live as simply as we can, and we learned so much from those days. Eventually, we will add more solar panels and feed even more back into the grid!