Could new eco-batteries spark a property revolution and tempt more of us to go off-grid? Sharon Dale reports.
Only a tiny minority of homes in the UK are off-grid with no access to mains electricity, gas, water or sewage systems.
According to campaigner and expert Nick Rosen, there are about 25,000 properties and 75,000 inhabitants living a life free from the dreaded utility bills.
Soon, thanks to a new product from the United States, that number could increase dramatically. The Powerwall by Tesla is a wall-mounted battery that collects and stores energy from solar panels and wind turbines. For those who are connected to conventional power cables, it can tap into them at night to get cheaper electricity for use in peak daytime hours.
The Powerwall is being hailed as the future for cheap, home-generated renewable energy. While the technology is not new, the mass production will make the batteries affordable. Two versions will be available in Britain by the end of the year. One is a daily cycle battery that can store up to 7kw hours and will cost around £1,960 and the second is a back-up battery at £2,300. Solar panels for the average three-bedroom home cost around £6,000.
Slashing household bills would be the main motivation for investing but the Powerwall could tempt more of us to go completely off-grid and lead others to locations they have previously discounted because of connection costs that can top £70,000.
Nick, author of How To Live Off-Grid and www.off-grid.net, says: “It’s a critical shift in the power industry and it could have a big impact on property. It is going to make remote locations more viable. That tumbledown cottage in the middle of nowhere with no electricity is going to look a lot more attractive.”
He believes that a Powerwall connected to solar photo voltaic panels will prove the best option for single households.
Battery power is nothing new for those off-grid. They are commonly used in conjunction with a diesel generator. However, Nick believes that the new Tesla batteries may last longer and will be more user-friendly.
Chris Wilde, of Harrogate-based Yorkshire Energy Systems, is more circumspect but agrees that solar panels feeding battery stores is the way forward.
“My concern is the lifespan of the Tesla batteries because if you have to replace them regularly then the system will be more expensive than getting your electricity from the grid. I am reserving judgement but even if their batteries don’t have a long shelf life, I know that better batteries are being developed and they will be the game changer.”
The Tesla news has boosted Nick’s bid to have a new category of off-grid planning permission to make it easier to build eco homes on agricultural land and on brownfield sites.
“It’s the obvious solution to the housing shortage as long as land is available at agricultural not residential prices. With no connection to the services, the houses would cost less to build and there would be a strict condition that they remain off-grid forever. If there are any housing associations out there interested in building an off-grid community, I would love them to get in touch,” he says, giving the Lammas eco village in Wales as a good example of what can be achieved.
Roy and June Fountain of Kirkby Malzeard, certainly don’t miss being connected to the grid. The couple have been self-sufficient since moving to their cottage 25 years ago. They generate their own electricity from a £30,000 wind turbine system that feeds a bank of batteries and they have a diesel generator for back-up. Water is from a borehole and they have an oil-fuelled boiler, bottled gas and open fires.
“Connecting to the grid would’ve been too expensive and we liked the idea of not being dependent on one source of energy,” says June. “The 6kw turbine generates half of our electricity and the generator kicks in automatically if we need more. It’s very efficient and we don’t have the problem of power cuts, which happens quite a lot up here when the electricity cables are iced up. “
*How To Live Off-Grid by Nick Rosen is published by Doubleday and his website is www off-grid.net; Lammas eco village, www.lammas.org.uk