I haven't done one of these posts in quite awhile. I did several of them a few years back, when I was working on chapter eight for 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, "Energy Self-Sufficiency." We had been working hard to decrease our energy usage from the previous years and were successful. We've remained diligent and conscientious in our electric usage, and have looked for alternate ways to add things like solar lighting for the barn, and a solar attic fan.
I am revisiting this because I am working on a sequel of sorts to 5 Acres & A Dream The Book, and I felt an update was appropriate. I want to preface it by stating that I only address electricity because we have an all-electric house. We have electric heat, an electric stove, an electric water heater, and an electric clothes dryer: no natural gas, propane, or home heating oil. If you use any fossil fuels and are interested in comparing your total energy usage to ours, head on over to this calculator to convert your therms into kWh, and then add it to your electric usage for a more accurate comparison.
Looking back over this past year's electric bills, our average kWh usage has been 16.9 kWh/day. The monthly range for that was 13.41 to 20.53 per day. Total monthly usage ranged from 428 to 616 kWh, but our billing cycles vary between 29 and 32 days, so monthly figures are less useful than averages. Our monthly average for the past year was 510 kWh per month.
How does that translate in terms of personal progress for us? Comparing current numbers with some of our daily kWh averages from four years ago:
Nov. 2012 - 15 kWh/day | Nov. 2016 - 14.12 kWh/day
Dec. 2012 - 17.35 kWh/day | Dec. 2016 - 13.41 kWh/day
Jan. 2013 - 22.35 kWh/day | Jan 2017 - 16.06 kWh/day
How did we manage to get our usage down? Instead of the heat pump we use an EPA certified wood stove in winter and don't use air conditioning in summer. I use a clothesline instead of the dryer (mostly), and although I still use the electric stove, I do a lot of cooking on my wood cookstove in winter and solar oven in summer. In winter we get hot dish-washing water from the cookstove's water reservoir.
Curious as to how we compared to everyone else, I found a national average at the U.S. Energy Information Administration for 2015. Their calculated average was 901 kWh per residential consumer per month.
Of course there are a lot of variables to consider when comparing oneself to this: size of home and location, number of persons living there, and whether they use electricity only or also have natural gas or use home heating oil. Electric usage in the southern U.S. tends to be higher, because there tend to be more all-electric homes in the south. I can add from experience that it takes more electricity to heat a house in winter than to cool it in summer.
Since I had priced an off-grid system when I did my first analysis, I decided to check pricing again. The cost of the systems is said to have dropped considerably, and since we're using less electricity, well, who knows?
I used this calculator at Wholesale Solar for a rough estimate as to the size off-grid system we would need to cover 100% of our usage. It recommended a minimum size of 6844 watts utilizing 35, 200-watt solar panels. This page is set up a little differently and gave ballpark estimates for various size systems. A 7000 watt system is estimated to cost approximately USD $17,600. A far cry from the $71,040 estimate I had four years ago, but it doesn't include batteries, racks for the panels, and a number of other extras. Scrolling through their various packages on this page, however, I found even better pricing. The packages don't include everything, but gives me an idea of cost. And based on our current electric bills and paying cash, it would only take about 20 years to pay for itself! 😁
I'm being silly now, because we don't have the cash and I would never buy such a thing on credit. Still, I think we've done a good job on decreasing our usage and plan to continue to add solar options on a small scale. Every little bit helps.