Ask the Architect

How can I go off the grid?


Q. I was wondering if you know about how I can use my solar energy, or some other source, to control the power in my home, essentially, go off the grid. I have looked into this, and it seems very expensive to load up on batteries, but I don’t see anyone doing it. Is it because the batteries are so expensive, or are they dangerous? Can they catch fire? Why isn’t anyone doing this?

A. When I first began to learn about energy in my environmental design classes, along with lighting, sound wave and acoustics technology, insulation, elevators — they really never touched on the dark side of energy generation and what really restricts loading up on all kinds of great technical advances. We figured that any independence from the grid was great.
I remember driving from our campus out into the open fields of Ohio flat country to continue working, each weekend, on Darius and Savonius windmills. We constructed towers, and I was the one chosen to go to the top while others tossed up bolts and strips of metal. We did produce energy, but the number one limiter, always, is money. It all boils down to the cost, but not in the way you might initially imagine.
To put it bluntly, you are restricted by legislation and utility company controls. There is only so much you can get reimbursed for, so most people will not pursue the expense of investing in free energy because of the initial cost outlay, to go beyond what they can save from a utility company rebate or discount. The reason most people have lower solar energy bills is the way they save. In essence, you get a reduction from the utility by generating power for them, not for you. Your investment in solar panels helps utilities by generating power sent to an inverter that sends that electric current back to the power wires for distribution. You don’t generate power for your own home or business. When you do, using batteries, you still get the benefit of a reduced bill, but only up to the $1,000 (or so) limit. The cost of the equipment and the amount of electricity you store still makes it costly, not free.
A man named Thomas Engel, in Sweden, found a method that will probably be incorporated in the future, when desperation allows for spending more to save more, by the use of magnets. Using “permanent magnets” utilizing a rare-earth metal called neodymium, Engel developed a motor that runs without degrading and without electricity (except a small charge to start the rotation of the rotors). Since it’s a hard sell when large utilities don’t invest, the use right now for this method of energy production is mainly for nuclear spin tomography and wind generation, so it does work. Maybe someday you’ll be able to use real cost-saving energy in your home. It’s not because of fire safety — just money.

© 2022 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.