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Sustainable Energy – Lessons From an Off-Grid Lifestyle

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Off-grid living is defined as “not using or depending on public utilities, especially the supply of electricity,” (Oxford Dictionary, 2011). Those who live off the grid have removed themselves from the electrical and utility services sold in their region. People who choose an off-grid lifestyle turn to a self-sufficient power system. This means that the total home electrical needs are generated by sustainable energy technology. Part of the appeal of off-grid living is that it allows you to practice a life that is based on sustainability, self-sufficiency, and resilience. This lifestyle consists of voluntary choices, such as to buy less, consume sustainably and ethically, eat more local and natural foods, reduce clutter, recycle and re-use, practice creativity, use renewable energy resources, and create smaller-scale forms of living (Vannini & Taggart, 2014).

While people living off-grid aren’t receiving electricity supplied by Nova Scotia Power, they are still using electricity created by other means. You can watch the short documentary, Off Grid: Generating Clean Energy in Cape Breton created by Green Schools NS, to see the different ways off-grid homes are creating the energy they need. The three most common systems for energy creation are micro-hydro, solar, and wind. Micro-hydro is one of the least known but most cost-effective effective ways to generate electricity. It uses a source of running water that is flowing downhill and spins a turbine. Solar is probably the technology that first comes to mind when you think of generating your own electricity. Solar is a great option because it requires little maintenance. The east coast is an ideal place for wind energy and wind turbines can make up for the shorter hours of sunlight during the winter months.

Since people that live in off-grid homes have a limited supply of electricity, they must become hyper-aware of all of the ways in which it is used. This awareness and the subsequent choices largely decrease their energy consumption. While living without a connection to the power grid is not an option for most people, there are many simple lifestyle changes we can adopt from off-grid living to reduce our own electricity consumption and our ecological footprint:

  • learn how many watts are used by different devices
  • unplug unused appliances/electronics that use power even when they’re turned off (phantom power)
  • look for energy star symbols when shopping for devices
  • LED light bulbs
  • avoid using high energy appliances like toasters, clothes dryers, and hair dryers
  • awareness of how many items are using electricity simultaneously

There are so many ways to learn from an off-grid lifestyle. Check out the Living Off Grid Support Package to explore how off-grid living would change your daily life, both at home and school. Take on our Historic Electricity Game to look at all the ways our electricity usage has grown and changed over time. Canadian classrooms can also participate in the Solar Oven Challenge to build, test, and bake with solar ovens. Nova Scotia schools can request a virtual visit from your local Green Schools Engagement Officer and we can speak to students and staff about how we can all find motivation in off-grid lifestyles to reduce our energy consumption and waste less.

~Amber McMunn
Engagement Officer, Halifax Region

Image links:

Off-grid home:

Contemporary: An off-grid home of architects Jennifer Corson and Keith Robertson near Lunenburg, Nova Scotia


Solar panels: “This luxury home in Coxheath boasts 85 solar panels.”

Wind-turbine home:


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