There are books written about it.
Websites dedicated to learning how to do it along with internet chat room forums where those involved give tips and advice.
There are even reality TV shows about it and here we are accidentally living out the pepper lifestyle, Living Off the Grid....Look Mom....No Hands...and no Big Deal.
We haven't made a typical utility payment since August 2008 when we moved out of our house and aboard the boat. Certainly we are not true purists when it comes to Living Off the Grid. We don't mill our own flour, dry our own fish, or weave our own cloth. We use gas for the generator and diesel for the heater (and lots of it) for power and comfort. We shop at WalMart without guilt and we flash our secrete society black ID cards at Costco on most Sundays after church. While we may not have an arsenal of weapons and MRE's buried in the back yard bunker, we do live on a boat sounded and protected by a shark infested mote to keep the rioting hoards away.
Based on our daily power usage, we have always been dependent on running our generator to keep up with our daily power demands, but that is finally about to end thanks to two changes. First, today I ordered two new solar panels that will double our total solar capability from 260W to 520W. Our two 130W panels have produced on average 75Amp-hours per day now for almost 5 years, but our problem has been that we were using closer to 150Amp-hours per day. The daily power deficit has been covered with a daily Honda generator run of at least an hour. We were the typical cruising boat with not enough solar panels to cover the daily energy demand, despite casting off thinking we had enough solar to spare. This solar deficiency is perhaps the No. 1 surprise new cruisers find out in their first year of cruising. All the power usage calculations, spreadsheets and assumptions turn out to be wrong, mainly because most of us didn't live away from the dock and shore power cord for long enough before casting off. We quit work and a month, week, or even a weekend later cast off. Most of us never lived for 30, 60 or 90 days away from dock power so we really never let our electrical system reach an Off The Grid Equilibrium of power out, power in and battery conditioning.
Simply adding another 260W of solar by itself wouldn't quite make us energy independent. For true energy independence we needed our second change, to finally tame our largest energy sucker, our 120v refrigerator. Running refrigeration aboard a boat (Freezer and/or Refrigerator) without a doubt is the biggest energy sucker a cruiser faces and ours was made even worse by our 120v AC unit that needed to have a 12v DC to 120v AC inverter on constantly 24 hours per day 365 days a year. In addition to the energy loss in the conversion process, the inverter used 0.75Amps just to be on. That may not sound like a lot but every 24 hours for the last 3 years our inverter has sucked 18Amp-hours per day, 126 per week, 6552 per year and in total 19,656Amp-hours from our battery bank, giving us nothing in return. Just to cover the inverter being ON, required us to run our Honda generator with a 75Amp battery charger for 262 hours over the last 3 years. Continuing the fun with numbers that make you sick, that 262 hours burned 52 gallons of gas at a rough cost of $157. Ok, well maybe spending $157 over 3 years for absolutely nothing is chicken feed, but that could buy 157 shrimp tacos in Mexico and feed Jason for...Oh...I don't know a week?
Calculating these numbers makes the installation last week of our new 12v energy efficient EcoFridge refrigerator
all the sweeter. Not only is our inverter now turned off for the first time in over 3 years, the efficiency of the 12v EcoFridge compressor uses dramatically less power to keep our beer icy cold, and let's admit it, cold beer is the reason most cruisers have a refrigerator in the first place! We haven't finished with our full refrigeration revamping project yet, we still have a new freezer box to fabricate and CoolBlue system to install to replace our Engle freezer, what's the use of owning CoolBlue if I can't install one on my boat anyway. We are already seeing a big power usage improvement from the refrigerator project and here's a glamor shot of the EcoFridge 12v refrigerator
Our galley layout, with difficult overhead counter access for a typical top open refrigerator box, was just screaming for an upright front open refrigerator and since we build the EcoFridge 12v refrigerators
now in San Diego as part of the CoolBlue product line, well...you are looking at what the tax man will see labeled as a marketing/promotional display unit aboard THIRD DAY. Just don't tell the IRS about my Tea Party membership or an audit will be coming my way. A front door open refrigerator isn't as energy efficient as a more conventional top open, so it will use a bit more power than say our CoolBlue holding plate unit. But since all boats are compromises and more importantly my desire to take the easy way out, I decided to just slide in the refrigerator and be done. It took longer to clean out from under our old 120v AC refrigerator than it did install and wire-in the new refrigerator.