Energy Insecurity Means More Cannabis Growers Living Off Grid

Jennifer Grant July 23, 2021 0 comments

Living off grid is a growing trend because it’s sustainable in a world that needs it, and now technology is evolved to allow medium-sized cannabis grows to be completely off grid.

An important part of cannabis culture is a return to the Earth, to a greater integration with nature. While it’s true that traditionally, our demographic has lived on the fringe of society and outside the law, the circumstances of the modern world have pushed many to seek greater autonomy. As such, many cannabis growers are now developing technology to grow off grid. Importantly, their techniques create improvements for the lifestyle, altogether.

What is living off grid? It means your home and grow operation are not tied into “the grid,” that source of power that comes with a flick of a switch. Off gridders generate their own electricity, and can even make money pushing some of that back into the main grid.

For some, the reason to invest in off-grid-living is to avoid the endless increase to energy costs; and for others, the desire to escape the vulnerability and capital loss of frequent and unpredictable power outages. Going off grid completely, or even creating a microgrid, are two viable options for those looking to embrace growing cannabis while living off grid.

How Much Power Does a Cannabis Grow Neeed?

There’s a very good reason as to why serious cannabis growers are looking into other energy generation options. As legalization spreads, more and more operations are plugging into “the grid,” the demand can often exceed capacity. And if the power goes out in your grow for more than a few hours, it can mean big losses.

So, when you couple the industry drain on the power grid with increased global demands due to climate change, you can quickly read the future for cannabis growers. There simply won’t be enough power inside the existing infrastructure to support the many, many indoor cannabis grows. For example, in Ontario, Canada, it is predicted that, “by 2024, consumption from the cannabis industry is expected to total just under 1% of the province’s total power consumption.” [1]A Tunnicliffe. Off Grid: How Soaring Cannabis Markets are Forcing an Energy Rethink.(2020). Power Technology.

The same 2020 article, by Andrew Tunnicliffe, for Power Technology, included an interesting interview with Terry Young, vice president of policy, engagement and innovation at the Independent Electricity System Operator (Canada). Young indicated that producing, “one pound of cannabis takes about 2,000 kWh, or around two and a half months’ consumption of the average Canadian household.”

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Think about that! How much is your average, monthly energy bill? Now, you can quickly see why cannabis growers are creating opportunities for alternative electricity sources.

living off grid represented by cannabis growing in a field

How to Live Off Grid: The Microgrid

Fortunately, a solar microgrid gives a cannabis grower full control over power generation while it produces clean energy. Whereas standard solar panels are tied into a main grid that feeds power into the utility companies, a microgrid is free standing.

Few comprehend the relationship between solar panel power generation and the reliance on a functioning main grid. While this format is definitely one way to cut personal and home energy costs, when the grid goes down, so do the solar panels. This is a necessary safety feature that is built into the design. It protects responding utility workers from being electrocuted by homes that continue to generate power after the main power grid goes down.

The microgrid is different, however, and will continue to operate after any black out. It is typically a free-standing system that is built to match the power generation needs of the individual. The good news is that you can can buy a pre-made microgrid system, like Tesla Solar, at a reasonable cost. Sure, it will set you back a few thousand dollars, but the savings in energy costs will repay that in a few short years.

Microgrids are connected to a powerful battery that will continue to supply energy to your grow during cloudy days, and even when the rest of the area has gone down.

DIY Microgrid for Off Grid Living

Typically, a DIY microgrid would be entirely off the main grid and may not even be attached to your home. This feature offers flexibility for the investment because you can take the unit with you should you leave. Be sure to check for the need to acquire a permit before you build.

Be warned, however, that this is not an amateur project. You need to know what you are doing. Before starting, you’ll need to determine how much power is needed, then buy the appropriate number of solar panels, plus a charge controller (which feeds the power created by your solar panels into the battery), and the battery itself.

There are many do-it-yourself videos and articles out there, just make sure you are working from a good understanding about electricity and power generation first.

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living off grid represented by solar panels on a cabin

Growing Cannabis Off Grid: Solar Panels

Going the solar route will be an expensive start up. Investing in multiple solar panels, and batteries to store all of that powerful sun energy, is not going to be cheap. And obviously, the bigger your grow, the more panels needed, and, subsequently, the higher the price.

You can count on a medium-sized grow start-up to be tens of thousands of dollars. Over the years, however, that medicine will pay for itself!

Cannabis Grown using Wind Power

When you think about wind turbines, you probably picture those towering windmill giants in the fields. All of that slicing through the air with massive blades generates electricity. The good news is that your cannabis grow operation will not need the services of such a colossus. The technology is perfectly scalable. You can purchase a much smaller unit for just the right amount of electrical power.

The drawback of wind turbines is location. For example, if your cannabis grow is nestled in a forest grove, wind generation is not the best choice. Additionally, wind speeds change dramatically from one property location to the next, even one day to the next. Much depends on geographic features and general weather patterns for your region. In the end, choose a wide open space so that you can collect enough energy to keep your cannabis plants very happy.

Finally, many growers and general off-gridders use wind and solar power together. The combination helps master different weather conditions to ensure there is never an interruption in power.

Is Living Off Grid Legal?

Are you allowed to live off grid? The answer to that question is more complicated than it should be.

Being an off-gridder and building a self-sustaining little homestead is perfectly legal, but there are some important limitations. For example, in some regions you MUST connect to city sewer and water. Plus, in all regions, your dwelling, no matter how tiny, must have proper ventilation and functioning smoke detectors.

While these regulations seem perfectly reasonable, things get weirder from here. Did you know that in many areas you can’t camp on your property for more than 14 days straight? This means if you had plans to set up a tent while building your own home, you will need a special permit first. In Canada, for example, there are not even any squatter rights. Imagine being kicked off your own land for camping too long!

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Some states create obscure rules, such as no to collecting rain water. And there are regulations around composting toilets, plus some regions will not allow you to completely disconnect from the grid. Importantly, individual state laws can be found here.

So, the moral of the story is to know the laws before you select a place to set up. Some states and provinces are more off-grid friendly than others.

Home Insurance and Internet for Living Off Grid

Another potential problem is insurance. If you have no heat or water, then insurance companies can refuse to insure your home or even your property. On the other hand, if you are able to get home insurance, it is often more expensive when living off grid. This is because these properties tend to be further away from fire and rescue, and have limited access to water.

The good news is that if you are not using a mortgage, you may be able to take your chances and get building. Home insurance is only an absolute if you carry a mortgage.

Finally, while it’s not a concern for many who embrace the off grid lifestyle, some still need access to Internet for work or schooling. And that absolutely requires a legal address.

living off grid represented by a yurt in the woods

How Much Does it Cost to Live Off Grid?

Interestingly, it can be more expensive to retrofit your home than to start from scratch. Using 2020 values, the cost to go off grid can range from $13,000 to over $400,000. The upper end includes the cost of purchasing land, building a house, creating an off grid solar system, digging a well, created a septic system, and other miscellaneous expenses. Huge cost savings are yours if some of these amenities are already on the property.

What’s the cost to grow cannabis off grid? In the end, are you really saving money? Over time, absolutely! Growing cannabis off grid has many benefits! Not the least of which is autonomy and the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your plants will never suffer a power outage under your care.

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Author avatar

Jennifer Grant

Jennifer is Editor in Chief for Rxleaf. She has been employed as a professional writer for over fifteen years. Jennifer graduated from the University of Guelph with an Honors Biological Science degree, majoring in the biomedical field.

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