It all boils down to batteries. If you’re going off-grid you can’t live without them no matter how much you’d like to. But are there (or will there ever be) alternatives to batteries? Yes, but probably not for at least two years.

FLYWHEEL: One new scheme involves storing a solar array’s output in the form of kinetic energy within the mass of a super-fast flywheel. Solar electricity  revs it up (via an induction motor/generator), while TVs and lightbulbs slow it down (by way of the same motor/generator). The flywheel currently under development by Velkess Energy Storage & Power Conversion is about the size of a mini-fridge and will store around 15 kWh of electricity, which would easily run our house for a couple of days. The cost is steep—a little over $1,300 per kWh—but with a 10-year warranty and a much longer life expectancy, it will probably outlast two or three battery banks and will never beg for water. (

HYDROGEN FUEL CELLS: Another method I have always found attractive is to use solar electricity to split water (H₂O) by way of an electrolyzer and shunting the hydrogen gas (H₂) to a storage tank. Whenever energy is needed, H₂ is run through a hydrogen fuel cell and converted to electricity. The beauty of it is that all the technology to power an off-grid house in this way is currently available. The downside? It’s expensive, primarily because reliable hydrogen fuel cells require lots of the precious metal platinum for their operation.

So, for the next few years at least, if you’re on the grid, stay on the grid and add a solar array. And if you find yourself compelled to go off the grid, start looking into batteries.

RELATED: Tips For Daily Off-Grid Living

This article originally published in THE NEW PIONEER® Spring 2015 issue. Print and Digital Subscriptions to THE NEW PIONEER magazine are available here.

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