One of the biggest questions we get is how to begin achieving off-grid/energy independent status. Not everyone can afford to go out and buy a 5-kilowatt solar array and the associated batteries. This article is written for those of you who want to begin your road to energy independence, as well as being able to use your laptop, mobile devices, or home security gear like the stuff at Safemart. Being self-sufficient doesn’t necessarily mean living like a caveman.
Switch to Linux
Linux is an operating system – the way that Windows is an operating system – usable on PCs, MAC, and Android devices. Linux’s biggest advantage, other than being free, is that it does not allow viruses to infect your system. Any change to your system must be verified with your system password, so a virus cannot slip in. Applications such as word processing, video editing, spreadsheet programs and just about anything you can do on a Windows system are all also free. The goal of Linux as a community is to make software available to anyone who can use or develop it.
One of its biggest advantages is the lack of anti-distribution or pirating measures like product keys or need to activate. As Windows operating systems require online activation, if the Internet is for any reason not available making activation impossible, you could potentially be unable to restore your hard drive without the ability to activate in 30 days.
Set up local communications with routers.
So, the internet is down and your modem is rendered useless. Whatever you do, don’t dispose of that wireless router. This can be an indispensable device for keeping local communication possible. This can be done by setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network).
The installation process of a VPN will depend on which operating system you use. If running Linux, you can easily set up an alternative to a VPN called IPTux. It is less secure than a VPN but simpler. This simple to set up a piece of software works more or less plug and play. Have your router powered up and broadcasting and have all PCs that receive your wi-fi signal run the IPTux application. To use it, just start the program in the system hooked up to your router (does not have to be connected to the Internet) and start chatting. This is a simple and effective way to keep in touch with a small community in a blackout scenario and can go as far as you have repeaters for. If you are concerned about securing your communications, a VPN would be recommended.
Keep alternative power systems, even if you’re tied into the grid.
There’s no reason not to use solar or any other type of free energy, even if your needs are more than a simple off-grid power system can handle. You could still have your lower wattage devices running on solar or wind or other power source and not only save on your electric bill but be prepared to still have basic appliances working if power is unavailable. It is always a good idea to dabble with off the grid technology. The more you put into it, the more prepared you are to handle potential blackouts.
Have at least one man-powered generator for low sun/wind days.
With the many natural forces that you can harness as clean electricity, there will still be days when mother nature needs a break. If you want to keep your power more reliable than the forces of nature, it’s good to have a hand crank, stationary bicycle, treadmill, or anything you could use to manually spin a generator. Something as simple as a battery operated drill gun can be used to generate safe, reliable, clean power. This can be crucial. You may have a dire need of your power and be forced to wait until more favorable weather. You can avoid this by using a power source that runs on calories, the most simple of which is a hand crank. A generator with a crank handle can produce power right away. The stationary bicycle can also be an excellent choice. A treadmill, however, is unique because it already has a motor connected to it that can be reversed with blocking diodes.
Save important software and operating systems.
You can download a Linux operating system and keep it on a flash drive for posterity. Many contemporary Linux users will just download the software each time they restore, but you may eventually want to restore your hard drive or update your Operating System when the internet is not available. In this case, you want to have any software, operating systems, and data files backed up. It’s as simple as saving packs and folders to a thumb drive.
Become familiar with your computer’s finer components and keep spares.
Generally, you won’t have to take anything off your motherboard but, for example, you can look at your power supply. This has one component, in particular, that is normally the cause of the power supply itself coming to an untimely demise … that would be a voltage regulator. This very small, three-legged piece of silicon can be replaced on a board level if you’re somewhat familiar with a soldering iron. Notice the serial number on the regulator and make sure you have a few to spare. Other small, easily dispensed parts are DC input jacks, diodes, resistors, peripherals (internal and external drives, etc.), and such.
Chelate Your Lead Acid (6 and 12 volts) Batteries
NOTE: Use extreme caution when doing this…use chemical gloves and eye protection. If you are not comfortable with this process – don’t do it! Do not try to do this with a sealed-cell battery.
This is a very simple and safe chemical process. What you will need will be battery acid (available at auto parts stores), distilled water, a 12v power source, baking soda and a supplement available in health food stores known as EDTA. In a nutshell, what you do is empty old the acid out of the battery and cover it with the baking soda to neutralize it. Rinse the battery’s cell with distilled water and drain it, and again cover with baking soda. Once you’re sure the acid is properly rinsed out of the cell, add a mixture of EDTA and distilled water. Hook the battery up to your solar panel or other 12-volt source and allow to charge until the battery is at 12.7 to 13.4 volts. The EDTA combined with the electrical charge will remove any minerals clinging to the lead plates. Rinse the cells again with more distilled water and cover the rinse water with baking soda. Then add the new acid and distilled water mixture.
This will bring new life to old batteries. It is still important not to do this unnecessarily. You may waste acid if you do this too often and you will gradually eat away more lead as you repeat this process.
Regularly recondition lithium batteries.
This method of restoring smaller batteries used for your portable electronic devices (e.g. laptops, cellphones, mobile devices) is simpler than it may sound. It is done entirely by tricking the software. Turn off any of your operating system’s functions used to save battery power and allow the battery to completely discharge. Once you’ve done this, plug it back in and charge it, uninterrupted, until completely charged. It is vitally important not to unnecessarily stop a charge before it’s completely done. Your battery may eventually lose the ability to charge up passed a certain point if it gets used to being partially charged (battery memory).
Did I mention back up?
Okay, I did. But this is, as I said, crucial if the Internet becomes unavailable. Always have duplicates or even triplicates if you find it absolutely necessary to have access to a particular file. Backing up is rarely punished and often rewarded.
Keep devices in a grounded box if you’re concerned about an EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse).
If you’re concerned about an EMP rendering your electronics to mere plastic and silicon, maybe a shield is in order. The design is pretty simple. You want to place your electronics into a metal covered box (it can be a cardboard box covered with aluminum foil), lined with non-conductive foam rubber and grounded. This may protect your devices from damage from an unexpected “space goat fart”.
For further explanation of these tips and a host of others, look for the upcoming e-book, Off The Grid IT – The Practical Guide to keeping your power and computers operational when TSHTF.