Imagine being completely self-sufficient for your food, power and water supply. Many people all over the world do not have to imagine this because they are already doing it – it’s called “living off the grid” and for one community in New Zealand, it’s the norm and has been for many years. Great Barrier Island is 100km to the northeast of the New Zealand’s north island and is a 75 min plane ride from Auckland. The island itself is mostly conservation area with few roads and consequently, 75% of it is inaccessible by vehicle.

This is an island that is already environmentally conscious and connected to the Earth, a tradition they are proud of in doing their bit to help the global environment. This ingrained environmental culture of the island means that the community has only minimal connection to “the grid.”  They have a main telephone line network; mobile networks do not work on some parts of the island;  A few diesel generators are still in place but they aim to wean themselves off of these in future except as emergency backup power.

solar power in new zealandIs it working? The island’s inhabitants say yes and now they have support from higher up the chain.
Where some governments might suggest that it can’t be done, the New Zealand Department of Conservation is leading by example. In April 2012 the community celebrated the expansion of the solar power system for the DOC at Okiwi and Port Fitzroy. Both sites replaced most of their previous diesel generators with solar panels and they now account for 80% of the power required at both DOC sites.

Department employees who live on the island are enthusiastic about the move and have said that the previous diesel power system had been inefficient for their needs. Curiously, by going off-grid they now have access to more power – regular breakdowns of the previous system meant that they had to be careful about which appliances they used, and when.

Not only do they harvest their own power, the community is fully self-sufficient in:

  • Collecting their own water supply;
  • Dispose of their own solid and water waste;
  • Grow their own food;
  • Recycle as much as they can.

Going off the grid then it seems is no longer restricted to a trendy alternative nature-worshipping lifestyle, it is viable and for some a normal and practical way of living. Communities like Great Barrier Island expect to be the rule rather than the exception as we balance our needs against what we need to do… and it can only work when everybody is on board with the plan.

The Ogden family in their alternative “off-grid” lifestyle on Great Barrier Island, a remote and beautiful island off the coast of northern NZ. (Image from Jenni Ogden's blog)
The Ogden family in their alternative “off-grid” lifestyle on Great Barrier Island, a remote and beautiful island off the coast of northern NZ. (Image from Jenni Ogden’s blog)

The message is clear: living off the grid can work, does work and is a viable lifestyle choice for modern communities especially as green technologies becomes more efficient. We can become more and more connected to the Earth as we disconnect from the grid and this community can be a working model for the future. The real challenge is in a world where we use so much power is whether enough of us will be prepared to try it or whether it will be simply be too much hard work.

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