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Couple of days ago I heard that many people who want to live off-grid simply move away from the gas supply network and get their gas from another source. They substitute their natural gas (used in furnaces, hot water heaters and kitchen stoves) with propane or buthane (or LPG). That’s weird, ’cause if you use propane, you shouldn’t consider yourself as someone who lives off-grid.
Of course, you’re off the natural gas supply network. But you still get the most of the energy you use in your home (in the form of heat) from a supply network. You don’t get compressed natural gas from the pipeline, but you get compressed propane from a tank that’s shipped to you by a truck.
What’s the difference?
Propane is not sustainable nor renewable fuel. While you can produce methane (the main component of natural gas) from biomass, there’s no easy way to produce propane from wood or waste and no-one does that. In theory, you could produce propane and buthane from producer gas (synthesis gas) using Fischer-Tropsch process, but there’s no need to do that. We get enough propane and buthane when mining crude oil and natural gas.
There’s no easy way to substitute natural gas as an energy source. Most of it we use to heat our homes, produce domestic hot water and cook meals. In european climates it’s almost impossible to heat a house without using a external heat source. The only possibilities are to use energy from wind turbine to power electric heaters, burn wood in furnace or store heat accumulated in summer. Passive solar heating is not enough, even passive houses must have (small) heat source.
I don’t think that using propane is should be considered as a energy source for the period of transition from typical household to off-grid homestead. In Poland the only people who choose to heat their homes with propane are the people who will be connected to gas supply network in a couple of years. Propane is even more expensive in Poland than off-peak electricity! Because of that, the people buy gas boilers and large propane tanks only when they know than in a few years from then they will be able to use much less expensive natural gas.
I only think it’s justified to use propane for cooking. It’s of course possible to cook on a wood stove, our grandmothers did that for centuries, but it’s much easier to cook a meal on a gas burner than on a woodstove. I would recommend to have a wood stove in a kitchen though, even if you don’t want to use it at all!
And people believe that the most difficult energy to produce off-grid is the electricity for their light fixtures, water pumps and computers. Weird, isn’t it? 😉