"Living off the grid" is the phrase commonly used to describe people who choose to disconnect themselves from our modern public utility system. They don't get electricity from the power company -- they generate it themselves if they want it. Water might come from a well or a spring. Why? Some people just want to be independent and rely on no one but themselves. Others do it for the environment, preferring that clean methods like solar and wind power generate their energy.
Precisely because of the fact that these folks are "off the grid," it is difficult to estimate how many people are pursuing this path. Some experts say the number in America may be as high as half a million people [source: Schlemetic]. Of course, when you count the people in less developed countries who are living "off the grid" not by choice, the number is much higher -- perhaps around 1.7 billion people [source: Klutse]. In some parts of southern Africa, only 2 percent of the people have access to electricity [source: Klutse].
Certainly, less-developed countries have by far the highest concentration of people living off the grid. That's not to say they don't have electricity. Many people in remote areas throughout the world are using solar panels to generate small amounts of power, and they probably can't imagine turning down the chance to have easy, unlimited access to "the grid." But in the world's developed countries, the "off the grid" movement is growing. A few city people have adopted this lifestyle, but for the most part, it's a rural movement. It's probably most popular in California, but the movement is growing in Wisconsin, Texas and New Jersey [source: Frazier]. In many areas, communities have developed, and they're not tiny villages, either. The Three Rivers Recreation Area in Oregon is a 4,000-acre (about 1,620-hectare) community with more than 450 dwellings, all solar powered [source: Marlowe]. From the street, the homes in the Abundance EcoVillage in Fairfield, Iowa, look like those in any other subdivision, but they all incorporate passive solar design and earth-friendly ways of managing wastewater [source: Abundance]. More than 300 people live off the grid in Scotland's Findhorn development, founded in 1962, where the homes are made of local stone and straw, are powered by wind, and wastewater is processed in the community's own treatment plant [source: Rosen]. In Japan, approximately 550 families live in Toyosato, a green community founded in 1969 [source: Koch].
Home composting is an ideal way to reduce solid waste. (Photo courtesy Karim Nice)
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