Going Off the Grid

off the grid

Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for more Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America

by Nick Rosen

Penguin Books (2010)

Book Review

Off the Grid is an exploration of the diverse permutations of the US off-the-grid movement. According to British journalist and documentary filmmaker Nick Rosen, living “off the grid” can have a variety of meanings. For some it means living self-sufficiently without the higher cost and carbon emissions of electric, gas, water and sewage connections. For others, it means living incommunicado without the daily intrusion of cellphones or email. In a few cases, involving political dissidents or those with criminal records, it means escaping the prying eyes of the surveillance society.

The movement includes liberal-leaning environmentalists, who Rosen describes as the “foot soldiers of the eco-revolution,” right wing civil libertarians and survivalists, the homeless and urban homesteaders who capture rainwater and produce their own electricity despite living within city limits.

In 2007, there were 300,000 off the grid households in the US. By 2010, the number had reached 520,000 and was growing by 10-15% annually.

Obama’s Smart Grid

Rosen is clearly a strong supporter – and part time practitioner – of off the grid living. He also strongly opposes Obama’s push to build a multibillion dollar “Smart Grid.”  With the latter, power companies use Smart Meters to continuously monitor users’ electricity consumption. Power companies (and Obama) are bending the truth when they claim a government subsidized smart grid is essential to respond to big growth in future electricity demand. Electricity demand is decreasing, due to the economic downturn and big improvements in efficiency.

The real reason power companies want Obama to build them a Smart Grid is to facilitate long distance trading in wholesale electricity. This is where they make their big money (Anyone remember Enron?).

The History of the Grid

The most interesting section of the book explores the historical development of the electrical grid. According to Rosen, it part of a deliberate scheme by Edison and GE (the company he founded) to increase electricity consumption. Both GE and Westinghouse launched massive propaganda campaigns to get people to sign up for the grid and purchase more electrical appliances to increase their consumption.

Although far less profitable for power companies, there’s no question that smaller, decentralized energy supply networks would have been more efficient* and cheaper for consumers.

Intentional Community

The bulk of the book focuses on groups and individuals who have created off-the-grid communities to recapture the social engagement that has disappeared from modern society. People who join them make an intentional decision to rely on one another, rather than technology, to meet their needs.

One prominent example includes the Earthship community architect Mike Reynolds started in New Mexico.  An Earthship is an ecologically sustainable home built out of used tires filled with earth or sand and other recycled items. Dennis Weaver’s documentary Garbage Warrior, celebrates Reynold’s creation of the Earthship concept. Another highlight is Rosen’s fascinating visit to an Amish old order Mennonite community in Kentucky.

Belittling 911 Truthers

One part of the book that really irritated me was the chapter belittling civil libertarians who decided to live off-the-grid after discovering the 9-11 attacks were an “inside job.” Rosen makes it appear as if people who reject the Bush administration version of the Twin Tower attacks (as I do) are mentally ill and deluded.

Support for the 9-11 truth movement is in no way limited to paranoid right wing libertarians, as Rosen suggests. Globally the movement has millions of adherents and they represent the entire political spectrum.

*Our current electrical power system loses approximately 8-15% of the electricity it creates between the power plant and the consumer.

12 thoughts on “Going Off the Grid

  1. In Australia the Government keeps lowering the ‘export’ of solar while increasing the cost of import of grid power. Even so, the solar, with the newest storage technology is winning out.
    It is a battle that will eventually be won by alternative energy. Of course it is also being fought tooth and nail by the Grid loving conglomerates.


    • We have the same problem here in New Zealand. A lot of people put solar panels on the roof when they could sell electricity to the grid at the same price they paid to buy it. The power provider (which is now 50% privatized and has to pay stockholders) keeps reducing the price they pay to buy power from homeowners.


  2. Pingback: Reclaim the Commons: Take Back the Grid | The Most Revolutionary Act

  3. Excellent, that is up to his 9/11 denial. There are seemingly very awake and aware folks out there who still buy into the lie of “9/11”.

    I just don’t get it? The evidence is overwhelming that the “official report” is a bald-faced lie. In fact, on my older blogs, I stopped posting on 9/11 because much of the new material was a repeat.

    But the rest of the book seems to be spot on!

    I’ll reblog this tomorrow.


  4. The Cincinnati Police Chief has recently been fired for, inter alia, creating a toxic wrokplace environment of hostility and retaliation. The report includes classic mobbing tactics such as threats and berating employees in front of their colleagues and others:


    Is this emblematic of the current workplace culture in police departments across the country? Is so, does this help to explain the recent rise in police shootings of unarmed civilians?


  5. I think this kind of workplace harassment is a very old problem. Workers used to be able to go to the union when they were treated like this. With the demise of unions in the US, they’re pretty much on their own.


    • Excellent insight. However, Postal workers had a Union and that didn’t stop the mobbings and the going postal phenomenon that began in the 1980’s. Most police have unions, many of these are marginalized by state laws like the N.Y.S. Taylor law. I believe that the decrease in unionization in the private sector is being amplified by unions becoming more attentive to the needs of the business at the expense of representing the employee/member. In any event, people are becoming more desensitized to both mobbing and its ramifications in violent acts. It is lamentable that violence is directed against the most vulnerable, in this case, the unarmed citizen. In the following article about the Cincinnati police chief the journalist ties in the former Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing’s killing of an unarmed civilian:


      I guess that after enough circumstantial evidence builds up even the mainstream press wakes up to what is happening in the leitkultur!


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