How to survive the freezing weather with no gas or mains electricity

Solar panels, solar thermal collectors, a pellet boiler, batteries and a motor that can convert the warmth produced by the boiler into electricity is enough to see an average family through the winter without having to having to rely on gas or mains electricity. Despite us currently experiencing the most intense spell of cold weather in recent years, Ludwig Van Wonterghem from Kuurne in West Flanders is living proof that it can be done. However, the Van Wonterghems’ energy system is very expensive and isn’t very good for air quality.

Ludwig Van Wonterghem switched off the electricity metre at his family’s home on 11 November last year. Despite the freezing conditions over the past week or so he hasn’t had to switch it back on again. He is able to produce enough heat and electricity for his and his family’s needs.

If this continues to be the case, Mr Van Wonterghem intends to have his home cut off from mains electricity for good in April. Living off-grid is no longer fiction.

Pellets in the winter, sun in the Summer

The “engine” of Ludwig Van Wonterghem’s energy system is a pellet condensation boiler. This not only heats the house and provides hot water, but it also provides heat for a Stirling engine that converts heat into electricity. Other energy sources are solar panels and solar thermal collectors.

From April, once the winter is over and the days are longer, the energy from the sun will take over from energy produced by the pellet boiler.

Domestic hot water will be warmed up through the solar thermal collectors and electricity supplied thanks to the solar panels. The number of solar panels is relatively small. The Van Wonterghems’ have enough capacity with 12 panels on the roof of their house.

Not 100% clean and green

The system is not 100% green and the pellet boiler does emit some particulate matter. However, as the emissions are cleaned by a condensation system they remain relatively low at 5 milligrams per cubic metre.

This makes the boiler one the cleanest of its type. 5 milligrams per cubic metre is the same as an oil-fired domestic heating boiler, but still dozens of times more than a gas condensation boiler.

Gas condensation boilers emit much less particulate matter, but far more CO2, as the wood pellets used for pellets boilers come from trees that are supposed to be replaced by the planting of new trees.

The latest thing, but it comes at a price

Up until now the system has worked perfectly. However, it comes at a price. The system has a total cost of 40,000 euro not including the solar thermal collectors that were installed a few years ago and were very expensive at the time. Nowerdays at solar thermal collector costs around 3,000 euro.

If all continues to run according to plan Ludwig Van Wonterghem intends to have the mains electricity supply to his home cut off in April. However, in doing so his family loses its safety net because if something goes wrong with the boiler, the engine or the solar panels they will lose their source of heat and light.

Furthermore an investment of 40,000 euro is not something everyone can afford. Nevertheless, Ludwig Van Wonterghem proves that it’s possible and he probably won’t be the last Fleming to have the mains electricity and gas supply to their home cut off.

Domestic energy self-sufficiency is no longer fiction.

Top stories