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A taste of life off-grid

  • The Green Homes Network enables people in Scotland considering energy upgrades to their home, or taking the plunge with a full-scale ‘eco home’, to connect with those who’ve been there and done it. We talked to Network member Russell Quinlan who, with his wife, has built an off-grid log house in Turriff, Aberdeenshire. 

The Quinlans’ home features solar PV, solar hot water, a wood-fuelled boiler and wind turbines, but their motivation to invest in renewables was less about saving money and more about the practicality of building a home in a remote area:

We didn’t go off-grid to make savings. The cost to connect our home to the grid was far too much, so we decided, in the long-term, with energy costs only going to increase, that it was better to do what we did which, although costing more initially due to capital costs, has been the right decision.”

As with any grand green project, there were some teething problems along the way. Russell and his wife have found that their smart meter struggles with power flowing in more than one direction, for example.

It’s been something of a long, slow learning curve, understanding how all the technologies work together - and we are still learning.” 

One thing smart meters are very good at, though, is seeing how much energy appliances are using. The Green Homes Network online case study of the Quinlans’ home mentions switching from a plasma to an LCD TV to reduce its electricity use. Have there been any other changes brought about by knowing what energy is being used where?

When we first built the house we had some halogen lights (a throwback to when we thought we would be on grid) which are very power hungry. We have recently changed them all for the new LED bulbs which are now more affordable and have a much better light output. I also changed my choice of computer, from an iMac (using about 200W) to a Mac Mini (using 85W) and my wife uses the washing machine only when the battery state of charge is high.”

Finally, does Russell have any advice for other homeowners considering an eco-upgrade to their home in Scotland?

Concentrate on solar panels over wind turbines would be the main one, unless you’re off-grid like we are and needmore than one energy supply. For us, the turbine keeps our batteries charged when the sun goes down or is not out much. But maintenance and capital costs for turbines are higher than PV so I would advise anyone on the grid to only think about installing PV or solar thermal. One other upgrade I would consider is using pellet boilers instead of oil or gas - they are extremely efficient and clean and we have been very impressed with ours.”

Watch the YouTube video for more on the Quinlans’ experience. If you would like to arrange a visit to the property, or any other of the 850 homes on the network email

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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British Gas say they cannot fit a smart meter to my property because I have solar panels. They don't have a meter as yet! Is this because the current meters measure the net consumpton? so they lose out as the meter 'goes backwards' Thats the cynic in me.