Want to beat rising energy prices? Then Live off-grid!

As energy bills soar and Britain braces itself for a winter of discontent, there is one family who aren’t worried.

Matthew and Charis Watkinson, and their children Elsa and Billy, have managed to evade the national energy crisis by becoming totally self-sufficient.

The young family are one of tens of thousands of Britons who now live ‘off-grid’ — meaning they are disconnected from the national energy supply.

Self sufficient: Matthew and Charis Watkinson, and their children Elsa and Billy live in a self-built eco-home in West Wales, which is powered by wind and solar panels

Electricity in their self-built eco-home in West Wales is powered by wind and solar panels, which cost £5,000 to install, while they use firewood for their heating and hot water.

They even have a biodigester which transforms organic food waste into cooking gas.

And it means they are totally bill-free — making them one of the few families in the UK who don’t need to worry about the cost of living this winter.

‘Having no bills was the big liberator for us,’ says Matthew, who spent around £1,500 on utilities every year.

‘We were starting to think more about global stability and wanted to protect ourselves against crises in the world.

‘We feel very insulated against rising energy prices. We do feel a little smug but we feel bad for everybody else who has to struggle with this.’

Six energy suppliers have gone bust in recent weeks — including Avro Energy and Utility Point — with nearly 1.5 million customers hit and forced to pay more for their power.

This is due to gas market prices which have soared over the past year thanks to strong global demand. Those whose energy supplier goes bust are typically moved onto more expensive standard variable tariffs.

Energy regulator Ofgem warned on Sunday that gas prices are up four-fold, with bills set to spiral for millions of households from October.

On top of this, national tax hikes and rising inflation mean experts are warning of a cost-of-living crisis for families.

It is exactly this type of national storm that Matthew, 44, and Charis, 36, are intent on avoiding.

Prior to living off-grid, they were both working as vets in East London and had saved up enough for a house deposit.

But the 2008 financial crisis and later the 2011 riots along with concerns over climate change had left them wanting to escape the rat-race and become more self-sufficient.

All aboard: Lamorna and Gareth in the converted double-decker bus they bought for £5,000

All aboard: Lamorna and Gareth in the converted double-decker bus they bought for £5,000

They used up their savings to buy three fields in Pembrokeshire before building their own home made from repurposed vehicles.

Matthew says: ‘We still have a car so we are still affected by petrol shortages but we’re hoping to become less reliant on that.

‘We’re not trying to be moralistic and preach to other people. Our key message is just that living off-grid is really great fun, it’s really liberating — certainly from a financial point of view.’

The family make their money by operating tours of their farm along with courses teaching others how to be more self-sufficient. And they are not the only ones to be protected from the current crisis.

According to the online community Off-Grid.net, there are around 150,000 people living off-grid in the UK. This means they are not reliant on national energy supply. Off-Grid.net estimates that 60,000 of those off-grid live in campervans, caravans and buses.

A further 30,000 are thought to be living on boats without a mains connection, while 25,000 are living in conventional houses, powered using self-sufficient sources.

Off-Grid.net founder Nick Rosen, who has been living this way part-time for over 20 years, says: ‘People living off-grid are showing us one possible version of the future.

‘They are showing how little energy we need to live comfortably. The current energy market is clearly not working.

‘It might not be possible for everybody to go off-grid but we could have a situation where we have “micro-grids” that allow communities to share locally sourced and reliable energy.’

For Lamorna and Gareth Hollingsworth, living fully off-grid is the dream.

Last year they bought a double-decker bus for £5,000 which they are renovating into a home with a £20,000 budget. They have a clear aim to make it sustainable.

It has solar panels and they will use Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) — a highly efficient and energy conserving fuel. 

LPG is bought by the bottle and, according to consumer body Which?, a household spends on average £796 a year to fuel their home with LPG.

‘We always wanted to be self-sufficient because it gives us so much freedom,’ says Lamorna, a nutritionist and personal trainer, 39.

‘Petrol stations are running out and everybody is worried about their bills. These things are out of all our control. Now we feel we have our control back.’


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