Energy independence is a concept that can be applied to a household or to a nation.
It refers to the ability to produce enough energy to satisfy needs without being
dependent on an outside source. Its meaning for a household is accordingly somewhat
different from its meaning for a nation.
A household that is energy independent is one that produces its own energy, usually
through one renewable energy method or another (solar, wind, and biofuel being the
most common ways to do this) and is not dependent on energy produced by a commercial
enterprise and sold over the electricity grid or the gas lines.
A nation that is energy independent is one that produces enough energy in its own
domestic power generation that it does not have to import fuel or other forms of
energy from other countries.
Oil-rich countries are usually energy independent; a large energy consumer that does
not produce enough fossil fuels and other forms of energy to satisfy domestic demand,
such as the United States, is not.
Energy Independence For The Household
If you wish for your household to become energy independent and not face a monthly
utility bill, there are two ends of the problem to address, demand and supply. Energy
demand is a function of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the amount of energy
(whether bought from a utility or produced at home) which is used as opposed to thrown
An appliance that is energy-inefficient wastes energy, consuming a lot more of it
than is applied to its designed purpose. For example, an incandescent light bulb
is designed to convert electric current into light, and so is a high-efficiency compact
fluorescent bulb or LED.
But each bit of electricity that is converted into heat instead of light is wasted:
you don't intend the light bulbs as a way to heat your house, but as a way to provide
light after dark.
(Waste heat from light bulbs is not a very efficient way to heat your home, either.)
The same principle applies to other appliances. Those that use more energy to accomplish
the same task are throwing energy away. Maximizing the energy efficiency of your
home will reduce the amount of power that needs to be fed into it, and so make the
task of becoming energy independent easier.
The other end of the problem is supply. For most households, energy is purchased
in several forms: electricity from an electric utility, natural gas from either the
same company or a different one, sometimes oil for an oil furnace delivered periodically
by truck, and gasoline or diesel oil for cars.
To become energy independent, even with maximum energy efficiency, some amount of electricity and other energy forms must be produced at home. A home electricity system may be installed in the form of solar panels or wind turbines which can be installed by a contractor (the most expensive but easiest way to do it), built from a kit (significantly less expensive but more work), or made from scratch using bulk solar cells to produce solar panels or magnet motors to produce wind generators (the least expensive but most time-consuming method). If you want to become fully energy-independent, fuel for cars can be made from waste vegetable oil (which you can generally obtain free from local restaurants) to produce biodiesel fuel. This requires converting any vehicles you own to run on diesel or a diesel-equivalent, as biodiesel is not identical in properties to gasoline (or to diesel oil, for that matter, but it's fairly close and will work). Detailed guides on how to do each of these are available online free or for a reasonable price, generally $50 or less. National Energy Independence On a national scale, any nation that does not sit on top of enough oil deposits to be a net petroleum exporter must approach the problem of energy independence from both ends, just as a household must. Energy efficiency should be increased to the point where as close to zero energy is being wasted as practical. (It is of course impossible to reduce this all the way to zero, and eventually one reaches diminishing returns; however, most national economies are nowhere near that point.) On the production end, shifting from forms of energy that must be imported to those that can be produced at home is the necessary task for energy independence. In the United States, for example, while substantial petroleum production still occurs, the country has long since ceased to be a net oil exporter, nor is there any way for it to become one again. The obvious task, then, is to improve energy efficiency as much as practically possible and convert energy applications that use petroleum (in which the U.S. is not and never will be energy independent) to those that use other forms of energy the country can produce in abundance. In most cases, the energy of the future will need to come from renewable, effectively inexhaustible sources: solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal for the most part. There is a connection between the two types of energy independence. Every household that becomes energy independent moves the national economy one small step closer to achieving that goal on a collective scale. One could therefore think of becoming energy independent oneself as not only financially sensible, but also patriotic.