Q59 – Living without electricity

A small guide for living without electricity

Experiences of Ylenia Vikor in a non-developing country
After I graduated from school I took the decision to go abroad. I was never keen on rich countries because developing countries interested me more. I made the decision to go to Serbia where my family is from. There we have a holiday house in the forest near the river. It is just beautiful there as you will see on the following pictures. I have been living in Serbia for about three months. One part of our trip we spent in my family-house and the other part in the forest. That means without electricity or flowing water.

A typical day there looked like this: I woke up at around 8 o’clock and my partner at 5 o’clock. So that he could find some fish. Then I made the breakfast ready. Mostly, we ate bread with butter, once I made bread on my own. Fortunately, my father showed up many times and he brought us bread. After eating we relaxed and enjoyed the weather and the life. Afterwards there was the time to be active like cleaning the house or working in the garden.

Even though we were on holidays we never had time. We felt that the time ran against us, because without any technology everything needed more time; for example, when you should clean up the dishes it takes ages to change the water all the time. Our water source was the river or a well pump and that took a while and some effort. You can imagine how the sun is burning on your head when you have to clean the dishes. Furthermore, I had to change the water which was a big act of power. Also, we made the gardening each day, like mowing the grass with the scythe. Our tools were old-fashioned but they worked at least. When we had finished the daily work we took a bath in the river. The water is not as clean as it used to be, but there wasn’t another choice. Before the sunset we had to have our dinner ready. If not, we would have been in trouble because we didn’t have any light apart from candles. Our dinner was mostly fish that we fished ourselves and vegetables from the garden. We had some difficulties with the mosquitos. Suddenly they appeared and liked to bite us. Luckily, we were smarter and made a fire to keep them away. We already got used to insects when living close to a river.

To sum up, it was one of the best experiences in my life. In the beginning, everything was new and I had to manage a lot of things. After a while we developed a new way of how to survive easily, which needed a radical rethinking of our habits. In such circumstances we´ve learned more about time and living in a totally new environment. Before my trip, I wouldn’t have known how to react when rain drops on your head and you have to repair the roof. We didn´t have a lot of equipment which made me more aware of what I really need in life. I was so happy about some water, which wasn’t clear but it was sufficient. At the end of those days I was tired and happy at the same time. I strongly recommend to make the same experiences and acquire a new sense of living.


Getting out of the grid
Whether you are passionate about ‘getting off the grid’ or simply know that you are going to have to deal with a power outage in the near future, you are going to have to know how to live without electricity. While it might sound unnatural to live without all the electrical items that play a large part in our lives, living without electricity has been something humans have done since the history of humanity. With determination, a positive attitude, and a bit of ingenuity you too can live without electricity, be it for just a day or the rest of your life. There are many other positive aspects. Living without electricity changes your life, you get more in peace with the nature. There are people, who explain that they get more aware of living and they are healthier than before. It’s not just about paving the way for our future children, it’s also about being happy and smart.

Investment in your future
Start to invest in alternative energy. If you are planning on living without electricity, then you are going to have to find other ways to power your home without the help of electricity companies. Renewable energy sources are an excellent way to do this. Install solar panels to harness the power of the sun, build wind turbines, or power your home through a hydropower system. You may also consider installing a generator so you can power your own electric items.

Some nice examples:
Make a bicycle generator. Bike generators are both a great way to get exercise and a great way to charge your electronics. You can order the plans for bike generators online, or you can order pre-made bike generators. You should also consider using alternative fuels like biodiesel, biomass, and ethanol.

sketch of a bike generator to gain energy
Sketch of a bike generator to gain energy

Source: How to Live Without Electricity (wikihow.com)

What is ethanol?
Ethanol is an alcohol fuel that’s distilled from plant materials, such as corn and sugar. Alcohol fuels have been around for years, typically mixed with gasoline in a blend also known as gasohol. E10, with a ratio of 10% ethanol to 90% gasoline, can be used in any internal combustion engine and many oil companies already blend their fuels that way. Methanol, mostly used in race cars, isn’t popular for other vehicles because it isn’t as clean and it also relies on fossil fuels. The use of these fuels in higher proportions requires modification to the fuel storage and delivery systems on cars and trucks.

Source: What Is Ethanol? (dummies.com)

How to light up your house
You should think about how you want to light up your house. One amazing alternative would be a kerosene lantern, or a kerosene wick lamps, candles, and battery charged camping lanterns. An alternative would be to live with the sun system. That means you get up with the sun and you go to bed with the sun. But don’t forget to have flashlights at hand in case you wake up in the middle of the night and you don’t have any light. If you decide to get a bicycle generator, you will be able to light your the lamps in your house.

kerosene lamp
Kerosene lamp

The inventor of these lamps is a Brazilian mechanic, Alfredo Moser. He had to light up the house while there wasn’t electricity. It’s nothing more than plastic bottles filled with water and a bit of bleach. In the last two years his innovation has spread throughout the world. It is expected to be in one million homes by early next year. You fill plastic bottles with water and the sunlight will make a refraction, just add bleach so that the water doesn’t turn green. Then, make a hole in the roof tile with a drill, from the bottoms upwards, he pushes the bottle into the newly-made hole. Additionally, fix the bottles with polyester resin. Even when it rains, the roof never leaks, not one drop.

PET bottle in the roof as a light inside the cottage PET bottle in the roof as a light inside the cottage - roof view

Source: How to Live Without Electricity (wikihow.com)

The best way of cooking without electricity is with a wood- or gas-stove. You only need a lighter or matches to get it burn. Outdoors you can prepare the meal with a gas-cooker or make a fire on a campfire site.

Source: How to Live Without Electricity (wikihow.com)

Survival food
If you would like to store food without needing electricity, buy canned food. Even dry fruit, vegetables, meat or fish can be stored for a long time. You don´t need a fridge to store these kinds of food.

Good survival foods:
– salt & sugar
– dried herbs & other spices
– honey
– alcohol
– canned beans
– canned tuna
– canned meat
– canned vegetables & fruit
– peanut butter
– coffee
– tea
– ramen noodles

shelf with survival food

Source: Survival Foods That Make Sense (stealtharmour.wordpress.com)

Growing your own Garden
You can also grow your own herbs, vegetables, and fruit in the backyard instead of buying them in the stores. It is an easy way to save money and a great way to spend time with your family or have a place to spend the time outdoors. At first, take a look at how much you and your family will eat when you think about how to plant a garden. Then look how much space you need for the planting. Keep in mind that you don’t need a large space to begin. After that, pick the perfect spot with full sun because most vegetables need at least 6-8 hours of direct sun and plenty of water each day. The only things you need are the seeds.

garden h_7-1

Source: How to Plan a Vegetable Garden (bhg.com)

Instead of washing with a washing machine, hand wash the clothes on a washboard or if you don´t have one just do so with soap. In most developing countries they have to hand wash their clothes because they can´t afford a washing machine or drier. In this picture you can see a woman who washes on a well pump. In the background the clothes are hung up on a rope.


Source: How to Live Without Electricity (wikihow.com)

One of the easiest ways of heating your home is with a wood stove. In a survival situation there are many uses for it. It can be used as a heater, to cook food and water. Place the wood stove in the center of your home that is in a safe distance away from flammable things like furniture and children.


Another method is heating with a fireplace but make sure that you can cover it so that you don´t have too much smoke and ash in your room. If you do plan on using your fireplace to provide heat, make sure you have a high-quality flue that can keep cold air out when the fireplace is not in use.


Source: How To Heat Your Home Without Electricity (survivopedia.com)

Living without electricity in developing countries
Over 1.3 billion people don’t have the possibility to access modern energy service because they can’t afford it. Especially in the slums, there is a lack of access to clean energy. The result is that people turn to fossil fuels for their energy needs, such as wood and kerosene. The usage of such fuels has bad effects to a person’s health, safety, and general well-being. Because they have no choice they stick to following replacements:

One of the popular replacements of electricity is the kerosene lamp. It produces not only light but also heat. But burning kerosene for light contributes to indoor air pollution, which can cause breathing problems and illness. Typically, people who sit very close to a kerosene lamp because they are reading or studying get worse health problems. The relatively small volume of air space, coupled with generally poor ventilation, for people living in a typical tent, are a very bad combination. It´s like smoking more than a packet of cigarettes a day.
Still, hundreds of millions of people across the globe are relying on kerosene as a fuel source, many millions of tonnes of carbon are emitted into the atmosphere every year.


Source picture: edition.cnn.com

Source: What is energy poverty? (pollinateenergy.org)

Turning human waste into biogas in Kenya’s slums
Bio-centres turn human´s waste into electricity and prove that it is the ultimate source of renewable energy. They found a solution that turns the mountains of human waste from a problem into an asset. They are building bio-centres where human poo is collected and put in a collector which collects the methane emitted from poo as it breaks down. The methane is sold back as biogas, used for cooking within the centres or to power hot showers.

Every individual creates 300g of human waste each day. Over 2.4 million of Nairobi’s inhabitants live in its informal settlements. So what they have in Nairobi is 720,000 kg of poo. They want to turn it into biogas so that they can tackle the energy crisis.


Source: Poo power: turning human waste into clean energy in Kenya’s slums (theguardian.com)

How does biogas work:

scheme biogas production

Source picture: takamotobiogas.com

“Could we live in a world without electronic energy sources?” Through our research we found a lot of interesting ways to replace electricity easily. We think that it is possible to live without electricity because you can use other energy sources like wood, fire, water, air or biogas to replace it. In non-developing countries like Switzerland we have more ability to other energy sources because we can afford other alternatives that may cost money like a wood stove for heating or cooking.

Most people in the world are forced to live without electricity like in developing countries. They cook their meals on a fireplace inside the house and, as an effect, get harmed by the smoke and ash. Because they don´t have enough money, they have to stick to cheaper energy like kerosene lamps for lightning.

However, nowadays we are used to technical progress, and many people can´t imagine living without electricity anymore. Above you can find some advice on how to change your life. Just go out of the grid, you can try it with a friend for a weekend and you might change your opinion about our project.

Review made by Evelin Gabriel! Thank you!

Hopefully you could enjoy our project! Thank you for your time.

Your Team Q59 Ylenia Vikor & Sarah Keller

☷ See the project teams here »
☵ Some words about the contributions »

9 thoughts on “Q59 – Living without electricity

  1. Hello Q59 Team!
    First of all: your project impressed me a lot! It’s incredible what you’ve done – living without electricity for such a long time! I think for us “Swiss-People” it’s even hard to imagine how this can actually work. The fact that you made the hole food by your self (fishing and gardening) impressed me the most. It shows me, that maybe all those big supermarket in Switzerland wouldn’t be necessary, if we would all improve ourselves and be “self-supplyers”.

    It would be very interesting to know more about how your experience effected you back in Switzerland. Did you changed anything related to the electricity you are using or in general the way you are living?

    I want to say thank you for this impression of living without electricity, it makes me think about how we wast energy and other things like the plastic of every produkt we buy.

    Best regards

  2. Hello guys!
    Thanks, your post helped me a lot and is very informative. I have planned a trip thru some “poor” countries. I think in general in the near future it is getting better but there are a lot of “energy-needy” areas yet in the world.

  3. Dear Team Q59
    I\’ve read your title and was very surprising about the topic. Because of that I started to read and it was more and more interesting. I was very fascinate about your surviving tips. I think they could be very helpful. The Invention with the PET bottles are very impressive I haven\’t even hear about that. Great work!

    All in all I think it is a very informative Text with helpful tips for surviving. But I don\’t hope that I will need them some days.

    Kind regards
    Rafael Gallardo

  4. Hi Team Q59

    I\’m speechless. Your project is a big success!
    There are so many ways to survive without electricity. Your idea to light up the house with the pet bottle was my favourite. You have to be creative if you live at such a place, I like that.

    I think sometimes the humans don\’t appreciate the small things we can because of the electricity. For example, it\’s a matter of course that we can swich on and off the light as many times as we want. Actually, a lot of people sometimes forgot that we consume energy when the lamp is on. So we let the lamp on for hours even if it\’s not necessary…

    If you decide one day to do this again, in which country are you interested in? I am very impressed about your work. What a great experience to live without electricity…

    Best wishes,

  5. Dear Team Q59
    When I first read your title I was very interested to learn more about your project. I have to say I was not disappointed. I can see how much time you spent for this project.

    The whole experience about living for a couple of weeks in a forest without even electricity sounds both interesting and adventurous. I asked myself in what kind of accommodation did you lived there? Maybe it didn’t catch my attention or you didn’t mention it. However I would be interested to learn more about the accommodation.

    Moreover, you mentioned many possibilities to replace electricity with renewable energy and all kind of replacements. You gave some good possibilities, but it always will be a question of your own lifestyle. If you want to change something in your everyday life or not.
    Best wishes
    Mara Furrer, VZA

  6. First of all I want to say that I think your project is a big success. When I was reading through your written lines I found it very astonishing how you described your normal day in the forest, where you lived without electricity. In fairness I don’t know if I could handle that.
    I also like your examples which you have done with the bicycle generator. I would find it very cool, if you would post the link where people can order the plans for these bike generators. Your whole project shows summarized how people all over the world can live without electricity and some of them still do this and that’s very astonishing. The Pictures which you filled in are very good and helps everyone to imagine what you are writing about and how you mean it. I find everything clear and have no question to something.
    Kind Regards

    1. Hi Mirco

      Thank you so much for your supportive and honest words. That let us feel happy. If you like you can make your own generator by yourself. Check out the following link:
      Wish you good luck and we like to see your self-made generator, share with us a a picture.

      Best wishes


  7. You made some good points there. I checked on the web to learn more about the issue and found most people will go along with your viees on this web site.

  8. It was really interesting to read your experiance you have made with living without electricity. You have shown in a thrilling and understandable way how development countries live without electricty. The pictures and the appendant explanations gets me picture how they use other energy sources. It displayed many possibilities to replace the electricity in our daily life. I think with your project people are worrying about whether it is possible to use these replacements in our everyday life to relieve the electricity system.
    Best Regards
    Daniela Schürmann, VzA

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