What it's like to go off-grid in Manhattan

New York City resident Joshua Spodek, host of the "This Sustainable Life" podcast, successfully lived off-grid for eight months by relying solely on a small power station and foldable solar panel. Despite having to make significant lifestyle adjustments, such as climbing 11 flights of stairs daily and keeping his phone in airplane mode, Spodek was able to meet his electricity needs. (His one cheat was plugging his laptop into an outlet while working at New York University).


Some changes that made the experiment work included reading more books, writing by hand, choosing salads over cooked foods, going out instead of staying in, and shifting work to daytime hours. At first, I considered these changes sacrifices, but looking back, I view them more as a cultural shift, a bit like when I lived overseas and couldn't find a good bagel. Finding the local equivalent—croissants in Paris or vegetable steamed buns in Shanghai—worked better than complaining, and it expanded my world.

Whenever I was tempted to lament the sacrifices I was making, I reminded myself that people have been living in Manhattan for around 10,000 years—technology shouldn't make me less able or resilient than them.

The one thing I couldn't sacrifice was my pressure cooker, which was the most efficient way to cook (and my greatest single consumer of energy). A full battery charge would power the cooker to make stew good for five meals and still leave a couple of hours' charge for my computer and phone. I used almost no other appliances. I began waking up with the sun at 5 am to avoid needing lights. My battery has a one-watt LED that sufficed for cooking and eating, so I haven't used my floor lamp.