I have been researching again. Sustainability, off-grid, alternative energy, all of the things that would be necessary if something happened to society as we know it. Want to know what I have discovered? It is really expensive and none of them are good for general purposes.
If you do a web search on these things, you will find millions of pages, most of which are simply common sense things, to reduce the amount of energy you consume. You can use solar PV systems, but they are expensive, bulky, and if you live in an area that doesn't get optimum amounts of sunlight year round, not really the way to go unless you have a huge amount of battery storage and/or another source as a backup. Wind turbines can be a good solar backup, but you have to have open space, a good steady wind, and they can be noisy if they are too close to the house. Micro-hydro is another good source for solar backup. If you have a creek, stream, or spring with a high enough flow rate. Again, you have to have the right local conditions.
Then there is the whole biomass thing. Essentially, it all boils down to a wood stove of some sort. Yes, you could rig up a way to use the wood stove to boil water, to create steam, to run a turbine, that is connected to a generator, to produce a current. Is it efficient? Not really. You would have to really, really like cutting firewood, and have a large patch of woods, for this to be a viable option. But...there are things you can burn besides trees, provided your stove can handle the different types of fires and still be efficient. Corn cobs, waste paper(ie cardboard, rolled newspapers, etc) sawdust (either loose or pellets), broken shipping pallets, construction waste, basically anything that is cellulose based and will still burn. A wood stove in the home would be a great alternative to being strictly electric since you can use it to heat the home, cook on, and heat water, but this would be mainly limited to cool or cold weather seasons. But as a supplement, it is a great option.
Lets say you have 5 acres and a small (1000 sf or less) house and it is just you and your significant other. One of you works outside the home and the other stays on the property and gardens, tends the livestock, etc. For this setup, 4 to 6 solar panels with the associated battery bank, a wood stove, and maybe a small wind turbine (if you really use a lot of electricity, like for a separate chest freezer and a small ac unit) would be a good set up. The main problem would be that the equipment would run you over $10,000. Plus the batteries would have to be replaced every 5-8 years and that can get expensive in the long term.
You could go really old school and do without electric completely. Have 2 wood stoves, one inside and one outside, candles or kerosene lamps, and live without an AC unit. Here in the hot humid South, not really a viable option. It can be done but you have to have the right layout on your house or you would just be living in a oven all summer. Good airflow through out the house and a 3 sided wrap-around porch with windows (and screens) facing the prevailing winds. This is how our grandparents lived. And it worked out fine.
So, I guess the bottom line on this is really how much do you want to spend, and how many of the modern luxuries can you give up to do it. If it is a survival situation, I can personally give up a LOT of things. If it is just a sustainability issue, I am not gonna give up my a/c.
So until we have our 5 acres, or life as we know it comes to an end, I will just keep researching options. Maybe something new will be developed that will eliminate the need for multiple systems and battery banks. Maybe...maybe...maybe.
It does give me something to think about though.