The trend toward homes that are powered by alternative energy sources, ranging from wind turbines and solar collection cells to hydrogen fuel cells and biomass gases, is one that needs to continue into the 21st century and beyond. We have great need of becoming more energy independent, and not having to rely on the supplying of fossil fuels from unstable nations who are often hostile to us and our interests. But even beyond this factor, we as individuals need to get “off the grid” and also stop having to be so reliant on government-lobbying giant oil corporations who, while they are not really involved in any covert conspiracy, nevertheless have a stranglehold on people when it comes to heating their homes (and if not through oil, then heat usually supplied by grid-driven electricity, another stranglehold).
As Remi Wilkinson, Senior Analyst with Carbon Free, puts it, “inevitably, the growth of distributed generation will lead to the restructuring of the retail electricity market and the generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure.” The power providers may have to diversify their business to make up for revenues lost through household energy microgeneration. She is referring to the conclusions by a group of UK analysts, herself included among them, who call themselves Carbon Free. Carbon Free has been studying the ever-growing trend toward alternative energy-using homes in England and the West. This trend is being driven by ever-more government recommendation and sometimes backing of alternative energy research and development, the rising cost of oil and other fossil fuels, concern about environmental degradation, and desires to be energy independent.
Carbon Free concludes that, assuming traditional energy prices remain at their current level or rise, microgeneration (meeting all of one’s home’s energy needs by installing alternative energy technology such as solar panels or wind turbines) will become to home energy supply what the Internet became to home communications and data gathering, and eventually this will have deep effects on the businesses of the existing energy supply companies.
Carbon Free’s analyses also show that energy companies themselves have jumped in on the game and seek to leverage microgeneration to their advantage for opening up new markets for themselves. Carbon Free cites the example of electricity companies (in the UK) reporting that they are seriously researching and developing ideas for new geothermal energy facilities, as these companies see geothermal energy production as a highly profitable wave of the future. Another conclusion of Carbon Free is that solar energy hot water heating technology is an efficient technology for reducing home water heating costs in the long run, although it is initially quite expensive to install.
However, solar power is not yet cost-effective for corporations, as they require too much in the way of specialized plumbing to implement solar energy hot water heating. Lastly, Carbon Free tells us that installing wind turbines is an efficient way of reducing home electricity costs, while also being more independent. However, again this is initially a very expensive thing to have installed, and companies would do well to begin slashing their prices on these devices or they could find themselves losing market share.
Some alternative sources
1. ROOFTOP SOLAR PANELS: This is probably the most common and obvious method if you’re looking into renewable power. Solar panels typically go on your roof, although you can also install them in your yard. Depending on your latitude and the orientation of the panels, you could generate 10 or more watts per square foot. A typical house consumes at least a kilowatt of power, so a few square feet of solar panels should be enough to power most or all of your needs.
If your current roof is nearing the end of its lifespan, you could also consider investing in solar shingles. Where standard rooftop solar panels are mounted on top of your current roof, solar shingles actually take the place of your roof tiles.
Of course, one big weakness of solar power is that it only works when the sun is up. If you want to power your home when the sun is down, you’ll need to pay for grid electricity or invest in a second type of renewable energy.
2. WIND TURBINES: Wind turbines are most commonly found in windfarms or floating offshore, but if you are someone who has enough real estates, installing a small wind turbine on your property to power your home would be a great move.
There are a few downsides to a wind turbine that make them less popular in residential areas. They can be ugly and make a lot of noise. They take up space, and depending on where you live, local laws and zoning regulations may outright forbid it.
But if these disadvantages don’t apply to you or don’t bother you, wind power may be a great asset. Wind power is more stable than solar, and a good-sized wind turbine can easily generate most or all of your electricity needs. Depending on your area, the wind might be a better renewable investment than solar.
3. SOLAR OVEN: Perhaps you’re not ready to power your entire home with renewable energy. That’s a big project, and maybe it’s just not feasible for all sorts of reasons. You can still power a part of your home with renewable energy by building a solar oven.
Solar ovens are typically a science fair project, but ovens use quite a bit of electricity. Using the sun to passively heat your food is a good way to get started in the world of renewable energy. Solar ovens work by trapping sunlight to heat food. You can buy a solar oven or build your own out of a few common materials.
Solar ovens have several advantages, in that they heat your food for free, and they work even during a power outage or emergency. You’ll never have to have a cold meal due to a lack of power.
4. HYDRO POWER:This won’t work for most people, but if your property contains a source of flowing water, you’re in luck. You can divert some or all of the stream or river to flow through a turbine and power your home.
There are several ways to go about doing this, but at its most basic, you’ll want to find the largest vertical distance the water will travel, and divert that water so it flows through a turbine in a controlled manner. Depending on the amount of water and vertical distance, you can produce a substantial amount of power this way. Setting up a Hydro Power generator is not easy, and you may need to have a professional install it for you. If you have some engineering knowledge, you could even build it yourself from scratch.
And the advantages of Hydro Power are immense. Unlike solar and wind, hydro is stable and continuous, which means you’ll always get the same input no matter what. You’ll never have to worry that your generator won’t be able to power your home. That piece of mind might be worth a little engineering project.
5. SOLO WATER HEATING: Solar power doesn’t just have to generate electricity. You can also use the power of the sun to heat your home.
Solar water heaters use the sun to heat a reserve of water, which can then be pumped through your radiators or out your faucets or showerheads. This system is much cheaper than using gas or electricity to heat your water and is easier to install than solar panels. If you’re not willing to completely commit to powering your entire home with renewable energy, solar water heating can be a good alternative.
There are many different types of solar water heaters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, so be sure to select the type of system that works best for you.
6. SOLAR AIR CONDITIONING:This might seem strange to use heat from the sun to cool your home, but that’s exactly what solar air conditioning does. Solar air conditioning uses the same principles of the solar water heater but uses that hot water in an air conditioning system.
Air conditioning uses more electricity than almost anything else in your home. Air conditioning can cost you a substantial amount of money every year, especially if you have central air and you live in a hot climate. Using hot water to cool your home can save you money and help the environment.
As a bonus, the hot water produced for air conditioning can also be used for other applications in your home. Depending on your setup, you can get the benefits of solar water heating with bonus air conditioning as well.
7. HYBRID: If off-grid living is your ideal scenario, many renewable energy experts recommend a hybrid system of wind and solar energy. Hybrid systems feature both wind turbines and solar panels to double up on the generative power. These systems are the most efficient and reliable, as wind and solar energy tend to be most available at different times.
Depending on the location, wind speeds tend to be lower in the summer when the sun shines brightest and longest, and they’re higher in the winter when less sunlight is available. Because peak generation for wind and solar systems often occurs at different times, a hybrid system is more likely to consistently produce the energy your home needs.
8. Geothermal: Geothermal energy is derived from the heat below the earth’s surface. This clean energy source supplies renewable power around the clock and emits little to no greenhouse gases—all while requiring a small environmental footprint to develop.
Geothermal heat pumps use 25 percent to 50 percent less electricity than conventional HVAC systems, and they can be retrofitted onto existing systems. Plus, because the hardware requires less space than a typical HVAC system, equipment rooms can be smaller. And the components often come with warranties lasting twenty years or longer.
Moreover, a geothermal heat pump doesn’t have a condensing unit like an air conditioner, so noise outside the home isn’t a factor. The system sometimes is so quiet that residents can’t even tell it’s running. It’s also adept at keeping a home comfortable, as a unit maintains about 50 percent relative indoor humidity.
9. Microhydropower: For those who have flowing water on their property, the affordability and major returns from a micro-hydro generator make it a total no-brainer. Even a small stream can generate consistent, clean, dam-free, renewable electricity at a price lower than solar or wind.
A Microhydropower system needs a waterwheel, turbine, or pump to convert the power of water into electricity. First, water is diverted to a water conveyance—usually a pipeline—that delivers it to a waterwheel (or another similar component). The moving water rotates the wheel, and this motion powers the alternator or generator to create electricity. The system can be on- or off-grid and should be able to power a typical large house.
10. Solar Shingles: If you like, you can say goodbye to giant, cumbersome solar panels. Photovoltaic roof tiles, or “solar shingles,” have become a great option for homeowners looking to lower their electric bills without sacrificing the aesthetic value of their homes.
These shingles are much easier to install than traditional bolt-on solar panels, and they’re certainly more pleasing to the eye. Solar shingles blend with conventional shingles almost seamlessly, and they do their part to protect the roof from the elements. As a matter of fact, Tesla says its solar shingles are three times stronger than traditional shingles, and the company guarantees them for the lifetime of your house.
Solar shingles cost roughly a third more than the average solar panel installation, but there are tax incentives to help offset the price. A similar, less expensive option could be to install solar skylights. These are see-through solar panels that have the appearance of traditional skylights but generate some energy for your home