5 Good Ways to Get Green Power Into Your Home
photo: Brian Kusler via flickr
3. Solar Photovoltaic Panels
Having a home where you own your own solar panels seems to be an aspiration for many budding environmentalists. If I lived in a free standing home and the location was right, it certainly would be for me. While that may conjure up images living in some off-grid retreat, the majority of homes with solar panels have them tied into the power grid, with any energy shortfall being supplied by the utility and any excess flowing back into the grid.
Depending on how large of a system you want to install (ie: how much space you have and/or how much of your electricity needs you want to supply from the panels) the price is going to vary. But in any case, it's not going to be exactly inexpensive: After various rebate and tax credit programs are figured in (these can federal or state-based) you're looking at $6000-$9000 per kilowatt. For an average home a complete system could run to $20,000, easily.
Don't let that get your down: A number of cities and states, as well as some utilities, are starting to offer loan programs to encourage more people to install their own solar power systems.
Advantages of Owning Solar Panels v. Buying the Power
So why would you want to install your own solar panels when you could avail yourself of a solar-as-service program?
One reason: Other than the fact that solar-as-service programs aren't available in all locations, owning your own panels is an investment in your house that doesn't exist with solar-as-service. The payback time is certainly longer than just buying the power someone else's panels produce (in that case the concept of payback time isn't really applicable...), but if you want to sell the house the panels aren't yours to sell. Unless you've bought them yourself.
4. Small-Scale Wind Turbines
photo: Southwest Windpower
Whenever I write about small-scale or home wind turbines I include an obligatory intro: Though they certainly look cool out in your yard or on your roof, in many built-up locations wind speeds are such that the power output from them is likely to be much different than their rated capacity. In fact, one fairly recent report indicated that when used in urban locations, the power output of some home wind turbines over their lifetime may never outweigh the embedded carbon emissions of manufacturing the turbine. But if your location is right, they certainly do generate renewable power.
That said, there are some cool looking designs out there--we profiled some of them a few months ago in Hot Home Wind Turbines You Can Actually Buy--and they fall into two broad categories: Smaller versions of the big commercial wind turbines and vertical axis wind turbines. Both varieties come in models that can be mounted in your yard, provided you have the space, or on your rooftop.
How long it'll take to pay off that investment is going to vary by location and how much you're now paying for electricity.
Home Wind Turbines
Hot Home Wind Turbines You Can Actually Buy, Plus One You Wish You Could
Vertical Wind Turbines May Get a Chance on Malmö City Rooftops
The Energy Ball: Another Innovative Option in Home Wind Turbines
5. Micro-Hydroelectric Power
If home wind turbines aren't suitable for every location, then that is even more true for micro-hydroelectric power. But, if your home is built in a place with the right sort of water supply then this option could be a good investment.
According to Energy Alternatives,
Our experience with micro hydro systems has demonstrated that water power will produce between 10 and 100 times more power than PV or wind for the same capital investment. One should not consider other options unless there is simply no stream available within two kilometers
They should probably add, "...and you don't have neighbors in between". I did say this sort of thing wasn't suitable for every location, right?
So, you've got good access to a stream and no neighbors in the way, this is how such a system would work:
Electricity is produced from the energy in water flowing from a high level to a lower level. This change in elevation is called head and supplies the pressure, which drives the turbine. Flow is the other factor contributing to power production. It is usually limited by the size of the creek.
The amount of electricity produced is directly related to the head and flow. If the head or flow is increased the power output increases proportionally. Many micro hydro systems can utilize the existing pipe used by a gravity fed water system. A couple of sprinklers on a two-inch pipe are the equivalent of many kilowatt-hours per month of micro hydro electricity. Site considerations Many factors work together to make a successful micro hydro site.
If your site permits, you can have a large AC turbine with all the functionality of a 120/240 VAC fossil-fuel generator running 24 hours per day, but without the noise, smell, pollution and ongoing fuel and maintenance costs. While more expensive than a battery charging system, continuous outputs of 3 kW or more will heat a home for much of the year, in addition to supplying town-lifestyle appliance and lighting loads.
Not intimidated by all that? Then the aforementioned Energy Alternatives is a good place to go to get a much more comprehensive overview of what you'll be wading into with micro-hydroelectric power.