Alternative Energy Sources – Guide From A To Z
Another way to reduce your energy costs is to consider alternative energy or renewable energy technology such as solar, wind, and micro hydropower. Which future energy sources will be sustainable, profitable and environmentally friendly?
Most homes are heated and cooled by electricity, gas, or oil and use electricity generated by power plants burning coal or natural gas. However, a growing number of homeowners are saving money and reducing their contribution to climate change by using alternative energy sources.
The big advantage that these options offer is that sun, wind, water, and earth are free, and they never run out (hence they are called renewable energy sources). With most of these technologies, the hardest (and most expensive) part is getting started.
Once you have your equipment up and running, you can recoup the initial investment in the savings on your energy costs over the years.
Alternative energy sources aren’t necessarily an all-or-nothing proposition. Many households combine them with a fossil fuel system, such as a generator, or hook their home into the electrical grid so they can pay for power when they need it.
Homeowners often prefer this hybrid approach. If you have a grid-connected system and your renewable energy system generates more electricity than you need at that moment, the power goes into the grid for the utility to use elsewhere. And the utility pays you for it.
The Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 mandates that power companies purchase excess power from grid-connected small renewable energy systems at the same rate as what it costs the power company to produce the power.
There are federal and state incentives — in the form of tax rebates and other programs — to help homeowners pay for installing renewable energy sources in their homes.
Future Energy Sources
We’re all aware that fossil fuels are diminishing, so the importance of new sources are becoming more important. Let’s check out the more popular options.
Solar energy is not only plentiful, free, and reliable, but it creates no pollution that contributes to global warming.
The costs of using solar to produce electricity decrease each year, and Americans are increasingly switching to solar power.
Currently, there are more than a million solar installations across the U.S. Most places in the U.S. have good-to-excellent solar resources. Even cold and cloudy places such as Alaska and the Pacific Northwest can experience cost savings from solar.
These areas have comparable solar resources to Germany, one of the biggest users of solar energy in the world.
Solar can serve as the primary source of energy in locations where it is expensive or impossible to string conventional power lines. Or it can be an additional source of energy for homes connected to the power grid.
Solar panels are usually installed on your home’s roof to collect sunlight, although they can also be placed on the ground. The technology behind solar energy is fairly simple.
Solar panels consist of photovoltaic (PV) cells that convert sunlight into direct current (DC) electricity throughout the day. An inverter converts the DC electricity into alternating current (AC) which is then sent to the home’s electrical panel (or breaker box) to power lights and appliances.
A utility meter or program on the computer monitors your systems input and outflow, so you can constantly see how much power you are generating and using. Grid-connected homes often feed energy into the grid during the day and pull from it at night.
This can drastically reduce or even eliminate your electrical bills. Your precise energy savings depend on many factors:
- Local electrical rates
- Your electrical energy consumption
- Solar power system size
- Direct hours of daily sunlight in your area
- The size and angle of your roof
If you are considering a rooftop solar system, federal tax credits and other state, local, or utility incentives may be available to offset some of the costs.
There are also several energy-saving and clean energy financing options available. Installing solar panels on your home increases its value in the same way that renovating a kitchen or finishing a basement would.
Research shows that homeowners pay more for a solar home; one study indicated that solar increased the value of a home by about $15,000 on average.
Furthermore, every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of solar that is generated substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide and other dangerous pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter. Solar power also helps decrease water consumption.
If a rooftop solar system isn’t an option for you, there are other choices such as community or shared solar programs, solar leases, and power-purchase agreements. These programs allow millions of households to take advantage of solar energy even if they cannot have their own solar panels.
Small wind electrical systems can be one of the most cost-effective renewable energy systems available. There are as you may be aware, some disadvantages to wind energy which we look at here.
Wind energy is free, and it produces zero emissions or pollution. Wind systems can lower your electricity bills by 50% to 90% and can provide uninterruptable power if you live in an area with frequent extended utility outages.
They are a particularly good option for homeowners who live in areas where it is too expensive or impossible to string power lines. You may want to use wind power to meet only some of your household’s needs. Wind is especially popular for pumping water on farms and ranches.
The technology behind wind power is not complicated, but it would probably take a professional to install. The wind spins the blades of a wind turbine mounted on a tower, where it can access stronger winds.
A rotor captures the wind’s kinetic energy and transforms it into a rotary motion that drives a generator to power a home. The taller the tower, in general, the more power it can generate; increasing the tower by 40 feet may add only 10% to the cost of the project but could generate 25% more electricity.
The diameter of a turbine’s rotor also helps determine how much energy it will produce — this defines its “swept area,” the amount of wind the turbine can intercept.
Turbines must have automatic systems to prevent them from spinning out of control in very high wind conditions.
Some households use “hybrid” systems that combine solar and wind electricity. Since the peak operating times for wind and solar happen at different points during the day and year, hybrid systems are more likely to produce power consistently.
As with solar energy, grid-connected homes can sell their excess energy back to the electrical utility.
Humans have used waterwheels as a source of power for hundreds of years, and it can be a source of energy today if you have water flowing on your property. Microhydropower can be a simple and consistent forms of renewable energy.
A small hydropower system can generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity, and a 10-kilowatt microhydropower system can usually supply enough power for a large home or a small farm. Microhydropower systems include the following components:
- A water channel or pressurized pipeline to deliver the water
- A turbine, pump, or waterwheel that converts the energy of flowing water into rotational energy
- A generator that transforms the rotational energy into electricity and a regulator to control the generator • An inverter to convert DC current to AC electricity
- Wiring to deliver the electricity to your home Hydropower tends to be more seasonal than wind or solar, so you may not want to rely on it as your only source of power.
Grid-connected homes can rely on utility-generated power when hydropower is not available. If you aren’t connected to the grid, you should plan to use wind, solar, or fossil fuel generators to supply some of your power.