Alternative Energy Sources
Do you, when you’re thinking about using green energy, just think that all you have to do is to grab the sun by the horns and corral it for your personal use. I mean, why not? That thing is huge! It feeds the plants, powers our rivers, and dictates our seasons so why not help out our laptops and TVs while it’s at it?
But, for those of you still not sure if you can reasonably expect to make it off the power grid with solar panels alone, there are other alternative energy sources you can tap into that are growing in popularity as technology continues to advance.
Remember how our power plants currently work? We burn coal, and it boils water, which creates steam, which turns turbines. Well, wind power cuts out all the middlemen and turns the turbines directly. When those giant blades turn, they cause a generator to produce an electrical current, which is then stored and sent to homes on its gridlines.
Wind power is fantastic in that it doesn’t have any pollution, requires no outside resources, and utilizes minimal land, allowing for multiple turbines to be placed together. For your home, how much you can rely on wind will depend on how much of it billows through your region on a regular basis.
By No machine-readable author provided. JMT~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Without a steady wind source, you won’t be able to tap into nature’s gusts nearly as well as you would like. For a home that uses about 780 kWh per month of electricity, you would need a wind turbine that can produce between 5–15 kilowatts to reach the 50–90% efficiency.
Another consideration in regards to wind turbines is space. If you live on a small lot or in an urban setting, they’re not going to be feasible. Even before considering the building codes, which will likely limit or disallow a noisy turbine, you’ll need to find room for it. However, turbines are fantastically effective if you have a great deal of property.
Thermal energy is drawn from the heat produced by the earth’s core. The heated rocks and water that come up from between those rocks can be tapped into to generate electricity if you live in an area with significant geothermal output.
To effectively tap into geothermal energy residentially, you would need to have a home located near geothermal vents, or you’d need to drill deep into the earth to access those vents. Luckily, this is becoming easier than it once was as drilling operators are cropping up in the Midwest and beyond to provide such a service on large properties where permits can be granted.
Quite a bit of care needs to be put into accessing geothermal energy. Because of pollution risks and the sheer number of materials needed to create an electrical source, you would need to hire a contractor and have the property space on which to build.
Very rarely is a residential space able to tap into hydroelectric power, but it is possible. Hydroelectric power basically harnesses the energy produced by the water as it flows downstream or in tides on the ocean.
Michael Barera [CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Most commercial hydro power is produced by dams such as the Grand Coulee in Washington State or the Hoover in Nevada. These dams tap the natural inertia of water traveling downriver and use it to turn turbines that produce large quantities of electricity.
To use hydroelectric power at home you would need a water source and generator that the water could access. This requires access to a river or stream or waterfront property where you can build a device to harness tidal strength. Most residential generators are upwards of 30 feet high so, again, you’ll need the property and space on which to build it.
The turbine of a hydro system is fantastically efficient at converting energy in water to electricity so if you’re in a rural area or have the space, definitely consider what this type of electricity can offer you.