Other Forms of Green Energy To Consider Apart From Solar

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.

Wind Power

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.wind turbine

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

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.

Hydroelectric

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.
hoover dam
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.

7 Ways To Cut Your Energy Usage & Save Money

Tips To Help Reduce Carbon Footprint

The whole point of renewable energy is to save money and have as small an impact on the earth as possible. And one of the most effective ways to do that won’t cost you a dime – in fact, it will save you money.

By cutting waste and using less electricity in the first place, you can reduce your electric bill immediately. This can ease the pressure on your budget and also make it far more realistic to install a solar power system in your home that could replace your grid-based power.

To help you cut down your waste, here are some tips to help reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your bill:

1. Insulation and Windows

– By properly insulating your walls and ceilings, you can reduce your heating costs by 25% or more. This immediately cuts down on how much oil or electricity you use and allows a solar heating system to run far more efficiently. Windows can be equally as wasteful. Consider upgrading to double-glazed windows to minimize heat loss.

2. Weatherizing

– You can also seal up any cracks or holes on the outside of your home to reduce the heat loss you experience in the winter. Simple caulking and stripping can go a long way, and in some regions, cities and local governments are subsidizing the cost of doing so, even offering huge tax credits to encourage action.
3. Light Bulbs – If you’re still using old-style incandescent light bulbs, switch today because they waste a LOT of energy. Upgrade to the far more efficient compacincandescent light bulbt fluorescent (CFL) models to cut down on your energy use by 75% and get as many as five years out of each bulb. The cost has dropped quite a bit recently as well to make it far more affordable when replacing the entire home’s lighting.

4. Thermostats and Refrigerators

– Anything that has a thermostat can be adjusted to use less energy. Your refrigerator is a good start as they use a tremendous amount of power. You can buy a smaller one to start with, storing less food over shorter periods of time. You can also turn up the temperature to as high as 37°F (3°C) and your freezer to 3°F (-16°C) – the most efficient temperatures to maintain food safety.

You water heater thermostat can be turned down as low as 120°F (49°C), plenty hot for showers or washing. Additionally, you can turn your thermostat down in the winter to 68°F (20°C) – plenty warm enough to feel comfortable. The 4-degree difference has a massive impact on energy consumption.

5. Wash with Cold Water

– Most clothing doesn’t need hot water to get clean when adequate detergent is used. Another tip regarding your water use is to avoid using the dishwasher when it’s not full. Additionally, turn off the drying cycle. Instead, you can open the dishwasher to let it air dry.

6. Shower Heads

– Get a low-flow showerhead installed to cut down on how much hot water you pump through it each day. It costs only $25, but the drop off in energy use is tremendous.

7. Air Conditioning

– Avoid turning on air conditioners unless the temperature gets above 85°F (30°C). When you turn on an air conditioner, turn the thermostat up to 76°F (25°C), and if it has an energy-saver mode, turn it on as well. If you plan on using solar energy, air conditioning can be a huge drain on your batteries.

This list has enough simple suggestion to get you started today, but there are dozens of other things you can do to cut down on your energy use. Turn off lights when you leave the room. Unplug electronics that use power even when not in use.

Do things by hand that you don’t need electricity for. Spend more time outside and less time in front of the TV. Buy smaller electronicenergy star logos that use less power. Buy appliances with the Energy Star label.

The more money you can save on your electric bill and the further you can reduce your usage, the more affordable and viable a solar power system will be, and the closer you’ll be to cutting ties with the power grid once and for all.

How Photovoltaic Cell Installation Can Generate Electricity

How To Go About It

Once you’ve determined how much sunlight you receive each year by analyzing meteorological data and your current electricity usage, you can start creating a list of necessary parts, building materials and permits to get your solar project underway.

sunlight
By Antero Pires from Corroios, Portugal (Entre os ramosUploaded by tm) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Adding solar power to your home with PV cells starts with the big question of whether you want to remain hooked up to the grid or not. Each option has its share of drawbacks so be sure to review them carefully.

If you go off the grid, you’ll almost certainly need to have a generator or battery to supply power when solar energy isn’t available. Even if you plan for the worst-case scenario, you never know when you’ll get 30 days of consecutive cloud cover and rain blocking out your power source.

Batteries can be quite expensive, however, and they require a lot of maintenance. Solar panels last 30 years or longer, but batteries may only last 2–5 years depending on usage. They are very toxic so they need to be stored and disposed of properly.

If you choose to remain on the grid, you will need to do a lot of research to determine what your local laws are and how to follow the power company’s regulations. You will likely need special equipment to ensure the power remains compatible and that, if there is a power outage, you don’t continue pumping out electricity to dead power lines (this is a huge safety issue).

Either way, you’ll need to consider acquiring:

Batteries

If you opt to go off-grid and install batteries, make sure you choose a deep cycle battery made with either lead-acid or nickel-cadmium. These batteries will last longer and match the energy storage and release requirements for a solar power system.

Charge Controller

Additionally, you’ll need to purchase a charge controller, which is important in making sure your battery doesn’t get drained too fast or overcharged. When the battery is full, it will stop the charging cycle, and when it is drained too low, the controller will stop drawing off the battery to extend battery life. A charge controller will keep your batteries in service by as much as 150% longer than without one.

Inverter

All electricity is not created equally. For this reason, you’ll need an inverter to change your direct current (DC) power (created by the solar panels) into alternating current (AC) power (used by your outlets and provided by your electric company). If you remain on the grid, your inverter should also stop the flow of electricity from your home to the power company when the power is out.
This will protect any electrical workers from working on live lines. Inverters are sometimes included in PV cell kits or with basic installation packages so check with your contractor before buying a separate inverter.

Generators

For those who want to go completely off-grid, a generator is necessary, even if you have a battery backup. If the power is low and your batteries are starting to lose their charge, you’ll need a generator to recharge the batteries or provide emergency power. If your power output suddenly overwhelms the inverters, you will also need a generator to supply backup power.

A good generator should be directly connected to the inverter so that, when you turn on the generator, the inverter immediately recognizes the new power source and switches the entire load to it. Generators come in many options including gasoline, diesel, and gas. Gasoline-powered generators are the most common because they are the least expensive and the easiest to get fuel for.

Assorted Other Parts

While the core parts listed above are very important, there are quite a few other small parts you’ll need to complete your installation, including:
Wiring – Varies depending on the size of your system and the number of panels.

Grounding Equipment – A vital safety consideration and is required for all electrical work

Overcurrent Protection – Regulates and protects the power supply from excess current and shortages

Junction Boxes – Protect and preserve your conduits and cables from the elements and other outside factors like bugs or rodents

Disconnects – Shuts down the direct current (DC) from the solar cells (usually mounted outside the house for quick access in the event of an emergency)

Permits

Before you start hammering away at your new solar energy system, contact your local municipality to see if there are any permits required. The odds are that you will need to acquire at least a building permit and possibly additional permits for the installation of a solar system. Heating systems are usually more straightforward, while PV cell systems might require a lot of paperwork, especially if you plan to say connected to the grid.electrician workingBy photo taken by flickr user editor B (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Also consider what is legal for you to do on your own. Only certain operations may be completed by an unlicensed contractor. If you’re planning on running wires and changing how your house connects to the power grid, you’re almost certainly going to need an electrician, and an inspector will be required to look at the finished product and sign off on all safety regulations.

The building department is usually your go-to source for permits, but your municipality can vary from the norm, so check first. In the U.S., however, almost all cities and towns follow the same National Electric Code. Exceptions include New York City and Chicago, which both have their own building codes.

Don’t forget, though, that the government wants people using renewable energy and will reward you for your efforts. So if you follow the rules, use the right materials and file all your permits, they’ll help you along in the process every step of the way.

Solar Panels

Of course, there will be the solar panels themselves. With recent advances in technology, there are more options for solar panels than ever before, but it is still important to choose panels that fit your budget and the sizing options for your home. It’s best to talk with a salesman or contractor who is well-versed in solar panels specifics that will most directly benefit your home.