What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about renewable energy for the home? More than likely, you’re picturing big solar panels propped up in someone’s yard or on the roof. But what if I told you that home renewable energy doesn’t stop with ? Solar panels are a great option for generating your own electricity, and solar power is becoming more and more financially viable, but it’s certainly not the only option for home renewable energy -- not by a long shot! New and innovative are on the rise. The truth is, almost any homeowner with almost any type of property will find that there’s a perfect create-your-own energy option for their home. Read on to learn about renewable energy technologies that make use of all the world has to offer, as well as some cutting-edge solar innovations that completely reimagine the traditional solar panel.
Residential Wind Power
We’ve seen those massive wind turbines that tower stories high, but with wind energy, it’s possible to think small! In fact, small wind energy is becoming more and more common as a home renewable energy option.
Small wind energy is powerful, renewable, clean, and can save you money. Depending on your location and the type of home wind system installed, you’ll typically see a return on investment in anywhere from 6 to 30 years. After that, the electricity the turbine produces will be virtually free. A home wind system is an excellent investment -- during the ROI period, your money is going to increasing the value of your home, rather than just spending money you’ll never see again on your monthly electricity bill.
Off-the-grid living may not be exactly what you have in mind. If your main goal is producing your own power to lower your monthly utility bills, a grid-connected wind system might be the perfect solution for you. Grid-connected systems are cheaper, because you can install a smaller, less expensive system with smaller goals than producing all of your own electricity.
Here’s how it works: Anytime your wind turbine produces more power than your home needs, that power goes back onto the local utility grid. When your energy demands are too high for the turbine to keep up with, the extra power you need is drawn from the grid. If you consistently generate more electricity than you need, you’ll find yourself getting cash back from your utility company!
Residential Wind Tax Incentives
Like many other renewable energy options, small wind turbines qualify for a federal tax credit of 30% in the U.S. Other financial incentives may be available through your state or through individual utilities, so if you’re considering wind power for your home, make sure you take a look at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
Read more about home wind power: Residential Wind: Wind Power In Your Backyard
If off-grid living is your ideal scenario, a hybrid wind and solar energy system just might be the perfect system for you! Hybrid systems feature both wind turbines and solar panels to double up on the generative power. Many renewable energy experts suggest installing hybrid wind and solar energy systems for off-grid living in particular. These systems are the most efficient and reliable, since wind and solar energy tend to be most available at different times. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, most of the U.S. experiences this fluctuation; wind speeds are low in the summer when the sun shines brightest and longest, and wind speeds are stronger in the winter when less sunlight is available. Because the peak operating times for wind and solar systems occur at different times of the day and year, hybrid systems are much more likely to produce power you need, when you need it.
Geothermal energy is heat derived below the earth’s surface which can be harnessed to generate clean, renewable energy. This vital, clean energy resource supplies renewable power around the clock and emits little or no greenhouse gases -- all while requiring a small environmental footprint to develop.
Benefits of Geothermal Systems
- Eco-Friendly - Geothermal systems keep your entire home at the desired temperature naturally, with no electricity required. And because electricity production accounts for more than a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, eliminating the electrical demand for heating and cooling your home means reducing your home’s carbon footprint significantly.
- Dramatic Energy Cost Reduction - The biggest benefit of geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) is that they use 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems. To put it simply, a GHP uses one unit of electricity to move three units of heat from the earth.
- Humidity Control - Geothermal units maintain about 50% relative indoor humidity, so they’re very effective in both dry and humid regions.
- Design Flexibility - Geothermal heat pump systems can be installed in both new and retrofit situations.
- Smaller Equipment Rooms - Because the hardware requires less space than that needed by a conventional HVAC system, the equipment rooms can be greatly scaled down, freeing valuable square footage for other needs.
- Durability and Reliability - Geothermal systems have relatively few moving parts, and the parts are protected inside a building. This makes the system both durable and highly reliable, with little to no maintenance required.
- Noise-Free - GHPs have no outside condensing units like air conditioners, so there's no concern about noise outside the home. In fact, a two-speed GHP system is so quiet that no one in the home can even tell it’s running!
Evaluating Your Home for a Geothermal System
Shallow ground temperatures are pretty consistent throughout the U.S., so geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) can be installed just about anywhere. However, the specific geological, hydrological, and spatial characteristics of your land will help your local system supplier and/or installer determine the best type of ground loop for your site. So before you purchase a geothermal system, make sure your system supplier and/or installer has fully investigated your site in order to avoid any potential problems.
- Geological factors, such as the composition and properties of your soil and rock (which can affect heat transfer rates), may have an impact on the type of geothermal system you should choose. For example, soil with good heat transfer properties require less piping to gather a certain amount of heat than soil with poor heat transfer properties. The amount of soil available contributes to system design, too -- system suppliers in areas with extensive hard rock or soil too shallow to trench may install vertical ground loops instead of horizontal ground loops.
- Ground or surface water availability also plays a part in deciding what type of geothermal ground loop to use. Depending on factors such as depth, volume, and water quality, bodies of surface water can be used as a source of water for an open-loop system, or as a repository for coils of piping in a closed-loop system. Groundwater can also be used as a source for open-loop systems, provided the water quality is suitable and all ground water discharge regulations are met.
- The amount and layout of your land, your landscaping, and the location of underground utilities or sprinkler systems all contribute to your system design. Horizontal ground loops (which are usually the least expensive option) are typically used for newly constructed buildings with sufficient land space. Vertical installations, or more compact horizontal installations, are often used for existing buildings or smaller yards, because they minimize the disturbance to the existing landscape.
Most of us don't have flowing water on our property, but for the lucky ones that do, the affordability and major returns from a microhydro generator make it a total no-brainer. Even a small stream can generate consistent, clean, dam-free, renewable electricity at a price per Watt lower than solar or wind.
How It Works
A microhydropower system needs a turbine, pump, or waterwheel to transform the energy of flowing water into rotational energy, which is then converted into electricity. A portion of a stream or river's water is diverted to a water conveyance -- usually a pipeline -- that delivers it to a turbine or waterwheel. This divergence often intensifies the water pressure, generating more power as a result. The moving water rotates the wheel or turbine, which spins a shaft; this motion is what powers the alternator or generator to create electricity.
Read more about micro hydro power.
Say goodbye to the giant, cumbersome solar panels we all know! New photovoltaic roof tiles, or “solar shingles,” have become a great option for homeowners looking to lower their electric bills. These shingles are much easier (and cheaper) to install than traditional bolt-on panels, and they’re certainly more pleasing to the eye -- the solar shingles blend in with conventional asphalt shingles almost seamlessly and do their part to protect the roof from the elements.
DOW POWERHOUSE Solar Shingles reports that the typical cluster of about 350 solar singles on a home’s roof could slash a monthly electric bill by about 40-60 percent. Over time, that means savings of thousands of dollars! And though a solar shingle installation could come with a price tag of $20,000 depending on your solar needs, federal, state and local tax incentives can help to bring the cost to half that in some areas. To get the most bang for your buck, make sure you know which solar system tax incentives are locally available to you.
If you’re an eco-conscious homeowner that needs to re-shingle your roof soon anyway, you might find solar shingles especially appealing; these photovoltaic tiles double as functional, protective, and weather-resistant roof shingles. It's a win win.
Do you know of any other innovative renewable energy options?
Author, Janelle Sorensen is founder and chief strategist at gro gud, and head content guru for Elemental Green. Learn more about eco-friendly home building and renovations (products, projects, and more!) at Elemental.Green.