Call it not-so-alternative energy. What were once considered way-off-grid energy options are now available in most U.S. neighborhoods. Solar, wind and geothermal energy systems can easily complement the basics provided by your local utility, and in most cases, the utility actually helps you add green power through valuable equipment rebates and energy credits.
Alternative energy sources have the potential to make big contributions to home comfort and overall savings, but that doesn’t mean you have to abandon traditional energy sources like electric, gas and oil. A combination of standard and alternative sources is becoming a common solution thanks to consumer-friendly, utility-approved technologies that supplement existing systems to provide energy savings.
Here’s a closer look at each option for alternative energy currently available to homeowners:
Solar solutions: There are several ways to harness the power of the sun’s rays for improved efficiency and comfort of your home. Leased solar systems allow you to enjoy the benefits of a customized solar panel array without massive expense, requiring only a minor monthly fee while the system delivers immediate solar power results. Hybrid and strictly solar water heaters use solar panels and an efficient heat-transfer system collect and circulate the sun’s heat, warming up your household water supply for cheaper dishwashing, laundry and showers. Super-compact solar collection systems can help power everything from rain barrel water pumps to skylight dimmers. Also consider the power passive solar improvements like your home’s shade sources (overhangs, awnings and landscaping), windows and window coverings, and construction materials with the thermal mass to effectively absorb and store solar energy during daylight hours.
Wind power: You don’t need a whole wind farm to turn everyday breezes into electrical power. Manufacturers are introducing smarter, ever-more-compact wind turbines that effectively and affordably generate electrical power for a standard home. The new small wind electric systems are not only non-polluting but also keep the power on when local utility outages let you down. Wind turbines often have a low enough profile to capture the wind without gathering negative attention, but it’s important to investigate local zoning and permit requirements before shopping for a wind power solution. Without proper clearances, this reasonably priced energy investment can turn into an expensive addition.
Geothermal sources: Geothermal heating and cooling components draw upon the earth’s natural warmth to provide power and performance. It’s not a new idea ─ people around the world have been going geothermal for thousands of years ─ but geothermal is generating renewed popularity through technologies that easily complement existing systems. The geothermal heat pump is the most common, and is far more clean, quiet and efficient than its standard air-sourced counterpart; in fact, Energy Star-rated geothermal heat pumps are over 45 percent more energy efficient than standard models. Though specialized planning and significant system costs are involved, the substantial energy savings produced make for a brief payback period with this green power investment.
Green power guidance from Energy Star
The Energy Star program was created to guide consumers to energy-efficient products that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants while offering savings on energy bills and superior performance. These include such solutions as solar water heaters and geothermal heat pumps, and you can get specs, buying guidance and current info on tax credits and rebates with a visit to www.EnergyStar.gov.
How do you know if adding green power is the right choice for your home? That depends on a variety of factors, including the cost and availability of fuel sources, the expense of purchasing equipment, and the fuel’s impact on the environment. Different installations require different permits, and the style, size and situation of your home impact how much power can be generated. Check with your local power provider to confirm capacities and compatibilities, and figure out how much alternative power you must generate in order to reduce your home’s use of traditional energy sources and earn local energy credits.
So if you do the math and find that the alternative energy equation works out in your favor, you can have the best of both worlds by combining standard and “new” sources and systems to power your home. That way, you can integrate significant savings while having the backup needed to live comfortably and protect the integrity of your home’s vital systems.