Today, many homeowners around the world are considering moving away from the fossil-fuel based energy sources that have served as our primary sources of electricity for the last 100 years or so, and are seeking out renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to power their homes.
This increase in renewables is a timely development when it comes to our energy use, because fossil fuels are limited resources and the burning of fossil fuels generates greenhouse gases that contribute to Global Climate Change.
With a move away from fossil fuels, we also can become independent of the uncertainties and costs associated with the importation of foreign oil to meet our energy needs and develop locally-sourced power for our own communities.
You want renewable energy? Not so fast…
While renewable energy is going to be a key factor in gaining our independence from fossil fuels and it is tempting to implement these things first, we must first examine our existing energy use and find ways to increase the energy efficiency of our homes wherever we can. By going after these inefficiencies first, we can maximize the total energy efficiency of our homes once we decide to start using renewable energy sources.
The first step in this process would likely mean having an energy audit done on your home to determine where all of the energy waste lies. Most important is the “envelope” of your home, where you can have many energy leaks, such as through inefficient windows and doors, and insufficient insulation in your walls and in your attic.
Next, you should take a look at all of the appliances in your home to make sure that they are efficient. Appliance standards such as the Energy Star program in the United States help consumers to determine what the best choices are when it comes to energy efficient appliances.
Another priority is installing a programmable thermostat in your home to reduce your heating and cooling energy use when you are not at home or when your household is asleep for the night.
Other home improvements that can help to increase energy efficiency include maximizing passive solar energy in your home such as through the use of skylighting or other daylighting systems to bring natural daylight into your home and to reduce the use of artificial lighting.
And, of course, we must work on our own energy use behaviors and maximize energy efficiencies there.
It is easy and free to turn off lights and home electronics when not in use, putting electronics such as our computers in sleep- or energy-saving mode, and using energy-efficient lighting such as LED light bulbs will also help to reduce our energy use (don’t forget to turn off your computer monitor when you aren’t using it!).
For more tips on increasing the energy efficiency in your home, the U.S. EPA Energy Star website is a great place to start learning more.
If you are building an entirely new home, you could also consider building one that requires very little energy use in the first place, such as through a Passivhaus design.
After energy efficiency, renewables lead the way
After making your home as energy-efficient as possible, the next step would be to add some sort of renewable energy system to reduce or eliminate your need to use electricity sourced from the electrical grid.
Before choosing which renewable energy technology to add to your home, you will want to determine what your total electricity load is based upon what size of system that you will need, your changing energy demands throughout each day and during different seasons of the year, and what codes and regulations of your locality you will need to follow when installing a renewable energy system on your home or property. Local government officials or renewable energy companies in your area should be able to assist you with what is and is not permitted .
Based upon your personal electricity needs and the system that you choose, you must also decide whether you would prefer a renewable energy system that is a stand-alone system and disconnected from the grid, or one that is still connected to the grid and allows you to sell your excess power back to your utility provider.
Stand-alone (off-grid) renewable energy systems are particularly useful for people who live in remote locations and for those who prefer to be independent from power providers .
The recent invention of special batteries like the Tesla battery will allow electricity from renewable energy systems to be stored for use during times when renewable sources of energy are less reliable, such as when wind dies down or when there is reduced or non-existent sunlight such as at night.
Battery technologies will enable renewable energy electricity generation to become a reliable source of power all of the time, and can be made to fit all types of buildings, including residential, commercial, and industrial.
Available technologies for residential renewable energy production
- Solar power
Solar electric and photovoltaic systems allow for reliable electricity production at home. In particular, photovoltaic systems offer cost-effective and reliable power generation where connection to the traditional electrical grid is challenging.
Community shared solar power projects can also be an option in some communities where everyone in the community comes together to purchase a collective solar system to generate locally-sourced solar power and receives a share of that power [1,2].
- Wind power
Typically, for wind power systems to be effective, you need more than one acre of land with sufficient wind resources in the area. Under the right conditions, however, such systems can reduce electricity costs by 90%. It is important to check local permitting and zoning requirements prior to installation [1,2].
Microhydropower systems can generate electricity using streams, creeks, or other flowing water. Such systems can typically generate up to 100 kilowatts of electricity, with only 10 kilowatts of that capacity necessary to provide enough electricity to power a large home. Be sure to inquire regarding required permits and water rights considerations in your area if you do decide to install one of these systems on your property [1,2].
- Hybrid solar and wind electric systems
By combining solar systems and wind systems together, you may be able to meet your electricity needs more efficiently than either type of system alone due to the differences in peak operating times of both technologies [1,2].
If you have decided that you are ready to install any sort of renewable energy system in your home or on your property, there may be a number of incentives that can help to make such improvements more affordable including rebates, tax credits and special finance options.
Be sure to inquire with local energy provider, municipalities, and renewable energy companies to learn which incentives are available to you.