Wind, Water, Earth, Fire; Your guide to renewable energy options for your home

Alternative home energy options are now within reach. Whether you are building a house or supplementing your local system, these choices could save you money. And they are renewable, to boot! Renewable energy is not longer something far off in the future. The time has come for serious consideration and implementation of these earth-friendly systems.

My family is looking to buy some land and build a house. And let me tell you, moving out in the country IS NOT CHEAP!! But I’m hoping it will be worth it. In any case, getting traditional power to our new house just might be one of the mostly costly necessities of this whole project! As I began researching I realized there are several other options. Fortunately they are becoming more common. And considering how much they save, plus government incentives, they could be well worth the initial cost in a short amount of time.

Wind

Wind Turbine

Nigel Chadwick [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The Science:

Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface. The wind causes the blades of a wind turbine to spin. This kinetic energy is then converted into a rotary motion that drives a generator. Most systems have a governor to keep them from spinning out of control in the case of too much wind.

Cost:

The price varies, depending on size. The average home uses approximately 900 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month. So if you just want to cut down on your traditional energy usage, a 1.5-kilowatt wind turbine costs about $10,000 (not including installation) and will cover about a third of the “typical” power usage (300 kilowatt-hours), given there is at least an average wind speed of 14 miles-per-hour. If you want to go completely renewable, a 10 kilowatt wind turbine, will potentially cover the entire energy use for an average household. The larger turbine costs approximately $40,000 (between $48,000-$65,000 with installation). But depending on the average wind speed of your area, within 6-30 years it should pay for itself and your electricity will, from then on, be virtually free!

Basic Considerations

Obviously the amount of wind at your home is a key factor. Also zoning requirements could be a sticky point. There are also aesthetic conditions to consider: Wind turbines are TALL and they do produce a noticeable noise. You could become the bane of your neighborhood if your neighbors are too close.

My Thoughts

I live in a considerably windy area and I would love nothing more than to put that annoyance to good use! Since we are looking at a rural homestead, we are not concerned with the size or potential noise. A wind turbine is on the top of our list for energy options.

Water

Hydroelectric Power

The Science

 

The kinetic energy of water, flowing downhill in a stream or river, can be directed to a wheel in a turbine. This converts it to rotational energy which drives a generator, just like wind turbines.

Cost

This varies a lot, depending on the size of system. The smallest system is only $1,000 but a system large enough for several homes could be up to $20,000.

Considerations

This requires flowing water — and not just a trickle, but the water has to be moving at a rate of at least 2 gallons per minute, with a large drop, or just a couple feet of drop, but at least 500 gallons per minute. That’s either really fast water, or really fast falling water.

My Thoughts

This type of energy is absolutely foreign to me as I live in a very dry area. We don’t see much rain and we certainly don’t have many rivers, at least not ones that actually flow. But if you have some considerable water movement near you, this looks like a wise economic investment.

Earth

Geothermal heat pumps

By Dr Tzeferis Petros (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Science

Long ago man discovered that deep enough in the earth, a temperature of about 50 degrees is maintained, no matter how hot or cold the surface might get. So basically a geothermal heat pump works just like a traditional heat pump. Traditional pumps use high-pressured refrigerant to collect and move heat from inside to outside or vise-versa. The geothermal system moves heat between your house and the earth. It uses fluid moving through long loops of underground pipes.

Size and Cost

The basic system, including installation, ground loops, heat pump, and control runs between $15,000 – $20,000. It boasts lowering heating and cooling bills from 30 to 70 percent.

Considerations

A geothermal heat pump lets off much less noise than traditional air conditioners or heat pumps. It also significantly reduces gas emissions.

My thoughts

In theory this sounds pretty awesome. I live in the middle of Kansas. We get ice and snow in the winter months, coupled by triple digit temperatures in the summer. Heating and cooling costs are always high, aside from those magical two months in the spring or fall, in-between blistering hot and freezing cold. I’m honestly surprised to not come across these systems much yet. And I will definitely be considering this option with our potential upcoming build. For our specific case, we are looking at some rocky soil, so the cost of excavating down might make this not a wise economic option.

Fire

Solar Shingles

https://www.flickr.com/photos/departmentofenergy/14678519295/in/photolist-on6foT
The Science

Solar shingles are photovotaic. Basically the cells in the shingles produce direct current electricity from the sunlight. On average, these shingles produce 12 watts of power, per square foot. The tiles snap together and can be installed by regular roof contractors. They can lay on top of, or connect to regular asphalt shingles.

Cost

A typical cluster of 350 could be around $20,000. But there are many incentive grants and refunds available.

Considerations

The instillation cost is considerable, despite a typical contractor potentially able to do the work (assuming he is trained). In addition, some styles are not as efficient as traditional solar panels. A great perk is that these can be utilized in any climate. Likewise, assuming your house is already wired to the regular power grid, you might be able to dump excess power back in, resulting in a potential profit.

My Thoughts

Of all our renewable power options, this one seems the most simple. Unfortunately, in my more-rural area, I am having trouble finding a roofing contractor that offers solar shingle installation.

In Sum

A final option might be to combine a few different options. We are looking especially at solar and wind power. Solar would collect  during the day and thinking wind will potentially keep the batteries charging overnight. This could also protect against groups of consecutive cloudy or calm days.

So, you can start small and just cut down your power bill, or go crazy and get completely “off the grid.” Whatever the specifics, now is the time to act. We have the technology and it is fairly easy to access. In addition, it is important to model responsible resource consumption for our children, while protecting their future. Thus, investing in renewable energy resources is something you won’t regret.

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