There is a growing movement in this country toward the exploration of sources of alternative energy -- solar heating, electrical generation, wind power, and hydro power. Alternative energy can eventually be valuable in reducing dependence on fossil fuels on both an individual and a national basis. How many options you can put into practice, however, depends on whether your home is located in an area with suitable conditions for alternative power generation. Below are some alternative energy sources to consider.
Electricity Blowing in the Wind
Large wind-powered generators are being built in many places throughout the country. Wind energy is also a potential source of power for individual homeowners. In order to produce electricity with a wind generator, however, there has to be a reliable source of wind to turn the blades of a turbine. You also need either storage for the power generated on site or a means to tap into the power grid. Connection to the grid ensures that that you can use some of the utility company's power when your wind generator is not producing. When the generator is producing excess power, it can be sold to the utility company. Investment in an individual wind turbine is expensive, even more so for onsite power storage with sufficient capacity to power an entire house.
Individual hydro applications are very demanding in their site specifications, requiring a steady source of running water that falls a certain distance. The places where individual hydro power generation can work are few and far between, but in the right location the power is reliable and consistent.
Harnessing the Sun
Solar water and space heating, as well as electrical power generation, offer perhaps the most widespread applications. Many individual solar water heating systems are already in place in this country, and they provide free hot water either year-round or just during the sunnier months, depending on locale. Homeowners also engage the sun's help in heating indoor and outdoor swimming pools. If built with the sun in mind and oriented optimally, many home designs can be adapted to take advantage of passive solar heating -- or with solar avoidance as the primary focus in warmer climates.
Solar power generation has mainly been considered too expensive for anything but remote or portable applications, such as at cabins, on boats, or in recreational vehicles. However, the continual reduction in the price of solar panels and the introduction of new, more easily installed products may persuade more homeowners to look toward the sun as a competitive source of electrical power.
Storage and Buyback
One of the hurdles to the development of alternative sources of energy has been the issue of storage of generated power. In a home setting, large banks of storage batteries take up space and need to be maintained. Plus they need replacement when their capacity to store power has been exhausted.
But the willingness of utility companies to purchase power from individuals with excess power-generating capacity might spur further investment in alternative power systems. The ability to hook up to the grid to tap power when needed and to sell power back to the utility company when possible eliminates the necessity for on-site storage of power and its attendant space, maintenance, and cost problems. Utility companies also benefit from such arrangements. Any electricity they purchase from individuals is electricity they don't have to generate, which might give them the option to forestall building and maintaining additional power plants in the future.
Homeowners also can change the type of equipment they use to heat and cool their homes. Check out those options in the next section.