There are a variety of ways to reduce the amount of power you use in your home. Harnessing power from nature and reducing energy usage may make it possible to get off the power grid. From solar to wind and other alternatives, there are a variety of renewable energy options available for keeping lights bright, food cold, and the temperature just right whether your home is on or off the power grid.
Working Within the Grid
One of the aspects of supplying your own power is how the system will be connected to the grid or electrical network. The national power grid is a network of transmission and distribution systems owned by public companies or investor-owned utilities and cooperatives. Utilities and cooperatives buy and sell power to each other depending on the demand and availability. The network tries to provide redundancy; that means, if there is a problem somewhere in the grid, operations can be rerouted and service can be more easily restored.
If you are generating your own electricity through alternate means, working with your local power company gives you the option of selling any excess energy you may produce. You will need to track your electricity usage; your local power provider can tell you what kind of meter you need to install.
Net metering and double metering are the two most common methods of measuring electricity output. You can sell your excess energy to the power company through the same network that delivers electricity. How your power company compensates you depends on the type of metering system.
Net metering uses the typical meters that are installed on most houses. The meter runs forward when electricity is consumed and backward when electricity is generated. With net metering, excess power is banked for the user to access later. This is particularly beneficial for intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power. This system allows customers to receive compensation relatively quickly, and utilities purchase excess power at retail prices. Net metering is relatively easy to administer for the utilities and the customers.
The alternative is double metering. One meter measures the electricity used, and the other measures the electricity generated. This method requires the installation of a second meter and can be cumbersome to administer. Customers are generally paid a lower rate than the retail price for their excess energy.
Another alternative is to bank excess power. Rather than giving excess power back to the utility, the homeowner uses it to charge batteries. When the home system is unable to generate electricity, the power stored in the batteries can be accessed.
Any option allows homeowners to operate independently from the grid when generating their own power. When the grid is down, a home system may continue to operate.
Getting Off the Grid
Of course, there's always the potential to get off the grid completely. Most homes that have been able to disconnect from the grid use either solar or wind power. Wind power tends to work well in the winter and worse in the summer, when solar power is at its best, making hybrid systems worth considering.
Solar energy is produced when the sun shines on photovoltaic (PV) panels. These panels hold semiconductors that use the sunlight to generate electricity in the form of direct current (DC) electricity. Panels are rated in watts, based on the amount of electricity they can produce under ideal sun and temperature conditions. Customers can choose certain panels based on their personal electric demands.
Panels are usually mounted on the roof, on steel poles, or on the ground.
Local regulations or neighborhood covenants may dictate the location of solar panels. Mounting the panels on the roof requires using the proper supports. It may be necessary to reinforce the roof support to maintain safety and to be in compliance with local building codes.
FindSolar is a helpful resource if you are considering installing a home solar system. Entering your state, your county, the utility provider, and your energy usage provides you with a breakdown on the estimated size solar system you will need, the estimated installation cost, any rebates that might be available from federal or state agencies or the utility, and the average savings and time to recoup the cost. Beyond monetary savings, the Web site calculates the amount of greenhouse gas, in carbon dioxide equivalents, that will be saved by going solar.
Depending on where you live, wind can provide the means of powering your house. Maps indicating wind energy potential for the country are available to determine if homes are located within an area where wind power would be an effective method of providing power. Online, you can find wind conditions by state, allowing homeowners to determine if wind power is a suitable alternative for generating their own energy.
When choosing an optimal location for a wind turbine, take topography and terrain into account — and don't forget to consider your local wildlife. Be sure to learn about the local ecology and species habitat and the potential impact your tower might have on your surroundings. The results of your research can minimize negative impacts while providing renewable energy to your home.
Even within areas designated to have appropriate wind speed and resources, homeowners need to consider other factors, such as whether houses are located on top of a hill or in a valley. Wind towers can be configured on either horizontal or vertical axes. The horizontal tower is by far the most common, with blades that rotate about an axis that is parallel to the wind. As a result, they must be oriented with the greatest wind direction in mind.
Vertical towers are rare and tend to look like egg beaters. Although their orientation is independent of wind direction, conversion of energy to electricity is less efficient. In either orientation, the blades turn a propeller that captures kinetic energy. A rotor then converts the rotary motion to drive a generator. Unlike a PV used in solar energy, power is captured from moving parts and transferring kinetic energy into electric power.