Selecting a Dealer

Your dealer can help you analyze your loads and size your system correctly. The dealer will install your equipment, making sure that it runs properly. Dealers will also have contacts at the local utility if you are connecting your system to the utility grid.

With any major purchase, you must have confidence in the dealer's products and services. Becoming an informed consumer will help you feel more confident in your choices. With the growth of the renewable energy industry, the number of regional dealers, mail-order and ecommerce businesses, and local distributors has rapidly expanded. Many telephone directories contain listings for dealers under the "solar" heading. After you identify dealers, you will want to do some research to learn more about them.

Professional credentials are one indication of a dealer's knowledge and qualifications. Ask dealers about their training, certifications, and licenses. A second consideration is the dealer's experience in the field. How long has the

A Self-Generation Success Story hen the Eppersons of Norman, Oklahoma, purchased this home in 1992, one of the features they liked about it was the wind turbine out back. The original owner had installed a Bergey Windpower 10-kilowatt turbine in 1984. Since the local utility, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative, allowed net metering, any excess production from the wind turbine was credited against the homeowners' electric consumption on the next billing period. Thus, the home had unusually low electric bills.

The wind turbine sits about 250 feet behind the home on a guyed-lattice tower. Other than some electronics problems

from a malfunctioning circuit breaker and one lightning strike, the system has worked reliably since installation. At this point, the wind energy system has paid for itself and the Eppersons receive more than half of their electricity for free.

company been in business? Your local Better Business Bureau can advise you whether any customers have registered complaints about the dealer. You should also ask the dealer how many systems like yours he or she has designed and installed. Ask for references, and to speak with owners of systems similar to the one you want to purchase.

A third consideration in selecting a system installer is the variety and quality of products offered for each component of the system. Because PV systems are often designed for a specific site, one company's products may not be appropriate for all applications. Competent dealers will stock components manufactured by several companies. A variety of product options will help ensure that the most appropriate components are available for your system. When a dealer recommends a product, ask what the recommendation is based on, whether there are consumer or independent testing facility reports you can read, and whether the products are listed with Underwriters Laboratories.

Also, consider the service agreements and performance guarantees the dealer provides and the warranties given by the product manufacturers. No system is maintenance-free, nor will all components function flawlessly forever. When problems emerge with your system, what services will the dealer provide? What warranties do the manufacturers provide? What costs should you expect to pay, and which costs will be assumed by the dealer and/or the manufacturer?

Finally, you should compare prices from different dealers. Because distribution channels and dealer networks have expanded dramatically, the opportunity to "shop around" is much greater today. If possible, approach more than one dealer about a draft design and cost estimate for your system.

Fuel Cells: A Look Toward the Future hat if your home heating system and your electricity were all powered by a fuel that produces no emissions but water vapor?

An unrealistic pipe dream? Not at all. The fuel is hydrogen, and the primary technology that will allow you to use it—the fuel cell—is advancing by leaps and bounds. Researchers see the potential to use green power sources—such as wind power or solar photovoltaic electricity—to produce hydrogen by applying an electric current to two electrodes immersed in water.

In the foreseeable future, hydrogen is likely to come from natural gas or methanol. For your home, this could mean that your natural gas supply is fed through a fuel processor to make hydrogen, which feeds a fuel cell. The fuel cell provides all the electricity and heat you need. Prototypes of this technology are being tested now, with plans for full-scale production only a few years away.

Self-Generation RESOURCES

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA)


AWEA represents wind power plant developers, wind turbine manufacturers, insurers, financiers, and others involved in the wind energy business. Call AWEA or visit their Web site to access a list of wind energy system manufacturers and providers.

Financing Solutions Web site: Homeowners

The homeowners section of this Web site provides links to several resources on renewable energy financing.

Interconnection If you're interested in connecting a home power system to your utility's electric grid, a vast amount of information is posted on the Interconnection page on the Interstate Renewable Energy Council's Web site.

Micro-Hydro Design Manual: A Guide to Small-Scale Water Power Schemes

A detailed guide to microhydropower, written for development workers, but useful for the motivated do-it-yourselfer. It is filled with illustrations, equations, and examples. Written by Adam Harvey and published by Intermediate Technology Publications, London, 1993.

Micro-Hydro Power: A Guide for Development Workers

Although written for development workers, this book will be helpful to anyone with an interest in microhydropower and some general technical experience. It covers stream analysis, design concepts and equipment, cost and economics, implementation, and maintenance. Separate chapters are devoted to each system component. Written by P. Fraenkel and others and published by Intermediate Technology Publications, London, 1991.

Microhydropower Handbook

This handbook contains detailed information on system design, construction, operations, economics, and legal and environmental issues. Published by E&G Idaho, Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy, 1983. Available from the National Technical Information Service, 1-800-553-6847. Order no. DE83006698.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's premier laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research, development, and deployment. The NREL Web site offers extensive information on wind energy, photo-voltaics, geothermal energy, bioenergy, and alternative fuels. You can also access renewable resource maps and solar radiation data.

National Technical Information Service (NTIS) 703-605-6050

NTIS is the federal government's central source for the sale of engineering, scientific, technical, and related business information.

Net Metering (Green Power Network)

The Green Power Network provides extensive information on net metering and net metering programs around the country. Visit their Web site to learn more about this important incentive for consumer investment in renewable energy generation.

Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)


SEIA is the trade association for solar energy manufacturers, dealers, distributors, contractors, and installers. Contact SEIA to learn more about how you can use solar energy in your home. Their membership list will help you find providers in your area that can assist you in choosing and installing a system.

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