Washer & Dryer



Heating & Cooling

Water Heater

Heating & Cooling

Water Heater

*Other represents an array of household products, including stoves, ovens, microwaves, and small appliances like coffee makers and dehumidifiers. Courtesy of

Renewable Energy Options

There is no cookie-cutter solution for what type of renewable energy system will be most effective and economical in any given application. Many factors must be balanced to develop a good design, including proper siting, environmental resources, financial incentives, social considerations, and environmental effects. Here is some real-world advice concerning each of the major technologies. Additional reading to get you on the right track is provided at the end of this article (see Access).

Solar Hot Water. Solar thermal systems include a rather large category of energy collection and distribution devices for pool heating, domestic water heating, and space heating via radiant floor heating or water-to-air heat exchangers. You should consider all these options during the design phase of your project.

Installing a solar domestic hot water (SDHW) system is one of the best investments homeowners can make to reduce their electric or natural gas water heating bills, with typical financial paybacks at less than eight years. Depending on the size of the system you install, your local climate, and your hot water use, SDHW systems can cut your water heating bills by 40 to 80 percent. Systems have been designed for all types of applications. Whether you live in the farthest reaches of Alaska, in cloudy Seattle, or by the beach in Jamaica—an SDHW system can work for you.

Solar Electricity. The use of residential solar-electric systems began decades ago in rural locations where utility electricity was not available. While the number of off-grid PV systems continues to grow, grid-tied PV systems are an increasingly popular urban and suburban option for generating clean, sustainable electricity. Not to be confused with solar heating (which uses the sun's heat to warm air or water), PV modules use photons in sunlight to excite electrons and generate electricity. PVs have no moving parts, are virtually indestructible, and typically carry a 25-year warranty.

You'll face a major choice when planning a grid-tied PV system (and increasingly with wind and microhydro systems)—will you have batteries or not? If your primary motivation is environmental, a batteryless grid-tied system is probably the best choice. Batteryless systems are simple, economical, maintenance free, and highly efficient. If your home experiences frequent or extended utility outages that are an inconvenience to you and your family, then you may want to consider a system with battery backup.

Wind Electricity. Wind energy can be quite economical if your site has an adequate wind resource. Optimal, consistent wind resources are not located near buildings or down among the trees.

Rather, they are found at least 30 feet above all nearby obstructions. Tapping wind energy involves tall towers, which need to be engineered specifically for the turbine you are installing. Wind turbines come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with many different specifications.

Microhydro Electricity. If you have a stream running through your property that drops along its course, tapping its energy potential may be economical. With microhydro, as with all renewable energy technologies, you must weigh the economics at each site based on the resources at hand. Opportunities for installing a microhydro system are often few and far between, but if your stream has significant water flow or a large vertical drop (head), you're in luck. Even streams that only flow seasonally can be good candidates for generating electricity. Unlike PV or wind systems, hydro systems generate electricity continuously, as long as the water is flowing, and will typically be the most cost-effective renewable energy approach.

The Big Picture

Energy efficiency is always the most affordable and environmentally sound place to start when approaching renewable energy. By doing something as simple as swapping out incandescent lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, you can decrease the number of PV modules needed to power your lighting by up to 75 percent. This principle applies to all choices you make as you use energy. Focusing on the demand side first will always be your best bet.

Think through your renewable energy choices carefully, evaluating where best to spend your money. Look at your energy appetite and needs, your site, and the resources available to you. As you move towards less and less reliance on nonrenewable energy, you'll be gaining some independence from the utility companies, reducing your monthly bills, and minimizing the impact our energy use has on the environment.


Phil Livingston, 14 Oswald St., Coolbellup, WA, 6163, Australia • 61-4-0660-4022 • [email protected]

The Home Energy Diet, by Paul Scheckel, 2005, Paperback, 304 pages, ISBN 0865715300, $18.95 from New Society Publishers • 800-567-6772 or 250-247-9737 •

Selected Articles from Home Power Back Issues:

Energy Conservation, Efficiency & Analysis:

"Starting Smart: Calculating Your Energy Appetite," Scott Russell, HP102

Passive Solar Design:

"Designing Your Place in the Sun," by Debra Rucker Coleman, HP116

"Home Sweet Solar Home: A Passive Solar Design Primer," Ken Olson & Joe Schwartz, HP90

"Be Cool: Natural Systems to Beat the Heat," Preethi Burkholder & Claire Anderson, HP108

Solar Hot Water:

"A Solar Hot Water Primer," Ken Olson, HP84

"Solar Hot Water Simplified," John Patterson, HP107 Microhydro Electricity:

"Microhydro-Electric Systems Simplified," Paul Cunningham & Ian Woofenden, HP117

"Intro to Hydropower: Parts 1-3," Dan New, HP103,104 & 105

Wind Electricity:

"Apples & Oranges 2002: Choosing a Home-Sized Wind Generator," Mick Sagrillo, HP90

"Wind-Electric Systems Simplified," Ian Woofenden, HP110 Solar Electricity (PV):

"Solar-Electric Systems Simplified," Scott Russell, HP104 Other Resources:

American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy •

Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency •

Energy Star •


PV Sizing & Payback Calculator •

midwest renewable energy association 715.592.6595 + [email protected]

sponsors include: Alliant Energy, Focus on Energy, Home Power, Kyocera Solar, Inc, Mariah Power, OutBack Power, We Energies, Wisconsin Public Service

a joint project of & l » ti i j" ¿V £ x c h/i N 6 6

lenca now that we've gone solar, do we get to be called . . .

300 exhibits:

150 speakers:

green careers/education

amy goodman

green finances

democracy now!

social justice

greg palast


armed madhouse

natural health and body

jim hightower

green media

thieves in high places

community action

trances moore lappe

green technology—

hope's edge:

natural home & garden

the next diet for a small planet

fair trade

richard m. daley

renewable energy—

chicago mayor (invited)


van jones

indigenous goods

the ella baker center

organic food/agriculture

for human rights

natural foods

david korten

green kids' zone

the great turning

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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