Renewable, green energy systems aren’t just great for the environment. They can also save you major bucks over the long term. And with more Americans saying they value a sustainable lifestyle, clean energy can even earn you some social cachet.
But what kind of system should you use, and what kind of cash does it take to get started saving the planet? Here’s what you need to know about some of the cleanest ways to power, heat, and cool your home.
Table of Contents
1. Catch Some Rays
Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, take energy from the sun and convert it into power used for electricity. When the material in the panels — usually silicon or another semiconductor — is exposed to sunlight, it produces an electric charge. Wires in the panels capture the electricity and turn it into a current that’s distributed through your home’s electrical system. From there, you can use the power exactly as you would normal grid electricity.
Solar energy is a renewable energy source, which means it doesn’t produce carbon emissions or other greenhouse gasses. It also doesn’t rely on other scarce resources like fossil fuels or water. Solar installation can save a property owner up to $1,500 a year and tens of thousands of dollars down the line. While you might still use a small amount of electricity from your local power grid, your monthly energy bill will be much, much lower.
Alternatives to traditional solar roof panels are also emerging. For instance, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed completely transparent solar window panels. As of early 2023, the panels weren’t yet available for home purchase. But they could eventually go anywhere normal glass goes and may be affordable for average homeowners. It will also be a while before they’re as efficient as solar panels, so it might be best to use the two in tandem initially.
2. Go Through the Motions
If you have flowing water on your property, you might be able to install a microhydropower system. These systems, also called hydroelectric systems, use turbines, pumps, or even waterwheels to turn the movement of water into usable electricity. More expensive than solar energy systems, home hydroelectric energy can cost tens of thousands of dollars to set up. But a single 10-kilowatt microhydropower system can usually power a large home on its own.
Similar to hydroelectric energy, wind-based power systems can also convert the energy of rotational motion into electricity. Though often more costly than other systems, residential wind turbines can be used on their own to power entire homes. These systems are, however, more commonly used in conjunction with power from the grid in order to lower costs. Sometimes they’re also used alongside other renewable energy sources, such as solar.
Along with solar, wind and hydroelectric energy are considered among some of the cleanest energy sources out there. Hydropower is also, at present, the largest source of renewable energy used for electricity. While larger hydroelectric systems can have negative impacts on ecosystems, smaller home-based projects are usually considered sustainable.
3. Heat (or Cool) From the Ground Up
The country of Iceland has an abundance of geothermal energy because of its unusually high density of volcanoes. Magma heats groundwater, which is then delivered through piping systems to heat homes and even melt snow in its streets. A large percentage of the country is heated — and even powered — by water and steam heated by the earth. Some U.S. states, like California, Nevada, and Hawaii, also use some geothermal energy sources.
In a geothermal system, a special pump called a geothermal heating pump is installed in a place like a basement, garage, or utility closet. A piping system called a loop is also installed, and it circulates heat between the earth, your home, and the pump. In colder months, geothermal heating takes heat from the ground and turns it into warm air you can use to heat your home. When the weather is warmer, it draws air away from your home and moves it back to the ground.
For most people in the U.S., though, using geothermal energy to heat and cool their home is an expensive endeavor. Having a geothermal heating system installed can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000. Geothermal heating and cooling is considered clean because it uses less carbon dioxide than other energy sources and doesn’t burn fossil fuels. However, it still uses electricity, meaning it produces some — but far fewer — greenhouse emissions.
Curbing the Costs
No matter the method, the startup costs of installing a clean energy system on your property can be significant. However, there are ways to get around the considerable costs of installing a system. These include state, local, and federal tax incentives and rebates, as well as leasing arrangements so you don’t have to purchase your own equipment.
As you consider the costs, remember that the lifetime savings can really add up. In a decade or so, you could end up spending much less than you would have if you’d relied on the grid. And then, of course, there’s the invaluable gift you could be passing along to future generations: the priceless treasure of a cleaner, safer world.Tags: Energy