The production and consumption of renewable energy in the United States has reached record heights of 11 quadrillion BTU according to the latest report by U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is a huge increase from 2009's 7.7 quadrillion BTU. Suffice it to say the use of renewable energy is becoming more popular - and increasingly so in the residential sector, where peopel are realizing how easy it is to use in their homes. This shift can be attributed to the fact that more people are now aware of the benefits of renewable energy: The energy source cannot be depleted, is cost-effective, and is less damaging to the environment than fossil fuel energy (and in many cases, not damaging to the environment at all).
There are many forms of viable renewable energy sources, and picking the one or two that best suit the needs of your home is key to maximizing cost-effectiveness and efficiency. Here are the different types of renewable energies used domestically along with their advantages and limitations to help you make an informed decision.
Solar PV Energy
Solar photovoltaic (PV) energy is derived when solar PV panels convert the sun's energy into electricity. It's this kind of energy people are usually talking about when they refer to 'solar energy' - in fact, solar PV is the most frequently used form of renewable energy. Solar panels are installed on rooftops or on racks anchored in the ground - preferably facing south in the northern hemisphere (or east or west) and in an area that isn't shaded by nearby trees or buildings. The number of Watts you can generate depends on the orientation of the panels and your latitude. On average, the cost of installing a 7kW solar system is $21,000 minus tax and rebates. This system is capable of producing 1200 kWh a month according to Energy Sage News. A typical house can consume a maximum if 911kwh a month. This means you will be getting enough electricity to run your household and a little more.
Advantages of solar PV: There are many. For one, it is cost effective in the long run and requires almost no maintenance. Though solar panel efficiency does decrease slowly over time, nearly all panels have performance guarantees/warranties good for 25 years, and they continue producing power well after that (the PV system's inverter, however, will likely need to be replaced after about 10 years). Secondly, you will get your return in investment in just 7.5 years. Thirdly, by using solar, America is able to eliminate the production of 73 million metric tonnes of CO2.
Disadvantages of solar PV: The most noticeable weakness of a solar energy system is that it only functions while the sun is shining. Therefore, if you need electricity while the sun is down you will have to invest in either deep-cycle solar storage batteries or an additional type of renewable energy, or rely on grid electricity.
Wind turbines convert wind's kinetic energy into electricity. Wind energy is said to give hydropower a run for its money in 2019 by becoming the number one source of America's renewable electricity.
Advantages of wind power: When it comes to power generation, wind energy has benefits over solar energy. Wind energy produces electricity at about 60% efficiency, while solar's efficiency is only 15%-20%. Wind turbines, unlike solar PV systems, are easy to install. Also unlike sunshine, wind blows during both day and night.
Disadvantages of wind power: Nevertheless, wind energy is only suitable for those with huge windy or offshore properties because the system takes up a lot of space. The blades of the turbines also need regular maintenance. As far as ROI goes, it will take you roughly 15-20 years. Additionally, the structural integrity of most turbines is usually jeopardized within 5 years.
Hydroelectric power uses the movement of water to generate energy. Like wind power, hydropower is commonly used for the generation of large scale energy and is relatively uncommon for domestic purposes in the U.S. In order to install hydropower at your house, you will need a river or a stream running through your property. You can then do divert some of the water to flow through turbines which generate energy and power your house. Alternatively, you can also use a dam if there are two sections for the water to flow from at different heights.
Advantages of hydroelectric power: Hydropower is continuous and stable, meaning you will always receive the same amount of energy from your hydroelectric turbine as long as the water source is flowing.
Disadvantages of hydroelectric power: Access to a river or stream that flows year-round is not something most homeowners have on their land.
Thermal energy can be generated from outside using air, water or ground heat pumps, even when temperatures are as low as 3°F. It can be used for central heating or for a hot water system. However, ground heat pumps require a large area which can accommodate the construction of both a trench and an underground place to fit the coil system.
That said, it is suitable for those with a large garden or compound. Alternatively, you can construct a deep vertical borehole that is compact but it's expensive. Unlike ground source heat pumps, air source heat pumps are easily affordable. Despite being compact, they are less efficient and the system is placed on the exterior of the building which could make the area a little unpleasant to the eye. Lastly, water source heat pumps are not common since they require a body of water beside your house. Furthermore, all heat pumps generate low-grade heat.
Choosing the Right Renewable Energy Source for Your Situation
If you are able, switching to renewable energy for your home is a good investment. However, you'll need to do a lot of research on which source of renewable energy will best suit your home. You can base this decision on your financial limitations, space, land's orientation and also the weather (our Solar Living Sourcebook has an entire chapter devoted to this). Other factors you should look at include your current electricity usage and local codes and requirements.
Sally Keys is a professional freelance writer with many years of experience across many different areas. She made the move to freelancing from a stressful corporate job and loves the work-life balance it offers her. When not at work, Sally enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible.