Alternative Energy Sources for Your Home
There are many different terms for the energy we use nowadays: alternative energy, renewable energy, non-renewable energy, green energy...but what’s the difference?
This is a guide to the alternative energy options available to you and what you can use in your own home.
What is alternative energy?
Alternative energy sources are simply those that generate energy in a way that does not use up the earth’s natural resources, nor harm the environment.
Why do we need alternative energy sources?
Alternative energy sources are vital if we are to end our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, i.e. fossil fuels. These fossil fuels will only be available for a limited amount of time (many experts speculate that we have as few as 150 years worth of them left), and once they have been depleted it will take many thousands of years for them to replenish. As if that weren’t a big enough problem, fossil fuels are all extracted in ways that are destructive to the environment and contribute to global warming during the combustion process.
Alternative energy sources like solar and wind power are entirely clean, renewable energy sources so they pose absolutely no threat to the environment, the atmosphere, or human health.
What are some types of alternative energy sources?
Wind energy is one of the most widely used alternative energy sources in the United States, and across many other parts of the world. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), wind accounted for just over 6% of electricity generation in the US in 2018, and this figure can only grow.
Wind energy is generated using a wind turbine, sometimes reaching as tall as 400 feet tall although this varies depending on their location. When wind passes by the turbine blades, this causes them to spin which in turn produces kinetic energy. This kinetic energy is then converted into electricity using a generator.
Another alternative energy source is solar energy, which is captured using photovoltaic (PV) cells, commonly called solar panels. Solar rays emitted by the sun are so powerful that just one hour of sunlight is sufficient enough to supply the entire planet with power for a full year!
Semiconductors within the PV cells capture these solar rays by absorbing the sunlight and then work to knock the electrons loose to produce solar energy which can then be harnessed to create electricity.
Geothermal energy is heat energy that is harnessed from beneath the earth’s surface. Sometimes this heat energy is released naturally through volcanic eruptions or geysers, but it can also be utilized by a Geothermal Power Plant.
Geothermal Power Plants are set up above or near to a geological hot spot where they are able to drill into the earth to a reservoir within permeable rock. The hot water that is drawn up turns to steam and this is used to drive a turbine attached to a generator, which then produces electricity.
Once it has passed through the turbine, the steam is turned back into liquid in a cooling tower and injected back into the reservoir to be used over and over again.
Hydroelectric power is one of the oldest alternative energy sources in the United States. In the 1920s, hydroelectric power was responsible for supplying around 40% of electricity in the US. Although this percentage is much less today, it is still very important and it is likely to rise once again as we start to place more and more reliance on renewable energies.
Hydroelectric power plants generate electrical energy by controlling the flow of water from a reservoir using a dam. The plant lowers the dam to allow a strong flow of water to pass through and drive a turbine attached to a generator. This generator then converts the energy created by the water into electricity.
Biomass is any organic material derived from plants or fecal matter from animals. When burned, the chemical energy within the biomass is released as heat energy and works to generate electricity when it passes through a steam turbine.
Although biomass energy is a renewable fuel type, it is not a clean energy source. The industry has recently found that some forms of biomass, such as by-products from forestry practices, actually produce more emissions than fossil fuels when burned. Biomass also needs to be harvested and/or collected in a sustainable way, otherwise, it can have negative effects on biodiversity.
That being said, it is likely that with more scientific research into the effects of different types of biomass, it could be a valuable alternative energy source in the future.
What are alternative energy sources for homes?
Thankfully, it is becoming easier than ever to harness the power of alternative energy sources for your home. There are three popular choices:
Solar panels can be installed on the roof of your home, or in another suitable area of your property, to generate electricity to power your home. This works to significantly reduce your electric bills as you will be using very little, or even no, electricity from the grid. You are even able to store excess electricity in batteries for future use or sell it back to the grid for a return on investment.
Small wind systems
You can also use wind power to supply your home with electricity with a small wind system. Having a small wind turbine, either attached to your roof or on a free-standing pole, will allow you to rely less on the grid and so your bills will be significantly lower.
Whether you are able to have a small wind system depends on the amount of electricity you require, the average wind speeds in your area, and zoning rules.
Switch to a renewable energy plan
This is by far the easiest, cheapest, and most accessible way to use renewable energy sources in your home. If you live in a condo or rent, you likely can’t start putting solar panels on the roof. Even if you have your own home, your neighbors may not thank you for – or even allow you to – erecting a wind turbine on your property.
Fortunately, a renewable energy company such as Inspire offers alternative energy plans. Inspire members can enjoy unlimited clean energy that allows them to choose alternative energy, no matter where they live. It only takes a few minutes to make the switch.
What are the pros and cons for alternative energy sources for homes?
- clean energy
- reduces electric bill
- cheaper than ever
- will see a return on investment
- can store or sell excess energy
Geothermal heat pumps
- clean energy
- low energy costs
- environmentally friendly
- work well in almost all climates
Small wind systems
- clean energy
- limited maintenance
- relatively inexpensive to build
- can sell excess energy
- doesn’t generate electricity at night
- high initial installation cost
- manufacture of panels has some impact on the environment
- you are unlikely to see a return on investment if you move within several years of installation
Geothermal heat pumps
- high initial installation costs
- potential need for landscape alterations
- open-loop systems can contaminate groundwater
- currently a limited number of service and maintenance providers
- geology in your area may affect how it can be installed
Small wind systems
- no energy is produced when the wind isn’t blowing
- can be noisy
- can be harmful to birds and flying wildlife
- comes with high installation costs
- there may be restrictions depending on your area
- can be damaged by lightning
- they’re not aesthetically pleasing
Are all alternative energy sources renewable?
Yes, alternative energy sources are renewable. Alternative energy simply refers to any energy source that can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels.
Nuclear energy may be an exception as this is an alternative energy source to fossil fuels and the process itself is renewable and clean, however, the material that is used (Uranium-235) is not.
What is the best alternative energy source for homes?
If you’re thinking of installing your own source, then this will vary wildly depending on where you live; however, anyone can take advantage of alternative energy sources with a green energy plan like ours. All our customers can rest easy knowing they’ve significantly reduced their carbon footprint without the hassle or investment of installation.
How can I get alternative energy sources in my own home?
Making the switch to alternative energy sources is crucial to protecting the planet and limiting the effects of global warming as much as possible for future generations. If you want to help in the fight against climate change, we can help you make the switch in less than 5 minutes. Once you’ve signed up, we’ll let your energy provider know that you’ve decided to choose renewable energy, and you’ll reap the benefits of renewable energy almost immediately. Visit Inspire to find out more about our unlimited alternative energy plan and how to switch to renewable energy in your own home today.