Solar panels are a commonly used source of alternative energy, but there are more ways of producing electricity than the sun. While wind and hydropower may not be as well-known energy sources, they are just as important, and they are catching on. While you might not be able to use these sources to produce your own energy right away, they’re good to know about.
The Cape Wind farm, an off-shore wind power farm, received $2.6 billion in funding this year, reports the Star Tribune. More and more projects, such as wind farms, are getting investors and becoming easily accessible, widespread renewable energy sources.
Wind energy is a quickly growing renewable resource in the U.S. The amount of energy that comes from the wind varies month by month, but experts at the Wind Energy Foundation believe a realistic number will eventually be 30 percent of America’s overall energy needs. Wind turbines capture the kinetic energy of the wind by the movement of large blades. This kinetic energy is sent to the generator, which converts it into electricity and sends it into the grid. Wind turbines are quicker to build than other forms of power storage and generation, and the environmental impact can be mitigated to very low levels.
Image by Leaflet via Wikimedia Commons
When someone mentions renewable energy, one of the first types to come to mind is solar energy. Improvements in technology have drastically decreased the cost for deploying solar energy panels and other methods of collecting the sunlight’s energy. Solar energy works by the photovoltaic cells on the panels converting sunlight into electricity. It doesn’t need any more processing than this, as the cells take care of all of the conversion, with the exception of transferring the electricity from DC to AC. A small power inverter handles that for the solar panel.
In addition to solar panels that sit on a bank by themselves or are attached to a building, solar concentration systems incorporate mirrors to get the most out of the solar energy available. There is no waste or pollution associated with this type of renewable energy, and it’s available anywhere there is sufficient sunlight throughout the day. It’s also low-maintenance equipment, as the panels do not use any moving parts. This cuts down on the chance of mechanical failure, unless a tree falls on your roof or another similar problem occurs. If you live in a low sunlight area, using solar panels and shopping for a supplementary electric provider is a common tactic.
Hydroelectric power comes from the force of moving water. It’s currently the most common form of renewable energy in the United States, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, making up six percent of all of the electric power that this country uses. The power generation uses human-made dams to force water through a turbine. The force of the water creates the electricity, which goes into the power plant and through the electric grid. This type of renewable energy source is not without major environmental impact, however. The creation of dams changes the natural flow of the rivers, with generally adverse effects on the local ecosystem.
Image by Peter Rood via Flickr
Older homes are not likely to be very energy efficient, even if they’ve been upgraded at some point in their long history. Suppose, for example, that you purchase a historic home that was built over a hundred years ago. Maybe it began its life with gas lamps instead of electricity and without the benefit of running water. Although it has likely been renovated in order to feature these modern amenities at some point, it may not be nearly as current as you’d like. And the electrical system could pose something of a problem for modern inhabitants. For one thing, we tend to demand a lot more electrical draw than homeowners in previous generations. If your system can’t handle the demand, it could lead to overload issues. Further, however, older systems were not necessarily designed for energy efficiency, which means your draw could be costing you beaucoup bucks. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to upgrade your system. You just have to consider whether or not the historic status of your home requires you to renovate in a certain way.
Some historic homes have restrictions on what types of renovations may be undertaken, and this is especially important if your home happens to be part of the historical register. However, this doesn’t necessarily prohibit you from making necessary upgrades; it just means that you may have to adhere to certain rules and regulations in the restoration and renovation process. For example, you may be allowed to upgrade electrical wiring, junction boxes, outlets, and so on, but you might not be able to put solar panels on the roof or a residential wind turbine in the backyard. In other words, the changes you make could be confined to upgrades that cannot be seen. And while this can make the process of creating an energy-efficient home more difficult, it is by no means impossible.
So what can you do to make a historic home more energy efficient? You could start with a home energy audit. Older homes may settle and shift over time, leading to all kinds of leaks and other forms of energy waste. An audit will tell you where you need to beef up the insulation and add weather stripping and sealant. Or perhaps it’s time to call in Byrd heating and air conditioning or your local service provider to clean your HVAC system (if your home has one) or upgrade your furnace and AC unit to energy-efficient models. You might even find a way to install a programmable thermostat if your HVAC technician and interior design pro are willing to work together to come up with a solution that keeps the integrity of your historical home intact in the process.
Solar panels may be an eyesore that your historical home cannot bear, but there are still plenty of ways to engineer energy savings, boosting conservation and lowering utility bills. You can upgrade your electrical system, seal your home, and address issues with your HVAC system. Heck, if you have a boiler and radiators, as many older homes do, you could even extend the system to include radiant floor heating, which may work better than a forced air system to keep your home warm in the winter with less need for energy (and less expense). Finding solutions for energy efficiency when you’re dealing with a historic home may not be easy, but it can definitely be done, and you’ll be glad you took the time to do it right.
A gas that many of us use on a pretty consistent basis is propane. That’s because it’s what we tend to rely on to keep our central heat going, plus it’s also the gas that a lot of us tend to use in order to do things like grill out too. Yet, as more people are becoming more aware of what they can do to preserve the environment (along with their health), some are making the transition from propane to natural gas.
If you’ve never really thought about converting over but you’d like a few reasons why it’s a wise thing to consider, we’ve enclosed five very good ones for you below:
Natural gas is more cost-effective. Hands down, the best reason to go with natural gas is that it saves you money. For one thing, because it tends to burn more completely than propane does, this means that it works more efficiently and also requires less energy. Also, while you oftentimes have to pre-pay to use propane, in most cases, natural gas is something that you pay for once a month—after you’ve already used it.
Natural gas puts less emissions in the air. There’s absolutely no way around the fact that propane puts emissions into the air which fills the environment with all kinds of toxins. However, when you choose to use natural gas instead, because there is very little greenhouse gas that emits from it, you are doing your part to help to purify the air.
Natural gas can get us out of national debt. Another reason to go with natural gas is probably one that many people have not stopped to consider: it can help to get us out of national debt. The reason why is this. As we need less crude oil for the purpose of electricity, this means that we’ll need to import less oil from foreign oil companies which, as a direct result, means that we will end up lowering our budget deficit. Using less propane helps us to reach this goal.
Natural gas can earn you some pretty great rebates. If you were to ask an energy auditor to come over and conduct an Energy Star Home Performance Evaluation, they might tell you that one of the best reasons to use natural gas is because it can cause you to end up with some pretty awesome rebates. That’s because natural gas companies are pretty intent on getting more customers to make the transition over from propane. So, one of the incentives that they offer is big discounts and sometimes even a new furnace or boiler.
Natural gas is both safe and versatile. And finally, another reason to consider using natural gas is not only is it considered to be one of the safest energy resources in the world but it’s also extremely versatile to use as well. As we’ve already shared, it’s a great way to heat your home, but you can also use it to heat your water, cook your food and even dry your clothes. It’s definitely a great alternative to propane in every way. For more information on natural gas, visit NaturalGas.org and AboutNaturalGas.com.
Giving an older home an energy efficient makeover is easier than you think. When it comes down to it, older homes have many downsides and one of the biggest downsides is energy inefficiency. In the old days, people didn’t really have to think about carbon emissions and global warming. In fact, many of these buzz terms weren’t even in the social lexicon. While older homes are beautiful to admire and look at, living in them can be a bit of an energy nightmare. It seems like the monthly energy bills never seem to ease up. However, with a light makeover, all of your energy problems could be solved. Here is how to give an older home an energy efficient makeover.
First, you want to start with your appliances. Chances are that the appliances in your older home are sucking up most of the energy. This is mostly because older appliances were built before certain standards were implemented. Some of these appliances include your stove, dishwasher and refrigerator. Older models of these types of appliances were highly inefficient and led to homes making a terribly negative impact on the environment. So, look for appliances with the Energy Star logo.
Also, it is important to weatherproof the windows and doors of your home. Weatherproofing is actually a really easy way to give your windows and doors an easy makeover without having to undergo any heavy construction. For instance, you could put a thin layer of clear film over the window to make it more durable and resistant to outside temperatures, which can ultimately reduce your reliance on your HVAC units. Also, by weather sealing the casements, you can prevent air leaks.
Next, you want to re-insulate your attic. If you don’t have the budget, or the time for that matter, to completely re-insulate your home, it is always worth it to simply re-insulate the attic. The attic is an important place to re-insulate because it is typically where most of the energy escapes when you have your air conditioning or heating system on full blast. Plus, installing new insulation is not only easy, but it is also affordable. While re-insulating your entire home can cost thousands of dollars, re-insulating the attic will only cost you a few hundred dollars. And after a few months, you will start to see a return on your investment in the form of lower utility bills.
Lastly, another way to give your home an energy efficient makeover is to inspect the HVAC unit of your home – specifically the air conditioner unit and and heating system. Learning how an air conditioner works and how a heating system works, is a critical part of the makeover process. For instance, you want to make sure the unit itself is maintained – with the condenser coils cleaned and filters changed – but you also want to make sure there are no leaks in the ductwork. If you notice uneven heating and cooling throughout your home, there is a good chance that you have a dirty or leaking air duct system. Taking all these measures is the key to making your home more energy efficient.
If you’ve never heard of the word “retrofit” before, that’s OK because chances are, you’ve done it without even really noticing. Basically all retrofitting is about is adding something new to something that you already have in order to make it better. And when it comes to your home, this usually consists of installing a new device or system or replacing some existing parts with some new ones.
So, if you have a few things within your house that you would like to be a bit more energy efficient, but you’re not sure how to go about getting started, we have enclosed five ways to start retrofitting your house as early as today below:
Upgrade your windows. One of the best things that you can do to conserve energy in your house is to replace the windows that you currently have and add some double-pane ones. Although they do cost significantly more, just making this one addition can decrease the energy consumption that is within your house by as much as 15 percent. If you have the windows professionally tinted, that can save you even more.
Have your home insulated (again). A lot of energy is lost simply because the insulation in the attic, basement and even within the walls is worn or torn. The good news is that there are several kinds of insulation that’s considered to be eco-friendly including sheep’s wool, cotton and aerogel. For more information on how to seal and insulate your home yourself, visit Energy.gov and put “Do-It-Yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating” in the search field.
Get some Energy Star appliances. There’s no doubt about it. If you want to reduce your monthly energy costs, it’s always going to be a good idea to buy some appliances that have the Energy Star label on them. For instance, if you purchase an Energy Star washing machine, you will end up using about 50 percent less water and 30 percent less energy than a standard model. That is well worth the investment, right?
Add some solar power. There used to be a time when people were hesitant to install solar panels due to the cost. But as more people are putting them into their homes, the cost is actually dropping significantly. And when you stop to think about it, who wouldn’t want solar power? It cuts down the amount of greenhouse gases that are in the air, it provides you with the ability to go off of the electricity grid and it gives a continual amount of energy—free of charge.
Replace your air conditioner. If you’ve noticed that your air conditioner has been leaking water, there’s been condensation on it or you’ve been online reading about how to clean evaporator coils and do other maintenance things because it’s not working as efficiently, these are all indications that you might want to simply get your air conditioner replaced. In fact, according to several energy reports, by making this kind of purchase, you can go from 65 percent efficiency to 95 percent just by buying a newer model. Of course, you can always call a technician over, but if they say that it will cost you a couple of hundred dollars to repair it, try fitting a new one into your budget instead. It’s definitely a smart and comfortable way to retrofit your home.