It's easy to get excited about solar and wind power. Choosing to produce your own electricity with rooftop solar panels or a backyard wind turbine is not only a great, sustainable option, but it can save you money, too.
That’s because tapping these renewable resources instead of fossil fuels reduces greenhouse gases, as well as mining wastes, and many other sources of air and water pollution. And renewable energy from the sun and wind is completely free. Once you purchase the initial system, you don’t have to spend money on the fuel to run it. Those savings add up quickly!
But how much solar and wind energy are available where you live? The fact is that some locations are much sunnier or windier than others. Without a steady supply of either wind or sunshine, generating your own electricity at home may not be a practical option. So how do you find out whether a home solar- or wind-electric system will work for you?
One Quick Estimate
Fortunately, it's getting easier to learn about renewable energy thanks to handy online calculators and other resources.
A good place to start is the MyWatts Estimator. This is a free service provided by ChooseRenewables.com (a company that provides the estimates free, but does sell related products and services.) Just type in your location, and you immediately get a map and short summary of the solar and wind resources in your area.
This is a rough estimate, but it's a good starting place. For example, you can quickly see that your wind power resource is “good,” while your solar power resource is merely “average,” or vice versa.
At this point, you might want to look at some of the resources specific to solar or wind. The sites below have much more background information about these options, and they also can help you locate renewable energy professionals in your area who can give you a better estimate of the costs specific to your situation.
More Solar Resources:
- FindSolar.com is affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE, the American Solar Energy Society and the Solar Electric Power Association. It’s a terrific one-stop resource for anyone considering a solar-electric system. To get started, just plug your location and average utility bills into the Solar Estimator, and it calculates the average cost of a solar-electric system based on the average solar resources in your area, your electricity usage, and any state and local rebates you may qualify for. If you like what you see, you can contact solar installers and distributors in the site’s directory for more information. Simple!
- The DOE’s Consumer Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy can help you get familiar with the terminology and the basic issues you'll need to consider before installing solar panels. (For example, can your roof support photovoltaic panels? Does your state offer net metering?)
- If you’d like to learn more about the factors that can affect your home’s solar access, you can find much more information on evaluating your solar resources at BuilditSolar.com, which has an excellent page of DIY resources.
More Wind Resources:
- The DOE’s Wind Powering America site can point you to available state and local resources. Many states have detailed wind resource maps, as well as free state wind guides. You can also find out more about the basics of home-scale wind energy from the Wind Consumer FAQs and through this more detailed consumer guide.
- Another good resource is the American Wind Energy Association. Here's their general toolbox for getting started with a home-scale wind turbine, and their page specifically about site evaluation. This organization also lists contact information for wind turbine manufacturers and suppliers if you're ready to contact a wind power dealer for more information.
- Windustry is a nonprofit organization that provides consumers and communities with information on wind power. Here's a link to their general information on small-scale wind, the section specifically on site analysis, and their list of wind energy companies, including manufacturers, installers and companies that can provide professional wind resource assessment.
Through the resources above, many people will find that they have enough solar or wind to make a home electric system possible. But what if you don't? Or what if you decide that a solar or wind system doesn't make sense for you right now?
You don't have to give up on getting your electricity from renewable sources. Instead, consider buying green power from your utility. More and more utilities are offering consumers the option to buy their electricity from renewable sources, such as large wind farms and hydroelectric projects. You can learn more about green power here.
Also, there are many other ways to tap renewable energy, other than for electricity — for example for space and water heating. You can check out the dozens of articles on these topics at www.MotherEarthNews.com to learn more about solar hot water, passive solar design, and wood and geothermal heat. Enjoy exploring your options!
Megan E. Phelps is a freelance writer based in Kansas. She enjoys reading and writing about all things related to sustainable living including homesteading skills, green building and renewable energy. You can find her on Google+.