Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

Wind Turbines Prove Productive for 25 Years

windMany conversations have popped up over the years regarding the lasting efficiency of wind turbines. One study suggested that the productivity wind turbines decreases by one third after only 10 years, causing the cost of maintenance to outweigh any financial benefits provided by wind farms.

It seems, however, that this is not the case at all. Recent research has proved that wind turbines can remain productive with no need for upgrades for up to 25 years.

This study looked at some of the oldest wind turbines put in place across Europe, with some dating back to the 1990s. Researchers also looked at the original expected energy output for these turbines to understand the level of energy they should expect to see generating from them today. After 19 years of operation, these wind turbines are still producing three-quarters of their original energy output. This is nearly twice the amount other studies claimed these wind turbines should be producing at this point in time, dispelling any conversations that suggest these wind farms would require more maintenance then they are worth.

The Imperial College of London also weighs in on this matter, discussing the powerful abilities of the newest wind turbines across Europe. While this study has mainly focused on turbines operating since the 1990s, researchers from London explain that since these original turbines have been constructed, we have had more technological advances that mean newer turbines could have a longer lifespan than that of these turbines still operating 19 years later.

The researchers behind this study are planning a new study to monitor newer wind farms over longer periods of time. By looking at the newest wind turbine technology, they can get a better sense of how long we can expect modern wind turbines to last.

This study set out to uncover if wind farms are a financially secure source of renewable energy, and these findings have given wind farms a thumbs up to the technology behind them, and shows that the popularity of wind farms may continue to grow in the future.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Record Year for European Wind Power

windIn 2017, Europe saw a record 3,148 megawatts (MW) of net additional installed capacity. This is the due to the addition of 560 new offshore turbines cross 17 wind farms, including the first floating offshore wind farm. In the upcoming year, 11 new projects will be in the works, particularly across Germany and the UK.

WindEurope reports that Germany has become the leader of wind power capacity in Europe. The country installed the most wind power capacity in 2017, making up an astounding 42 percent of the total EU new installations.

These new installments of offshore wind turbines and farms brings Europe’s total installed wind capacity to 15,780 MW; this corresponds to 4,149 grid-connected wind turbines across 11 European countries, with 82 turbines equivalent to 1,927 MW awaiting grid connection. With a total net installed capacity of 169 gigawatts (GW), wind energy remains the second largest form of power generation capacity in Europe, closely approaching gas installations.

Wind power installed more than any other form of power generation in Europe in 2017. Wind power accounted for 55% of total power capacity installations.

The 3.1 GW of capacity installed in 2017 doubled the capacity installed in 2016. The average offshore wind turbine is also getting larger; the average size of the turbines installed in 2017 was 5.9 MW, 23 percent larger than 2016. The budget for wind-powered energy investments is also growing with lenders extending 6.2 billion pounds in non-recourse debt for the financing of new and operational offshore wind farms.

This press release is presented without editing for your information. MOTHER EARTH NEWS does not recommend, approve or endorse the products and/or services offered. You should use your own judgment and evaluate products and services carefully before deciding to purchase.

Solar Pioneer Party


Although I was doing solar before solar was cool (started in 1990) I don't think I consider myself a solar pioneer as there were so many before me that inspired me and helped me but I got to spend a weekend in November at the Solar Pioneer party; hanging out with my heroes, my mentors, my colleagues. together we have made solar the wave of the Now instead of the wave of the future #SolarNow #GetEnergized #GoSolar #Empowered.

group photo

Photo by Jason Vetterli at the Real Good Solar Living Institute

That  weekend in November 2017  I spent two days flying to spend three days in Northern California with more than 300 of my friends, colleagues, and mentors at the third and final solar Pioneer Party. Most of them I knew personally or through reading Home Power magazine over the years or through being in the industry for more than 20 years myself.

By Tyler Kanczuzewski ----The documentary shares many of these common stories of how the solar pioneers devised elaborate Rube Goldberg-like machines to rig their car batteries to play their stereo systems or to power a single 12-watt light. Kerosene lanterns and candles were common lighting alternatives, but so were cats that could knock them down and start a fire. After various happy accidents, the pioneers learned about solar panels that were being used for industrial off-grid applications. They were expensive, but they weren’t noisy and smelly like diesel generators—and they weren’t a fire hazard with house cats either.

Other rural “off-gridders” began to hear about the magic of solar PV that used the sun’s energy to light their neighbors’ homes and play their music. To pay for their PV, many used the income they earned from an infamous agricultural business; you could say that solar spurred the modern marijuana industry as well.

Driven by the need for light and music, many of these same off-grid pioneers became solar entrepreneurs. They began calling up executives from Arco Solar, Solarex, Sharp and other early solar PV manufacturers and ordered solar panels to be shipped to rural California, the Southwest and the Midwest. In one hilariously described scene, solar executives couldn’t believe the $100,000 order that they’d received, so they put on their three-piece suits and drove up in a Porsche to Humboldt County to meet their new customers, who were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Here is more from Tyler Kanczuzewski.


Tthe solar Pioneer party started when a relatively newcomer to the industry, Jeff Spies, realized what the history of solar was and that it needed to be documented and had the great idea of inviting the Pioneers to a get together to film interviews with them to create a documentary. That was the first Solar Pioneer party. Jeff and Jason Vetterli didn't realize how much work would be involved and it turned into a three-year project with the culmination in early November 2017 of a private showing to the solar Pioneers themselves. I missed the first Solar Pioneer party due to in being my dad’s memorial but made it to the second; where I was one who got to facilitate a round-table discussion and then I got to go the Third and Final Solar Pioneer party showcasing the film Solar Roots.

We started the weekend on Friday reconnecting with old friends and making new ones as people showed up at the KOA campground barn. As a relatively youngster I felt a bit awkward being around so many of the greats in the solar industry, truly some of the ones who started it all. What I love about the solar industry is people aren't afraid or are just open-hearted enough to share their experiences and knowledge to help grow the industry by helping our fellow solar addicts. As I volunteered at the coffee/tea cafe I got to interact with hundreds of my fellow solar people who, even the ones who didn’t know me, welcomed me in the techo babble of solar. Friday we had a taco truck pull up and by some miracle keep serving for over an hour the endless line of a couple hundred of hungry Solar Pioneers. The energy and excitement of the hundreds of conversations was in itself energizing!


Saturday started relatively early for me as I set up the coffee cafe and then went to the world debut of Solar Roots, the story of some of the Solar Pioneers of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We got to see it on the big screen at the Noyo Theatre in Willits CA.  Walking into the theater in Willits California with probably 60% of the people who were in the movie were also in the theater was intensely awe inspiring. Seeing the movie I was expecting a standard talking head documentary but it turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster and extremely entertaining partially because I knew a lot of people in the film but there was enough people in there that I didn't know personally, I just knew of them. There will be some private viewings of the Solar Roots film it may be a awhile before the general public sees the film due to figuring copyright issues of music and pictures. But sign up here to find out The untold, colorful history of the birth of solar electricity


The Skunk train ride was optional and I originally didn’t book a ticket thinking I can always ride a train. Once it was explained that this train would be going through old growth redwoods I booked a ticket. I didn’t book the ticket in time to get the meal provided but thanks to the generosity of a fellow attendee who was on a special diet I was gifted her meal ticket. We had our picnic in an open air car.


Riding on the Skunk train, a 131-year-old train with all of its creaks and wheezes, visiting the huge redwoods was an experience I hope many can have. I spent the afternoon (over 4 hours) riding this train at a sedate pace over the hills and through the very rural forest seeing big trees, even moss covered trees, deer, deep ravines, creeks, seeing tremendous beauty deep within the forest from a comfortable seat with my feet up. There was sing alongs, there was drinks, there was intense conversations, there was relaxed conversations. Doing this was great but became a once in a lifetime experience due to my fellow passengers;  a few hundred fellow solar Pioneers and mentors.  


Spending the day on Sunday at Real Goods Solar Living Institute was a flashback as I read the Solar Sourcebook like it was my solar bible years ago and my first “large” solar module (a Kyocera 45 watt) was bought from Real Goods and powered my offgrid living for 18 years.

I am so glad that this film documented history but even more so that it lead to the 3 Solar Pioneer parties to allow people to get together for the soul (misspelled for a reason) purpose of storytelling, inspiration, and energizing each other. The guiding principle behind this non-commercial event was cultivating an environment that facilitates meaningful conversation and connection between solar pros new and old. Power to the People! Let's #GetEnergized #SolarNow

I look forward everyday to the interactions I have on my Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page and hope you will join the discussion there.

Stay energized, aur

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International  and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!?Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Going Off Grid, The How-to Book of Simple Living and Happiness

front of the book 

First I want admit that I started reading this with a prejudice that there's no way 150 page book would provide enough insight on how to build an off-grid place but I was wrong. The author is honest and straightforward, while giving enough overview to make it possible for someone to build the conventional home off grid using professional help in most aspects. I really like the subtitle "the how-to book of simple living and happiness."

The author does fall into the trap of the old way of thinking living off-grid, which historically means moving to the boonies and being your own power/utility, company which is the traditional way. It is unlike what I advocate, which is learning to simplify your life while living within society.

As he writes, "living off the grid as I define it, means creating a home that is autonomous and does not rely on public utility connections." After starting to live off-grid in 1991 and starting to install full-time off-the-grid homes in 1999, I feel that many people can start the living-off-rid mentality within society. The author himself did that as he downsized and simplified his life in preparation for moving to the country. As he wrote, " I believe getting off grid is about a simpler, more streamlined approach to life." 

I agree with the author on not recommending following the tiny house on wheels trend (why not just buy a travel trailer?), however I think a small house (300-1,200 sq ft) well built is better than a regular sized house. I only found two bits of information that I completely disagree with one is him bad-mouthing composting toilets and his formula for figuring out power usage.  

Composting toilets, which if done correctly, the material that comes out the other end is soil. Also he completely skipped the septic system that we use on my Yestermorrow Farm, which is a composting septic system very conventional but it's required because our water cable is within 26 feet of the surface. 

The other is an inaccurate formula for designing an off-grid system unless you have a backup generator as he designed for average use when if you only use renewable energy you have to design for worst case scenario. Since the price of Solar has dropped 70% since 2010 we no longer having need to advocate for the overuse of propane and/or a backup generator as it is very easily possible to go a hundred percent renewable. His solar system size seemed small until I realized later that he was planning to add a generator and/or wind generator later but when this book was printed he hadn't hooked up either of those. If you do have a secondary backup power system you can design your solar for average use as he did instead of lowest Sun highest power worst case scenario.

Instead of going for a conventional propane heater like he did, I would recommend a dual fuel propane and wood outdoor furnace to utilize all the wood in his area. 

Overall it was a quick very realistic not sugar-coated in any way book about moving to the country and living a conventional lifestyle with modern utility conventions. I try to be impartial and not recommend specific products but I would recommend this book for anybody wanting to know realistically the trials and tribulations of figuring out how to buy land, find good contractors, and build an off-grid conventional, with all standard utilities, house in the country.

Going Off Grid, The How-to book of Simple Living and Happiness, by Gary Collins, MS; book review.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Backup Power is the Beginning of Living Off Grid

Installed in 1999 

In recent months, we have seen the plight of millions of families as they struggle to cope without the power grid and this is becoming much more frequent.  What would your life be like without the monopoly of the power company? We are so dependent on electricity…almost everything at your home (and mine) would quit without power.

Look around your home. Your land-line phone, fireplace and pilot lights (on stoves and hot water heaters) are likely gone. Our reliance on electrical power has increased significantly over the past 20 years. So when there is a power failure, we have no communications, no heat and no hot water. Our electricity-intensive society needs backup power more than ever.

I’ve been installing home battery backup power systems on and off for 20 years.

Water - wells are great…but “no power, no water” (for drinking, sanitation, irrigating your garden, etc).  You can’t live without water!

Freezer & fridge - Is your garden’s harvest in the freezer?  Say goodbye to it. Ouch!

Heat - using an electric heater? Even modern wood stoves, gas, and propane furnaces need electricity to operate. Power outages in winter can spell disaster.

Everything else - from your coffee to your microwave to phones to lights.  Almost everything needs power. Is this dependence just a “fact of life”?  Something that you have to live with?  Or is there a good way out?

For years I’ve been teaching how to simplify people’s lives by “Living Off Grid, Really” on all the ways there are besides electricity to help with your life. Why not tap into the free energy of the sun to power your home and gain the security of energy independence?

Here are a few reasons why…

Energy independence - blackouts become a thing of the past!  Reliable power for your water pump, freezer, fridge, and everything else.

Cut monthly expenses - imagine no more monthly power bills in the mail.  This is a blessing when you lose your job, are on a fixed income, or anytime!

Being “green” - many are going off the grid to have a smaller footprint.

Remote property - looking at remote property that is beyond the power lines?  Now you can live normally and pay less for the land (since it has no utilities).

my system

It’s awesome! - let’s face it…even long-time solar users are addicted to watching their power production meter when the sun is shining! So, how do you actually get started going “off the grid” with solar power?  Can you phase into it or do you have to do it all at once? Does it cost a lot of money to do it?  Do you have to be an electrical engineer to figure it all out?

In the 18 years I had lived off grid, I have had the luck of great teachers and studying a lot to be able to answer those questions to now in my John A Logan college classes. Frankly, many have put off starting their off-grid journey because they have been intimidated by what they do not know.

Have you ever experienced a power outage or gone camping? These are both similar situations from an energy standpoint but the mentality we approach them are different. Both are Living Off Grid but one is done to us (power outage) and the other (camping) we choose to do.

Why not have the mentality and choose to live off the grid, thus using less. Start small; solar portable power packs can power LED lights, music, and cell phones.

Get serious living on the grid; Figure out ways to use less electricity (average off grid use is only 40% of on grid use) or not use electricity at all. For example dry your clothes on the line and use a wood stove or outdoor furnace to heat with.Get a self consumption with utility outage backup solar system that weans you off the utility as you add more solar panels.

Go all out and put up enough solar that the utility becomes your secondary power source during the winter when there isn’t as much solar.

Aur, is a NABCEP Certified Solar PV Installer with AES Solar in Carterville. He started educating himself about renewable energy as a teenager even before he moved into a camper in his parents’ driveway to live off-grid solar and ended up living off grid for 18 years. Aur understands that living how he does makes it very easy to advocate for a life of simpler living, energy efficiency and renewable energy. His name Aur (pronounced "or") means light or to enlighten in Hebrew. Can be reached at

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Shed Light on the Value of Solar with these Solar Calculators


Solar rooftop

Solar calculators help you determine whether solar panels installed at your home or business will save money over electricity pulled from the grid. Calculators look at the cost of energy in your area, the type of panels you have or plan to install, weather patterns, and government incentives to determine energy cost savings.

Solar Calculator

You should use calculators as a convenient first look at the economics of going solar. However, a solar calculator is not a substitute for a consultation with a professional installer, but a compliment. A trusted installer will inform you about the advantages of different solar systems, issues with your property, and who will have the most up-to-date information about energy rates and incentives. A calculator will arm you with basic information going into this conversation, and also reveal questions you didn’t even realize you should ask.

Recommended Solar Calculators

Featured here are some of the most accurate and unbiased solar calculators on the web. Each entry provides the sponsor of the calculator, as well as a rundown of their features.  

Solar to the People

We discovered this straightforward solar calculator after reading LA Times coverage of Solar to the People’s study on California solar pricing. Of all the calculators listed here, we found  Solar to the People’s the easiest to use—definitely the best option if you’re just getting started. Simply enter an address and your utility cost, and Solar to the People generates a report of your expected solar savings for three different financing options: lease, loan, and purchase.

Despite the calculator’s simplicity, the financing options are a feature not found on the other calculators listed here. The amount of additional savings from an outright purchase versus a lease surprised us and probably isn’t something most consumers think about. It’s reassuring to see that you can save money on your energy bill even if you require a loan to purchase your solar system, but good to know you that if you can purchase the system outright, you will save considerably more money in the long-run.


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) created perhaps the most industry-trusted solar calculator, PVWatts. To get started, PVWatts only asks for an address. From there PVWatts suggests weather data for your area (accepting the default is fine), and then prompts you for a substantial amount of information about your location and expected solar install, from the basic (your energy bill) to some more advanced questions (type of solar panels). Thankfully, PVWatts will generate an estimate even if you can’t answer all its questions. Hold onto the report it generates—you can fill in the blanks with your solar installer later.

In addition to total savings, PVWatts estimates the amount of energy your system will generate. The report also accounts for seasonal variation, which is significant even in temperate regions, given the shortened days. As an added convenience, all of this information is nicely formatted for print.

California Solar Initiative Incentive Calculators

The CSI-EPBB calculator is designed for two purposes: to estimate rebates offered for a given solar system by the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and to inform consumers about the differences in energy output and savings provided by different solar system types. While CSI-EPBB provides information not found on the aforementioned calculators, it is powered by PVWatts.

In brief, CSI-EPBB requests information similar to what you might enter into PVWatts, but also requests the type of photovoltaic (PV) system and electrical inverter (the device that converts solar-produced DC power to grid-friendly AC power), as this information affects the rebate offered by California.  

When you first jump into the solar market, you’ll probably be confused by some of the inputs CSI-EPBB requests (e.g. the type of PV module, or what a PV module even is). We’ve included it on our list because it can help you make and assess the information provided by solar installers.

Though in general it’s best to avoid inputting too much personal info into a solar calculator, CSI-EPBB is trustworthy, being sponsored by the California government, and uses your information to accurately assess energy output from your solar system, which in turn informs the financial incentive offered by the California Solar Initiative incentive program.

Most of the more technical information requested will be provided by your solar installer or in the documentation for your planned or existing solar system. This information includes info about the system itself—the types of panels used, the number of photovoltaic (PV) modules—as well as about the installation—Array tilt and azimuth (degrees of rotation from true north).

Once you’ve input information about your system and installation, CSI-EPBB returns a host of useful calculations about the energy your solar system will generate and the total state incentives. As with the information you input, some of these results are easy enough to understand—annual kWh produced by your system—while others—CEC-AC Rating, which warns if your system’s output exceeds the capacity of your inverter—may require some help deciphering, but are useful in planning your system and calculating expected savings. Most important to you will likely be the estimated total financial incentive you’ll receive for going solar. Just remember that this is an estimate—the California Incentive Program (and many similar programs) will ultimately look at your actual energy production.  

DSIRE (Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency)

DSIRE offers the most extensive information on US solar incentives and tax rebates, all without requesting any personal information or account creation. Note that DSIRE doesn’t host an actual solar calculator, but we included it here to help you understand the different state and regional incentives that should be included in any solar calculator you’re relying on for calculations. Because DSIRE is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, it contains some of the most current information on solar policy and regulations.

Whereas PVWatts provide estimates of total savings, entering a zip code into DSIRE generates a comprehensive list of incentive programs for solar installation, as well as detailed entries about each program. DSIRE is most useful as a supplement to standard cost/savings calculators, as it will identify additional subsidies beyond the usual energy savings gained with solar. Listed programs include loans, financing, tax exemptions, rebates, as well as regulations that may encourage or impact your ability to install solar.

Choosing a Quality Solar Calculator

Free solar calculators can be found with a quick internet search, but not all calculators are created equal. Many are outdated, and as many more offer misleading information to steer consumers toward certain products.

This article recommended several trustworthy calculators. However, if you find a calculator you’d like to use that isn’t listed in this article—perhaps one specific to your region—think twice if it asks for contact information beyond an address and utilities cost. In rare cases, this is justified (as with California’s CSI calculator), but generally is a sign the calculator exists to fish for personal information.

Calculate with Confidence

While all calculators exist to help you determine whether solar panels are a good fit for your energy needs, you can find a range of calculators to address the concerns and questions you might have. Solar to the People provides a good first stop for assessing the financial benefit of going solar and is the best option for considering your financing options. A reliable calculator such as PVWatts will assess environmental factors such as sun exposure, installation type, and local energy costs to estimate expected savings from solar panel installation.  

Once you’ve decided to go solar, repositories such as DSIRE  can direct you to additional savings in the form of government incentives and rebates. Armed with more in-depth research about your energy needs and the range of available solar systems, a more sophisticated calculator hosted by a region or state, such as CSI-EPBB, can better educate you about the solar system that’s right for your property, as well as the range of regional financial incentives for which a system qualifies.

Just remember to use a trusted calculator, such as those featured here, as many web calculators are merely sales tools that generate biased estimates, or worse, exist solely to collect your personal info.  When in doubt, avoid it! If you have to enter anything more than an address and a power bill when running an estimate, it’s very possibly just a ploy to grab your personal information–an unfortunately common scam employed by online salespeople.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Questions to Ask When Buying a Home with Solar Panels

House With Solar Panels

Thanks to falling costs and advances in equipment, residential solar energy systems have become increasingly popular in recent years. More than one million homes in America now have a solar power system, allowing more homeowners than ever before to reap the many benefits that come along with utilizing renewable energy. But when these homeowners relocate, the door opens for homebuyers to move in and generate clean power without the paperwork, installation, and interconnection process.

If you’re thinking about buying a home with a solar energy system, be sure to ask the seller the following questions before making your decision:

1. Is the solar energy system owned or leased?

Typically, it’s better for buyers if the system is owned, because it means that they, in turn, will own it outright after purchasing the home without having to pay anything extra for it. Even if the solar energy system was acquired with a loan, the seller will be responsible for paying it off, meaning that the buyer will receive ownership of the panels without having to fork out any additional cash.

Purchasing a home with a leased system, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated. Solar leases typically last up to 20 years and can be expensive to buy out of. Some solar leases have escalating payments and may raise the buyer’s debt-to-income ratio, so take care to review the contract thoroughly before purchasing a house with a leased solar power system. It is still very possible to benefit from buying a house with a leased solar power system, but it’s always a good idea to cover your bases.

2. Which company manufactured the panels?

In addition to providing you with information about quality, asking the seller who manufactured the solar panels will shed light on available warranties and give you important insights as to how long the equipment will be covered for.

3. Who installed the system?

On top of the equipment warranties offered by manufacturers, many solar installers offer their own workmanship warranties to cover labor. It’s not a bad idea to talk to the seller and find out which company installed the solar array so that you have a full understanding of all warranties available to you, as well as know who to contact in the event that something goes awry with the system.

4. How big is the solar energy system?

Knowing the size of the solar array is essential — this information will help you to determine how much electricity use the system has the ability to offset, as well as how much you will save on your energy bill. You may even consider asking the seller to provide you with past electricity bills to give you a better point of reference.

5. Is net metering available?

Depending on home location and utility company, some solar owners are eligible for net metering, which allows you to sell excess electricity produced by your solar panels back to the grid. This is another factor that should be discussed with the seller, as it will help you to figure out how much you have the potential to save on your monthly energy bill.

Photo by Pexels

Sarah Hancock educates consumers about the workings of the solar industry to help people make decisions that benefit both their own interests and the environment. Connect with her on the Best Company Solar Blog and on Twitter.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.