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

5 Facts You May Not Know About Installing Solar


Over the past few years, solar panels have gone from a rare sighting to a common occurrence on rooftops across America. Thanks to the financial and environmental benefits of installing solar panels, this renewable energy technology shows no signs of slowing down. Here are five facts you may not know about going solar. 

Installing solar has never been cheaper – and costs are still falling

The solar industry is getting more efficient in both manufacturing solar equipment and installing panels, which is good news for solar shoppers. Thanks to consistent advances in technology and more efficient installations, the cost of going solar fell by nine percent over the past year alone. Even better, the average EnergySage Solar Marketplace shopper broke even on their solar purchase in just seven years. As conventional energy prices increase, solar will become an even better investment than it already is. 

Utility policies mean that you can get credit for your excess solar power

Utilities in almost every state make it possible for homeowners to get the most out of their solar panel installations through a program known as net metering. When your solar panels produce more energy than you can use on-site, the extra kilowatt-hours (kWh) are sent back to the grid. In exchange, you receive credits on your electric bill. Then, when you use more energy than your solar panels are producing, you can draw down on your credits instead of having to pay the utility for electricity.

Thanks to net metering, you can effectively “bank” your extra solar power to use at night, when it’s cloudy, or whenever your panels aren’t operating at peak production. As a result of net metering, you don’t need a battery, and you don’t have to stress about perfectly matching your home’s energy use to your solar panel system’s production. 

Your home insurance policy can protect your panels

While solar panel costs are definitely falling, installing them still costs money, and you’ll want to ensure they’re protected in the unlikely event they get damaged. Luckily, when you install solar panels on your roof, they are typically considered part of your home, which means that they are covered as part of a standard homeowner’s insurance policy. (Note: every insurance policy is different – be sure to confirm with your insurance agent that your solar panels are included.) 

In many states, HOA policies cannot prevent a solar installation

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association (HOA), you may have already gone through the experience of getting approval for various alterations to your property. Thanks to solar access laws in many states, HOAs are limited in the restrictions they can put on your solar installation.

 Your HOA does still have the right to place some restrictions on how you install solar on your property for aesthetic reasons (such as requiring that panels are mounted low to the roof, or prohibiting ground-mounted solar). However, if your state has a solar access law, your HOA cannot legally prohibit you from installing solar on your property.

Solar panels are extremely durable, and require almost no maintenance 

Solar panels may be made of glass, but you don’t have to worry about them being damaged by inclement weather. Panel manufacturers conduct rigorous tests to make sure that your panels will resist falling hail and strong winds, and real-world experience has shown that solar panels can withstand intense weather conditions. 

In fact, solar panels are practically a “set it and forget it” home improvement. They require little to no maintenance over their lifetime – as long as you live in an area where it rains occasionally, you don’t even need to wash them. Considering that they save you tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetime, why wouldn’t you consider going solar?

The best part of going solar – it's easy! 

The environmental and financial benefits of going solar make your decision a no-brainer. Tools like the EnergySage Solar Marketplace make it easy to find the right solar option for you, at the right price. On EnergySage, you can find pre-vetted solar installers near you and compare all of their offers side-by-side to find the best deal on a long-lasting, sustainable, and reliable solar energy system. 

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of  EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the option that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's 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.

New Water Purification Technology Uses Sunlight

waterGuihua Yu, an associate professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, has discovered a revolutionary water purification method using sunlight and “hydrogels”.

Every week, approximately 30,000 people die due to the consumption and use of contaminated and unsanitary water. While most of these occur in developing countries, the United States is still vulnerable to illness from contaminated or unsanitary water sources, particularly after natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms.

Due to the growing number of unsanitary water-related deaths around the globe, Yu has been developing a new and cost-efficient method for purifying water, using sunlight and “hydrogels”, which are networks of polymer chains known for their high water absorbency. Possessing both hydrophilic (attraction to water) qualities and semiconducting (solar-adsorbing) properties, these hydrogels enable the production of clean, safe drinking water from any source, whether it is from the oceans or contaminated supplies.

Current methods of purifying water are incredibly costly, and rely on optical instruments to concentrate sunlight. The UT Austin team has developed nanostructured gels that require far less energy, only needing naturally occurring levels of ambient sunlight to run while also being capable of significantly increasing the volume of water that can be evaporated. The hydrogels allow for water vapor to be generated under direct sunlight and then pumped to a condenser for freshwater delivery.

Since salt is one of the most difficult substances to remove from water, Yu used this new technology to desalinate water from the Dead Sea, an incredibly salt-dense body of water. Using the hydrogels and sunlight, UT engineers were able to reduce salinity from Dead Sea samples significantly after putting them through the hydrogel process. In fact, they achieved levels that met accepted drinking water standards as outlined by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This was done at an extremely low cost compared to other methods of desalination.

Because salt is one of the most difficult substances to separate from water, researchers have also successfully demonstrated the hydrogels’ capacity for filtering out a number of other common contaminants found in water that are considered unsafe for consumption.

Yu believes that this method can become commercialized, and has begun preparing his research team for the possibility of requests from industry to conduct further tests.

The potential impact of this new technology could be global, helping many struggling communities and countries gain easy access to clean water, using sunlight and hydrogels.

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.

Off-Grid Homesteading in Vermont

Off-Grid Vermont Homestead 

We always knew we wanted to homestead in Vermont.  We’ve lived other places, but none resonated as “our place” more than Vermont.  It’s the little things here, like the complete lack of billboards, that make the everyday scenery more magical.

We searched for land that we could afford and kept coming up short.  Like many young couples, we were impatient.  When we finally found our homestead, it was everything we’d ever dreamed.  Plenty of space to stretch out, a greenhouse, a pond and mature woodlands.  The main attraction was that it was well back from the road, but that meant something else…it was off the grid.

I know many people dream of moving off-grid, but that was never part of the plan.  We’re not tinkerers, and neither of us are mechanically inclined.  Our homesteading ambitions were more focused on gardening and time in nature, and we didn’t know the first thing about solar or wind power.

We were young and decided that there’s no time like the present to learn. Over the years we’ve learned a lot about managing our system, but for the most part, we’ve been surprised at just how much electricity a few panels can generate.  Even in Vermont, far to the north, we have more electricity than we can use nine months of the year.

Before we moved, we assumed we’d have to give up just about every electrical appliance we owned.  Now we’re actually buying “summer appliances” to make use of the free electricity we have so much of the year.  In truth, our off-grid home has more luxuries than our suburban home ever had.

The winter months are still hard.  The days are short, and it takes a long time for the solar panels to clear after snow and ice storms.  We’d be fine sitting by the fire reading a good book, but since we were so impatient to get onto land as soon as possible, we still need to make a living to pay for it.

With a little creativity, we’ve managed to work out ways to make a living off-grid without ever leaving our homestead.  Many of the ways we make income require a dependable internet connection, which means dependable power, which means we run the generator more than we’d like from December to February.

It's Been a Learning Process

So what is the hardest thing about transitioning to off-grid? For me, it’s admitting how little I know.  More often than not, when something breaks it’s a simple fix, but it can be time-consuming and frustrating to trace it down.  We blew a single fuse that shut down our electricity for days until we traced the problem.  One $20 trip to the hardware store later and our house was back up and running. 

Problems like that are hard to explain to our friends.  When your washing machine breaks, you can call a repair person.  They’re standardized, and there are repair manuals.  Every off-grid installation is a bit different, and it took us years to find a repair person that can help us when things are over our heads.  Solar companies these days have experience installing panels and setting up net metering systems, but once batteries are involved it’s hard to find someone willing to help.

We’ve been on our land for 6 years now, and we’re loving it.  For now, we’re working on reducing our expenses as much as possible so we can pay off our home before we hit 40.  We’re also planning for the long term.

A big part of our homesteading dream was to be able to produce all of our own food, or as close as we could get.  We’re willing to make exceptions for flour and salt, but beyond that our goal is to grow and forage just about everything.  We’re planning our root cellar now to be built this summer or next, and we’ve already planted an orchard with enough storage varieties to supply us with fruit all year.

Things just got a bit more complicated now that we have two young children, but this is the only life they’ve ever known.  They’ve never seen a television, and my not quite 3-year-old daughter can identify most the trees in our woods by their bark.  She’ll calmly sit and teach her baby doll all about mushrooms, and how to identify morels and chanterelles. 

This is the life we dreamed of when we were sitting behind desks at our corporate jobs, and 6 years into our journey, I can't imagine ever going back.  My “promising career” is shot, and my resume has a 6 year whole that I can only explain as “off living life.”  I wouldn’t trade that decision for anything.

Ashley lives in a solar and wind powered home in Vermont with her husband and two young children.  She writes about gardening, foraging, DIY and all things off-grid aPractical Self Reliance.  You can find pictures of her homestead adventures on Instagram, or follow along on Facebook or 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.

3 Tips for Selling a Home with Solar Panels


More than one million homes in the United States currently have a solar PV system installed and are being powered by energy from the sun. If you live in one of these homes but need to relocate, check out these tips before selling your house to ensure that the sale goes more smoothly.

Understand the Details of Your Solar Purchase or Lease

On average, a solar energy system adds about $15,000 to a home's sale price. However, it's important to note that this increase in value typically only applies if the solar energy system has been purchased with cash or a loan. With leased solar energy systems and power purchase agreements (PPAs), selling the home becomes a bit messier because solar equipment is attached to the house, but it belongs to someone else (usually a solar company or other third-party). This can be a deterrent to some buyers, especially if they have to take on a contract that still has several years left on it.

Before putting your home on the market, review the details of your purchase or lease. If you purchased the system with a loan that still has a balance, you'll need to pay off the remainder. If you signed into a lease or a PPA, talk to the solar company and figure out what your options are. In most cases, you'll be required to either pay off the rest of the contract or find a buyer that's willing to assume it. However, some solar companies offer the option to move the system to your new residence, either at no cost or for a small fee.

It's a good idea to figure all the options that are available to you, and then decide which one makes the most sense for your particular situation.

Put together Resources for Potential Buyers

Once you have an understanding of the details of your solar purchase or lease, put together a folder of important information and resources that you can give to potential buyers. For example, if the system is leased, include an explanation of the lease payment, how much time is left on the contract, and the steps for transferring the lease. If the system is purchased, find out whether or not the warranties from the solar company will cover the second homeowner, and if so, for how many years.

Providing these resources will make the buyer feel informed and empowered to make a decision that is beneficial to them.

Choose Your Real Estate Agent Wisely

If you're using a real estate agent to sell your home, be sure that the agent you choose to work with understands the value that a solar energy system can bring to a home and knows how to market that value appropriately. It's not a bad idea to find a real estate agent who has already sold homes that have solar energy systems and knows what it takes to get the job done.

The more informed and experienced the real estate agent is when it comes to selling homes with solar systems, the higher the likelihood that you'll be able to sell your home with ease and get the most out of the value your solar energy system brings to the table.

Photo credit the American Advisors Group on Flickr

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.

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.

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