Power to the People with Green / Renewable Energy

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Power Micro-Hydropower Wind Turbine Power Biomass Geothermal Heat Pump

Geothermal Heating & Cooling Purchasing Green Power or Renew- able Energy Credits (RECs)

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ENERGY

RENEWABLE

GREEN or

We live in a wonderful world where brilliant people are working diligently to develop residential green and renewable energy sources. For example, there are systems that use wind or bio fuel to generate electricity. It is even possible to pay a small fee to some utility companies for green energy, usually produced

from biomass resources, wind, or solar energy.

Many homeownersbelievegreen oralternative energy is only available through large commercial operations. Happily, this is not accurate. New technology allows homeowners to take advantage of renewable energy sources like wind.

Familiarity with the available options is the first step to making an informed decision. By harnessing the wind, the earth’s heat, or even water power in small hydro systems, homes can be less grid- dependent. At certain times of the year, it might even be possible to achieve grid-independence. Renewable energy systems can be integrated with electrical systems, so power is available 24 hours a day, all year round, but at much lower cost.

This section reviews various residential green energy and renewable energy options. The concepts contained here might be surprising because we have been conditioned to think of electricity, natural gas, and coal as our primary sources of power generation. However, there are other eco-friendly options that are kinder and gentler to energy bills as well as to the natural environment.

Back to Basics: Using Biomass as an Alternative Fuel Source

What is it?

Before we began using fossil fuels as our main source of energy, biomass kept us warm. Now that scientists have established the environmental hazards of long- term dependence on fossil fuels, many individuals and businesses are returning to more natural “biofuels,” such as wood and energy crops. We can power our vehicles with biodiesel and bioethanol, while heating and powering our homes and workplaces with biomass boilers. The chief advantage of using biomass lies in the fact that it does not produce carbon that will remain permanently in the atmosphere. And because organic waste contains biomass, we can essentially recycle that waste into fuel, spending less money in the process.

Why do it?

Environmental Qualities:

Recycles organic waste

No carbon footprint (i.e. doesn’t produce permanent atmospheric carbon)

Renewable resource

Pros:

Often cheaper than fossil fuels

In some cases, allows you to “go back to basics” to the days of wood-burning stoves

Increases fuel efficiency

Raises value of your home

Cons:

Constant maintenance (e.g. buying or gathering fuel)

Not always able to refuel vehicles at stations

NOT completely carbon-neutral, as the carbon produced takes a long time to return to the soil

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Pollutes the air for a significant length of time (especially if biomass undergoes incomplete combustion)

Uses agricultural land that would otherwise produce food

Cuts down trees (releasing a lot of carbon); by contrast, a standing forest stores carbon

Uses agricultural land that would otherwise produce food

Maintenance:

Must keep buying/procuring fuel in order to heat or power devices. The transport of fuels can prove counterproductive if it leaves a carbon footprint.

Timeline:

It may take a while to acquire enough fuel for your vehicle, heater, etc. You can’t always use the fuel right away (e.g. collected wood should be seasoned for a couple years).

Steps:

1.Determine the approximate cost of your current fuel usage and compare it to the cost of using a biofuel.

1. Find a retailer for both the device and the fuel. For wood

and organic waste, you’ll need to locate a supplier or use and

Cost Estimator:

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process the material that’s already on your property.

2. If buying a vehicle, make sure there are stations nearby that

carry biofuel, although you can procure the fuel yourself.

3. Make any necessary modifications to your home to

accommodate the new fuel source. You may be able to get a

professional installation, but you might have to build the fuel

source yourself.

There is the initial cost (hundreds to thousands of dollars) of purchasing or building the boiler, fireplace, generator, or vehicle. (However, biofuel-powered cars will not have a higher purchase cost than conventional ones). Then you must continually supply the device with fuel. Some fuel you can obtain cheaply (e.g. wood) but the rest (e.g. vegetable oil, etc.) you must buy (in bulk is best).

Quick Tips:

✓✓Don’t use fuel with more than 5% biodiesel in your car or you will invalidate your vehicle’s warranty. Ask the manufacturer first.

✓✓Age wood for one to years before use to reduce moisture and properly combust tars.

✓✓Wood pellets are more efficient but also more expensive.

Here are your options as far as devices: Heating

✓✓Biodiesel boiler (vegetable oil)

✓✓Biomass boiler (wood or organic waste) ✓✓Bioethanol fireplace (alcohol from crops) ✓✓Biomass fireplace (wood or organic waste)

Electricity

✓✓Biodiesel generator (vegetable oil)

✓✓Biomass generator (wood or organic waste)

Transport

✓✓Biodiesel car or truck (private); biodiesel train (public)

✓✓Bioethanol vehicle (few stations but can buy fuel yourself)

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Micro -

Hydropower

What is it?

Hydropower systems use the energy in flowing water to produce electricity or mechanical energy. Although there are several ways to harness moving water to produce energy, run-of-the-river systems (which do not require large storage reservoirs) are often used for micro-hydropower systems.

For run-of-the-river micro-hydropower systems, a portion of a river’s water is diverted and delivered to a turbine or waterwheel. The moving water rotates the wheel or turbine, which spins a shaft. The motion of the shaft can be used to power an alternator or generator to generate electricity.

Why do it?

Pros:

Environmentally friendly electricity not derived from fossil fuels—produces no greenhouse gases or pollutants

Pays for itself over time in energy bill savings

Provides energy security for the home in an off-grid system or when coupled with batteries

Energy can be produced around the clock

Potentially raises the value of the home

Cons:

Requires access to flowing water on the property. A sufficient quantity of falling water must be available, which usually (but not always) means that hilly or mountainous sites are best. Waterpower systems may not be permitted on certain streams and rivers.

Water flow can be affected by seasonal changes and climate fluctuations.

Initial installation costs can be high, but they may be able to be subsidized through local utility rebates and/or tax credits.

Maintenance:

Micro-hydro systems require regular (weekly or monthly) maintenance such as making sure the intake is not clogged, clearing out silt, checking for leaks, greasing machinery, tightening belts, etc. Depending on the design of the system, adjust the intake valve, nozzle, or guide vane occasionally to match the water flow into the turbine with the amount of power being used to conserve the water in the stream, especially in the dry season. If batteries are included with the system, they will need to be replaced every 5–10 years.

Timeline:

It will likely take longer to obtain all of the necessary permits to install your micro-hydropower system than it will to install it. Obtaining the permits could take weeks, or possibly years. Actual construction time depends on the size and type of system being installed. Larger projects that include a lot of heavy civil work could take weeks or longer to complete, while smaller systems can be completed in a few days.

Steps:

1.Before selecting system components and sizing a micro- hydropower system for your home, evaluate energy- consumption patterns and try to reduce electrical usage. Start by looking at utility bills over the past year and recognizing the electrical consumption trends to determine how much power the micro-hydropower system has to generate.

2.After determining how much power to generate, perform a feasibility site survey to determine the available water flow and head (vertical drop), and what length of pipe and wiring will be needed. The best way to accomplish this will be to contact a reputable contractor who has experience constructing micro- hydropower systems.

3.Know the local permit requirements and water rights. The first local point of contact should be the county engineer, then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The state energy office may be able to provide advice and assistance as well.

4.Also, determine the amount of water that can be diverted from the stream channel. Each state controls water rights, and you may need a separate water right to produce power. Construction and installation of a micro-hydropower system requires civil works and mechanical and electrical skills. It may be best to leave this to an experienced contractor, although if

1. you are skilled in these areas you may be able to do most of

the work yourself.

2. When construction is completed, commissioning, testing,

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and inspections must be performed to ensure the system is

constructed to code and is functioning correctly.

Quick Tips:

✓✓Since saving energy costs less than generating it, be sure the home is as energy efficient as possible, reducing electricity usage so that a larger than necessary system is not purchased.

✓✓Using a licensed contractor to install a micro- hydropower system can prevent problems with the system. Professional installers can also help with paperwork for tax credits and rebates. When researching construction contractors, it is a good idea to get more than one bid for the installation of the system. Make sure all bids are made on the same basis. Bids should also include the total cost of getting the system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, and permitting sales tax and warranty.

✓✓There may be utility rebates and/or tax incentives to help subsidize the cost of a micro- hydropower system. Search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (http:// www.dsireusa.org/) for more information.

✓✓Performing some of the unskilled manual labor and working with the contractor during construction can reduce labor costs substantially and provide invaluable experience in every aspect of the construction.

According to the Integration of Renewable Energy on Farms website, a low or ultra-low head system can cost $2,000–$9,000 per kilowatt, after installation. For systems less than 5 kW

in power output, the cost per kW is approximately $2,500 or higher because of the smaller size and the cost of additional components, such as a battery bank and inverter.

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Solar

Photovoltaic

(PV) Power

What is it?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are devices that convert light from the sun into electricity to power a home. These devices consist of numerous solar cells made of of a semiconductor material (typically silicon). The power generated is direct current (DC), which is then converted to alternating current (AC) through a Balance of System (BOS). The most common solar PV system for homeowners is a fixed, flat plate module installed on the roof. However, there are also PV systems that are installed on the ground and track the movement of the sun. Solar cells can be made of a thin film that can be put on rooftop shingles, tiles, building facades, or even some types of glazing. Solar PV systems can be large enough to power an entire home off the grid, or small enough to provide just enough power to heat a home’s supply of hot water. The BOS may also include storage devices such as batteries, so the solar power generated can be used on cloudy days and during local utility power outages.

Why do it?

Pros:

Generates environmentally friendly electricity not derived from fossil fuels

Doesn’t produce greenhouse gases or other pollutants

Pays for itself over time

Provides energy security for the home during local utility outages

Will typically raise the value of a home

Cons:

The amount of electricity generated by a PV system depends on the amount of sunlight it receives (solar PV systems need to face as close to due south as possible to receive the most sunlight).

Certain types of solar PV systems may be against the local Homeowners Association (HOA) guidelines or rules.

Initial installation costs can be expensive, but they may able to be subsidized through local utility rebates and/or tax credits.

Maintenance:

Maintenance of the solar PV system depends on the type of system installed. Systems with moving parts that track the location of the sun may require more maintenance than fixed systems. In general, basic maintenance requires a periodic check of system components and completion of any preventive maintenance such as cleaning the solar panels, making sure the panels have an unobstructed view of the sun, checking for signs

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of degradation, and tightening any loose nuts and bolts. Once a year, have an installer come and inspect the system.

Timeline:

Installation time depends on the type and size of the system. Most PV systems can be installed in a few days. It can take a while, however, to submit the paperwork and qualify for any solar rebates, credits, or incentives prior to installation of the system, in addition to getting HOA approval and building permits. If you’re planning to set up a net metering system or install a battery backup for a home not tied to the grid, it may take the utility company a bit longer to set up.

Steps:

1.Before selecting system components and sizing a PV system, you need to

2.evaluate the energy consumption patterns and try to reduce electrical usage. Start by looking at utility bills over the past year and recognizing electrical consumption trends. 2. If you find your home will benefit from a PV system, consider how much electricity it needs to provide. Systems rated at 1-5 kilowatts are generally sufficient to meet residential needs.

3.When installing a PV system, consider:

How much sun shines directly on the system and for how long

How large the system needs to be to meet electricity needs

Where the system will be located and how much room

it needs (known as system siting)

Whether the system is to be connected to the grid or not

What needs to be done to ensure that the system is safe

1.Before purchasing a home solar electric system, research local permits and neighborhood or HOA covenant requirements. You need to obtain permits from the city or county building department, and the plans may need to be submitted to the HOA for approval first. The PV installer will typically do this.

2.Make any necessary roof repairs before installing solar PV panels on it. If the roof is more than 15 years old, consider replacing it when purchasing the solar electric system. Make sure the roof will be able to hold the weight of the system, which is estimated at 3-5 lbs. per square foot, depending on the type of technology used and installation methods.

3.Select a PV contractor to design and install the system. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) maintains a list of certified system installers. The U.S. Department of Energy sponsors a website called www.Find- Solar.org that provides a list of local certified installers by zip code and company name.

4.After construction, the PV system will be tested and inspected to ensure it complies with all applicable building codes.

Cost Estimator:

Solar electric systems average $8-$10 per watt installed, but new technologies are decreasing these costs. Before rebates and tax credits, the average 2 kW system will cost between $16,000 and $20,000. However, the cost per watt usually goes down as the system size increases, so a 5 kW system may be installed for $35,000 ($7 per watt). Depending on where your home is located, the cost for a 5 kW system could be reduced to $2.50 per watt after rebates and tax credits.

Quick Tips:

✓✓The numerous incentives for buying a solar electric system include federal tax credits, state tax credits, utility rebates, and property tax credits in some states. Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) at http://www. dsireusa.org/) for a list of these incentives. Find-Solar.org has a cost calculator that includes federal and state incentives for different areas.

✓✓For maximum performance, a solar electric system needs about 100 square feet of unshaded south-facing roof or yard space for every kilowatt of electricity produced. Thin-film systems may require 175 square feet of space per kilowatt. If the roof does not face south, a solar electric system can still be used, but the performance will be about 5% less with a southeast or southwest-facing system. Eastern, western, and northern exposures are not recommended for solar electric systems.

✓✓If you don’t have a south-facing roof or adequate roof space, consider a ground or pole-mounted solar system, which can be installed with the same orientation and tilt as a roof-mounted system.

✓✓Local zoning laws may restrict where collectors can be placed. Check with the city, county, or HOA to find out about restrictions. You’ll need to obtain any local permits required

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before installation. Many states have net metering laws that require utility companies to give homeowners credit for excess power produced by their solar electric systems. Accordingly, local utility companies give credit for every kilowatt- hour of solar power not consumed by the home, reducing the electricity bill by the same amount.

✓✓If you can’t purchase a system outright, you may be able to finance the system through resources such as home refinance, first mortgages, construction loans, and home equity loans. Some solar PV vendors even finance the systems themselves in a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

✓✓Using a professional, licensed contractor to install the solar electric system can prevent problems with the system caused by improper installation and maintenance. Professional installers will also help with the paperwork for tax credits and rebates.

✓✓It’s a good idea to acquire more than one bid for the installation of the PV system. All bids should be made on the same basis, and should include the total cost of getting the PV system up and running, including hardware, installation, connection to the grid, permitting, sales tax and warranty.

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Wind

Turbine

Power

What is it?

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A wind electric system is made up of a wind turbine mounted on a tower, which provides better access to stronger winds. When the wind spins the wind turbine’s blades, a rotor captures the kinetic energy of the wind and converts it into rotary motion to drive a generator that produces electricity.

Why do it?

Pros:

Gives environmentally friendly electricity that is not derived from fossil fuels, and doesn’t produce greenhouse gases or other pollutants

Will pay for itself over time

Provides energy security for the home in an off-grid system (or when coupled with batteries)

Will typically raise the value of a home

First installation costs may be subsidized through local utility rebates and/or tax credits.

Cons:

The amount of electricity generated by a wind turbine system depends on the amount of wind it receives

Certain types of wind turbine systems may be against Homeowners Association (HOA) guidelines and/or rules

Potential noise generation, although a residential-sized wind turbine is not a significant source of noise under most wind conditions.

Maintenance:

If you don’t have the expertise to maintain the system, the installer may provide a service and maintenance program. Annual maintenance includes:

Checking and tightening bolts and electrical connections as necessary

Checking machines for corrosion, and the guy-wires for proper tension

Checking for and replacing any worn leading edge tape on the turbine blades

Replacing the turbine blades and/or bearings every 10 years

Timeline:

It takes longer to obtain HOA approval and all of the necessary building permits (several weeks or more) than it does to actually install the turbine (about 2 weeks).

Steps:

1.Determine what size system is necessary, depending on how much power is needed. It is helpful to analyze prior utility bills to determine annual electrical usage, and then decide what percentage of total wind-generated power is necessary.

2.Before investing in a small wind energy system, research potential zoning and neighborhood covenant issues.

3.Research the amount of wind that can be generated in your area. A wind power resource map can be found at http://www. windpoweringamerica.gov/windmaps/residential_scale.asp

4.Select a site for the turbine, ensuring it’s in the proper location to receive enough wind, and that there is enough room to take the tower down for maintenance and for guy-wires, if necessary.

5.Consider the length of wire run from the turbine to the home. The longer the length, the more power efficiency is lost.

6.Once you determine that you can install a wind energy system in compliance with local land-use requirements, you can purchase a system and components. Comparatively shop for a wind system; obtain and review the product literature from several different manufacturers. Lists of manufacturers are available from the American Wind Energy Association and the Distributed Wind Energy Association, but not all small turbine manufacturers are members of these organizations.

7.The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners offers consumers a list of certified installers and sales professionals. The Small Wind Certification Council provides independent certification of small wind turbines and consumer information, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) National Wind Technology Center provides information about their small wind turbine testing and development.

8.After finding a list of certified installers, contact the Better Business Bureau. Ask for references from past customers with installations similar to the one being considered. Ask the system owners about performance, reliability, maintenance, repair requirements, and whether the system is meeting their expectations. Find out how long the warranty lasts and what it includes.

Cost Estimator:

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Quick Tips:

✓✓A typical home uses approximately 11,500 kilowatt- hours (kWh) of electricity per year (about 960 kWh per month). Depending on the average wind speed in your area, you would need a wind turbine rated in the 5–15 kW range to make a significant contribution to this demand. For instance, a 1.5-kW wind turbine will meet the needs of a home requiring 300 kWh per month in a location with a 14 MPH (6.26 meters per second) annual average wind speed.

✓✓Wind turbine manufacturers can help you gauge the system based on your electricity needs and the specifics of local wind patterns. The manufacturer can provide you with the expected annual energy output of the turbine as a function of annual average wind speed.

✓✓The Wind Energy Payback Period Workbook is a spreadsheet tool to help analyze the economics of a small wind electric system and decide whether wind energy is feasible.

✓✓There may be utility rebates and/or tax incentives to help subsidize the cost of a wind turbine. For more information, search the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (http://www.dsireusa. org/)

Installation costs vary greatly depending on local zoning, permitting and utility interconnection costs. Depending on these considerations, as well as the size of the turbine, small wind energy systems have an average cost of approximately $6,040 per kilowatt installed.

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Purchasing

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Green Power

 

or

 

Renewable

 

Energy

 

Credits

 

(RECs)

 

What is it?

 

Green power is generated by a renewable source such as wind, solar, biomass, hydrodynamic, or geothermal. Approximately 25% of the electricity service providers around the United States offer their customers the ability to purchase green power. If your energy provider does not have this option, but you are still interested in the environmental benefits of green power, you can purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). RECs provide buyers the flexibility to offset a percentage of their annual electricity use when green power products may not be available locally. RECs are usually sold in megawatt-hour (MWh) units, separately from the underlying physical electricity associated with a renewable source.

Why do it?

Pros:

Green power comes from a renewable source that is continuously replenished in a short period of time.

Purchasing RECs helps reduce a home’s environmental impact by reducing CO2 emissions and other air pollutants.

Could hedge against future electricity price increases for certain products

Cons:

There is a price premium for most types of green power

Maintenance:

from conventional electricity.

Timeline:

Contact local service providers to see what the timeline is for purchasing green power.

Steps:

1.Go to EPA’s Green Power Locator to find a list of local utilities and REC-certified marketers that sell green power in your area.

2.Contact local providers to find out what the process is for purchasing green power.

Cost Estimator:

There is no maintenance associated with consuming green power. The power that comes to your home is the same power

Green power is not a one-time cost. Contact your local electric provider to see what their rates are for green power. The average

premium for green power is approximately 2–3 cents per kWh. Voluntary RECs currently cost, on average, about $1–3 per MWh but, in the past, have cost as much as $9/MWh. Typically utility companies will sell green power in one of three ways: a fixed energy block (typically 100 kWh); a percentage of the homeowner’s total monthly energy usage; or a long term fixed price contract. (The latter is not typical for homeowners.)

Quick Tips:

✓✓The EPA strongly encourages homeowners who want to purchase green power to find those that are certified by an independent third party. Certification helps ensure the quality of green power products.

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