By Debbie Van Der Hyde, Sierra Club Green Home
Are you thinking about installing solar panels, a wind turbine, or a geothermal heating and cooling system for your home? Do you want to create your own electricity from renewable resources? How do you work with your local utility to set up net metering to sell unused energy back to the grid?
Before starting down the residential renewables path, make sure you are already maximizing your home energy conservation efforts. Review our article 10 Quick Ways to Green Your Home, or check the US Department of Energy site for more ideas.
Once you’ve got your home and behaviors as green as can be, think about your goals for energy production. Do you want to reduce your energy costs? Make money from an abundant natural resource on your property? And how important is the length of the payback period for your investment?
Solar, wind, and geothermal all are free and sustainable resources, but the initial residential installation costs are higher than conventional electrical or heating and cooling systems. Solar and wind also are variable resources, meaning that they are not available 24/7—so the energy produced must be used, stored, or sold back to a utility. In contrast, geothermal is a steady resource but must be tapped through pipes installed deep within the ground. (See our stories on solar and wind orgeothermal for more information.)
Four steps to becoming a renewable energy resident
Call your local utility to understand which renewable options and resources are available in your area. According to a workshop co-sponsored by Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (NW SEED) and Puget Sound Energy, homeowners can take four steps to become part of the local energy movement:
Step 1: Assess needs. Determine how much energy you currently use and estimate costs to install solar panels, a small wind turbine, or a geothermal pump.
- Solar: Depending on the installer, solar photovoltaic panels can cost approximately $6,000 to $9,000 per kilowatt (kW) installed. The size of the installation depends on your energy needs and the square footage of your home, with a typical installation averaging between three and eight kWs. Annual operating costs are minimal beyond periodically washing the panels. Homeowners also can purchase basic panel checkup plans from their solar contractor.
- Wind: Small wind turbines can be approximately $20,000 installed. Ongoing operating costs also are very low, and the environmental benefits can offset these costs over the lifetime of the system. In some cases, micro-turbines and roof-mounted wind units may cost less; however, some experts have concerns that the technology still is unproven. Be sure to do your homework if you explore this route.
- Geothermal: According to the Geothermal Exchange Organization, geothermal installation prices will vary based on home size, climate zone, excavation needs and the model of pump chosen. A general rule of thumb is $20,000 to $30,000 for a 2,000- to 3,000-square-foot home. These costs can be recouped over time, as customers will save approximately 50 percent on their utility bills, plus eliminate the costs of oil, propane, or natural gas.
Certain states and regions offer energy production incentives for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced with wind and solar as well as tax exemptions for systems less than one kW in size. The federal government also is offering until the year 2016 a 30-percent tax credit for the installed cost of small wind systems and geothermal pumps. Your state energy office or local utility may offer rebates for renewable energy systems as well. (For more information on state incentives, see the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency .) (continued on page 2 link below)