Alternative Home Energy Systems

What alternative home energy systems would work best for your home? What are the relative merits of residential solar, wind, geothermal and hydro systems? Are there any other alternative forms of energy that are viable at present?

And just how competitive, cost-effective and energy-efficient are these alternative home energy options compared to being connected to the grid? That, to a large extent will depend on your local electrical utility rates, which can vary enormously. It will also depend whether your grid is part of a feed-in tariff program or not. If it is then small residential power producers are actually rebated at preferential rates for any surplus power that they produce which is then fed back into the grid.

Whether or not a particular alternative home energy system is desirable or not will also depend on the homeowners time horizon for recovering the investment. Some may be happy to wait 20 years while for others 5 years is too long. Because the tecnologies are maturing so fast and increasing demand driving down costs, most homeowners contemplating these systems might think it makes more sense to wait awhile.

This is particularly true with

solar photovoltaics at present. How's the return on investment on a residential solar system as of 2011? Pretty good it would seem. According to the Economist, in Britain anyone who pays the £12,000 that a standard panel system typically costs can expect a return of around 10% for 25 years. And that in a country not exactly known for it's sunny days. So it seems like solar has a bright future and is a good alternative home energy option.

How about wind? As this article, again from the Economist, points out residential wind power is somewhat more dependent upon variables such as, no surprise, local wind velocities and zoning restrictions. Steady wind seldom occurs with enough frequency to make residential wind power anything more than a backup system. There are also other factors affecting performance such as topography, the height of turbine above the ground and turbulence caused by surrounding structures. All of which suggest that wind systems might not provide the reliable returns that solar can and, given the fickle nature of wind in most locations, that outlook is unlikely to change much despite technical advances.

Okay, how about residential geothermal power? In my experience, the inital costs of installing a

geothermal heat pump system are pretty steep, not the least of which are the drilling costs. An average installed system runs around USD30,000. Some of the pros and cons are discussed here.

Once up and running, you can expect home geothermal systems to provide long and dependable service, and to pay for themselves in a relatively short period of time. And of course they are emissions-free. But there's no getting around the fact that they're not cheap and not something the average do-it-yourselfer would want to attempt to duplicate on his own although I'm sure plenty have tried. Don't forget that the same results can be achieved with earth sheltering, which is just another way of tapping into geothermal energy.

On to residential hydro systems... It should be noted that it is highly unlikely that this is a viable option for the average homeowner, but then what's average about alternative homes? For the off-gridders, remote communities, ranches etc. with access to creeks/streams with the right circumstances, according to this micro hydro systems article if you're one of the lucky few, you'd have to be crazy not to go hydro.

They claim that micro hydro systems have demonstrated that water power will produce between 10 and 100 times more power than PV or wind for the same capital investment and that nobody should not consider other options unless there is no stream available within two kilometers. That's a pretty ringing endorsement.

Finally, are there other possibilities for alternative home energy that are available in the here and now? Well, despite numerous claims on the internet that you to can build your own perpetual energy machine(???) to solve all your energy problems forever, I found no evidence to support the idea that anyone has actually done so. As of this writing, it seems highly unlikely that there is any such thing as an free lunch energy-wise and certainly not one that we can use to power up our homes. Sorry about that.

Residential Wind Turbines

Do-It-Yourself Solar Power

Solar Power Cost

Home Hydroelectric Power

Zero Energy Homes

Alternative Energy Incentives

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