Renewable energy comes from sources that will last indefinitely. Your basic options at home are solar, wind, and hydropower (generating electricity via moving water).

Solar Energy

If the sun shines on your house or yard, you may be able to use solar energy to heat your house or your water.

You may also want to consider installing a photovoltaic (PV) system to generate electricity. A PV professional can analyze your site’s solar potential and recommend the best way to capture that solar energy. Mount solar modules on the roof? On a pole? Tracking or fixed mount? Ask an expert.

Here’s a four-stage plan for adding solar energy to your home:

  1. Energy efficiency. Before you install any solar energy system, make some basic energy efficiency upgrades to your home. Spray foam, cellulose insulation, and CFLs are much less expensive than solar modules.
  2. More energy efficiency. If you install PV at this point, you’re probably still spending extra to pay for energy that’s being wasted. Go back and find more ways to make your home energy efficient. These upgrades may be more expensive than the improvements you made in step 1, but they’re still less expensive than PV.
  3. Solar electric. Once you’ve completed the first two steps, installing new PV panels will be worth the expense. Because the price of PV has fallen so much in recent years, this step has moved ahead of solar thermal in many cases.
  4. Solar thermal. It used to be cheaper to turn solar energy directly into usable heat than to turn it into electricity. In many cases, that’s no longer true. Coupling PV panels with a heat pump water heater or even an electric-resistance water heater is often more cost-effective than using a solar water heater. But if your home is off the utility grid, you live in a warm and sunny climate, or you can get a really good deal on a solar water heater, solar thermal may still be your best option. Have a professional evaluate your situation and compare the cost-effectiveness of the two options.

In some areas, tax incentives and rebates can help cover the cost of installing solar thermal and PV systems. Such programs can make it cost-effective to go solar right away.

Wind Power

Small-scale wind power may be an option if you have sufficient space and plenty of wind. To capture this resource, you’ll need a tower to get the turbine away from the turbulence near the ground. If your home fills the bill, you could easily generate a lot of excess power to sell back to the utility company.

Hydropower

Hydropower can be one of the most environmentally friendly and least-expensive sources of electricity for your home, but you’ve got to have a water source on your property, and it’s got to have a significant flow and some vertical drop. Got a creek? If so, have a micro-hydropower pro take a look at your site’s feasibility.

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