Using renewable energy resources to make your own electricity is one of the most exciting and rewarding DIY activities you can undertake. In an era when utility companies keep increasing their charges and there are continuing threats to supply from destructive weather conditions, it makes sense to diversify your energy supply options and get at least some degree of independence from the standard electricity supply grid. Best of all, the available options for harnessing the forces of nature and making your own electricity have been around for hundreds, if not thousands of years, so there is plenty of information and experience out there that you can draw upon.
To help you decide on the best approach for your particular situation, here is an overview of two excellent home energy sources, wind and solar.
Wind power has been used by many cultures throughout history to undertake the basic functions needed for survival, such as moving water and grinding grain. However, it is only in the last century or so that humankind has found a way to harness the power of wind and convert it into electrical energy that can be used for a much wider range of functions. Fortunately, it is not necessary to have a giant, Dutch-style windmill in your backyard in order to achieve this. You can now buy small turbines that can be mounted on a tall pole on your property and connected to a battery storage system in a small shed or even within your own home. You can then draw on the stored power to run your lights and appliances.
To run such a system, you clearly need to live in an area where there are enough windy periods to top up your batteries. It is also worth bearing in mind that small turbines make some noise which may annoy close neighbors. Check with your local authority before installing a turbine, and also have a chat to your neighbors to see how they feel about it. Who knows, you may even be able to form a collective with one or two of them and set up a shared system that will reduce the installation and running costs. Any approach that yields some benefit for your neighbors will be helpful in winning them over. A backyard wind turbine is unlikely to supply all of your power needs, but at least it will give you some precious power supply diversity and independence from the grid.
The other main option for homeowners to produce their own electricity is to set up an array of photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, that convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The panels can be mounted to the roof of your house or shed, aligned to ” catch” the maximum amount of solar energy.
If you own a large area of land, you can even set up an array out in some convenient location away from your house. The setup costs will be higher, as ” fit for purpose” mountings will need to be dug into the ground, but this approach can allow for a larger number of panels and the opportunity to have an automatic tracking system that changes panel orientation as the sun crosses the sky.
There are several options for using the solar electricity you create. The first is to feed it straight back into the grid and get paid by the utility company for doing so. The amount you get paid per kilowatt-hour (kWh) is known as the ” feed-in tariff.” Typically, this is a good deal less than the amount you would pay to buy that same unit of energy from the company. If the feed-in tariff is especially low, it could take you many years to recoup your installation costs. For those with an interest in technical matters, a kWh is the amount of energy generated when one kilowatt of power is maintained for one hour.
Before you make a decision on installing solar panels, it is important to do a calculation of how much electricity you are likely to generate in any given year and how much you will be paid for feeding that back into the grid. This will help you to estimate how long it will take to recoup your installation costs.
Another, more sophisticated option which is becoming the norm these days is to draw directly on the electricity created to run whatever appliances and lights you use during the day, with any excess being fed back into the grid.
A third option is to use solar batteries to store excess power for use during the night or on cloudy days. Again, any power generated beyond your immediate or storage needs can be sold to the grid. The cost of solar storage batteries is still somewhat prohibitive, but is likely to improve dramatically in the next few years as efficiencies of production and power storage improve.
Both solar and wind energy sources are readily available and can be adapted to fit most residential properties. They offer homeowners a great opportunity to save money and achieve a degree of independence from the local utility company. Solar panels are probably more acceptable than wind turbines in a suburban setting, but the latter are definitely worth consideration. In either case you will end up better off financially and have the additional reward of knowing that you have helped in the global shift away from hydrocarbon energy sources.