Today is Blog Action Day, a day in which over 15,000 blogs will be discussing one very important topic – the environment. I am proud to join these other blogs to help bring attention to environmental awareness.
I chose to write about green energy because it fascinates me. The fact that we have technology that harnesses earth’s forces to give us sustainable sources of power is an encouraging sign that eventually, we will not be so reliant on petroleum – and its high costs and environmental side effects. Here are a few sustainable energy sources that will one day lessen our need for oil, coal, and other fossil fuels.
Alternative green energy sources that can be used to power or heat homes:
Solar Panels - Solar panels harness power from the most abundant power source on earth – solar energy. Solar cells convert light energy into electrical energy by converting photons into electrons (end of science talk). Solar panels have been used for years in remote locations and in outer space, and are now becoming more popular for residential and commercial uses.
Unfortunately, a solar panel system large enough to power a residential size home costs between $15,000-30,000. The federal government offers tax deductions to people and businesses who install a solar power system and many individual states have also followed suit. However, in most cases, solar panels are still far too expensive to be used as a mainstream source of electric power. The encouraging news is that prices continue to drop and solar panel technology continues to improve.
Home users of solar panels generally tie their house into the power grid so they can access power when solar energy is not providing enough power for their home. Another benefit to this is that excess power can be sold back to the power company. Depending on how much energy your house uses versus how much it produces, it is possible to recoup your investment fairly quickly and eventually make a profit by selling electricity to the power company.
Wind Turbines - Wind turbines capture wind energy to spin turbine blades and drive a shaft to produce electricity. This, and similar technology, has been around for many years, and is used in many applications. In fact, wind turbines work much like the alternator in your car, or the generators in a hydroelectric dam.
While wind power has been used by humans for over 3,000 years, recent advances in wind turbine technology have made wind turbines a viable source for generating electric power. Giant wind farms convert wind energy into electric energy that is then sold to homes and businesses.
It is even possible to buy a wind turbine large enough to power a residential home. The cost however, runs around $15,000 installed. The best part is, like solar panels, there are often tax deductions available. Though it will take several years to recoup the expenditure of a wind turbine, more people are installing them as a means of powering their home, farm, or business.
Wind turbines have the same capability to produce excess energy and for some people can be used to make money. However, it generally takes several years before the initial expense is recouped.
Solar water heaters - Solar water heaters use solar power to heat water which is then pumped to a heat exchanger, where it gives off its heat. The heat in the heat exchanger is then used to raise the temperature of air going into your heating system, or to raise the temperature of the water in your hot water heater. This results in less energy used to heat your house or water for daily use.
These systems are usually fairly simple in design and cost between $5,000-7,000 to install. Again, federal and local incentives may substantially lower the total installation cost. Total savings depend on where your house is located and how much sun it gets, but are usually around $250 per year. It may take a long time to repay the cost of installation, but the cost may just be worth it if you plan on living in your home for a long time.
Heat exchangers - Similar to solar water heaters, which incorporate a heat exchanger, these systems often involve pumping water or air through a series of underground pipes. The earth several feet underground maintains a steady temperature year round – usually around 55-65 degrees F.
In the summer the water or air is pumped underground where it cools down, and is then pumped through a heat exchanger before going in to the air conditioning system. This can substantially lessen air conditioning costs. In the winter, the same thing happens, but this time the air is warmed by the underground temperatures before it passes through the heating system. Again, is is much easier and cheaper to heat warm air than cold air.
These systems are easiest to install when a house is being built because they can be laid under the foundation. However, if your house does not already have this type of system installed, it can be done – but the installation company will have to dig up your yard and it will take a lot more work. These systems cost several thousand dollars to install, and savings depend on location and amount of use. Like these other systems, local and federal tax incentives may be available.
The Future of Energy – These forms of energy have two major factors in common – once they have been installed, the cost of upkeep is minimal and the energy to power them is free. Once the initial investment has been earned back through savings or by selling excess power that has been generated, the remaining savings are free and can even make you a profit!
As these technologies become more common, they will both improve and become more affordable. I don’t think it is unrealistic to think that in the near future most new homes will come with the option of adding solar panels or heat exchangers at a reasonable cost. And I hope many people take advantage of these technologies.