by Allen Green
What options do consumers have for choosing renewable energy?
Most households in the United States, and around the world, are very reliant on energy for electricity and to heat their homes. Most of the energy that the United States uses is generated from fossil fuels including coal and natural gas. Currently, fossil fuels supply more than 80% of the nation’s energy. More specifically, 46% of our energy comes from coal, 23% comes from natural gas and 7.5% comes from petroleum.
There are numerous problems associated with using energy generated from fossil fuels. Luckily, as a consumer or business owner, you have choices when it comes to where your energy comes from. There are many alternative energy sources that are renewable and do not harm the environment. You have the right to choose where your energy comes from and you have the right to choose green energy rather than traditional energy.
Alternative Energy Choices At Home
There are many ways that you can make alternative energy choices right at home. The two most popular ways are installing solar panels or a wind turbine on your property.
Solar panels are devices that convert light into electricity. Many homeowners are making the choice to install solar panels on their property (usually on the roof) to reduce their utility bills and to reduce their carbon footprint. The price for solar panels varies significantly. However, a study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Lab in 2010 estimated that the national average cost of solar PV (photovoltaic) systems was $7.62 per watt. Therefore, a typical 5-Kw system would cost about $38,000. Any local or state rebates would reduce this cost, as would the 30% solar tax credit.
If you live in a state that gets a lot of sunshine–like New Jersey, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Hawaii–solar panel system can pay for itself in as little as three years and result in long-term savings. In other states, however, it can take years for the system to pay for itself in terms of utility savings.
Consumers should keep in mind that there are three different types of solar panel systems. The first type is the on-grid battery system. Obviously, these systems are connected to the grid but also contain batteries that can store excess energy generated. They can even send any extra energy out to the grid. On-grid systems without a battery are simple and inexpensive to install, but the system will shut down if power goes out in your area. Finally, there are off-grid solar power systems. Homes that use these systems are not tied to the electricity grid and generate all of their power independently. This option is not typically recommended unless you live in a very remote area.
Wind power is a renewable energy source that is quickly becoming a popular form of energy around the world. Wind power is generated by harnessing wind through the use of a turbine. Most wind turbines are very large and are built in remote areas that are very windy. It is possible for homeowners to purchase smaller-scale turbines and place them on their property to generate power for their home. However, because wind power is inconsistent in most areas of the world, most people cannot generate enough power to independently power their home. But a single wind turbine can ease the grid-drawn power a household uses and lower utility bills. Typically, people that reside in areas with average sustained wind speeds of more than 7 miles per hour are the best candidates for wind turbines.
The initial cost of purchasing and installing a turbine at home is often quite high. Turbine prices vary dramatically depending on the type, manufacturer and the area in which you live. It can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $50,000 to purchase and install a small turbine. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that a typical home wind systems costs around $32,000. The cost is a major drawback for many homeowners because the money you save on utility bills will not offset the cost of the device, even over many years. However, the advantages of purchasing a wind turbine include cutting utility bills and being in control of how your energy is generated. Another benefit is the tax breaks. The federal government gives a 30% tax credit (for the entire price of the turbine) for homeowners who buy one.
Options for Deregulated State Residents/Businesses
There are a handful of states in the U.S where the energy market is deregulated. Deregulation means that independent power suppliers have been allowed to enter the marketplace. In these states, consumers have the ability to choose their electricity supplier rather than getting it from the public utility. The electricity industry has been at least partially deregulated in the following states: Oregon, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.
In these states, residents have the option to choose their energy supplier. Many utility companies will show you what percentage of the energy that they use comes from renewable energy sources. Some providers only get about 5% of their energy from renewable sources while others get 100% from alternative sources. Different plans within the same utility company will sometimes have different percentages. This information is usually available to consumers on the utility company’s website or by calling them directly.
You will have to do some research to find this information but there are intermediaries out there that can help. There are many websites that allow you to search for energy providers by your zip code. Company listings that come up will sometimes provide information about the company’s renewable energy investments.
There are many benefits of choosing a supplier that generates a large percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Once you do the research and choose a supplier and plan you are happy with, the work ends there. You can stay with that provider for a number of years, making it easy to choose alternative energy.
There are drawbacks as well. You will have to do a lot of research to find a supplier that gets a lot of their energy from alternative sources. You must also be willing to spend more on your monthly utility bills. Energy generated from renewable sources usually costs consumers around twice as much as traditional energy.
Options for Regulated State Residents/Businesses
If you live in a regulated state, and can’t afford to install solar panels or a wind turbine on your property, you are not without hope. While you might not have tangible options the situation isn’t necessarily bleak.
In fact, many states (including regulated states) actually require that utility companies generate a certain percentage of their energy from renewable sources. Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota and Washington all get the majority of their energy from renewable energy sources. Additionally, Alaska, Iowa, Montana, New York and Vermont get more than 15% of their energy from renewable sources.
The United States as a whole has been making significant strides in developing their alternative energy market in the past few years. In fact, hydroelectric power now accounts for about 12.3% of all power generated in the U.S, wind account for 2.65%, geothermal accounts for 2.76% and wood accounts for 2.14%. Solar and biomass energy account for some a small percentage of the energy generated as well.
Therefore, even if you live in a regulated state, chances are that your utility company is still generating a large portion of their energy from renewable resources.
Bionotes: Allen Green blogs about saving money and energy topics at http://www.utilitycompany.net/, one of the leading online resources for lowering your utility bill through deregulated energy. He is new to Twitter, but you can follow him @AllenGreen3.
JC comment: This post raises the practical economical issues of using renewable energy in the U.S. I would be interested in any personal experiences related to using alternative energy sources.