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Planning for Life On or Off the Grid: Part Two

August 12, 2014 - 11:44am


Home renewable energy is a wonderful way to produce clean energy, you just need the right system for your home. | Photo courtesy of ©

Home renewable energy is a wonderful way to produce clean energy, you just need the right system for your home. | Photo courtesy of ©

Now that you've read all about analyzing your electricity needs, and you've checked your local codes and picked whether to be on or off the grid, it's time to pick the right system for you. (If you haven't, check out Planning for Life On or Off the Grid: Part One.)

Picking the Right Renewable Energy System

When choosing your renewable energy technology, you will need some background knowledge about how each system works. You'll also need to know resource availability, costs, system siting and sizing, codes and regulations, and installation and maintenance considerations.

Some small scale renewable options include:

Solar Electric Systems

A small scale solar electric system or photovoltaic (PV) system uses both direct and scattered sunlight to create electricity. This means that there is ample opportunity to gather solar energy, but for a PV system to be a good fit, your panels need clear and unobstructed access to sunlight for most or all of the day, throughout the year.  You also need a large enough roof to accommodate the correct system size, as well as the appropriate permits to install a system. It is also important to understand the costs of a PV system.

Wind Electric Systems

A small wind electric system can be one of the most efficient ways to produce electricity for your home. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in wind into clean electricity. Before you chose a wind system for your home, consult a Wind Resource Map to estimate the wind resource in your area.  Be sure to also check your local codes and zoning requirements. Homeowners' associations may object to a wind system blocking their view, but most aesthetic and zoning concerns can be addressed by supplying objective data.  To get started estimating the cost of a wind electric system, DOE's Consumer Guides for Small Wind can help.

Microhydropower Systems

If you have water flowing through your property, a small hydropower system can be used to generate electricity. A microhydropower system needs a turbine, pump, or waterwheel to turn flowing water's energy into rotational energy that can be converted into electricity. Before purchasing a hydropower system you'll need to ensure you have a sufficient quantity of flowing water—mountainous or hilly sites are usually best. You also need to research power output, economics, permits, and water rights before installing your hydropower system.

"Hybrid" Solar and Wind Electric Systems

Hybrid systems work "off-grid," but they can be a valuable way to produce the energy you need all year round. In the U.S. the summer sun shines brightest, with lower wind speeds, but in the winter winds are stronger, with less direct sunlight.  With batteries or an engine generator, hybrid systems can even work when there isn't any wind or sunlight at all.

Reap the Benefits

When converting to renewable energy there are benefits beyond the fact that you are participating in saving the world's resources. States and communities often provide tax benefits or incentives to switch to renewable energy. DSIRE is a database of state incentives for renewables and efficiency that can help you discover what programs in your area will put cash back into your pocket.

Whatever approach you choose, on the grid or off, utilizing renewable energy is a fantastic way to save money and protect earth's precious resources.