How can you reduce utility bills to zero with green power options like solar and wind for the home. Is it practical for a home in Houston? Renewable energy may be in your future.
My son and I are planning a project to create a renewable, green (very green) home energy system. I think that it may be many a homeowner’s fantasy to reduce energy costs; I know that I have been taking steps towards that end, but would it not be great to break away from the contracts that energy companies place on us? With the heat and humidity in Houston, air conditioning is a must in a modern home design. My son, who is in middle school, has been thinking about college, so he has been considering what career he may want to know what he needs to study. Over dinner, he mentioned biology with an emphasis on bio-fuels. I related to him that I was interested in a news story dealing with bio-reactors using algae (hence the very green). We began to dream up the process of taking a bio-reactor to create a bio-fuel which would be used for a CHP system. We decided that this is going to be an ongoing science project for us. We are in the process of building a shed for it now; for some reason my wife does not want it in the house.
This idea of a power solution for a home caused me to consider are there practical green solutions for a house in Houston, and is there anything beyond solar. My belief has been that green renewable power in the future will originate from various sources: wind, solar, and tidal being the main components. I felt that the most cost efficient route to developing and implementing this technology would be through the power companies. The average homeowner can implement many practices and technologies in their own home to reduce energy costs, and that is why I began writing about green home conversions, but the cost of a solar panel system seemed to high for the average homeowner. In the current economic climate, it may become more out of reach. However, this may not stop some homeowners from attempting to go off the grid, and maybe there will be programs to help lower the cost for many of us to try our own power generation system.
I write power generation instead of solar because the discussion that my son and I had brought me to the fact that maybe solar is only one option available to homeowners. I am seeing more solar water heaters popping up on roofs around the Houston area, and there are more solar lights too. Our climate seems suited to adding solar panels. Driving to a home inspection out in the county, I looked at the cows in the field, and I saw an old windmill pumping water from their trough. Why not wind turbines for the home? While sitting at a friends house along a bay, I imagined a tidal power generator. Part of my discussion with my son played with the idea of using the bio-fuel for steam energy. All great green renewable energy sources, so I went off exploring if any of my ideas are already being considered for home installation.
Using solar in the home can be easy. Solar water heaters are plastic tubes carrying water to a part of the roof covered in black plastic, and then the tubes are covered with the black plastic. A normal water heater has a capacity of between 40 to 50 gallons, so you could size your tubing to meet that capacity. You then could use water pressure to move the heated water through your house like your current tank water heater. If you have left a hose sitting in the sun before running water through it, you can feel how warm that water can become, same principle. Shading and exposing windows to the sun can heat a home, and if you have a tile floor it can continue to heat into the evening. These are some basic simple options using solar. Residential solar systems involve placing solar panels on the roof. The photovoltaic cells transform the suns energy into electricity, which has to be stored in batteries for use in the home. A kit can run about $40,000 on average, depending on your power needs. Here are some things to consider: how many kilowatts do you need for your system; do you have enough sun light around the property; and do you want to run the entire house off of solar. For the first question, you need to collect your utility bills for the past year to see how much you will need to meet peak usage. Is there enough sun? I live in a home built in the early sixties. The back of my home is south facing, which is great, because it means that the solar panels do not greet the guests right off (if I had them); however, there are many mature trees surrounding my home. Although part of my roof has great afternoon sunlight, it does not have sunlight for very many hours. When planning a system, you need to know if the spot on your roof will have sunlight long enough to charge the batteries properly. I could use a combination of south and west facing roof lines for solar. Maybe the cost of a full solar system is too much, even with a rebate. You could plan to have certain systems on solar. Having just your home’s lights powered by solar can be a cheaper install. Maybe you could save more by finding a way to have the air conditioning on solar. A smaller solar system can be around $3000, and that is in reach for many homeowners.
Tidal energy may be out of reach, but could I have wind power on my home in the form of a microturbine? Power technology solutions are coming a long way, and I am not sure that my neighbors are ready for a wind turbine in my backyard, but when I checked into this option, I was surprised to find that it is possible. The cost is better for the homeowner, but here you need to see if you have the wind to power such a device. I have noticed that much of the year we do seem to have breezes making their way through Houston, so we may be able to use a wind turbine. My other concern would be the noise. If you have been around any of the older windmills, you may recall the creaking of the unit as it moved in the wind; you may also remember the flutter sound as the blades cut through the wind; apparently this may not be a problem anymore according to these wind turbine providers. I was also wondering how large these units may be. This Skystream wind turbine is said to be quite compact (this site has a good explanation of how it would be installed on your home). I am not sure about my Westchase neighborhood, but maybe such a renewable power generator would be great for Alvin. A few of my clients had large pieces of land there.
I think that wind and solar could be used by homeowners in our area, but really I still feel that our best hope for renewable energy would come from the utility companies. I am intrigued by the fact that a smaller solar system may be feasible for me. Not only could it be affordable; it could work on my home with the surrounding trees. I would not have to ask the neighbors to chop any down, which I am sure none would want to do. My son and I will continue our weekend project, but I do not see that powering my house any time soon. I should tell my wife though that the oil from the algae could be used for cooking. That probably will not change her mind.