Switching to Renewable Energy Sources
Desiring An Off Grid Lifestyle Is Not Enough
Many times one of the biggest desires of people who have the dream to homestead is to go off grid with their own renewable energy resources, whether they be solar, wind, or a combination of techniques. Being dependant on fossil fuels is hard on the environment and, increasingly, hard on the budget. At this writing we do not use air conditioning in our home because it would cost well over $400.00 a month to cool it to 80 degrees in the summer. As fossil fuel costs rise in terms of finances and negative impact on the environment finding a workable source for sustainable energy becomes increasingly attractive.
Having the desire to go off grid and actually doing so are two very different things. For a number of new homesteaders financial concerns are coupled with the sheer confusion of what type of system to choose and how to actually implement a plan. New technology springs up almost daily and adds more chaos to the mix. It can cause almost a mental paralysis and halt to any movement forward.
Even before you decide which type of clean energy you are going to use think about how much you actually do use on a daily basis. Most residential off-grid systems are not made to produce the amount of electricity that it takes to run a television, hair dryer, computer, lights in every room, and the IPod power charger on a constant basis.
Remember that the television, microwave, coffee pot, and cell phone all use electricity in small amounts even when not in use and these small amounts add up to big amounts over time. Take a stroll through your humble homestead and identify the things that use power. What can you totally get rid of? How can you lessen the impact of the others? Changing the light bulbs to compact florescent can be a major savings in it's self. Look for energy star appliances to replace older appliances that may use more electricity. Unplug the t.v, microwave, and cell phone charger when not in use. Get used to working by a sunny window and using the natural light rather than automatically flipping a light on when you come into a room. Spend three to six months working on getting your electricity bill down substantially and consistently keep it there.
By getting in the habit of using less electricity you can buy a smaller system and keep your initial investment lower than if you need a renewable energy source that creates enough power to light Las Vegas!
Which Renewable Energy Technology?
Which renewable energy technology is right for you?
Consider your environment. If you live in an area where it is very cloudy many days of the year then perhaps a wind turbine would be a good choice. If you live somewhere that the wind doesn't blow much but it is very sunny then consider solar panels. Geothermal heat is an excellent resource that is not used as much as it could be. Talking to different manufacturers and installers in your area should give you an idea of what is available to you.
Also consider where you live in terms of your immediate surroundings. Is there a neighborhood association that could have rules against solar panels? Are there regulations prohibiting wind turbines? Are your neighbors very close and will they be negatively impacted by your system (for example a turbine that is very loud) Are there trees that could block winds and keep the turbine from turning? By considering all aspects of your property carefully you can make the best decision for you.
How Do I Find Our About State and Federal Incentives?
If you are planning to convert to a renewable energy resource there are many state and federal programs designed to help you do just that. DSIRE, Database of State Incentives for Renewables& Efficiency, is a website dedicated to helping you achieve your goal. There are programs, funds, incentives, rules, and information for every state listed. For example, in my state, Texas, there is an allowable property tax exemption on the amount spent for sustainable energy technology. So, if I install a $20,000.00 solar powered system I can have $20,000.00 of my property value exempted. Couple that with the many other incentives and programs, and using alternative energy becomes much easier to achieve financially.
Going Off Grid
Once you decide that you are going to do it, and you have decided how, you must decide if this is something you are going to have someone else do, or if you are going to do a portion of it yourself. Doing it yourself is less expensive but can take much longer and be much more stressful in the long run depending on the system you choose. By recording the amount of energy you have used over the past year you can get an average of how much energy you need to produce per month. This will be important in helping you and your contractor or sales person know what type and how large of a system you need.
Check with your state and local governments for permits and other requirements that may need to be met before you set up your system. It is a good idea to double check with your homeowners insurance policy as well.
In any case get the best system you can afford for what you need. Scrimping now may cause problems later. Shop around and ask for references. See if there are local customers who would allow you to ask them questions about their systems. Most of all be sure you understand what the system you choose is capable of and what it is not.
Going off grid is a great way to be self sufficient, reduce your carbon footprint, and save money. Move ahead with caution and with great amounts of research and you will enjoy the benefits for the rest of your life.