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Green Power Alternatives for Home Use

By WeatherBug Sr. Meteorologist, Julie Gaddy

Interest in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, water and geothermal is growing. Not only are power companies investing in harnessing these resources, homeowners are seeking these alternatives to traditional energy as well. While renewable energy will help make for a cleaner environment by reducing pollution, high costs have so far prevented widespread adoption.

SOLAR

The sun`s radiation provides a guaranteed source of energy in the form of heat every day. While the sun shines, solar panels will convert the light`s energy to electricity, but clouds will limit this energy-making process. This makes solar power most efficient in locations that get sunshine almost every day, such as the Desert Southwest and California.

The cost of solar panels is the biggest drawback. On average, a 15 square-foot solar panel, which is capable of producing up to 170 Watts of power, sells for about $1000. That computes to a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 to power the average home. A solar-powered water heater is somewhat more affordable at $5,000, and since it cuts your utility bill by about $500 a year, it will pay for itself in 10 years.

WIND

Drive around California or throughout the Plains, and you will find wind turbines dotting the landscape. As the wind blows, the blades turn and generate electricity. Reliable wind speeds are needed for a steady supply of power, thus wind turbines are usually on tall towers. You won`t find a wind generator in the middle of a city unless it is on top of a building.

Wind energy is reliable enough to help power entire cities, but it certainly does not come cheap. Unless you have the electronic and mechanical expertise to build your own wind generator, it will cost you about $10,000 to install wind power at your house. If you are willing to wait 5 to 10 years to recapture your investment, then it is worthwhile. The turbines can be a bit noisy, and maintenance can be difficult.

WATER

Does a creek or small stream flow through your property? Do you live within walking distance of the beach? So long as water remains in motion, water turbines can be used to generate electricity. Water turbines are most commonly used to harness large amounts of hydroelectric power controlled by dams. Smaller scale versions are available for individual use.

Water wheels are the most basic device used to generate power from flowing water. They are most frequently found in mills and pumping stations. Turbines can also be placed in the ocean to capture energy caused by tidal variations and wave action.

With a little bit of engineering skill, a person can create a miniature hydroelectric power plant on their nearby creek or stream for as little as $1000. However, if the water flow is reduced by drought, your power supply is jeopardized.

GEOTHERMAL

Geothermal power comes from the heat that resides inside the earth. The temperature deep in the ground stays constant throughout the year regardless of the season. To heat your home or for hot water, the heat is extracted from the ground and brought into the home. To cool your home, the heat in your house is transferred back into the ground.

Areas near volcanoes, geysers, or hot springs have the most readily available heat. Iceland uses geothermal power almost exclusively. Even Kenya is taking advantage of the earth`s warm underbelly. Even you can tap into the earth`s natural heat resources in your own backyard. A geothermal heat pump system will cost anywhere from $8,000 to $25,000, depending on the age and size of your home and the surrounding geology.

Geothermal power is a good long-term option for those who are tired of exorbitant home heating oil prices, and can be used just about anywhere at all times of the year. On average, it will take 10 years to recover your initial investment, but imagine cooling your Kansas farmhouse during the hot summer for only $50 a month.

Green energy alternatives are available to the public. While the installation costs are in the thousands of dollars, the long-term reward will be not only the return on your investment, but cleaner air and energy independence.

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