Alternatives To Solar Panels For The Home

When considering an alternative source of electrical power or heating and cooling, most of us jump to solar as the solution.

However, if you live somewhere the sun does not shine three hundred days a year, you may need to investigate other forms of alternative energy.

This article will give you possible solutions. Here are some highlights;

  • Wind
  • Water
  • Gas
  • Geothermal

There are other sources of energy that can be used to provide power and HVAC functionality to a green home.

The Trouble With Solar

A Photo Voltaic array and passive solar heating are excellent alternatives to the electric grid. A PV array provides power during daylight hours while charging a battery bank for nighttime.

A passive solar home is warmed by the sun during daylight hours and radiates heat gently throughout the night.

These systems are efficient, effective, quiet, and clean. Even with all those positive points, solar power is not perfect.

Shortcomings of Solar Power and Heat

  • Six to eight hours of power a day.
  • No power collected at night.
  • Must have southern exposure.
  • Clouds, overcast, and haze, reduce efficacy.
  • A Solar Array requires a lot of space.

Solar Energy benefits

The most positive aspect of solar panels and passive solar heat is their simplicity. The technology is readily available.

A PV array is a common sight these days. Passive solar home design is a tried and true technology. And, the sun does come up just about every day.

Solar Negatives

Solar energy is unpredictable and temperamental. Haze and overcast skies can reduce the available energy. Solar requires southern exposure and particular angles to match the elevation of the sun.

Since the elevation changes season to season a solar array is at its optimum angle about 6 months of the year.

Alternative Power Sources For Home Electricity

If Solar Power does not work for you, there are other tried and true sources of green energy. These technologies can provide power to a battery bank as well as heating and cooling your home.

Wind Turbine House

Wind

Free-wind has been used as a power source for hundreds of years. Most recently wind power has been applied to the production of electricity.

Over the past few years, home wind generators have become widely available.

They range in power ratings from 200 watts to 2000 watts. Modern wind generators come in two basic configurations: Horizontal Axis and Vertical Axis.

Horizontal Axis Wind Generators

Generally identified as windmills, these units consist of a fan-like structure on a tower. As the wind blows it pushes the blades causing them to rotate.

The rotating blades drive a generator located in the main body (nacelle) of the unit. Power is transmitted via wires to a controller that regulates the voltage and current to charge your batteries.

Vertical Axis Wind Generators

The unique characteristic of these units is their vertical blades arranged in a cylindrical configuration.

These units tend to be a little more expensive than the horizontal axis designs.

They are as effective, require less area to operate, and tend to be a little quieter than comparably sized turbines.

Larger Wind Generators vs Smaller

Small wind generators come in a wide variety of sizes. Small, inexpensive units like the Pikasola 400 Watt Wind Turbine Kit and Pikasola 200 Watt Vertical Axis Wind Generator are good examples of units designed for trying out wind power.

At under $300, the units are relatively small and easy to install.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Easy to install.
  • Fairly small blade diameter.
  • Low wind start up speed.
  • MPPT Charge Controller.

Cons

  • Mounting Pole not included.
  • Moderate power.

Larger units like the Windmill 1500 Watt Wind Turbine Generator and the Makemu Domus 1000 Watt Vertical Axis Generator produce enough power to charge a substantial battery bank.

Units of this size cost around $1500. Such a unit will also require a more substantial tower to be effective.

Pros

  • Substantial power output.
  • MPPT Charge Controller.
  • Fairly small area required for power rating.

Cons

  • Higher cut in speed.
  • Pricey.
  • Requires taller tower.
  • Tower not included.

Things To Remember With Wind Generators.

Most wind generators do not come with a tower. This is an additional expense, and a project all its own.

The higher the tower, the more effective the generator will be. If you live in a community there may be code restrictions regarding height and noise. Check the code before you build.

Hydro Power River

Micro Hydro-power

If you are lucky enough to have a stream or river on your property, a micro-hydroelectric generator may be a power production solution.

Flowing water represents a lot of mass. The faster it moves, the more energy it can produce. This energy can be harnessed and used to run a home directly to or charge batteries for later use.

The main drawback to hydro-power is that it is a serious DIY project.

Water Turbine

Most water turbines on the market are very low power. The Scott Hydro-electric Turbine Generator is a unit that can produce up to 1500 watts of power under proper circumstances.

The unit does not come with plumbing or charge control devices. With a price tag of over $4000, such a unit may be out of the realm of some homeowners.

Pros

  • Potential for a lot of power.
  • Unobtrusive.
  • Reliable under proper circumstances.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • A lot of DIY skills required.
  • Regulations and Code issues.

Water Wheel

An old-fashioned water wheel attached to a generator head is another way to produce harness hydro-power. Such a generating device would be an excellent source of reliable power.

It would be a serious test of your DIY skills as there are no KITS available on the market.

Pros

  • Potential for a lot of power.
  • A very neat project to undertake.
  • Reliable under proper circumstances.

Cons

  • Expensive.
  • A lot of DIY skills required.
  • Regulations and Code issues.

Gas Powered Generator

Finally, there is the tried and true gasoline generator. Most of us do not want to use fuel to charge our systems, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

A sufficient generator and a good battery charger are all you need to top off a battery bank in a few hours.

There are many fuel-efficient generators on the market today. 12, 24, and 48-volt battery chargers are readily available.

Make sure the charger you buy matches the voltage of your battery bank.

Pros

  • Easy to put together a system.
  • Reliable.

Cons

  • Can be expensive.
  • Fuel.
  • Noise.
  • Pollution.
  • Maintenance.

Other Sources of Heating and Cooling

Heating and cooling a home is one of the biggest expenses any homeowner faces every month.

Depending on the size and location of your property, it may be possible to install a geothermal heating and cooling system that will absolutely reduce your monthly HVAC bill.

Like any alternative energy system, there are options. Geothermal is fairly simple in theory. Some types can be DIY projects and some can not.

Geo Thermal Heat Pump House

Passive Geothermal HVAC

The US Geological Survey tells us that the ground temperature, depending on latitude, stays between 45º F in the north and 75º F in the south year-round.

The ground is always cooler than the air temperature in the summer and warmer than the air temperature in winter.

An underground circuit of thin-walled PVC pipe (referred to as earth tubes) laid in trenches, and a few electric circulating fans are all that is required to create a passive geothermal system.

If you live in a fairly temperate area that only requires a little heating and cooling, such a system may work for you.

Pros

  • Inexpensive.
  • Works without the sun.
  • Can be a DIY Project.

Cons

  • Requires a lot of space.
  • Only provides a few degrees of comfort.
Geo Thermal Heat Pump

Geothermal Heat Pump (GHP) System

GHP systems take stored geothermal energy and concentrate it via a heat pump. Imagine how effective your current Air Conditioner or Heat Pump would be if it had a constant source of 70º air to work with.

Rather than using the outside air to release or collect heat, a “Geoexhange” system uses that consistent ground temperature as a giant heat sink.

Heat exchange tubing is placed in the ground. When the AC unit needs to dump heat in the summer, the cool ground absorbs it.

When the heat pump needs to collect heat in the winter, the warm ground provides it. Although a heat pump is still involved, the efficiency is increased significantly.

In some cases, such systems can also provide hot water.

Pros

  • Increased HVAC efficiency.
  • Reduced Heating and Cooling bills.
  • Extended HVAC system life.
  • Potential to provide hot water.

Cons

  • Requires a lot of space for ground exchange system.
  • Can be pricey.
  • Not a DIY project.

Review and Resources

While solar has become a standard source of alternative energy, other sources do exist. Wind and water can provide an alternate source of electricity.

The ground can help provide heating and cooling. Technology exists to take advantage of these sources of energy. Your efforts and imagination will enable you to benefit from them.

Resources

General Solar Panel FAQ

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