Renewable Energy is energy that comes from natural resources such as sunshine, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat which are naturally replenished. Another area of renewable energy is called biomass, which is biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms. Biomass is a fancy term for wood, waste, alcohol fuels and any other material that can be consumed to create energy. Biomass is commonly plant matter grown to generate electricity or produce heat. We will explore these sources of energy and how they might be implemented to improve your home energy efficiency.
Zero Net Energy Homes
Zero Net Energy Homes are homes that can produce all of their required energy from renewable sources and consume no electrical power, gas , propane or oil from traditional utility companies. In the case of solar generated electricity, there may be times when they do need to draw on the power grid but at other times they are producing excess energy that is fed back into the grid. In other words, there are times when their electric meter is running backwards and they are compensated for the electrical energy that they generate. While you may not be able to achieve zero energy usage in your home, the concepts that are employed can help you to significantly reduce your consumption and bills. If your thinking about building a new home, a zero net energy home could be an attractive option.
The US Government, under the Department of Energy, operates the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) in Golden, CO. In September of 2010 I visited NREL to learn what technologies that they might be working on in that could bring renewable energy to your home. I met with Jim Bosch and we created a set of video interviews covering an overview of NREL solar energy and PV photo-voltaic technology, wind energy and zero energy construction. Videos
Solar Energy for home use has two main areas of focus, Hot Water Solar Heaters which is focused on providing hot water for your home and Photovoltaic (PV) technology for generating electricity. Why would you use both of these and not just use the PV electricity to heat your water? The reason is that the solar water heater is far more efficient and can be effective with less sunlight and electric hot water heaters consume a lot of electricity. In some cases having both will make sense and in others you might just use one of the other and well explore why. How Solar Panels Work
Wind energy is typically most effective in large scale operations, however, we’ll explore the home options as with the right location and ability to put up a tower you could generate electricity at home using wind energy.
Geothermal refers to using the heat of the earth to heat your home, cool your home, or heat your hot water. I love to go on cave tours. I’m fascinated by the rock formations that are formed naturally. When you go on cave tours, you learn that the cave temperature tends to be very stable throughout the day and in fact throughout the year. In Virginia, where I live, caves maintain a 56oF year round. The Wind Cave in South Dakota maintains a 55oF year round. In the summer it’s like natural air-conditioning and in the winter it’s like natural heat. To harness this energy at home, heat pumps are used to transfer heat from or to the underground source or in some cases a body of water like a pond. More on this in the geothermal heating section.
Biomass is most often the burning of wood for heat. You may be thinking that burning wood creates a lot of pollution and it certainly can but modern wood burners have catalytic converters, just like your cars exhaust, that burn off harmful gases and extract more heat from the fuel. A catalytic converter works by using a catalyst to provide an environment for a chemical reaction in which toxic combustion by-products are converted to less-toxic substances.Pellet stoves have grown in popularity and the content of the pellets allows them to be very clean burning.