You do not need to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy the benefits of alternative energy and to take advantage of the technological advances that make backup and off-grid solutions possible. In the past decade, these systems became quite affordable and widespread in building and design. Solar energy in particular gained many followers as it became increasingly prevalent in simple applications such as garden lights, Christmas lights, gadget chargers, emergency radios, and camping equipment. Let’s discuss how you can energize your home – the green way.
Having access to these easy-to-use solar versions of everyday items opened up the door for more interest from the general public as people became familiar and comfortable with the idea of attainable, economical and, most importantly, no-fuss solar energy. Alternative energy is a particularly good solution for small homes; after all, the smaller your home, the less energy you will use. Still, there are many options you can choose from, and you should carefully consider all of them in order to determine the best selection for your home.
If you simply want to get your toes wet in using alternative energy beyond the odd solar light, creating a backup system is an excellent way to go. You will continue to draw all your energy from your local supplier, but you will also have a small backup battery than can provide you with light and electricity for your low-use appliances. Most likely, you will not be able to run anything with a heating element or a motor, as these appliances are major energy vampires. An exception to this rule is a small crock pot, which uses only about 80 watts.
Unless you live in a high-wind area or right next to a lively steam of water, solar will be the most efficient solution for generating electricity. Surprisingly, today’s solar panels work quite well even in low-light regions and weather conditions. Therefore, a solar backup system will be able to get you through a winter storm without a problem.
If you install a 250 Watt solar panel and connect it to one 12-volt sealed Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) 200 Amp Hour battery, it will be more than plenty for a series of lights, TVs, charging laptops and gadgets, computers, and any small appliance that does not produce heat or has a motor. It will, however, not heat your house, warm up your hot water, or run your oven. That is what your wood stove is for. This basic setup is sufficient to partially cover you during the odd blackout. Of course, you might also wish to use the electricity you generate in between emergencies. You can easily do this by connecting your system to a few garden or porch lights and a sensor that turns them on automatically at sundown. This will make sure you are using some of your energy, but not depleting it to the point that you will be out when the blackout hits.
Full solar systems
If you like what a backup system can do for you, it will not be long before you start planning your full solar system. The first thing you will need to do is decide whether you wish to create a completely off-grid set-up, or one that supplies you with most of the energy you need while being tied-in to your local electric company. The advantages of the first option include complete independence from any utility company and access to a reliable source of energy that costs nothing beyond the original infrastructure and periodic updates. There are positive outcomes in selecting the second option as well. Due to access to dual forms of energy, you can create your system in such a way that it covers all your electricity needs. If you run out, you can draw from your electric provider, and if you produce too much, you can sell it back, in which case, your utility company pays you for the extra electricity.
This all sounds fantastic in theory, but on many occasions, your lifestyle, your climate, your latitude, or the specific location of your home will pre-determine the option you will need to select. For instance, living on a farm off the beaten path or on an island with no major settlements, it might be considerably less expensive to set up a fully off-grid solar or a combination of various alternative energy systems than to pay for the costs of laying electric cables. If you are already connected to your local electric provider or you live north of the 50th latitude, you will probably end up having to create a dual system as well. The same applies to snowbirds and world-travelers. You will not wish to waste the energy you produce, and a great way to use it is to sell your surplus to your local utility company when you are away from your home. Once you know which version of full solar system will work for you the best, you can proceed to chart out your electric needs and average usage.